|FHWA > Highway History > General Roy Stone and The New York Times|
Printable version of this page (.pdf, 1 mb)
General Roy Stone and The New York Times
By The Rambler
In 2007, the New York Times made its archives available online from 1851 to 1980 with the early years for free. The Highway History page immediately thought of The Rambler, who always prefers to do his research on the cheap. He agreed to research the life of General Roy Stone as revealed in the Times, stressing that he was agreeing to do so only because it was free and he could work in his pajamas.
On October 3, 1893, General Roy Stone opened the Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He had a $10,000 budget and one employee, a stenographer. His modest agency grew into the Federal Highway Administration, while his work to convince America that it needed good roads led, after many a twist and turn, to the Eisenhower Interstate System.
Even so, General Stone is best known today because of his important role in the Civil War. Many Civil War histories mention him, often in considerable detail. Visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park can walk along Stone Avenue, named after Major Roy Stone to commemorate his heroic efforts on the first day of battle, July 1, 1863, when he and his new Pennsylvania Bucktails held off the oncoming Confederates while Union reinforcements rushed to the battlefield.
After the war, General Stone lived in western New York with his wife Mary and two children before moving to New York City. He became a prominent New Yorker who often was called on for challenging assignments and big projects. As a result, his name appeared often in The New York Times. These references provide a unique look at General Stone's life, particularly his life between the Civil War and the ORI, to supplement the biographical information in the Highway History page's "Portrait of a General" at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/stone.cfm
During the Civil War
As best the Rambler can determine, Roy Stone first appeared in the Times on August 5, 1862. In a list of wounded and killed from General Truman Seymour's Division, Major Roy Stone of the First Pennsylvania Rifles is listed as wounded. This apparently is a reference to his actions on June 30 at New Market, Virginia. Under attack from forces led by General Robert E. Lee, Major Stone's Bucktail Brigade fired volley after volley before retreating to a position where the Union forces could reunite. He moved his forces along Long Bridge Road to join General George A. McCall. Moving ahead to locate the enemy, General McCall and Major Stone ran into a column of Confederate soldiers who captured the General. Major Stone turned his horse around and escaped, but a bullet struck his hand as his horse reversed course.
General Stone's Civil War activities would be referenced in the Times on December 10, 1893, in an article about the work of the War Department's War Records Office. To that date, the office had published 49 volumes, each nearly 1,000 pages long, of documents from the war. The occasion of the article was the pending publication of "an exhaustive compilation from official records of the casualties on both sides of the war." Based on facts rather than opinions, the volume would show beyond controversy, "that much of the hardest fighting of the war was between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia":
One thing clearly shown is the overshadowing importance of the battles of Gettysburg and Chickamauga, the greatest battles the Confederate and Union Armies, east and west, ever fought.
Stating that the Pennsylvania reserves "was the only division in the Union armies composed entirely of troops from one State," the article listed the Pennsylvania regiments, including "the One Hundred and Forty-ninth (Col. Roy Stone)." At Gettysburg, the article continued, the Pennsylvania regiments that suffered the greatest losses were the 101st (335) and Colonel Stone's 149th (336).
For more information on General Stone's Civil War activities, see the footnotes accompanying "Portrait of a General" for references to books and articles recounting his exploits.
["Brig.-Gen. Seymour's Division," August 5, 1862
Staunch Grant Man
General Stone next appeared in the Times on May 14, 1872, if the Rambler's search skills can be trusted. [Editor's note: They can't.] He was listed as the second district delegate from Cattaraugus County to the Republican State Convention that was to be held in Elmira the following day. The convention would decide whether to support reelection of President Ulysses S. Grant, who had taken office in March 1869, or the liberal Republican Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.
On May 15, the Times carried an item datelined May 11 in Cattaraugus County indicating that Greeley "receives but little sympathy in this county." General Stone is among the six "stanch [sic] Grant men" the county had chosen as delegates. The brief article added that the second district convention unanimously supported President Grant, "instructing its delegates to use every effort to secure his renomination, and unqualifiedly condemning all attempts to break up the Republican Party by the nomination of so-called Liberal Republicans."
With Grant representing the Radical Republicans, the Democratic Party joined with the Liberal Republicans to choose Greeley as their nominee. Grant, despite concerns about corruption among the men he appointed to government positions, won reelection by a popular vote of 56 percent to 44 percent.
In October 1874, General Stone was a rival, at least briefly, for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives held by Congressman Walter L. Sessions. The Republican Convention for the 33rd District, meeting in Salamanca, gave Sessions 66 votes out of 100, with General Stone receiving 17 and a third candidate, 13. According to a brief article in the Times on October 3, 1874, "The nomination was then made unanimous." General Stone was among those addressing the convention, but the Times did not quote his remarks. Sessions, who had won his seat in November 1870, lost his reelection bid in 1874, and returned to private life as a lawyer, with a brief return to the House (1885-1887).
["Additional Delegates to the Republican State Convention," May 14, 1872
Later that year, the Times reported on November 23, 1874, that General Stone was one of the speakers at a reception for Dr. Isaac I. Hayes, the Arctic explorer, at the Arcadian Club. Nicknamed "Polar Hayes," Dr. Hayes was a young surgeon from Pennsylvania when he participated in his first polar exploration via Greenland, known as the Second Grinnell Expedition under Dr. Elisha Kent Kane (1853-1855). In 1861, Dr. Hayes led an expedition in search of the Open Polar Sea-an ice free zone across the North Pole that ships would be able to navigate between Europe and Asia. He claimed to have seen it, but could not prove his sighting of a navigation route that, as we now know, did not exist. He was an author, a surgeon during the Civil War, a lecturer, and from 1875 to his death of heart disease on December 19, 1881, at the age of 49, a member of the State Assembly representing New York City.
["Reception to Dr. Hayes by the Arcadian Club," November 23, 1874]
The Saddle Back Plan
In the years before the New York Subway, New York City's growing population required more than the street-cars and omnibuses providing transit service. The idea of a subway, similar to London's subway, was considered, but proved controversial. While the subway concept was under debate in the State legislature, an entrepreneur named Charles T. Harvey convinced the 1866 legislature to pass an amendment allowing him to build a railroad to be operated "by means of a propelling rope or cable attached to stationary power."
Harvey's West Side & Yonkers Patent Railway Company built an experimental elevated railway line using Harvey's invention for cable operation. It was one-half mile long, along Greenwich Street from Battery Place to Cortlandt Street. The advantage of an elevated rail line was that it provided public transit service with minimal disturbance to existing buildings, sidewalks, and streets, while freeing the vehicles from ground traffic that was limited by the speed of horses moving in a heavily congested environment.
The official demonstration on July 3, 1868, was successful, and the company planned to extend the line from the Battery to Kingsbridge in Yonkers. However, financial and legal difficulties halted expansion of the "Patent Railway." The difficulties led to Harvey's departure from the company, a switch to steam locomotives, and reorganization of Harvey's company, which became the New York Elevated Railway. A rival company founded by Dr. Rufus H. Gilbert obtained a franchise for his design. John Anderson Miller described the concept in his book Fares, Please! A Popular History of Trolleys, Horsecars, Streetcars, Buses, Elevateds, and Subways" (Dover Publications, 1960):
His plan provided for tubular iron roadways suspended above the streets by Gothic arches springing from the curb lines. Cars were to be propelled through the tubular passageways by atmospheric or other power. [Miller, p. 74-75]
The financial panic of 1873 halted the Gilbert proposal.
With progress limited on the new elevated service, the city's Common Council approved Section 606 of the Laws of 1875 to establish a Rapid-Transit Commission to select the routes of additional lines beyond those chartered to the two existing companies, the Gilbert Elevated Railway Company and the New York Elevated Railroad Company. On September 18, 1875, the Times reported on the commission's meeting the day before, during which the commissioners heard from advocates of several plans. The article mentioned that Roy Stone appeared on behalf of his Saddle Back proposal.
Stone had invented the system for use on elevated tracks. As explained in "Portrait of the General," Stone built a temporary line for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, linking Agricultural Hall and Horticultural Hall:
The track was supported by a single row of iron columns, resting on foundations of timber. The length of the road was 500 feet, and the greatest height above the bottom of ravine thirty feet. The car ran on three rails. One of these occupied the centre of the track, and was laid along the top of a triangular truss. At the base of this truss, and on either side of it, were laid two rails. The car thus moved on three rails-one in the centre and two on the sides. The bottom of the car was concave, and fitted over the central rail, while the sides extended several feet below the line of the centre of the car, and had wheels attached to them, which ran on the side tracks horizontally, instead of perpendicularly, as is the case on ordinary rails. Thus the wheels on the central rail were the bearing wheels, while those on the sides were the guiding wheels. The wheels had rubber tires, which caused them to run smoothly, and deep flanges, which prevented them from running off the track. The locomotive was also constructed in a curious manner. The engine was placed above the tender, and was fed with water and fuel from below. The arrangement of the tender was the same as that of the car, so far as the running gear was concerned. [Ingram, J. S., TheCentennial Exposition, Described and Illustrated, Hubbard Bros., 1876, p. 692-693.]
(No, the Rambler can't understand that description, either! If you are so inclined, feel free to consult the Rambler's transit history counterpart, the Rumbler, for an explanation.) [Editor's note: The Rumbler is part of the Rambler's "evil twin" fantasy. Don't waste your time searching for the Rumbler archive.]
The Rapid-Transit Commission completed its initial work in October. The commissioners passed on General Stone's Saddle Back plan, instead favoring the rights of the two existing company and establishing new lines for elevated public transit. The Times summarized the commission's specifications on October 7, 1875:
In streets not over thirty-six feet wide, the one-legged plan of single tracks following the line of the curb may be adopted. In streets of more than that width, the tracks must be taken over the middle of the roadway on transverse girders carried from columns placed along the curbs, or, in certain exceptional cases, placed in part along the middle of the thoroughfare. By way of stimulating these companies to occupy the field before any competitor has time to construct a road along a route parallel with theirs, the Commissioners propose to invite the subscription of stock toward the formation of a corporation to be known as the Manhattan Railway Company. As the two existing companies have been given the only routes worth having, it is hardly probable that capitalists will contend very warmly for the honor of organizing a rival concern, chiefly designed to stimulate the others to keep their promises to the public.
As near as can be determined, General Stone's demonstration of his Saddle Back Plan in Philadelphia did not lead to a commercial application of his invention.
According to Miller, the New York Elevated Railway Company moved quickly on its line:
By 1876 the company was proudly advertising that it ran forty trains a day from the Battery to 59th Street. The regular fare was ten cents, but a special rate of five cents was in effect between 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning, and between 5 and 7 o'clock in the evening. As the hour approached when the lower rate went into effect long lines of waiting people used to gather on the stairs leading up to the elevated stations. Then, when the price card was turned around at the ticket window, they surged forward with great pushing and shoving. [Miller, p. 75-76]
Although "The El" was popular with riders, it was unpopular with adjacent property owners. Miller explained why:
Whenever a new line was proposed, or an extension to an old one, strenuous opposition arose. The "horrors" of elevated railroad operation were eloquently described by the "antis." Horses would be frightened and run away. Fire would be started by sparks from the locomotives. People in the streets would be burned by hot ashes dropped down upon their heads. [Miller, p. 76]
In addition, the tracks were ugly and the trains were noisy. These and other problems led the city to reconsider the controversial idea of building a subway.
(The Rambler will note that highway builders who have faced objections for decades from pro-transit forces can take some grim comfort in knowing that transit, whether below ground or above it, once had its opponents.)
["The Rapid-Transit Commission," September 18, 1875
"Rapid Transit," September 25, 1875
"The Report," September 7, 1895
"Plans of Rapid Transit," September 26, 1875
"The Rapid Transit Commission," October 6, 1875
"The Manhattan Railway" and "The Report," October 7, 1875"]
By the 1880's, entrepreneurs were installing a steam heating system for homes and buildings in New York City. In 1880, two of the competing companies combined under the name New York Steam Heating Company. While steam heating was in its infancy, the company had to deal with street explosions, such as a series of explosions that occurred in mid-June 1890. The explosions damaged the steam heating company's pipes, the pipes of other companies, and adjacent properties and bystanders.
An article in the Times on June 13, 1890, stated that the day before, a worker with the heating company had caused an explosion of a gas pipeline at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street. The company had completed placing its pipe about 14 feet below the surface, and workers began filling the hole. As the hole filled to 3 feet from the surface, where intersecting gas lines were placed, a worker slipped and his lantern fell into the hole. Leaking gas took fire, creating a blaze that was difficult to control because of the smoke and extreme heat.
While the New York Steam Heating Company and the gas companies exchanged claims that the other was responsible, Commissioner of Public Works Thomas F. Gilroy dispatched a team to investigate. (Gilroy served as Commissioner (1889-1893) before becoming Mayor (1893-1894).) The team consisted of Chief Engineer George W. Birdsall, Engineer Horace Loomis of the Bureau of Sewers, and General Roy Stone, Inspector of Street Openings for the Bureau of Water Purveyor.
They reported to the Commissioner of Public Works on June 18:
After sifting all the statements the commission expresses the opinion that the cause of the accident can be traced directly to the New York Steam Heating Company, whose excavations had been open so long that it had caused the joints of the gas mains to open allowing the escape of gas in large quantities and the failure to properly support the drip attached to the gas main in the first instance and the final breaking of the same by dumping a cart load of dirt upon it.
The steam company's pipes, according to the report, had been "a constant source of inconvenience and danger to the public." Further, Birdsall, Loomis, and Stone found that "the system of jointing is imperfect, and that leaks and explosions are frequent; that the high temperature and pressure affects everything within range; that there is a discharge of noxious gases from the manholes, and that the water in the distributing mains is heated."
The danger was highlighted by an article on the same page of the Times about another explosion at Broadway and Fulton Street the day the report was released. It was the third such explosion in a week at an intersection "which seems fated to be the scene of such exhibitions." Although the explosion did not damage the pavement, it did send steam into the buildings on one side of Fulton Street, causing the evacuation of all occupants and damage to everything inside.
The article quoted a report by William Webb, the general foreman on sewer repairs, who found that the company's pipes were "utterly defective, that they should be taken out of Broadway and other streets now crowded with other pipes, and that other locations for steam pipes be designated, and that a more perfect system of jointing be put in place." Unless these problems could be corrected, the company's charter should be revoked because as then constituted, the company's work was "a common nuisance, prejudicial to public health, destructive of property, and actually dangerous to life."
As for the report on the explosion the previous week, the Times quoted Mr. Prentiss, the superintendent of the New York Steam Heating Company, as saying that the report was unfair and contrary to the facts.
(In 1932, Consolidated Gas acquired approximately 75 percent of New York Steam's common stock, and on March 8, 1954, the New York Steam Company fully merged with Consolidated Edison.)
