On Aug. 1, 1876, a great event was celebrated in Elmhurst. The Grand Street & Newtown Railroad opened for service between the Grand Avenue ferry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Broadway in Elmhurst following Grand Avenue through Maspeth.
In the early decades of the 19th century, Brooklyn could only be reached in a roundabout way along Maspeth and Bushwick avenues — a route that had several tolls and left travelers with no access to downtown Brooklyn or ferries to Manhattan.
In 1874, the Grand Street Improvement Commission was formed to provide a direct route by extending Grand Street in Brooklyn over Newtown Creek, then joining the Newtown & Maspeth Plank Road at Maspeth Avenue continuing to Newtown Village. On May 17, 1875, after a brief ceremony at the opening of work on the new street, a work gang of 250 laborers armed with picks and shovels on the Newtown side of the creek were assigned their duties and dirt began to fly.
A $17,000 bridge over Newtown Creek was soon completed and by mid-June 600 men, 200 horses and 50 wagons were at work grading the road. After laying down a pavement of trap rock and broken limestone as a dressing, the road was completed and thrown open to traffic the following year.
The route was declared completed and the event was celebrated by the merchants and residents with a grand banquet June 14, 1876, at Tony Miller’s Bay Side Hotel on Little Neck Bay.
Months before, the Grand Street & Newtown Railroad, a horse car line that operated on Grand Street in Brooklyn since 1860, sent agents out to scout the new route along the Grand Street extension. By May 1876, both the Highway Commission of the Town of Newtown as well as the Brooklyn Common Council gave their necessary approvals. The company even decided to establish a depot at the new terminus in Newtown Village.
Within two months, rail carloads of brick were en route to Newtown Village. To lay the ties, large ploughs hitched to four powerful horses scooped out the trench. The ties of Long Island chestnut were furnished by Hyatt’s Mill in Winfield.
By the end of July, the Newtown car stables reached completion. The building, at two stories, was 35 feet high and 100 feet deep. The rear portion, which could accommodate 40 horses, was one story high. The walls, made of brick, were a foot wide. The upper story was designed to store grain and feed for the horses. The plot for the building, which cost $200 in 1876, was sold in 1928 for $66,500.
On opening day, invitations included a ticket to ride the new route from the Brooklyn terminus at Broadway and Kent avenues. At 3:04 p.m., the lead car, in fresh blue and white paint and drawn by four horses, was filled with dignitaries and led a procession of cars into Queens. Little boys yelled and brandished flags. Ladies waved their handkerchiefs.
At Newtown Village, a retired Civil War major commanded a battery of cannons that roared a salute. Businesses were decorated as for the holidays and flags were draped from poles. A huge American flag spanned Broadway. At the new depot, a table on the second floor groaned under food and large punch bowls. Officials gave speeches.
From approximately 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., cars ran every 30 minutes. Newtown, at last, was connected to Brooklyn and Manhattan.
For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.