A small new exhibit at the New York Transit Museum’s gallery in Grand Central Terminal explores the history of the Bronx and how the borough has been shaped by waves of transit development.
“Building The Bronx” charts three and a half centuries of transportation in the borough, from horse-drawn carriages traversing farmland to subway extensions that arrived in the early 20th century.
The Bronx is New York’s only borough on the mainland United States, and its position between bustling Manhattan and the rest of the mainland made it a transportation hub early in the city’s history.
The free history exhibit is in the Transit Museum’s small store and gallery in the downtown transportation hub through October, and the curator hopes enthusiasts will learn more about their borough before heading up on a Metro-North train or subway.
“A lot of people who live in the Bronx don’t realize there was a pretty strong public transit system there before the subway was extended in the borough,” Jodi Shapiro said.
Prior to the arrival of the Metro in 1904 and 1905, the transportation system served only about 200,000 Bronxites on the borough’s 42 square miles of largely agricultural land strategically located between the city and freshwater springs. in what is now Westchester.
Horse-drawn carriages and wagons criss-crossed the landscape, and their routes are still followed by buses today.
There was even a short-lived monorail on City Island between 1910 and 1911, whose cigar-shaped yellow car was known as the “Flying Lady” and was built to carry around 40 passengers 20 miles a hour.
On its first day of operation on July 16, 1910, around 100 enthusiastic commuters thronged for the first ride, with its inventor, Howard Hansel Tunis, at the helm.
The uncemented platform sank causing the monorail to lose its top rail power and the car overturned, seriously injuring a strap. The innovative mass transit mode went out of business months later.
Steam railroads to Connecticut and Massachusetts also bordered the borough, parts of which were later incorporated into the Metro-North and Subway lines.
Remnants of the movers from the golden age can still be found today on the Dyre Avenue subway line, which carries the No. 5 trains in the northeast Bronx, but was once the old railroad of New York, Westchester and Boston.
The railroad operated there until 1937, and its former offices now house the E. 180th Street subway station on lines 2 and 5, which still houses an elegant Italian Renaissance-style building.
“There really is nothing else like it,” Shapiro said.
“There are five former New York, Westchester Boston stations that are part of the Dyre Avenue Line,” she added. “You look at them and you’re just kind of like, this is unlike any subway station I’ve ever seen.”
When the city took over private subway lines in 1940, transit officials installed a third rail on this section of tracks to supply subway trains and reused parts from other closed elevated lines.
“Whenever something was taken out of service, they salvaged what equipment they could and just reinstalled it somewhere else,” Shapiro said. “It’s kind of an untold story of upcycling.”
The historic transit facility connects those efforts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s modern plans to add four new Metro-North stations to Amtrak’s Hell Gate line in the East Bronx, also known as from Penn Station Access.
“The Penn Station Access project, which will reactivate some of the old steam-powered railway rights-of-way, therefore comes full circle in history,” Shapiro said.
“Building The Bronx” at the New York Transit Museum Gallery & Store at Grand Central Terminal in the shuttle walkway at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Open Wednesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free. For more information, visit www.nytransitmuseum.org.