["A Broadway Gas Geyser," June 13, 1890
A New Shoal
The steamship Vincenzo Florio of the Florio-Rubattino Line left the Wall Street ferry dock on the morning of July 9, 1884, bound for the Mediteranean. As it passed between the foot of Whitehall Street and Governor's Island, the ship struck an underwater obstacle near Diamond Reef and began leaking from compartment No. 2. It anchored at the site overnight, then put into Erie Basin for repairs.
At first, steamship, harbor, and United States Coast Survey officials were confused about the obstacle the Vincenzo Florio had struck. An initial examination confirmed a depth of only 22 feet instead of the 26 feet expected at nearby Diamond Reef in the ship channel. Finally, officials realized the shoal had been discovered in 1881 and carefully investigated. The Times reported on August 3, 1884, that in 1881, General John Newton, Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had Assistant Engineer, General Roy Stone, to conduct the review. Using divers, General Stone located the barrier, as described in his report dated April 4, 1881:
The shoal extends on the 26-foot curve about 250 by 100 feet. Its greatest length is across the river in a line from Trinity Church, New-York, to Atlantic Mills, Brooklyn.
The Times also quoted his description of the shoal as consisting of "loose, unnatural small stones, brickbats, cinders, &c., in ridges and heaps and was undoubtedly formed by dumpage of ballast and refuse, though not apparently at a recent date."
The Times had covered General Stone's report shortly after he completed it. On April 13, 1881, the Times reported that General Newton had transmitted General Stone's report to the Board of Pilot Commissioners the day before. The article, which summarized "Gen. Ray [sic] Stone's" report, concluded: "The Pilot Commissioners placed the communication on file." Based on General Stone's report, a buoy marking the position of the shoal had been placed.
Following the plight of the Vincenzo Florio in 1884, the Times explained that the buoy had "frequently been carried away by the ferry and other river boats." However, the shoal was well known to all pilots and masters navigating the stream. The Times article added that officials planned to ask Congress for funds to remove the debris.
["A New Shoal in the Harbor," April 13, 1881
Fifth Avenue Fraud (or Not)
Contractor waste, fraud, and abuse have been part of the construction industry for millennia. (The Rambler hastens to add that he is referring only to the rotten apples that the good contractors have been trying for centuries, unsuccessfully, to eliminate from the profession so they would stop spoiling the "barrel.")
To anyone who challenges the assertion that contractor abuse is an age-old phenomenon, the Rambler will cite Mark Twain's travel book The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869. While describing his tour of Greece, Twain recounted an incident involving Xerxes, the King of Persia (picture Iran on today's map) who lived from 519 to 465 B.C. Xerxes is best known today for his supporting role in the hit film The 300 (released in 2006). The film depicts how [SPOILER ALERT FROM THE RAMBLER: THE FOLLOWING SUMMARY CONTAINS SPOILERS SO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE BATTLE OF THERMOPYLAE TURNED OUT] an extremely muscular force of 300 computer generated motion-capture Spartans blocked Xerxes' computer generated motion-capture army in the narrow pass at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Although the Spartans were overcome after 7 days of off-and-on battles, the delay helped the Greek forces build up their strength and confidence to defeat Xerxes (portrayed by computer generated Rodrigo Santoro) the following year.
The incident described by Mark Twain took place in 482 B.C. in the Hellespont, a narrow strait that is known today as the Dardenelles in northwestern Turkey. (As an aid to today's readers, the Rambler will point out that 482 was BEFORE 480 in those days, so Xerxes still thought his mighty army, not yet computer generated, was going to defeat the Greeks.) With that background, here is Twain's account:
Within the Hellespont we saw where the original first shoddy contract mentioned in history was carried out, and the "parties of the second part" gently rebuked by Xerxes. I speak of the famous bridge of boats which Xerxes ordered to be built over the narrowest part of the Hellespont (where it is only two or three miles wide). A moderate gale destroyed the flimsy structure, and the King, thinking that to publicly rebuke the contractors might have a good effect on the next set, called them out before the army and had them beheaded. In the next ten minutes he let a new contract for the bridge. It has been observed by ancient writers that the second bridge was a very good bridge. Xerxes crossed his host of five millions of men on it, and if it had not been purposely destroyed, it would probably have been there yet. If our government would rebuke some of our shoddy contractors occasionally, it might work much good.
(Today, the Federal Highway Administration employs the somewhat less fearsome tactic of debarment for rotten apple contractors.)
Rotten apples have been part of highway construction in the United States from the start, including construction of the National Road authorized in 1806 as a portage route from the Potomac River at Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia). This paragraph by historian Billy Joe Peyton raises themes that feel familiar, rotten-apple-wise, even today:
Contractors were expected to follow specifications, but the quality of work varied from contract to contract . . . . Many [contractors] had outstanding reputations and performed admirably, while others took shortcuts, scrimped on materials, or showed little pride in workmanship. Potential problems might be attributed to any number of things, such as inexperience, mismanagement, shortage of funds, or an overriding desire to open the Road at all cost. [Peyton, Billy Joe, "Surveying and Building the Road," inRaitz, Karl, editor, The National Road, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 142]
The subject of contractor abuse arises because of the repaving of Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1886. "For 150 years," wrote Mosette Broderick in The Grand American Avenue: 1850-1920, "people the world over have equated success in the United States with an address on Fifth Avenue." Lined with luxurious homes built by Astors and Vanderbilts and the shops to serve them, Fifth Avenue was a destination for tourists who came to stroll along "the most expensive street in the world." [Broderick, Mosette, "Grand Avenue" in Cigliano, Jan and Landau, Sarah Bradford, editors, The Grand American Avenue: 1859-1920, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994, p. 3]
The State Legislature approved the Fifth-Avenue Repavement Bill in May 1885. It called for repaving the avenue from 9th to 90th Street, with the exception of the section between 32nd and 37th Streets, which already had been repaved. To avoid problems, the legislation included "every possible safeguard," as the Times put it in an article on June 25, 1886. The article added that the law called for "the best obtainable kind of pavement, requiring the use of granite blocks of the most approved pattern." (Known as "Belgian blocks" because they were first used in Brussels, the blocks for New York City were quarried in New England. They were favored in the second half of the 19th century for their ability to withstand impacts from metal wheels and reduce residual dust and mud.) The contract was awarded to Mathew Baird in September 1885 for $429,559.50.
By June 1886, concerns were being raised about the quality of Baird's work. Although the project was under the supervision of Commissioner of Public Works Rollin Squire, the Commissioners of Accounts reported to Mayor William R. Grace on the results of an investigation by Engineer George T. Balch and Assistant Engineer E. E. Coryell. They had identified numerous frauds in Baird's performance of the contract, including failure to roll the roadbed as required in the contract and not meeting the specifications for the concrete base and granite blocks. The investigation also concluded that the inspectors employed by Commissioner Squire had not performed their tasks properly. Balch and Coryell estimated that Baird had saved about $75,000 on his contract.
In August, Mayor Grace had removed Squire from office and appointed General Newton to take his place. He replaced the inspectors Squire had appointed and added Coryell to the inspection team.
In September, General Newton ordered Baird to suspend his work to allow for a team of impartial engineers to examine the charges made by Balch and Coryell. The Times summarized the results on October 23, 1886, stating that the experts determined that "while there are some variations from the terms of the contract, the differences are not such as are substantial in their nature and extent." The article concluded:
Gen. Newton yesterday removed Engineer Coryell, from the position of Supervising Engineer over the repavement of Fifth-avenue, and appointed Roy Stone in his place.
To the extent that the Times search engine can be relied on, the project faded from the pages of the newspaper after this article. The Rambler, who may be biased in this matter, speculates that the project was completed successfully and that General Stone did his work efficiently.
["Right Under His Eyes," June 25, 1886
In 1834, a Coast Guard vessel under the command of Thomas R. Gedney discovered a channel leading into New York Harbor that would greatly improve ship movements. The channel was named after Gedney.
By the 1880's, the increasing use of steel for ship's hulls resulted in bigger ships that required deeper harbors. The need to deepen Gedney's Channel was clear from the number of ships that ran aground while passing through Lower New York Bay. The need was clear, but the best method of deepening the channel was not. The annual report of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army, to the Secretary of War for 1886 stated that:
The exposed position and frequent storms on the bar, the great depth of water, and other unfavorable conditions, made it a difficult matter to decide upon the best mode of deepening Gedney's Channel.
It was not expected that ordinary clam-shell and dipper-dredges could be used there to advantage and therefore in drawing up the specifications for the work[,] provisos were inserted requiring bidders to furnish plans and descriptions of the plant they proposed to use, and also a proviso that, if after the plan had been in use a reasonable time, and had not obtained good results, the contract should be annulled, and the contractor should be reimbursed a fair amount for his outlay.
The Times reported on December 10, 1884, that the three-man committee (Daniel Barnes, S. W. Carey, and E. S. Whitman) appointed by the New York Produce Exchange to urge Congress to fund channel dredging did not believe that the $200,000 appropriated for Gedney's Channel would be adequate. (The Produce Exchange was established in 1860 to provide a single location for the buyers and sellers of produce to meet and conduct business.) The committee's report concluded:
There is a narrow cut in Gedney's Channel through which ships drawing 26 feet may pass on ordinary tides and favorable circumstances, and there is still more water on "spring tides." Pilots affirm that they can take out as deep draught ships now as ever they could. The frequency with which steamers of 24 feet draught and under strike the bar, and the discrepancies between the last Government survey in 1881 and the surveys of Commander Taylor and of private surveyors more recently made, must be taken as evidence that in the interval a shoaling has occurred in other portions of Gedney's Channel.
As the requirements of commerce and of travel tend increasingly to larger and deeper draught steamers, in order that New-York may hold her supremacy against all competition, Sandy Hook bar should have as much water as it is possible to acquire.
The committee rejected construction of a system of jetties as "preposterous," and believed that ordinary dredging of an area of 500 feet by about 4,000 feet would be "too stupendous to be considered," according to the Times article.
The Corps advertised for bids, which were opened on January 15, 1885. The lowest bid, submitted by the firm of Morris and Cumings, proposed to use clam-shell dredges and centrifugal pumps at 35 cents per cubic yard. Aside from determining that the bid was irregular, the Corps was intrigued by a bid from "Roy Stone, of New York." The 1886 report described the bid as:
. . . deepening the channel by means of what he [General Stone] termed "hydraulic plowing," a process which consists in stirring up the material composing the bottom by means of a strong jet of water thrown against the sandy bottom during the ebb tide, which the projector thought was strong enough in Gedney's Channel to carry away the material so loosened.
Despite concerns about the proposed method of dredging, the Corps awarded the contract to General Stone on February 7, 1885:
As Mr. Stone's offer carried with it no obligation of payment on the part of the Government, unless he should deepen the channel to 28 feet for a width of 200 feet to begin with, and as it was certain that the ordinary means of dredging could not be successfully used in a place so much exposed to sea-action as Gedney's Channel is, it was decided to accept Mr. Stone's bid; but as very little confidence was felt in the success of this process, though it seemed expedient to give it a trial, the time for completing his contract was limited to June 1, 1885, and, if at that time satisfactory results had not been obtained, the contract was to be annulled without any payment being made to the contractor.
General Stone began the dredging on March 24, 1885. However, the Corps' concerns about the proposal proved valid, as the Times noted on July 5, 1885, in an article about the Corps' work. Referring to Major G. L. Gillespie, engineer in charge of improvements of certain rivers and harbors in New York and New Jersey, the article stated:
Last Fall the corps of Engineers under Col. Gillespie made an excellent survey of a large area of the outer bay for the purpose of ascertaining the exact character of its entrances, what changes had taken place, and what improvements were needed. This was followed by the Engineering Department giving out the contract for dredging Gedney's Channel to Gen. Leroy Stone. Gen. Stone's scheme only partially succeeded, and his contract was annulled. While it was determined that his system of steam plowing was admirably adapted for some purposes, yet in this channel it was found that there was not enough scows to carry away the material loosened.
Major Gillespie's annual report to General Newton was less charitable, as the Times explained on August 5, 1885. The Major recounted the difficulties that beset General Stone on this contract:
From the outset the method was unsuccessful, and after a short time an induction pipe was substituted for the water jets, which was expected to draw the material up to the surface of the water and thereby give it a better chance of being carried off by the current.
This, however, proved no more successful than the first method, and on the 14th of May, 1885, Mr. Stone was released from the contract at his own request. No money was paid him by the Government. [Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army, to the Secretary of War for the Year 1886, Part I, 49th Congress, 2d Session, House of Representatives, Ex. Doc 1, pt 2, vol II., Appendix E, 1886, p. 730-731]
When Morris and Cumings declined to accept the contract based on the company's earlier bid, the Corps readvertised for bids. Bids ranged from 33 cents to $1.50 per cubic yard, with General Stone having submitted the low bid. Because the General was "unable to prove his ability to execute the contract, his bid was thrown out."
An article in the Times on August 9, 1885, stated that Major Gillespie's report had not received enough attention:
It shows plainly that some method for permanently deepening and maintaining the channel should be adopted as soon as possible and expeditiously carried out. The experiment of dredging in Gedney's Channel is practically a failure. The deposits on the bar are dug up and swept off only to be brought back, and the work is one that would have to be continued indefinitely, and then with unsatisfactory results. In fact the contractor who undertook the job on condition of receiving pay only when a channel 28 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide had been attained gave up the task as hopeless.
The Chief of Engineers would struggle for years to keep Gedney's Channel open for all traffic.
["The Needs of the Harbor," December 10, 1884
Tracks for Trucks
In the late 1880's, trucks were a major problem in New York City. The trucks were pulled by horses in that era, but their weight was hurting the horses and damaging city pavements. On July 2, 1889, the Times addressed the issue:
Expert-testimony is not needed to prove that no form of pavement yet invented can stand the heavy traffic that goes on every day in the business districts. Along all the streets and avenues on which traffic is heavy, ruts and hollows are silent but conclusive witnesses to the faults of cobblestone and granite-block pavements.
General Newton's Department of Public Works estimated that as many as 70,000 trucks were engaged in daily business in the city:
They earn on an average of $450 per day, or a total of $100,000,000 per year, which is larger than the combined freight earnings of all the railroads that come to this city.
Only steel, the Times stated, "can be permanently satisfactory." It explained this conclusion by reference to General Newton's troubleshooter:
Such was the conclusion reached by Gen. Roy Stone, General Inspector of Street Pavements, more than two years ago. Gen. Newton, then Commissioner of Public Works, readily shared his views. They found that a system similar to that which they had in mind had been put in operation in Glasgow, but not with entire success. The rails used there were so smooth that injury to horses from slipping on them almost counterbalanced the advantages secured in the way of easy traction. By consultation and otherwise they devised a rail with shallow grooves running its length and so notched across as to prevent a horse from slipping. One of the large steel companies reported upon the model that a special roller would be needed to make the rail at a cost perhaps of $3,000. With this equipment rails could be turned out at about the cost per pound of steel car rails.
