The IRT Ninth Avenue Line, often called the Ninth Avenue El, was the first elevated railway in New York City. It opened in 1868 as the West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway, a cable-hauled line. It ceased operation in 1940.
The last section in use, over the Harlem River, was known as the Polo Grounds Shuttle, and was closed in 1958. This portion used the now-removed Putnam Bridge swing bridgeand went through a tunnel, complete with partially-underground stations.
The West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway was built on Greenwich Street by Charles T. Harvey (The Harvey Cable Car) and ran from July 1, 1868 to 1870. The line used multiple one-mile-long (1.6 km-long) cable loops, driven by steam engines in cellars of buildings adjacent to the track. Each loop was started when a car neared it and stopped when it had passed. The cables were equipped with collars that the car connected to with “claws”. As the claws could not be “slipped” the car was jerked each time it moved to the next cable. The system proved cumbersome, broke down several times and eventually the company ran out of money and the system was abandoned. The new owners replaced the cable cars with steam locomotives.
The Ninth Avenue Elevated was extended up Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue by 1891. The Ninth Avenue El and several other lines of the Manhattan Railway company were taken over with a 99 year lease by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company on April 1, 1903. The rebuilding project was extended all the way north to 116th St., creating Manhattan’s first three-track elevated, although center-track express service did not begin until 1916.
The line began at South Ferry and ran along Greenwich Street from Battery Place to Gansevoort Street in lower Manhattan, Ninth Avenue in midtown (joining with the Sixth Avenue El at 53rd Street, continuing along Columbus Avenue in upper Manhattan between 59th Street and 110th, turning east on 110th and running north on Eighth Avenue until the Harlem River.
The line was closed in 1940 and dismantled, following the purchase of the IRT by the City of New York. The line from 155th Street north into the Bronx was continued as the “Polo Grounds Shuttle” until 1958.
The Ninth Ave Elevated was over 100 feet (30 m) above the street at “Suicide Curve,” which made a 90-degree turn from 9th Ave onto 110th St. then another from 110th St. onto 8th Avenue. The curve at 53rd Street, however, was the site of a September 11, 1905, derailment that was the worst accident in the history of New York’s elevated railways.
The photograph of the Elevated is an original 1893 halftone print. Get your copy here.