Neighborhood History: A Ride on the Southside Railroad - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the September 2000 Juniper Berry Magazine

Neighborhood History: A Ride on the Southside Railroad

After finishing shopping you leave the Metro Mall walk along Metropolitan Avenue to Fresh Pond Road – descend the steps to the abandoned Fresh Pond railroad station and wait. An old fashioned 4-4-0 (American type) steam locomotive with three wooden coaches pulls in. All Aboard! It's time for a ride to yesteryear on Midville's main line, the South Side railroad.

The South Side railroad came about as the first major competitor to the Long Island Road, a railroad with a long proud history. The charter creating the Long Island was approved by the New York State legislature on April 24,1834. The Long Island was planned as a through route between the Brooklyn waterfront and Boston passing through Jamaica and terminating in Greenport. From Greenport the Long Island would operate a steamship line to Stonington Connecticut where connection would be made to a rail link to Boston. The Long Island goofed in choosing the direct route through the pine barrens neglecting the populous north and south shore villages. By 1850 the"impossible " rail route through Southern Connecticut had opened and the Long Island was relegated to being a local railroad.

The Long Island opened the door to competitors by not heeding the pleas of shore communities to build branches. In 1860 the South Side railroad of Long Island was projected from Jamaica to Patchogue. The Civil War delayed plans but in 1865 the directors started raising money and getting contracts for construction as far as Islip. The two most prominent men behind the South Side were Charles Fox of Baldwin and Willet Charlick, brother of the then LIRR president Oliver Charlick, who was busily engaged in attempting to destroy the new railroad at every turn.

The main section of the South Side was completed from Jamaica to Babylon in November of 1867. By the end of 1868 the railroad had laid a line west from Jamaica passing through Fresh Pond to its East River terminal at

Williamsburg. In April 1869, the South side main line was opened to Patchogue, while the towns further east were subscribing $140,000 in bonds for an extension to Sag Harbor. Oliver Charlick's new LIRR branch from Manorville to Sag Harbor thwarted the South Side's ambitions to seize the east end business.

The South side railroad took the initiative from the LIRR in tapping the lucrative Rockaway Peninsula summer resort passenger business by branching off its main line at Valley Stream. In its rush to complete the branch by the summer of 1869, the South side laid tracks across seven hundred feet of farmland near Lawrence, which had not been relinquished by the owner, William B. McManus. McManus was not happy with this so the following night he and some friends ripped up the track. After a long legal hassle the railroad settled with McManus.

The branch was built and became an instant success. The South Side reached the Neptune House (Beach 116th Street), it's final terminal in 1875. This is more or less the same route the Long Island now used from Valley Stream to the Rockaways. The South Side ended its construction period by acquiring a portion of the right of way of the New York and Flushing railroad in 1870 and building a terminal at Hunters Point on the East River in Queens. The South Side then settled into its brief existence as an independent railroad. The newspapers lavished great praise on the line for its smooth track, new equipment and conscientious manner of operation.

In the years to follow the South Side would be absorbed by the LIRR. The then meager population and industry on Long Island could not support several independent railroad systems. South Side long term management by Charles Fox had just ended with control going to a Boston banking house. The financial panic of 1873 threw the South Side into receivership in November. Hereafter the South Side along with other independents would be a part of the LIRR. Conrad Poppenhusen became the President of the LIRR system under a common management in January 1876. The former South Side passing through Fresh Pond became known as the Montauk branch of the LIRR. The Montauk branch was used from 1881 to 1885 by passenger trains of the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad from Long Island City to the Rockaways using the "forgotten spur" through Woodhaven and the trestle route over Jamaica Bay, now used by the IND "A" train. In 1910 Penn Station opened and passenger trains now used the LIRR Main Line through Fresh Pond with one or two passenger trains until 1998.

A return of commuter service through Fresh Pond, Haberman and Penny Bridge in the near future is unlikely but this could change with the opening of the LIRR 63rd Street tunnel rail link to Grand Central Station. Now these lonesome trials hear only the clickity-clack of an occasional freight train. If these rails could talk they would tell of a long proud railroading history.