The article explained that in 1887, the proposal had been submitted to Mayor Abram S. Hewitt (1887-1888), who liked the idea. (Hewitt, a reform Democrat, had two main opponents in his 1886 election, one of whom was future President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, as he expected, lost, much to his relief since he had scheduled a trip to England 4 days later to marry his second wife, Edith Carow (following the death of his beloved first wife from complications following childbirth aggravated by Bright's disease). He came in third largely because Republicans had voted for Hewitt out of fear that if they voted for Roosevelt, the Labor party candidate, Henry George, a populist and advocate of the single-tax scheme, might become Mayor. George came in second.) With one modification (the rail should be depressed enough to leave the surface of the street level), Mayor Hewitt submitted the proposal to the Board of Aldermen. On November 12, 1887, the Committee on Streets and Public Works decided to authorize a section of tramway to be laid on a portion of Hudson Street. A Times article on November 13, 1887, listed the advantages:
Among its advantages, as claimed, will be the reduction of traction, or pulling, force required to move a load on the level to eight pounds per ton, as against 33 pounds on the best stone pavement; reduction of wear and tear of vehicles and roadway in like proportion; avoidance of blockages by reason of higher speed and heavier loading and consequent reduction in number of teams required for a given traffic; relief to Broadway and Fifth-avenue by drawing the heavy traffic to other streets; relief of street car lines from obstruction by wagons; absence of noise and the possibility of laying a smooth and noiseless pavement in residence streets with out attracting a destructive business traffic.
The article listed several objections and the answers to them:
Objection to the cost of a tramway system is met by the fact that a new pavement in a wide avenue like that in Fifth-avenue would cost $180,000 per mile, while a double line of tramway would be built and the present pavement relaid for $50,000 to $60,000 per mile. The objection that horses might slip on the rails is said to be avoided by the peculiar arrangements of the surface for that purpose.
The article of July 2, 1889, described the outcome:
The Aldermanic Committee on Public Works reported back the Mayor's communication with a resolution to carry it into effect over an experimental section on Hudson-street, in the neighborhood of the heaviest traffic. Some of the Aldermen at this stage became suspicious that the project might hide a scheme for private enrichment, and as the relations of the Mayor with the Aldermen were such that he could not plead with them, and as Gen. Newton would not, the resolution failed to pass.
The article did not explain what "scheme" the Aldermen feared - and the Rambler has not been able to find other information on this point. At the time, however, the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen were in a dispute over the board's authority on municipal matters. That is apparently why Mayor Hewitt submitted the proposal but did not feel he could plead with the Aldermen for their support.
However, an article on February 2, 1888, did provide additional details on what was then a recent event:
[The] question of an experimental tramway . . . was considered by the Board of Aldermen last November. At that time a resolution was offered by Alderman [Alfred R.] Conkling recommending the establishment of an experimental tramway in Hudson-street, between Duane and Canal streets, which, notwithstanding the fact that it was approved by the Department of Public Works, was lost on a division of the Board of Aldermen on Nov. 29.
This February 1888 article was prompted by a petition submitted by over 40 residents of Fifth Avenue to Mayor Hewitt. They asked "for a system of tramways in the streets parallel to Fifth-avenue, so that the heavy traffic which now fills the avenue with noise and wears out all too rapidly the costly pavement so recently laid may be diverted into other channels." Deputy Commissioner Smith of the Department of Public Works told the Times "that he thought it would be hard to find a street parallel to Fifth-avenue which is as level and free enough from street car tracks and other surface obstructions to be suitable for a tramway." After considering several options, he said he feared "that no tramway could be constructed which would divert altogether the heavy traffic from the smooth level roadway of Fifth-avenue."
Although the Department of Public Works would not be authorized to move forward, General Stone would remain committed to the idea of steel tracks. He would periodically return to the idea of steel track roads, as discussed in later sections of this article. The later sections will show that General Stone had patented a design for the tracks, and it is possible the Aldermen were concerned that he was promoting the idea for his personal gain.
["To Save the Horses," November 13, 1887
Southern Society Dinner
General Stone took a break from his work on February 22, 1890, to attend the Lenox Lyceum for an event sponsored by the Southern Society. The Times article on February 23 about the event described it as "the annual dinner of an association of gentlemen who have brought North with them the tradition of that past when a Southerner's house was his guest's house, their quarrels his quarrels, and their happiness the supreme aim of his endeavor."
The featured speaker was former President Grover Cleveland, who had been defeated in his 1888 reelection bid by Benjamin Harrison. Speaking on "The Birthday of George Washington," the ex-President referred to the first President as "the most thorough American that ever lived." Additional speeches included "The Negroes in the South" and "The West and the South." (President Cleveland became the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms by defeating President Harrison in 1892.)
General Stone was included in a long list of those in attendance for the event.
["Southern Society Dinner," February 23, 1890]
On August 22, 1890, Walter Howe drowned while swimming at Bateman's Beach near his summer home in Newport. Although Howe was an excellent swimmer, he appears to have been overcome by cramps and drowned before he could signal for help. He was 42 years old and left behind a wife and two children.
In 1888, Mayor Hugh L. Grant had appointed Howe to New York City's Aqueduct Commission. The commission had been chartered in June 1883 "to provide new reservoirs, dams, and a new Aqueduct, with the appurtenances thereto, for the purpose of supplying the city of New York with an increased supply of pure and wholesome water." With a seat on this important commission vacant, Mayor Grant needed to name a replacement. It would have to be a Republican, which Howe had been, because city law required a certain party distribution.
On September 5, 1890, the Times reported that Mayor Grant had received a petition from a number of prominent men recommending General Stone for Howe's position "on the ground that he has rendered the city important services, 'which are little known to the general public and have never been adequately recognized or appreciated.'" Cornelius N. Bliss, a wealthy merchant, Republican Party activist, and future Secretary of the Interior (1897-1899) under President William McKinley, and other members of the Union League Club also submitted a petition on General Stone's behalf. Endorsement by the Union League Club suggests that General Stone was a member, but The Rambler cannot confirm that (so don't quote him).
(The Union League Club was an influential social service organization, founded in 1863 to help preserve the Union. It helped establish the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870, played a role in the founding of the American Red Cross, helped erect the Statue of Liberty, and played a role in bringing down the "Boss" Tweed ring. According to the club's Web site, "Theodore Roosevelt managed his early political career from the Club's chambers," while early members included J. Pierpont Morgan, John Jay, William Cullen Bryant, President Chester A. Arthur, and Thomas Nast.)
The Times reported on October 1, 1890, that despite these endorsements, Mayor Grant chose Henry W. Cannon as Howe's replacement. Cannon, a member of the Union League Club, was president of Chase National Bank and had been Comptroller of the Currency under President Arthur. The Times explained:
Mr. Cannon is a member of the Union League Club, and some members of the anti-Platt Republicans of that organization are said to have urged his appointment. That he is not a Platt Republican is demonstrated by his appointment.
This was a reference to members of the New York Republican Party who opposed Senator Thomas C. Platt, the party "boss." (Platt had served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1873 to 1877 and in the United States Senate from March to May 1881, before resigning along with Senator Roscoe Conkling in protest of President James Garfield's Federal appointments in New York, and from 1897 to 1909. In addition to helping pass the Greater New York bill in 1898 that created the modern, multi-borough New York City, he used his position as Republican boss to promote a political rival, Theodore Roosevelt, as President William McKinley's running mate in 1900.) Since Bliss was a prominent anti-Platt Republican, the Rambler would speculate that General Stone also was anti-Platt.
["Death of Walter Howe," August 23, 1890
The New-York and Long Island Railroad Company
In the mid-1880's, business and civic interests began to consider the idea of linking New York City and Long Island by rail. (As just noted, New York City and Long Island were separate jurisdictions, not yet part of a single multi-borough city as at present. New York City consisted of the island of Ma nhattan.) Under New York State's General Railroad Act of 1850, a group of Long Island businessmen formed the East River Tunnel Railroad Company in 1885 for that purpose. The company reorganized in 1887 as the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, incorporating on July 30, 1887, under the 1850 Act. Financier Malcolm W. Niven was the leader of the investors who formed the company. Clifton Hood, in his history of the New York Subway, explained the company's goal:
Spread across several big islands (Manhattan, Long, and Staten) and parts of the mainland in New Jersey and what is now the Bronx, the New York region was split by such major waterways as the Hudson River, the East River, and New York Harbor, all of which disrupted the movement of people and goods. Of all the railroads that served this booming metropolis in 1887, only one, the New York Central, entered Manhattan; all the others terminated on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River or the Long Island side of the East River. There were no bridges or tunnels across the Hudson between New Jersey and Manhattan; indeed, the closest bridge over the Hudson River was located seventy-five miles upstream in Poughkeepsie. The Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, was then the only direct connection across the East River. The absence of such bridges and tunnels prolonged passenger journeys and raised transport costs.
The New York and Long Island Railroad intended to correct this situation. It was conceived as a terminal railroad that would carry freight and passenger traffic across the East River, mainly between New York Central's depots in Manhattan and the Long Island Railroad's terminal in Queens County. [Hood, Clifton, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 163]
Hood added that the "long, convoluted history" of this project "reveals some of the engineering, financial, and political problems that thwarted New York's early underwater transit projects." [p. 162] Although Hood, for some reason, was not interested in General Stone's role in these events, the Times covered the General's significant role, much to the Rambler's relief.
On August 6, 1887, the Times reported that "promoters of the scheme to build a tunnel under the East River from Hunter's Point to Fourth-avenue are exhibiting vigor and perseverance." General Stone, who was the Chairman of the Directors of the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, had been taking soundings between Hunter's Point in Queens and the New York shore:
With here and there a fissure, none of which is deep enough to occasion serious trouble, the divers have found the bed of the river composed of solid rock like that at Flood Road.
In view of the recent improvements in mining and quarrying machinery these conditions are most favorable to the project. Dynamite and compressed air have so reduced the expense, that tunneling through rock can be done cheaper than through any other formation. The new aqueduct is an example.
The reference is to the New Croton Aqueduct, which the Aqueduct Commission had approved to increase the city's water supply. Construction began in 1885, with the aqueduct opening in 1890 while construction continued. The article stated that the aqueduct tunnel, which was wide enough for a single-track railway, cost about $500,000 a mile:
It is assumed that the cost of a tunnel large enough for a double-track road would not be double the cost of the aqueduct tunnel. Conceding that as an outside estimate, the tunnel would be far cheaper than a bridge.
The Times described the route the company had identified:
Beginning at or near Borden-avenue and Hayward-street in Long Island City, it is intended to follow Borden-avenue to the river and to cross in a direct line to about Thirty-fourth street. Following Thirty-fourth street the tunnel will go to Fourth-avenue, whence branches will connect with the Grand Central Railroad Station and the New-York Central freight depot at Thirtieth-street and Ninth-avenue. A third branch may be extended to the Hudson River tunnel.
(Colonel Dewitt Clinton Haskin, an engineer from California who had worked on the Union Pacific Railway, began construction of a tunnel under the Hudson River in 1874, starting at 15th Street in Jersey City, New Jersey. Construction was delayed by legal and financial problems, but resumed on May 5, 1887, prompting the reference in the Times article. Financial problems again halted the project, which was completed in 1908 by William G. McAdoo's company.)
The tunnel, the article explained, "would establish connections between the railroad systems of the nation and the 400 miles now in operation on Long Island."
Canvassers for the company "began to skirmish around yesterday" seeking consent of property owners. "If half of them consent, the legal requirements will be fulfilled, and the organization of the company and prosecution of the work will immediately follow. General Stone, the article stated, "is giving the matter his closest attention."
On January 29, 1888, the Times informed readers that the company had petitioned the city's Common Council "for leave to construct a railroad tunnel for freight and passenger traffic under the East River and under the city, connecting Long Island City, the Grand Central Station, and, by the Hudson River Tunnel, the New-Jersey railroads."
General Stone participated in a hearing on January 28, 1888, conducted by Alderman James P. Fitzsimmons, chair of the Committee on Railroads. Everett P. Wheeler, president of the Reform Club, one of the directors of the company, and a long-time Democratic political activist, opened the discussion "with an address in which he set forth the benefits of a comprehensive system of tunnel communication between Long Island and the New-England, New-York, and New-Jersey railway systems." The Times summarized Wheeler's view that, "The feasibility of the plan was unquestioned." Appleton D. Palmer, the company's counsel, insisted that the time was right for "some radical and comprehensive plan for handling and transporting the rapidly-increasing commerce of the city," as the Times phrased it.
Committee members raised a concern that would be repeated in subsequent discussion of the proposal, namely that the tunnel would "tend to divert a large part of its present commerce from New-York." It would not, they were told. O. W. Barnes, another company director and a member of the Aqueduct Commission, told the committee that New York's harbor was so superior that there was little danger traffic would be diverted to Long Island. Further, he said, the tunnel would not only facilitate commercial business in the city but reduce its cost.
General Stone also addressed the point as well as a rumor being spread to undermine the company:
President Stone said that there now came 400 wagons daily with produce from Long Island, at an expense of not less than $2,000 a day. This traffic would be transacted through the tunnel in half the time now consumed and at half the expense. The story that a harbor for ocean steamers was to be established at Fort Pond Bay as part of the tunnel scheme, and that between them, the tunnel and the new harbor, a large portion of the foreign commerce of the country would be diverted from the city, he denounced as absurd.
On January 30, 1888, the company presented a petition to the Brooklyn Common Council for freight shipments on specified surface roads to be used only between midnight and 5 a.m. The petition covered a double line of tracks where needed, along with sidings, turnouts, and switches, as well as connections with side tracks on private property. The company also wanted the privilege of cutting across private property at the angles and curves needed after due compensation to the private owners. The council referred the petition to its Committee on Railroads.
On the afternoon of February 3, the Committee on Railroads of New York City's Common Council held another hearing on the proposal. According to a Times article on February 4, the meeting "attracted a large attendance of interested parties. But none of the expected opponents of the scheme appeared." The Times quoted General Stone's presentation extensively:
Gen. Leroy [sic] Stone, President of the company petitioning for the franchise spoke of the objections which have been urged against it. These were the attraction of population from New-York to Long Island by improved transit thereto, and the diversion of commerce to a rival port at Mantauk Point by opening a connection with the West through the city. "As to the first," said Gen. Stone, "in our view of the matter, it is only by means of cheap and accessible suburban homes that the vast business of this centre can be done at a cost that will not drive it away altogether. If all the people engaged in business and labor here were compelled to live on this island it is true that rents and real estate would advance for the time, but that advance would be a tax on business that would soon send it elsewhere and New-York would begin its decline. Commerce always, and manufacture of late, seeks the centres of communication, but they make those centres too valuable to be homes for their employes [sic] and they demand free outlets for that purpose to cheaper districts. The expenditure of some millions for labor in construction and the like addition to taxable values in the city would be items worth counting in immediate benefits.
"Regarding the diversion of commerce to the end of Long Island, it is impossible to consider the matter seriously when we compare Fort Pond Bay, a little notch on the north side of Montauk Point, open to all the winds that blow from the northeast to the west, approached through dangerous islands and shoals, barren of all means and appliances for storage or shipment, and utterly defenseless in time of war, with the great harbor of New-York completely land-locked, with a sea approach stretching, without island or shoal, from Montauk to the Bermudas and Hatteras, with a hundred miles of water front, and its costly equipment of wharves, warehouses, and elevators, and with safety assured by its defenses, or, as a last resort, by blocking the channels at Sandy Hook against an enemy's ships; but the climax of unreason is reached when all these advantages are to be sacrificed in order to attain the disadvantage of carrying freight 100 miles further by rail for shipment at double the cost of water carriage. For passenger service, if there was ever an object in having an ocean line from Montauk it was not to save the five hours difference in time by rail, but to make a quicker passage by means of larger steamers than could cross Sandy Hook bar and to avoid delaying for tide there. This object is no longer of importance, since the deepening of the bar is progressing so rapidly that vessels of greater draught than any now in use may soon cross at any stage of the tide.
"Our greatest business need is that of better facilities for freight transfer, collection, and distribution. It costs now $100,000,000 per annum to do this work. As the city becomes more crowded the cost increases, and but for the relief afforded in the water transfer by car floats our streets would before this have been completely blocked and traffic driven elsewhere. The crowding of freight stations into the water front injures both railways and shipping; the removal of those would largely put an end to the street blockages which are so costly and vexatious, and if each important road could have a central station in the heart of the city, with branch stations in various localities and a general junction for transfers, the problem of cheap city transportation would be solved. Manifestly this cannot be done on the surface without ruining the city for everything else. Beneath the surface it might apparently be done at a moderate cost and without harm to any interest. Even the truckmen would not suffer, for the improvement in facilities would bring such increase in business as to keep them fully employed. Upon the question of cost of depot and storage room below ground it is interesting to note that chambers can be excavated alongside a tunnel railway to the height of 18 feet for $2 per square foot of floor surface, or at the rate of $5,000 per city lot of 25 by 100 feet, a price much below the value of ground on the surface, and that, measured in cubic contents, such chambers would cost only $3 per yard against at least $10 for the same space in buildings well situated above ground. This saving in storage of such goods as may be kept below ground would amount to many millions annually, while the saving in insurance alone would be a very considerable sum."
R. K. Cortis, formerly the New York agent for the White Star Line, and Commodore W. H. Thompson, former commander of the Britannic, agreed with General Stone that freight and passenger shipment from an ocean harbor at Montauk would be impractical and expensive. The Times reported that the cost of shipping freight from New York to Montauk would be as great as shipping the freight from New York to Liverpool in England.
In March 1888, the Times covered discussions between the company and the Committee on Railroads regarding a franchise fee. On March 10, the Times explained that General Stone "claimed that his company should not be placed on the level of surface railways, for whose benefit the city had assumed great expense." Palmer, the company's counsel, objected that the Common Council did not have the legal authority to charge the company:
"How would 3 per cent. on the gross receipts do?" asked Chairman Fitzsimmons.
"It wouldn't do at all," replied Mr. Palmer, "but 3 per cent. on the net receipts might do."
["Gross" versus "net" represents a significant difference, as Hollywood movie studios have long understood. "Gross" revenue refers to the total ticket sales, while "net" refers to the profit a film makes. (In the case of the proposed tunnel, the difference was between total receipts from fares versus the company's profit.) Because of studio overhead (such as paying for flops), few films ever make a "profit," so wise negotiators seek a percent of gross rather than net. In case any Hollywood moguls are reading this article, the Rambler wishes to make clear that he is willing to sell the movie rights to "General Roy Stone and The New York Times" for an upfront payment plus a percentage of gross to be negotiated.)
While Palmer agreed to discuss the matter with the company's incorporators, Alderman James J. Mooney entered the meeting room:
Alderman Mooney . . . called upon Mr. Stone to explain an article that had been printed to the effect that an attempt had been made to blackmail the company by an emissary of the board. Mr. Stone said that no officer of his company knew anything on that subject.
The Times reported on March 17 that on the day before, the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company had assured the Committee on Railroads that the company would pay the city 3 percent of its gross receipts in lieu of all taxes in return for approval to tunnel the East River and under the city. Wheeler tried to get the amount reduced to 2½ percent, but the company agreed to the 3 percent.
["The North River Tunnel," May 22, 1887
On April 17, 1888, the Aldermen reached a decision on the bridge company's proposal. The Times coverage the next day highlighted a "most astonishing contest" that took place during discussions.
The majority report, signed by Aldermen Mooney, William Tait, Joseph Murray, and William P. Rinckhoff, rejected the project, largely because of the concern that the project would benefit Long Island at the city's expense:
Innumerable attempts to divert the traffic of this city to other localities have from time to time been made . . . . in the interest of private individuals and corporations and to the advantage of our rivals . . . and always against the earnest protests of our city authorities; but the application under consideration surpasses in cool effrontery any project of a like character ever called to their attention. Reflection is lost in amazement in contemplating the possibilities for evil to this city and its interests that are contained in the application of this railroad company and certain to befall the city if the proposition is favorably considered by those whose first duty it is to avert just such threatened evils, if in their power.
The petitioners, the majority stated, had surely underestimated the intelligence of the Aldermen if the company thought it had disguised its purpose:
In conclusion, your committee, being of opinion that your honorable body is not desirous of bringing the sand hills of Long Island into any closer or more active competition with the real estate located within our own corporate limits, more than half of which is still vacant and unimproved, that you are not in favor of giving a syndicate of individuals-a trust in the most offensive sense-an opportunity to enter into active competition for the control of the traffic of the port of New-York and the business of our own citizens, nor desirous of taking any action which will tend, in the remotest degree, to interfere with the future progress and prosperity of the city of New-York, respectfully offer for your adoption a resolution against the project.
The minority report, signed by Aldermen Fitzsimmons, A. R. Conkling, and Walton Storm, favored the company's proposal. Fitzsimmons tried to delay action in hope of rallying support for the minority's view, but the Alderman voted against the proposal.
Mooney stated that if the proposition were approved, the newspapers would claim the Aldermen "belonged" to Austin Corbin, president of the Long Island Railroad and a long time booster of Long Island interests. After Fitzsimmons denied that Corbin was involved in the proposition, Mooney made comments (not printed in the Times) suggesting that Alderman Conkling, whose father, former U.S. Representative and Senator Roscoe Conkling, was seriously ill, had stock in the company. Alderman Conkling replied that, "My only property consists in city bonds, real estate, and mortgages." Mooney's statement was, therefore, "false, malicious, and unmanly." He had never boasted of owning stock in a railroad company whose franchise was before the Common Council. "Can the Alderman from the Twenty-third Ward say as much?" he asked. "I never asked who was 'to be seen' in regard to railroad franchises." Mooney's insinuation that Conkling had an interest in the company "was false and malicious." (The phrase "to be seen" was at the heart of a corruption investigation, as will be seen.)
The Times stated that after these comments, "The Aldermen held their breath at the insinuations of Alderman Conkling." Mooney rose to reply:
When the Alderman of the Seventh District says that I stated he was interested in this road he tells an untruth. I've called him so once or twice before, but he isn't gentleman enough to resent it . . . . No gentleman, no person, save a monkey-skulking man like the Alderman . . . would dare approach me in the matter of railroad franchises. I have been here three years and no one can say that I was ever approached. Yet monkey business runs in the family. I will hold him personally responsible for his words before he leaves the chamber or in the neighborhood of the City Hall, and I have give [sic] him fair warning."
The president of the Common Council prevented Conkling from replying. Later, however, Mooney told a reporter that he regretted his comments about former Senator Conkling, who was dying. "I wish you would say that I regret very much my remark in the Common Council meeting to-day about the ex-Senator. What I said was very wrong, and I am sorry for it."
(Conkling died the following day on April 18, 1888, and is irrelevant to this article about General Stone, except for the indelicacy during the hearing. However, the Rambler is delighted to use the chance reference to the senior Conkling to digress to historian David McCullough's view of him. In his biography of Theodore Roosevelt, McCullough discussed Conkling's rivalry with Roosevelt's father. Calling Conkling "among the most fascinating, outrageous men of the era," McCullough describes him as "considerably larger than life." He was "tall, beautiful, enormously talented in the art of politics," but in the view of the senior Roosevelt and other reformers, "evil incarnate." He continued:
Conkling was not a crook; his name had been linked with no scandals; nor had he any personal crudities of the kind associated with a reprobate like [William Marcy] Tweed [the notorious leader of the corrupt political machine known as Tammany Hall]. What was so objectionable about Conkling was his utterly masterful, arrogant use of the very system [the reformers] deplored . . . .
Conkling himself, the picture of conspicuous manhood, stood six feet three, and was solidly formed beneath his extravagant clothes . . . . Women thought Conkling gorgeous, which he was. He carried a sun umbrella and favored bright bow ties, fawn-colored vests and trousers, English gaiters [cloth coverings for the lower portion of the pants], and gleaming pointed shoes. His beard was the color of burnished copper and it too was pointed. His hair was a darker red, thick and wavy, and he combed it to produce a single Hyperion curl at the center of his forehead . . . .
Though a married man with children he had for years been carrying on an affair with a fellow senator's wife, the beautiful, ambitious Kate Chase Sprague . . . .
He had little humor, no patience with those he thought beneath him intellectually. He remained haughty and insufferably vain, anything but a man of the people. He deplored the use of tobacco and whiskey and said so. He disliked reporters and crowds; he hated ever to be touched.
Conkling's base of power was the Customhouse on Wall Street, "the largest federal office outside Washington." It collected tariffs on imported goods, one of the Federal Government's prime sources of revenue - two-thirds of tariff revenue was collected through the Customhouse in New York. Conkling had installed Chester A. Arthur as Collector of the Port of New York. Although Arthur was not accused of corruption, virtually every aspect of the Customhouse's operation was corrupt. Nevertheless, President Rutherford B. Hayes fired Arthur as part of an ineffective reform effort.
Arthur, against his patron Conkling's advice, emerged as the Vice Presidential candidate in 1880 with presidential candidate James A. Blaine, a long-time Conkling foe. Shortly after taking office on March 4, 1881, President Blaine nominated a Conkling enemy,Judge William H. Robertson, to be Collector. In a fury at this breach of senatorial courtesy, Senators Conkling and Platt resigned, as noted earlier:
Both men had expected to be quickly vindicated and reinstated by a compliant legislature at Albany and thus to return to Washington stronger than ever. But it had not worked out as planned. Most people thought Conkling had made a fool of himself; the legislature turned on him and chose another in his place. Inconceivable as it seemed, the giant Conkling had come crashing down, his political career was ended.
Platt might have prevented the reversal in Albany, but he "had been discovered in a compromising position with a young woman and was forced to retire from the scene in disgrace." McCullough noted that Platt may have been framed but since that's no fun, the Rambler will ignore the suggestion.
As for Arthur, he became President on September 18, 1881, following Blaine's assassination by a disgruntled office seeker.
This brief digression describes the gentleman whose dying days created such sensitivity, affronted feelings, and unlikely apologies among the Board of Alderman. [McCullough, David, Mornings on Horseback, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2003, p.152-154, 171, 267])
["Some Personal Remarks," April 18, 1888]
A Sort of Joke
Following the elections of 1888, the railroad company tried again in 1889 after a brief glimmer of hope. The old Board of Alderman was still in office on January 3 when the Times reported:
A majority of the Aldermanic Committee on Bridges and Tunnels reported yesterday in favor of the adoption of the resolution to give permission to the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company to build a tunnel under East River and across the island under Forty-second-street. The report was laid over for the consideration of the next Board of Alderman.
The old board concluded on January 7, and the new Board of Altermen took office at noon on the same day.
This time, however, the company's petition was sent to the Committee on Docks, instead of the new Committee on Bridges and Tunnels. The Times reported on January 24, 1889, that H. V. Arnold, president of the Board of Aldermen, was surprised by comments that the Alderman had assigned the petition "as a sort of joke, but that was a good enough place to kill it in." Arnold called for the committee to hold a meeting on January 24 to consider the proposal.
At that hearing, Aldermen and speakers discussed whether the proposal would benefit Long Island at the city's expense. Alderman William H. Walker stated his view that "it might benefit Long Island by populating it at the expense of" New York City. Further, "its real purpose was to take freight through New-York without delay and to put it on steamships running from Montauk Point across the ocean." General Stone said he was hampered somewhat in responding to the concern because his company's papers had been sent to the Committee on Bridges and Tunnels. The article did not quote any comments he may have made on the benefit to New York City. However, two steamship company officials and Captain Ambrose D. Snow of the Board of Trade agreed "that the tunnel could not be used to divert commerce from this city, because steamships could not be run to and from Montauk Point as advantageously as from here." As summarized in the article, Captain Snow said:
New-York must be benefited by every railroad that came into it. The railroad might build up outlying places, but New-York would be the centre of supply for such places.
Before long, Alderman Walker rose "with dignity" to say he had some questions for General Stone:
He said: "A statement has been attributed to you that some of the members of this committee and of the Board of Aldermen are actuated by improper motives in taking the position they have taken in this matter. Those who utter it are moral assassins. If any one knows that there is truth in it I wish he would make a statement here publicly. Aldermen who voted in favor of corporations used to be assailed. Now we are assailed for not voting for a corporation."
"I did not know," Gen. Stone replied, "that any such statement was attributed to me. The company has not been approached in any way for the benefit of a member of the present Board of Aldermen."
The answer did not satisfy the Aldermen, particularly Orator Carlin. Chairman Walker had an extract from The Times read to back up his speech, but Gen. Stone denied that it contained any charge of wrongdoing against any present Aldermen. He corroborated its truthfulness, and repeated the statement made in it that he had been told some days ago that a combine had been formed in the board against the tunnel. As for corruption in the old Board of Aldermen, Gen. Stone declared that he had said all he desired to say before a Grand Jury last year. Finally Gen. Stone asked if the petition of workingmen in favor of the tunnel could not be got before the committee. He was assured that it was on the old files, and the board had decided not to take it from them.
(The Rambler notes that the Times article about the hearing, published on January 25, 1889, carried this subhead: "The Committee on Docks Insists That It Is Incorruptible.")
On January 28, 1889, the Times was harsh in its commentary on the new Board's actions:
Members of the Board of Aldermen resent the insinuation that their opposition to a railroad tunnel under the East River is due to a corrupt desire to be paid for their consent to its construction, and yet it is difficult to find any other explanation which would be a credit to the intelligence of a schoolboy.
The argument that the proposal would benefit Long Island at the city's expense "cannot be a real, honest reason to any mind that is not either ignorant or stupid." The editorial explained:
What New-York most needs for its future growth and prosperity is closer connections with the territory about it. The more tunnels and bridges there are connecting Manhattan Island with adjacent lands, provided there is no obstruction of navigation on its surrounding waters, the better for the city, and their construction should be encouraged and promoted in every legitimate way.
The talk of advantage to Long island "is the sheerest nonsense." The editorial saw "no danger" of business being driven from the city. "Probably the dullest Alderman does not imagine that it would be a good thing for the city if it were as difficult and expensive to get across the Harlem River as it is to get across the East River and the Hudson, and he ought to see that it would be a good thing if communication to the east and the west were as east and inexpensive as it is to the north."
The editorial saw a larger concept playing out in the debate:
The growth of the metropolis ought not to be restrained by municipal lines, but as its parts become more closely wrought together it would be well to obliterate partition lines altogether and draw the municipal boundary around the whole aggregation of population and business and wealth which really belong to a single community and have the lower part of Manhattan Island as their centre of operations. Under proper safeguards for public and private interests every effort of capital and enterprise to supply the bonds of union between sections of the metropolis and to give it a more perfect connection with the channels of traffic in every direction should be encouraged and promoted. All barriers should be removed, and our borders should lie open to the world.
The new Aldermen were quick to act, again rejecting the petition. The Times reported on January 30 that the application "was yesterday peremptorily denied . . . based on a report of its Committee on Docks adverse to the tunnel scheme." The committee's report began:
"It was not necessary to remind your honorable body," as does this new application, "that throughout the past year the company has constantly sought the consent of your honorable body to the construction of a tunnel railway joining this city with Long Island," nor is it necessary to inform Mr. Roy Stone and his company that the Common Council of this city has constantly and persistently denied the application. The vilification to which the members of the Common Council was subjected last year, and the villainous attempt made to injure their reputations, both as citizens and officials-at the instance of Mr. Stone and his friends-served to remind the re-elected members of the late board of the former tact.
"Mr Roy Stone, President, is simply an employee of the Department of Public Works, is in no way or manner a responsible person, does not own a dollar's worth of property in the city, if anywhere else, has no interest whatever other than the amount of salary he draws from its treasury in its welfare or prosperity, and it is very questionable if any of his associates are better qualified to engage in such an extensive enterprise; and your committee has come to the conclusion that Mr. Stone and his associates in the 'New-York and Long Island Railroad Company' are simply cat's paws, chartered or incorporated to draw this municipal chestnut out of the fire for the use of more important and better-known individuals, who, if their identify appeared, would arouse a feeling of indignation at this new one of the many schemes they have inaugurated and established, by which they have enriched themselves at the expense of the city of New-York and its people."
The vote was 16 to 9 in favor of the report. Alderman Carlin asked the Aldermen to reconsider, acknowledging that he did so to "kill the bill." Under the rules, a matter once reconsidered and readopted cannot be reconsidered. The Aldermen again voted in favor of the report.
The Times, also on January 30, carried an editorial describing the report of the Committee on Docks as "an extraordinarily flippant and frivolous document." If there were substantive grounds for rejecting the proposal, such as financial problems or lack of expertise, the committee might have had a valid objection. "But resentment for slurs upon the honesty of past or present Aldermen is a very poor ground upon which to decide such a question." The editorial added:
If the committee really thinks that a tunnel connecting this city with Long Island would be an injury to its interests, that is reason enough for opposing it, but it is really too shallow to be credible in the case of anybody but a New-York Alderman. Evidence accumulates that the Board of Aldermen is really too stupid and incompetent a body to be intrusted with the decision of any question affecting the interests of the city. Such power should be lodged where there was some chance of its intelligent and honest exercise.
On January 31, the Times carried a letter from General Stone responding to the report by the Committee on Docks. He did not respond to the personal attack on him, but only to details in the report:
Only one branch of the Aldermanic report quoted this morning needs comment. The cost of the East River tunnel is estimated, by better authorities than the Committee on Docks, at $5,000,000 instead of $15,000,000; the amount "paid up" and expended for surveys, &c., is between $5,000 and $10,000 instead of "less than $1,000", the present stockholders are not "irresponsible," but quite able to build the tunnel and the franchise cannot be transferred without being forfeited. These errors were corrected at the "hearing," but of course too late if, as stated in the board [sic], the report was already in type.
It is quite true that the capital of the company was temporarily fixed at $100,000, or only double what the law required, but, as the event proves, it would have been folly to pay an organization tax of many thousands of dollars on a charter dependent for its validity upon the action of the Board of Aldermen. If their consent is ever granted the capital can be increased by a simple vote of the stockholders. And the company is by no means hopeless of consent; it took three months argument to get four votes in the last board and only three weeks to get nine in this; at the same rate of progress the next board will make short work of the opposition to an improvement commended by the commercial bodies, the press, and the people generally, and opposed only by the orators who represent, I hope inadequately, the intelligence of Thirty-eighth-street. Roy Stone
[ "Work of the Aldermen," January 3, 1889
The Charge of Bribery
The charge of bribery would resurface in the spring of 1890 when the State Senate's Committee on Cities conducted its inquiry into municipal departments. As the Times put it in an article on April 8, 1890:
It was the Board of Aldermen that came in for the biggest share of the committee's attention yesterday. The poor old board came out of the day's entertainment with a very black eye. It was roundly abused, its total abolition was suggested, it was declared to be utterly useless, and one witness added to the general assault upon it by saying that, "the very name Aldermen is repugnant to an honest man."
Former Alderman Conkling had made the comment. He had served on the board in 1887 and 1888. Asked if he could describe the makeup of the board during that period, he said:
"Yes: one-half were in the liquor business, four were educated men, the remainder were ward politicians."
Conkling classified himself among the educated Aldermen.
He described how Aldermen Dowling had sought a bribe in exchange for his vote in support of an electric light company that wanted to run its motors on Fourth Avenue. Conkling was then asked if he could provide any other examples, including names:
Mr. Conkling then said: "Gen. Roy Stone, President of the New-York and East River Tunnel Company, told me that he had been improperly approached in the matter of the tunnel franchise."
"How was he approached?"
"He was called aside by an Alderman and told that money was a condition precedent to the passing of that franchise."
"Who was this Alderman?" asked [Senator J. Sloat] Fassett.
"Do you want his name?"
"Alderman Dowling." (D. R. Dowling.)
Corporation Counsel William H. Clark tried to object that when Conkling had appeared before a grand jury investigating the alleged frauds, his testimony was not allowed, but Clark was overruled.
General Stone was one of the witnesses before the Senate committee on April 19, 1890, as described in the following day's Times:
Gen. Roy Stone, ex-President of the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, said that he had been interested in an application made to the Aldermen in 1888 for the tunnel under the East River. The application was rejected.
"Has such an application been made to this board?" asked [Assistant Counsel A. R.] Boardman.
"Yes, but I have had no connection with the application before the present board." [Franklin] Bartlett [counsel to the current Board of Aldermen] objected and was again overruled. Mr. Stone said that the matter was still pending before the present Board of Aldermen. Mr. Boardman wanted to know whether the witness had any talks with Aldermen of the board in 1888 in which the matter of paying money for the franchise was spoken of. Mr. Stone said that one gentleman introduced himself to him as a member of the board, who said that it would be necessary for him to know who to "see" before the resolution was passed. "I did not continue the conversation. I knew what he meant. Later I was told that the resolution would not come out of the committee while we were pursuing the methods we were."
"Who was the gentleman who introduced himself to you?" asked Mr. Fassett.
"I don't think I should be asked that."
"The committee does."
"The matter is now pending before the Grand Jury, isn't it?" asked Mr. Boardman. Mr. Stone said that it was before the Grand Jury two years ago; he did not know whether it was before the Grand Jury now or not.
Senators McNaughton and Fassett both thought it was unjust to the other members of the Board of Aldermen of 1888 not to have the name or names come out. Mr. Stone said that the man who had spoken to him said that he had sixteen votes and that the bill could be passed. He did not mention the names of the sixteen men.
Senator Fassett questioned the witness at some length as to the meaning of the word "see" as used by the Alderman. Mr. Stone said that perhaps it was used in the parliamentary sense. Mr. Fassett did not believe it was. [Counsel to the Committee William M.] Ivins asked Gen. Stone if his inference that money was needed came from the use of the word "see" by the Alderman. Gen. Stone said that it was and that no money had been asked for. Mr. Ivins did not think that if this was so the committee had any further use for the witness. There was a deal of whispering between the lawyers and the committee, and Mr. Stone said that he did not wish to name the Alderman until he had been further advised. Finally Senator Fassett said that he would have to insist that the question should be answered. "It would seriously cripple this committee if it shrank from the point when it comes to such a thing as this," said he.
After more backing and filling Gen. Stone said: "Well, it was Alderman Dowling, the Vice President of the board."
"That's as ex-Alderman Conkling, testified" said Mr. Fassett.
The Chairman's queries then elicited the statement from Mr. Stone that Dowling had not asked for any money. He spoke of the methods that the company was pursuing, and Dowling made the statement to him that he wished it understood that he was not asking for money."
"Do you think he was?" asked the Chairman.
"I'll leave that for you to infer," was the answer.
Mr. Bartlett then asked whether he knew of his own knowledge that any of the members of the present board were dishonest. Gen. Stone said that he had had no experience with them. When asked whether any of the members of the present board had asked for any money for the franchise, he said they had not. The tunnel question is now before the Aldermen's Committee on Bridges and Tunnels. They have given three hearings on it.
This exchange concluded General Stone's testimony.
["Abolish the Aldermen," April 8, 1890
Another Try for Approval
As noted in the article summarizing General Stone's testimony, he had stepped down as president of the company. He was replaced by James D. Leary, a shipbuilder and contractor. (He would be known in later years as the contractor who built the Harlem River Speedway for light-harness horsemen.) The Times did not explain why General Stone stepped down as president, although later articles reflected his continuing interest in the project-hence the Rambler's continuing interest.
The Committee on Bridges and Tunnels decided to take the petition up again. (Despite The Rambler's manipulation of the Times' archive search engine, he was unable to figure out how this happened.) Nine months after receiving the petition, the committee had not issued a report on the proposal for action by the Aldermen. On December 3, 1890, the Times reported that Alderman Storm had offered a resolution on December 2 discharging the committee from further consideration so the petition could be considered by the Board of Aldermen. In response, Alderman Oakley created a sensation by claiming, "I have been approached and offered bribes if I would favor this scheme, and I have no doubt that other members of the board have had similar experiences." According to the Times, he offered no details of the bribe and was not asked to explain his assertion:
Oakley, however, was not in the revelation business even if he had anything to reveal. He simply went on in a general way to say that no scheme had ever come before the board with more corruption behind it. He used the old argument that the tunnel was a scheme of Austin Corbin to build up Long Island at the expense of New-York. If some of the Aldermen could be found, he said, to change their views and cast their votes for it, that might be taken as an evidence of rottenness.
Regarding the allegation of bribery, the Times said:
After the first surprise of his announcement had worn off the Aldermen began to think that Oakley didn't know what he was talking about. He has played the low comedy part in the Aldermanic show for so long that his words are not weighty.
Alderman John A. Dinkel stated that he was suspicious that the 9-month delay in committee was a demand for a bribe. Dinkel had taken office as an Alderman on July 2, 1890, following the death on June 28, 1890, of Alderman Louis Schlamp, and had taken Schlamp's place on the Committee on Bridges and Tunnels, which had taken no action on the petition since then. When Alderman Storm asserted that no Alderman could be bribed, Oakley called out, "Ask the Alderman if he has been retained by Col. Bliss, the attorney for the tunnel?" (This was a reference to Colonel George Bliss, a lawyer who was active in Republican politics in New York City and State, with considerable influence on legislation emerging from Albany.)
The Times article explained that the charge of bribery was not new to the tunnel project:
The application for the permit has been before three different boards. Two years ago, when Gen. Roy Stone was President of the company, charges were made that some of the members of the Committee on Bridges and Tunnels were willing to accept bribes. The Grand Jury investigated, and there were hints and innuendoes that reflected on the character of some of the Aldermen. No indictments were ever found. The Senate Committee on Cities also paid some attention to the matter, and before that body one of the witnesses testified that Gen. Stone had mentioned the name of certain Aldermen who had endeavored to get the company to bribe them.
The Aldermen voted to require the committee to provide some sort of report in time for the board's next meeting.
That meeting took place on December 9, 1890. The committee had met since the previous board meeting, but decided not to issue a report. Instead, the committee decided to ask the board to discharge it from further consideration of the company's petition. In response, Alderman Storm offered a resolution giving the board's consent to the company. Before the board could act, Alderman Oakley stated that the petition was not properly drawn and left the city without adequate protection. His remedy was a motion to commit the petition to the Committee on Railroads, but his motion was rejected.
Oakley then disputed the number of votes the measure would need to pass. When President Arnold answered that 14 votes were needed, Oakley claimed that a three-fourths majority was needed, but he was ruled out of order.
Finally, Storm's resolution was ready for a vote. The Times article on December 10 stated:
Alderman Storm made a long argument in favor of the tunnel. Alderman Clancy hinted at bribery, and wanted to know how so many of the Aldermen who had formerly opposed the tunnel now came to be in favor of it. When the voting was done it was found that 14 votes, just the requisite number, had been cast in favor of the franchise, while 11 votes had been cast in opposition.
The article contained additional details on the bribery charge:
After a fight that had its beginning three years ago, the Board of Aldermen decided yesterday by the closest kind of vote to grant the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company a franchise . . . . The company obtained the original right to build from the Legislature . . . . The history of the fight for this measure before the three Boards of Aldermen that have considered it involves much talk of bribery, and some ugly insinuations were made yesterday. In 1888 Alderman Conkling went before the Grand Jury and endeavored to get one or more Aldermen indicted for efforts to extort bribes for votes in favor of the measure . . . . Mr. Conkling's complaint in 1888 was chiefly against Alderman Daniel Dowling, but there was no evidence to support it.
As the article also noted, now that the Board of Aldermen had approved the franchise, "the only thing that remains to be done before the company will have a clear right to begin the work is for the Mayor to affix his signature to the resolution adopted yesterday.
On December 14, 1890, the Times carried a brief article indicating that General Stone had stopped by Mayor Grant's office to see if he had signed the resolution. "The Mayor did not discourage him." General Stone told the Times that all the preliminaries had been arranged except consents of property owners along the Long Island approach. The State had already conveyed a deed to the company for the underwater right-of-way. The article added that, "it is proposed to go fifty feel below the bed of the river for the excavation and to carry the tunnel across the city at the same level."
Although Mayor Grant was prepared to sign the resolution granting the franchise, he concluded that he could not. The Times reported on December 17 that Mayor Grant had returned the resolution to the Board of Aldermen because the wording was defective. The resolution stated that the company was to pay 3 percent of its gross receipts to the city "inclusive of all taxes and assessments," instead of "exclusive." Alderman Storm attributed the mistake to a clerical error. As a result, the resolution would be revised and put to another vote before the board.
The Board of Alderman approved the corrected resolution and Mayor Grant approved it on December 31, 1890, the last day of operation before the new Board, elected in November, took office.
["Oakley Charges Bribery," December 3, 1890
Construction Underway at Last
By January 25, 1891, the Times was reporting that a dozen surveyors and engineers were in Long Island City surveying the proposed line of the tunnel.
On October 21, 1891, the Board of Aldermen of Long Island City approved the right-of-way for the company's tunnel into the city and voted to give the company the franchise. The Aldermen added conditions to the approval, namely that the tunnel must come to the surface within the city limits and that the company was required to run passenger trains between the hours of 5 am and midnight. The Aldermen also called for bridges over Newtown Creek. According to the Times article the following day, this was the second time the board had considered the company's proposal:
The statement was officially made that the plans recently submitted had been changed substantially from those on which the Aldermen had acted adversely some time ago.
Henry B. Slaven, a company Director, told the Times that the board's action was the final hurdle. Construction would begin as soon as possible. "The charges made by some of the Long Island City officials that the company was composed simply of schemers who did not mean business, he said, was not true." He expected the tunnel to cost $10 million and to be completed in about 3 years.
Before construction could begin, Austin Corbin announced a rival scheme (as noted earlier, Corbin was president of the Long Island Railroad Company). On December 10, 1891, the Times reported that he had incorporated under "the more or less self-explanatory title of the 'New-York and Queens County Tunnel Railroad Company.'" The Times summarized the proposal:
The road is to be three and a half miles in length "under the waters of the North and East Rivers, and to be operated by steam, electricity, or other motive power." The termini of the road are to be "some point at or near the boundary line of the States of New-York and New-Jersey in New-York City, and some point at or near the mouth of Newtown Creek, in Long Island City."
The reporter tried to secure further information from officials of the company, most of whom comprised "the 'dummy' Board of Directors usual in schemes of this sort." But the reporter did locate General Stone:
Gen. Roy Stone, who is connected with the two tunnel schemes known as the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company and the New-York and New-Jersey Terminal Railroad Company, examined the route of Mr. Corbin's tunnel, and said that it was evidently intended as a strike against the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, to offset the cost of enjoying the advantages of the latter scheme. The New-York and Long Island Railroad Company is a bona fide scheme, backed by large capital, to build a tunnel under the East River from a point near the Queens County Courthouse, in Long Island City, to and under Forty-second Street to Eleventh Avenue, in New-York, with connections with the Grand Central Station system of railroads. The plan of the scheme is feasible, and has been fully ventilated and very generally approved. Consents have already been obtained, and there is an abundance of capital to perform the necessary work.
The opinion of Gen. Stone was shared by others familiar with the various tunnel projects.
In April 1892, the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company began construction of its East River Tunnel. It had hired the Inter-Island Construction Company as the construction contractor. Niven, who was listed as the secretary of the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, was president of Inter-Island Construction Company.
By December 1892, the company had drilled the shaft in Long Island City to a depth of 85 feet and had begun tunneling horizontally toward the East River. However, on December 28, 1892, an explosion that "shook Long Island City from end to end" brought construction to a halt, killing five and injuring many others. The Times described the morning incident on December 29:
The explosion was caused by Nicolo Loadano, the Italian who lost his life, thawing out dynamite cartridges in a stream box erected for the purpose twenty feet away from the mouth of the tunnel shaft . . . . A little before 8 o'clock the Italian laborer brought two boxes of dynamite cartridges from the storehouse on the meadows, on the outskirts of the city. It was badly frozen, so he placed the two boxes, which aggregated nearly a hundred pounds in weight, in the stream box to thaw out the explosive. Three minutes after he left the cartridges the explosion occurred . . . .
The scenes following the explosion were indescribable. From every door in the immediate vicinity issued men, women, and children with cut and bleeding faces. Before the reverberations of the explosion had died away it was found that the row of flats [facing Jackson Avenue] was on fire. Part of the rear walls of 25 and 27 had been blown in and those two houses where the first to catch fire. The entire Fire Department and police force of the city were summoned.
They were promptly at work, assisted by hundreds of volunteers, in rescuing the wounded and helping out the women residents, who were prostrated with fright. Many of them had not yet arisen from bed.
Loadano was the only worker killed. Of the 14 men at work on the shaft, only the foreman was injured. All the other deaths and injuries were suffered by residents of Long Island City.
Work on the tunnel was halted while officials assessed the damage and the coroner conducted an inquiry into the explosion. On December 30, the Times reported that property damage was estimated to total $100,000. An insurance company that specialized in insuring plate glass was identified as one of the biggest losers in the explosion, with losses estimated to total $15,000.
At the inquest on January 12, 1893, the foreman, Peter McAltee, testified that 64 packages of dynamite was being thawed out in the stream chest at the time of the explosion. He could not explain how the explosion had occurred.
On February 3, 1893, the Times reported that the inquest into the cause of the explosion came to an end the day before:
In its verdict, the jury stated it was unable to designate any cause for the explosion, and attributed it to "unforeseen circumstances."
Work has been abandoned at the tunnel since the explosion. This week a gang of laborers began taking down the machinery and carting it away. The mouth of the tunnel was floored over and the pump taken out.
The ninety-foot shaft is now half filled with water, and persons who were damaged by the explosion are beginning to fear that the project has been abandoned and that no way will be left for them to recover against the company.
The Inter-Island Construction Company promised to resume work as soon as a compressed-air plant was put in, but regardless of the sincerity of the assertion, the delay would be prolonged. The Panic of 1893, the worst economic crisis the country had ever faced, made fund raising difficult until recovery began in 1896. (The Panic had been triggered by the collapse of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in February 1893, bursting a credit bubble in May. Professor H. W. Brands, in his book about the 1890's, described the impact:
Consumers stopped purchasing, retailers canceled orders, factories shut down, workers drew pink slips, and commodity prices plunged. Iron and steel business was flattened overnight. Big, well-financed corporations retrenched and lived off reserves; smaller firms dissolved. Credit contracted with a suffocating sound. The best bonds went begging; unproven ventures . . . drew derisive laughs from investors fortunate enough to be still liquid. [Brands, H. W., The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s, St. Martin's Press, 1995, p. 63])
A year later, on May 2, 1894, the Times reported that Niven was in England talking with a syndicate of English capitalists who were thinking of subscribing $8 million for the tunnel. The article added:
The [Inter-Island] company met with considerable difficulty in settling claims for damages resulting from the explosion, and there are many persons in this city [Long Island City] to-day who say that they never received anything but promises of indemnity for their losses. Several of those who were seriously injured have, it is said, secured large judgments against the corporation. There will be general rejoicing here if a portion of the reported $8,000,000 subscribed in England is devoted to the settlement of existing claims.
The article also pointed out that the project had been proposed by the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company, but it was "at present said to be controlled by the Inter-Island Construction Company, with offices at 45 Broadway, New-York."
Construction had still not resumed by 1899 when the Times reported on March 8 that construction might soon begin. Nevin was again in England trying to raise the capital for reorganization of the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company. The article explained:
About three years ago steps were taken to raise money to resume the work on the tunnel, but a short time later William Steinway, the leader of the movement, died, and again the carrying out of the plan was postponed. Mr. Steinway's heirs are not actively interested in the work of reviving the undertaking. It is estimated that it will take about five years to build the tunnel.
Steinway, whose piano firm Steinway and Sons, was world famous, had "responded to the second call for capital in July 1891 and soon became the railroad's largest stock holder." [Hood, p. 164] (He was first identified in the Times as a director following the company's annual meeting on October 21, 1891.) In addition to his business ventures, Steinway was president of the Rapid-Transit Commission formed under the State's Rapid Transit Act of 1891 (approved January 31, 1891, by Governor David B. Hill) and a strong advocate for construction of the subway. He also owned real estate in Long Island City as well as the Hunter's Point Railroad, a horse car transit line.
According to David Rogoff, writing in Electric Railroad #29 (Electric Railroaders' Association, April 1960):
By obtaining control of the tunnel company, it would increase the value of his properties. It was his plan to operate the tunnels by electricity which had recently been harnessed for electric traction motors. Stations were to be scattered along the route for both passenger and freight service. Upon assuming control he appointed Henry B. Hammond, a prominent railroad official and lawyer, President with himself as Vice-President. Pomeroy P. Dickinson, who had built the Hudson River Railroad bridge at Poughkeepsie became Chief Engineer and Malcom Niven, Secretary.
The contract for the construction was awarded to Myles Tierney a contractor who had built the Washington Bridge over the Harlem River at 180th Street. He in turn gave the contract to the Inter-Island Construction Co. which he founded on Jan. 6, 1891 in association with Niven.
Steinway died in November 1896 before financing could be arranged.
Earlier that same year, on June 4, 1896, Austin Corbin had died when he was thrown from his carriage in Newport, New Hampshire. The Times reported the death of the Long Island booster the following day:
The accident took place at 3 o'clock this afternoon, when the party started from Mr. Corbin's country house on a fishing trip. They rode in an open carriage drawn by a pair of horses which the coachman, [John] Stokes, was driving
Just as they were moving out of the yard, the horses, which were being driven without blinders for the first time, shied, and all the occupants were thrown down an embankment against a stone wall.
Corbin and Stokes died from their injuries.
["The Tunnel to Long Island City," January 25, 1891
The Steinway Tunnels
Although Roy Stone had moved on to other endeavors in 1893, the Rambler will continue the narrative of the tunnels to demonstrate that the General's labors were not in vain, even if they did not benefit him.
August Belmont, Jr., a wealthy banker, took an interest in the tunnel between Long Island and New York City in 1902. According to Rogoff:
Control of the financially shaky New York & Queens County and its sister company the New York & Long Island Railroad passed from Steinway's successors, along with the franchises to Belmont, for the sum of about $80,000. Although Steinway owned both companies, they were always kept as separate corporate entities.
The revived tunnel program became known as the "Belmont Tunnels" although Belmont preferred to have them known as the "Steinway Tunnels."
Construction of the Steinway Tunnels resumed in 1905 using a cylindrical tunneling shield. William Barclay Parsons had used the innovative technique, which had been patented in England in 1869, as chief engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission. In "A Short History of Shield Tunneling," Jerome B. O'Carroll stated:
Parsons joined forces again with August Belmont, with whom he had worked previously on the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) to construct the Steinway Tunnel in 1907. It was on the Steinway (now known as the Queensboro Tunnel) that the use of the hydraulic shield was developed further.
The hydraulic shield, as it was developed during the construction of the Steinway Tunnels, offered ground support and protection against flooding by the inclusion of a solid bulkhead that allowed the excavation of the tunnel to be carried out in compressed air. The incidence of flooding and face collapses was reduced considerably but, unfortunately, the fatality rate did not decrease because workers spent long periods of time in compressed air without undergoing proper decompression procedures. [O'Carroll, Jerome B., A Guide to Planning, Constructing and Supervising Earth Pressure Balance TBM Tunneling, William Barclay Parsons Fellowship, Parsons Brnckerhoff Monogragh 18, April 2005.)
The north tube was completed in 1907, with a symbolic trip marking the end. Clifton Hood described it:
On September 24, 1907, streetcar number 601 made the first official trip through the tunnel, carrying August Belmont and T.P. Shouts of the Interborough, Michael J. Degnon of Degnon Construction Company, several Public Service commissioners, and other dignitaries. The streetcar went from Jackson Avenue station in Long Island City to Grand Central in less than four minutes, a dramatic improvement over the thirty-five or forty minutes needed to make the same journey via ferry and trolley. [Hood, p. 168]
New York City had taken several legal actions against the company, including a challenge to the franchise granted to the company in December 1890. The city claimed the franchise, which had been extended several times, had expired. Rogoff noted that the city also objected to the revenue it would receive, pegged at 3 percent of gross earnings, as agreed to in 1888, and the fact that the privately owned company was "under the relatively weak control of the Public Service Commission, a state agency, as to fares and service."
Although the company won in court, the court also ruled that the company did not have permits to dig under the river docks and that the route had been altered since the franchise was granted.
Belmont operated cars in the tunnels for curious visitors but without a franchise to operate for revenue, and the status of the company in limbo, he offered the tunnels to the city. While the city and the Public Service Commission fought over the offer, Belmont sealed the tunnels until the issue was resolved when he sold the tunnels to New York City on April 3, 1915, with the IRT assuming responsibility for their completion and operation.
Hood summarized the issues that had delayed the opening:
[After the] ceremonial run through the tubes in September 1907, its formal opening was delayed by a dispute between the government regulators and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company over the validity of the IRT's franchise. The Interborough had built the tunnel under the terms of the New York and Long Island's old franchise [i.e., the one General Stone had worked so hard to secure - The Rambler] issued during the laissez-faire period of the late nineteenth century, this franchise granted the private corporation perpetual control of a public right-of-way, allowed it near complete freedom from government supervision, and imposed modest fees on it. Such generous grants of power to a private business were not uncommon during the 1890s, but the construction of the Steinway tunnel took so long that the political situation changed by the time it was completed. The Steinway tunnel thus became entangled in the general conflict about government regulation of business that was a major concern of the progressive era. It also became caught in the Interborough Rapid Transit Company's battles with the Public Service Commission over the monopoly of rapid transit in Manhattan and its refusal to build new subways; until these critical issues were settled, the PSC refused to sanction the Steinway tunnel's opening. Only when the IRT and the PSC resolved their larger differences with the signing of the dual contracts in March 1913, was the Steinway tunnel released from limbo. Under the terms of Contract No. 3, the IRT agreed to sell the Steinway tunnel to the City of New York for $3 million and operate it as part of its Queensboro subway route.
Originally equipped for electric streetcars, the tunnel was then reconstructed to handle the IRT's subway trains. The tunnel finally opened on June 22, 1915, twenty-three years after construction had started and eight years after trolley number 601 had gone through it. [Hood, p. 172]
Opening ceremonies for the Queensboro Subway, formerly called the Steinway Tunnel, took place on June 22, 1915. The Times described the festivities on June 23:
An unofficial train carrying the Interborough officers, members of the Public Service Commission and guests left the Manhattan terminal at 10:45 o'clock, and arrived two minutes and fifty-five seconds later at Jackson Avenue station . . . . The party was met at Jackson Avenue by officials of Queens Borough, officers of civic and business organizations and a large delegation of citizens. When the ceremonies were begun, the stairway of the westbound tunnel was used . . . by the speakers, while the platform was packed with those who went to hear the addresses.
August Belmont . . . predicted the rapid development of Long Island City and the rest of Queens Borough. That the Queensboro Subway had not been completed sooner was due not to lack of zeal on the part of the officials of the enterprise, and public officials, but to lack of wisdom.
Borough President Connolly said the residents of Queens well knew what the opening of the tunnel would mean for them, and they rejoiced.
Mr. Ryan and Mr. Adkes, representing the Chamber of Commerce, forecast the development of Queens that would follow increased transit facilities. Both expressed the gratification and thanks of the people to the Public Service Commission, the Mayor, the Board of Estimates, and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.
Following the addresses at the Jackson Avenue terminal the officials, Commissioners, borough representatives and guests started at 12 o'clock on the first official train to make the run from Long Island City to Manhattan.
Two other trains followed the first train, all to be greeted by large crowds waiting in the New York City stations.
(The Times noted that the rapid speed of the unofficial train, under 3 minutes, was possible because it was the only train operating on the line. "Ordinarily trains will be operated with a headway of between four and five minutes.")
The Rambler will speculate that no one, on this important occasion, thought of, much less mentioned, General Stone. He had fought hard for the tunnel, and had helped steer it through the difficult early stages to success in securing the franchise on the last day of 1890. Those early battles had been followed by so many later battles - a destructive explosion, a search for money during a devastating Panic, rival plans, political battles, court fights, and a transfer from private to public hands - that the Rambler formally forgives those officials who on June 13, 1915, neglected to recall General Stone's contributions.
Today, the Steinway Tunnel carries two tracks of the 7 train of the New York City Subway. The Rambler invites readers in the New York area and members of the nonexistent General Roy Stone Fan Club to take the train some day and think about General Stone.
["Queensboro Tunnel Officially Opened," June 23, 1915]
Terminal Railroad Company
The New-York and Long Island Railroad Company was not General Stone's only interest in tunnels. He also was involved in the New-York and New-Jersey Terminal Railroad Company. The Times reported on February 3, 1891, that the company had filed articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State in Albany the day before:
The capital of the company is $100,000. The road is to run from New York City to a point in the township of Kearney, N.J. In this city the road will begin at the easterly end of Fourteenth Street and run in a tunnel to the westerly end, where it will go under the waters of the Hudson River to Hoboken. It will run in tunnels under Hoboken and Jersey City to a point near the Hackensack River, thence under the last-mentioned river to the junction of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and the Pennsylvania Railroad in the town of Kearney, N.J.
The road will have a branch beginning at the intersection of Hudson and Fourteenth Streets in this city and running in tunnels under Hudson Street to its intersection with Chambers Stre et, thence south to the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets, and thence underground beneath Broad Street to the East River.
The company took an important step forward when the Land Commissioners in Albany approved the application for a grant of land under the Hudson River at 14th Street. On May 29, 1892, the Times wrote about the approval in an article that featured General Stone's views. The article stated that after the company secured further tunnel rights from the Sinking Fund Commissioners ("and there is said to be no doubt that this also will be granted"), the next step would be to apply to the New York City Board of Aldermen for approval. The company would also need consents from property owners in the city, but work in this area "is already well advanced." The company was confident of its progress:
[At] the office of the company full confidence is expressed that within a very short time all of the necessary franchises will have been obtained. It will then be necessary to obtain similar franchises in New-Jersey. In that State the process is one of condemnation and, so far as is now seen, nothing can stand in the way of such proceeding.
After describing the proposal in detail, the Times continued:
Gen. Roy Stone, the engineer in charge, says that the most careful calculations have been made, both as to the physical feasibility of the scheme and as to its financial prospects. He is perfectly confident that the tunnel can be constructed by the usual methods in the rock sections, and in the earth by the Greathead system, or by the Jennings & Stannard plan lately used by the London and Northern Railway.
As to feasibility, General Stone continued:
Gen. Stone says that if the feasibility of tunnel construction shall be admitted there can be no possible doubt of providing fast and comfortable travel by electricity. Electric companies have undertaken to provide motors that will carry trains of 500 tons at the rate of thirty miles per hour through the tunnel of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the City of Baltimore. The construction will be undertaken in the Baltimore Tunnel under this guarantee and Gen. Stone has no doubt that it will be entirely successful, the underground conditions for the use of electricity being more favorable than are the conditions in the open air . . . .
Conferences and correspondence have been had by the terminal company with the engineers and other officers of the great railroad companies that have termini in New-Jersey. Gen. Stone says that they seem to be much interested in the project, and he has letters from some of them showing this beyond doubt to be the case . . . .
Gen. Stone has had occasion to write one letter comparing the location of the proposed road with the proposed Corbin tunnel as to the possibilities of New-York passenger business. In this letter he says that Union Square is the best distributing and gathering point for travel in the city by carriage and by foot. Trains in the proposed tunnel will have a double use for the elevated and other north and south railroads by striking them in the middle . . . .
Gen. Stone is encouraged to believe that the tunnel system, when understood, will be regarded as much more feasible than a system of bridges. One reason for this belief is that the tunnel system affords ample terminal space, which cannot be obtained in the construction of bridges. Another reason, and one quite as potent, in his opinion, as that of terminal space, is that the lowest estimate he has seen for the construction of a bridge adequate for large railroad travel is about $50,000,000, while the cost of a tunnel of equal or greater capacity would not be much more than one-third of that sum.
An approximate cost of the undertaking estimates $2,000,000 per mile for the three and five-eighths miles of four-track line, including intermediate stations, or $7,250,000 for the main tunnel. He estimates that the two-track tunnel for business down town will cost $1,000,000 per mile for two and half miles, or $2,000,000. The cost of the passenger station at Union Square is put at $900,000, while the cost of a tunnel of equal or greater capacity would not be much more than one-third of that sum.
The Board of Aldermen's Committee on Bridges and Tunnels considered the proposed on June 19, 1893. The Times mentioned the committee's action the next day without describing the discussion. It summarized what the company was seeking, namely permission to tunnel under the city to build the terminal system for trunk lines:
The plan is to operate the trains by electric power and to have four tracks from the Hackensack meadows to Union Square, under which it is proposed to have a union station. Stations for way traffic will be at Sixth Avenue and Ninth Avenue on the main tunnel, and at Houston, Chambers, and Wall Streets on the down-town branches. There will be sidings under the Post Office for the delivery of mails. The tunnel will be 100 feet below the surface of the streets and the stations will be reached by elevators. The project calls for six miles of tunnel in this city and the station at Union Square is projected as a vast affair, with greater capacity than the Grand Central Station and with sixty miles of track. The estimated cost of the scheme is $16,500,000.
The Rambler has been unable to determine if General Stone played a role after he moved on to the Good Roads Movement. It is not likely.
The company's proposal was only one of several proposals for linking New York City with New Jersey. On September 27, 1896, the Times reported that the company had merged with two other companies, the Central Tunnel Railroad Company (formed 1881) and the Terminal Underground Railroad Company (1883), to protect their rights:
The combination just formed claims to have rights in the route on which the commission is now working, and it is for the purpose of conserving these interests that the companies agreed to consolidate under the name of the Underground Railroad Company of the City of New-York. A certificate of their agreement has been sent to the Secretary of State.
Cornelius V. Slidell of 146 Broadway was the President of each of the old companies, and is President also of the consolidation. He explained yesterday that the intention of the original corporations was to have a grand trunk line terminal in New-York, which was to approach the city from New-Jersey by a tunnel under the Hudson River, reaching to City Hall Park.
Although the companies had secured some rights, "none did any actual constructive work," the Times explained. Slidell said, "Everything was done, however, that was demanded by law. For this reason we now claim vested rights in the present route, and we proposal to maintain them." The consolidated company filed a certificate with the New York Secretary of State on October 2, 1896.
Given the difficulty of tracing whether the consolidated company led to construction of a tunnel between New York City and New Jersey, the Rambler will move on, as General Stone did, to the Good Roads Movement.
["Underground Terminals," February 3, 1891
To Improve the Roads
The League of American Wheelmen (LAW) was the leading organization behind the Good Roads Movement. On September 11, 1892, the Times reported on "What Bicyclists Have Done." The article began:
It does not seem possible, even in these days of rapid growth and development of popular movements, that the subject of roads and the improvement of the same could be so widely disseminated by an athletic organization as has been the case with the League of American Wheelmen. Since the inception of the movement its growth has been marked, and the distinct credit that will come to the organization was forcibly expressed by the President of the United States, when he turned to Col. Charles C. Burdett, the President of the Wheelmen's league, upon the occasion of the visit of the cyclers at Washington in July, and said: "One thing: if wheelmen secure us the good roads for which they are so zealously working, your body deserves a medal in recognition of its philanthropy."
President Benjamin Harrison's comment came on July 19 while he and Burdett stood on the balcony of the White House watching the annual parade of LAW bicyclists. The Times had reported on the parade on July 20:
In point of numbers, the parade broke all previous records, being the largest turn-out of cyclists ever seen in this country. Nearly every State in the Union was represented. Order and discipline were not well maintained in some divisions, and discreditable straggling and disorder resulted.
(The article also quoted a letter President Harrison had written to Colonel Albert Pope, the pioneering Boston bicycle manufacturer and prominent good roads advocate. The President had said:
A want of understanding and system has resulted in a nearly useless expenditure of enough labor and money to have furnished the settled portions of our country with good substantial roads.)
One of the LAW's promotional ideas was to include a good roads exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The exposition was originally to take place in 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first trip to North America. Problems delayed the fair until 1893, but backers scheduled a dedication ceremony on October 21, 1892.
General Stone, in cooperation with the LAW, had drafted a National Highway Commission bill. It called for a commission to formulate plans for a national school of roads and bridges, gather information on progressive State highway laws and foreign practices, and prepare a road exhibit for the exposition. The commission would also submit a report containing recommendations for a permanent commission. Representative Philip S. Post (R-Il.) had introduced General Stone's bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 29, 1892, while Senator Charles F. Manderson (R-Ne.) had introduced the bill in the Senate on July 5. (Post was born in Orange County, New York, in 1933 and graduated in 1855 from Union College in Schenectady, a year ahead of General Stone. The Rambler suspects they knew each other in college, but cannot confirm it. Their cooperation on General Stone's bill may have been a coincidence of shared interests.)
On July 20, the day after the bicycle parade, Burdett, General Stone, and others appeared before the House Committee on Revision of Laws to urge passage of the National Highway Commission bill "and later paid their respects to President Harrison." They also appeared before the Senate's Interstate Commerce Committee. As the Times' article on September 11 explained, "They, with Gen. Stone, the framer of the bill, offered such convincing arguments that the Senate Committee favorably reported it to the House [meaning the Senate] on July 23." The full Senate approved the bill on July 27, 1892.
On October 12, 1892, the Times reported:
The latest agitation to take shape is that of the National League for Good Roads. This proposed organization will hold a meeting at Chicago on October 19, and its main promoter is Gen. Roy Stone.
Invitations were to be extended to "State and local road-improvement societies, the League of American Wheelmen, Boards of Trades [sic], Chambers of Commerce, and patrons of Husbandry, and to all the farmers' associations, as well as to a number of private individuals who are interested in this movement." The LAW's leadership was committed to participating in the event, in part to interest fair organizers in the good roads exhibit.
The New York delegation to the convention left the city on October 17, 1892. The Times reported the following day that the delegation included representatives of the chamber of commerce, board of trade, and the New-York State Road Improvement Association.
General Stone had gone ahead:
Gen. Roy Stone, who has done as much as any other man to push the movement, has gone to Chicago for advance work in relation to the meeting. He carries with him signatures that he has obtained by correspondence and otherwise from every State, and containing the name of some person prominent in every department of business and industry.
The Times reported that insurance companies were especially interested in the cause:
The expenses of handling country business grew largely out of the bad roads. When a country house catches fire the difficulty of reaching it is responsible for a good share of the loss sustained by underwriters. The insurance companies believe that the Government ought to spend largely out of its surplus for the improvement of the roads. They think that convict labor might very well be employed in this way wherever it may not be used as a rival of honest labor in mines and manufactories. Few men voluntarily go to work at breaking stone on the road when they can possibly make a living any other way. It is therefore urged that if convicts were put at this work there would be no objection on the part of laboring men, while the prospect of working on the road would operate as a positive deterrent of crime.
The Times also noted the interest of farmers, who would "be able to get their produce to market much more readily over good roads than over bad ones, and it is believed that they will see that this movement must contribute to their material prosperity." The article concluded:
Those who are the most prominent in the movement feel that it has gained such widespread favor that no argument is needed to convince the people of its importance. Acting upon this supposition they believe that it will be comparatively easy to prevail upon Congress to take up the matter and make it one of national concern.
As described in "Portrait of a General," the Chicago convention resulted in organization of the National League for Good Roads. The new organization's executive committee met on November 3, 1892, at its temporary headquarters in General Stone's office at 45 Broadway. (The Rambler reminds drowsy readers that this address was last seen in this biography as the office of the New-York and Long Island Railroad Company/Inter-Island Construction Company. Wake up, readers - take a walk, eat some chocolate, drink coffee, whatever it takes. You're only one-third of the way through this epic!)
A Times article the following day about the meeting explained that the purpose "was to take steps to further the work of the league and extend its usefulness." Actions included:
The first step was to appoint committees from the different cities which will nominate finance committees for these cities . . . . Similar committees were appointed from the wagon and bicycle manufacturers, both of whom are interested in this matter . . . .
The committee appointed representatives to participate in the Grange's national convention on November 16 and the Southern Inter-State Road Congress that same day. Letters received from Governors were read; the league had written to all Governors seeking their cooperation. A circular would be prepared explaining how to establish local leagues, while members would all receive a pamphlet containing the proceedings of the Chicago convention.
The Times article concluded by summarizing General Stone's views after the meeting:
Gen. Stone said yesterday that the organization had met with the heartiest reception all over the country, especially from grangers and bicyclists. Gen. Stone said further that the object of the organization was to awaken public interest in the improvement of public roads, determine the best method of building and maintaining them, secure legislation, State or national, that may be necessary for their establishment and support, and to conduct and foster such publications as may serve these purposes.
On November 8, 1892, the people of the United States voted in the presidential election pitting the Republican candidate, President Harrison, against the Democratic nominee, former President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland, who had served one term before being defeated by Harrison in 1888, won with an electoral advantage of 277 to 145. In advance of the presidential and congressional elections, the 52nd Congress had completed its first session on August 5, 1892. The second session would run from December 5, 1892, to inauguration day on March 3, 1893.
On November 12, the Times reported that the work of the league "is fast progressing." Letters and other documents had been sent to places around the country, with positive responses received in many cases. Governors had agreed to serve as vice-presidents of the league, while Senator Manderson had agreed to be temporary president, as voted at the Chicago convention. Many citizens had taken up the cause after reading about it in the Times.
General Stone was attempting to extend the league's reach:
In presenting this matter to the railroads of the country, Gen. Stone was yesterday preparing and sending out a circular letter to all the railroad Presidents in the country, telling them what the league intends doing and asking them to give their assistance in the propagation of the league through the dissemination of documents and the active good offices of their different local agents . . . . When this matter was first presented to the railroads in the West the officials said that they knew well enough without any one telling them that good roads helped their businesses and that bad roads were a detriment to it. These gentlemen further said that they for years had done all that they could do to improve the roads in the territory through which their lines ran, and would continue to do so. They further said that the ideas of the league were somewhat indefinite, and they did not know how they could help in this work. These circulars which are being sent out to the railroads will give the railroad officials some definite information, and then it is expected that the league will have as its ally the railroads of the country.
The league also was reaching out to the National Horse Show Association, with a meeting scheduled in Box 19 at Madison Square Garden on November 14. General Stone would be there, as would two members of the executive committee who also were directors of the horse show association. The league had sent out hundreds of letters to "different classes of citizens" while reaching out to the general public with brochures summarizing the league's work.
The November 14 meeting was noted in the Times the following day. The brief account concluded:
The members of the league state positively that they are not identified in any manner with Col. Pope's movement to establish a road department at Washington. Both Mr. [Chauncey R.] Ripley and Gen. King said this would bring a question of politics into the organization, which is contrary to its scope and purpose.
("Gen. King" may be General Stone.)
["What Bicyclists Have Done," September 11, 1892
A Rift in the Movement
When the proceedings of the National League's Chicago meeting were published, the Times reported on the rift between the league and Colonel Pope. The article on November 20, 1892, listed all league officers and quoted General Stone on one substitution:
Mr. Wetmore was chosen to fill the place on the Executive Committee made vacant by the resignation of Col. Albert A. Pope of Boston. Col. Pope's recent public advocacy of the establishment of a National Department of Road Building, with a Cabinet officer at its head, was a complete surprise to the league. He had never made any such suggestion at our meetings. He was first spoken of, I think, about Nov. 3, just after our road convention in Chicago, and many of us disagreed with his views very decidedly.
The present purposes of the National League are simply to organize the road-reform establishment of the country in such a manner that its influence will be felt in the direction toward which it may ultimately be thrown, whether in favor of State, county or national action, and we accordingly avoid for the present any commitment to special plans, in order that we may not repel any friend of good roads.
We quite agree with the utterances of many newspapers in deprecating Col. Pope's action in favor of a National Road Department. We desire to keep the league entirely free from politics just as long as possible, and this scheme would be a direct plunge into politics. We have no sympathy at all with the department idea.
Laying that incident aside, I am glad to say the league is receiving encouragement from all parts of the country. They had a Southern Road Congress in Memphis within a day or two-it met Nov. 16-at which there were nearly 400 delegates. Local leagues are organizing continually, and we meet everywhere with most cordial co-operation.
On Nov. 10 I sent out letters to the managers of a large number of railroads throughout the South and the West, asking them for their ideas upon the subject of co-operative work in good road building, inviting them to subscribe money for the work, and requesting, if they were willing, that their station agents should distribute our blank forms for the organization of local leagues. So far, I have not had a single reply disapproving of the work. In some cases they send money subscriptions, and in all cases they express cordial consent to the plan of distributing the league's papers and forms by means of their station agents.
After listing some of the responsive railroads, General Stone explained the plan for another meeting of league officials, probably in Philadelphia on December 1:
We want to hold this meeting before the assembling of Congress, and consider the further work of the league. We are in favor of incorporation under a national charter, and we want to keep hammering away until we get our Senate bill through the House. That bill, which was passed by the Senate last July, was sidetracked in the House of Representatives as "an invasion of State rights." It was a perfectly harmless bill. It only provided for the creation of a National Highway Commission, whose work was to be simply that of inquiry, with a view to having an exhibit of the various processes of roadmaking prepared for the World's Fair. Such an exhibit would be an object lesson to everybody who saw it, and would help wonderfully in teaching the people that it is unnecessary to pay large sums of money annually for the sake of having the most awful country roads that ever were seen.
The only way to promote the work is to enlist general interest in the work and give suggestions for concerted and systematic action which will amount to something. People want better roads and they can have them just as soon as they master the idea of organized work, which starts by forming a Good Roads League in every school district. I believe that in every such small area at least a dozen persons can be found who will agree to vote for the support of this work. A million votes in all is only four to a school district. The work only needs to be pushed with system and energy to make this country worth a great deal more money that it is now, besides relieving us from the national disgrace of maintaining sloughs instead of roads.
We are in this work to stay, and we mean to keep at work until we get a little headway, and then I am sure the work will go ahead of its own weight.
The Times recapped the National League's good work in an article on December 4, 1892. After pointing out that the movement "has become of national importance, and local branches of the league are springing up everywhere," the article stated:
A large share of the initial success of the movement has no doubt been due to the positive stand taken by the promoters against that other scheme of establishing a Government Department of Roads. The people do not want politics mixed with their roads, and the strong declaration of the National League for Good Roads against political roads and roadmaking will have the effect of attracting a very large number of persons who would otherwise hold aloof . . . .
Senator Manderson of Nebraska is among those who have written to Gen. Stone commending the National League for refusing to go into the Government roads department scheme. Senator Manderson says that the time has not yet come for a National Commissioner of Highways.
A summary of the National League's work on December 18 reported that $1,300 in subscriptions had been received, including $100 from General Stone and $100 from Colonel Pope. The league was still occupying General Stone's office in Aldrich Court at 45 Broadway.
Now that the work and aims of the league "are becoming known throughout the country," the Times reported on December 24, "farmers and all classes of citizens are taking kindly to it, and a number of local leagues are being formed." One had been organized in Maryland by D. C. Wharton Smith, president of the Deer Creek Farmers Club of Harford County. Smith and B. Howard Haman were in town that week from Maryland to see General Stone on business connected with the league. In eastern New York, the City of Hudson League had been formed, while doctors were organizing in the western part of the State. The article also quoted Judge Noah P. Loveridge of Michigan:
The country has now railroads enough. It needs fine wagon roads to traverse the sections between the railroads.
The league's vice president for North Carolina, Richmond Pearson, was organizing the State's branch. He was trying to convince George W. Vanderbilt II to serve as a Director:
Mr. Pearson says the people are ripe for something to start them upon the subject of good roads. Mr. Vanderbilt has laid out some most excellent roads near and on his property near Asheville, and farmers from 100 miles away drive to see these roads and to watch their construction.
(Vanderbilt was an heir to the family fortune, begun by "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, fromsteamboats, railroads, and other enterprises. With no business responsibilities, George Vanderbilt II had bought land near Asheville in 1889, eventually totaling 228 square miles, and began building an estate known as Biltmore. He employed Frederick Law Olmstead, widely considered the father of American landscape architecture, to landscape the estate. Gifford Pinchot managed the forests on the vast estate; he would become the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (1905-1910) and Governor of Pennsylvania (1923-1927 and 1931-1935).)
The article also pointed out that the possibility of a good roads exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition, one of the issues raised in General Stone's bill, was receiving attention. W. I. Buchanan, chief of the exposition's Department of Agriculture, had written to Samuel W. Allerton of Illinois, a member of the league's executive committee, on this topic:
I have taken a great deal of interest in the question of calling the attention of the people of this country to the necessity for good roads, and particularly with reference to what could be done in the exposition to further the cause, but for a number of reasons it has been found impracticable to accomplish very much in the exposition in this way. Concerns who are building roads and whose business it is to construct them, and who are manufacturing materials connected with road building, have not taken the interest in it which it seems to me desirable, and, as you know, the function of this department of the exposition is not to create exhibits by purchase, but to take care of exhibits offered by parties who have something which they wish to display or present to the public. The National League for Good Roads has seemed to me a very desirable movement, and I was heartily in favor of its organization.
During the summer of 1892, Colonel Pope had begun circulating a petition in support of a national road department. Somewhat to Pope's surprise, he received over 150,000 signatures on the petition. Although still irritated that the National League had not supported his proposal, Pope agreed to delay submitting the petition while General Stone's bill was still under consideration in the 52nd Congress. (Colonel Pope submitted the proposal to President Cleveland in 1893.)
The Times edition of January 1, 1893, reported on the continuing "splendid work" of the National League. Subscriptions had continued arriving at 45 Broadway, including one from Henry Flagler, the wealthy oil tycoon who had taken an interest in developing eastern Florida. Flagler "is much interested in the building of good roads in Florida, and believes thoroughly that they are the best help possible to any railroad enterprise." He informed the league that his railroad enterprise, the Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Halifax Railway, "will carry any material necessary for the building of a good road, free of charge, and expressing himself happy in the hope of aiding in a much-needed reform in the State of Florida."
General Stone, meanwhile, was corresponding with James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway:
Secretary Roy Stone has sent a letter to James Hill . . . who suggested that the farmers and land owners make the first steps, in which he [Stone] says that it is necessary that others should enforce the need of good roads upon the minds of the people living in agricultural districts. Farmers, as a result, Mr. Stone says, do not originate anything. They follow in the wake of an originator. He advises that Mr. Hill's agents be the apostles of good roads; that they spread the good road literature among the farmers living adjacent to the Great Northern Railway, and that the establishment of road leagues in that section of country will be of the greatest benefit, not only to the people themselves, but also to the railway company.
["At Work for Good Roads," November 20, 1892
Back to Congress
The National League held its second national convention in Washington on January 17, 1893. While in town, league officials testified on January 19 before the House Committee on Agriculture. The Times reported on the events on January 22:
While the convention was in session a committee was appointed to go before the Committee on Agriculture of the House and explain to it the aims and objects of the league. The House committee took such interest in the matter that when it met there was hardly an absentee. Two resolutions which had been passed by the convention of the league were pressed upon the attention of the committee. These were: First, for Congress to appropriate $50,000 to have a road exhibit at the World's Fair and to show approved methods of road building; second, to ask Congress to appropriate $15,000 to carry on an inquiry as to the best method of road building and to appoint a Highway Road Commission of six to look into the question. The commission is to serve without pay.
Among the members of the convention who addressed the committee on the subject were Senator Chandler of New-Hampshire, Dr. Ripley of New-Jersey, and Gen. Stone of New-York. Judging from remarks made by the members of the Committee on Agriculture, it is more than likely that they will take favorable action, and that very shortly.
According to historian Philip P. Mason, all the witnesses favored General Stone's bill except W. C. Gifford of the National Grange. He questioned the constitutionality of the bill as well as the advisability of Federal participation in road matters. Mason continued:
The hearing came to an end with a statement by Chairman [William H.] Hatch [D-Mo.] that his committee would act on the proposed measure "conscientiously." He took the opportunity to scold certain of his colleagues on the committee who "have become afraid of any new proposition that comes before them lest they may be knocked down by the Constitution when they get on the floor of the House, or as soon as they get back again." [Mason, Philip P., The League of American Wheelmen and the Good Roads Movement, 1880-1905, Ph.d Thesis, University Microfilms International, 1957, p. 146]
Officials of the League were "very enthusiastic over the convention." It had "attracted attention from every one who takes the slightest interest in the matter, and was attended by members of both houses of Congress and members of several departments." Secretary of Agriculture [Jeremiah M.] Rusk, in his address to the convention, "showed he would do all in his power to aid the cause," while Major J. P. Sanger, representing Secretary of War William C. Endicott, "assured that the league would have all the co-operation from the department that that branch of the Government could possibly give." (Actually, Secretary Rusk told the convention that he supported good roads, but not Federal-aid, because he considered road improvement a local issue.)
The article also noted a change in league leadership. Allerton had resigned from the National Executive Committee. He was replaced by August Belmont, the wealthy banker who would later be involved in the venture to construct a rail tunnel between Long Island City and New York City.
Despite the league's efforts, the House did not pass General Stone's bill. However, on February 1, 1893, at the request of Representative Allan C. Durborow, Jr. (D-Il.), the committee amended the Department of Agriculture's appropriations bill to include $10,000 for the collection and dissemination of information on road laws and the methods of road construction. This appropriation was consistent with Secretary Rusk's conservative views of the proper role of the Federal Government.
General Stone tried to revive his bill, but Representative Post explained that the chances were poor. Convinced that his bill was dead in the 52nd Congress, General Stone tried to increase the amount of the appropriation for the road inquiry. But with Congress in a budget cutting mood, this effort failed as well.
Congress approved the Department of Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 1894 on March 3, 1893. President Harrison approved the legislation as one of his last acts before leaving office. The Act included $10,000 for the following purpose:
To enable the Secretary of Agriculture to make inquiries in regard to the systems of road management throughout the United States, to make investigations in regard to the best method of road-making, to prepare publications on this subject suitable for distribution, and to enable him to assist the agricultural colleges and experiment stations in disseminating information on this subject, ten thousand dollars.
Before the new Secretary of Agriculture, J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska, selected General Stone to take charge of the road inquiry, Stone continued his activities as secretary of the National League. On May 2, 1893, the Times reported that the executive committee had met the previous day at 45 Broadway, with General Stone presiding. The executives selected directors for New York and appointed a committee "to confer with railroad presidents regarding rates for the transportation of delegates, from time to time, throughout the United States, and also for the transportation of materials for road building." The Times reported one other action:
It was voted to appropriate $1,000 to assist in preparing a road exhibit under the Department of Agriculture at the World's Fair, with the understanding that another $1,000 should be given if required. The Disbursing Committee was authorized to advance $50 to the league of each State for its preliminary expenses.
The Times provided additional information about the proposed exhibit on May 12. General Stone had met with other National League officials the day before to arrange for "an exhibit of a roadway 50 feet wide and 1,000 feet in length at the World's Fair in Chicago." The Times provided details of the plan:
The road will extend from the French colonies' exhibit to the live stock pavilion, and will show the various processes of road construction in France, Italy, Germany, and England, where the country roads are in fine condition. An illustration of the condition of the roads in this country after bad weather will be given by a wagon fast in the slough of a rough country road.
On the 15th inst. the headquarters of the league will be removed to Chicago, where Gen. Roy Stone, and Assistant Secretary T. P. Grace and his staff will have accommodation in the main Agricultural Building.
The article added that, "On July 1 the league will receive an appropriation of $10,000 from Congress for the purpose of disseminating literature respecting road improvements." Whether the league believed this, or the reporter misunderstood the nature of the appropriation, the funds would become available to the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 1893, not the league. Secretary Morton, who would gain a reputation for penny-pinching and squelching government "paternalism" (as well as the nickname "The Stormy Petrel" because of his argumentative nature), decided to conduct the road inquiry within narrow limits consistent with his interpretation of limited constitutional authority.
President Cleveland participated in the opening ceremony for the World's Columbian Exposition on May 1, 1893. Norman Bolotin and Christine Laing stated in their history of the exposition that the Transportation Building was "one of the most interesting buildings of the fair." It included "every vehicle known to man, ranging from a baby carriage to a rail dining car." Exhibits included a wide variety of bicycles. The building did not include an automobile or "motor wagon." [Bolotin, Norman, and Laing, Christine, The World's Columbian Exposition, The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1992, p. 95-96]
The National League's plan for a road exhibit did not materialize. Leaders of the organization might have known that such an exhibit would have been a waste, for on the same day, May 12, that the Times was reporting on the plans, Senator Manderson wrote to General Stone to discourage the idea:
I spent a few days at Chicago this week. I am convinced that any money expended there in an Exhibit of roads-bad or improved-would be money wasted. The Exposition is so immense and there is so much to be seen more interesting and more attractive, to the casual visitor from all over the country, that a good roads Exhibit would be lost and unseen.
He added that the exposition itself provided the exhibit:
The Exposition grounds themselves are an object lesson in good roads. When it rains mud is shoe deep when the road builder has not put in his best work.
["The Crusade for Good Roads," January 22, 1893
PDF files can be viewed with the Acrobat® Reader®
This page last modified on 04/07/11