Long Island Rail Road
by Christopher Bain
Beginning in 1898, when the Long Island Rail Road extended the tracks from Great Neck to Port Washington, the town’s business hub started to slowly shift from the waterfront to the rail station. Hotels, stores, and restaurants began to open "uptown" to greet the passengers, and Port Washington and Manhasset started to grow into commuting towns.
The terminus at Port Washington started with a small shack of a building, soon to be replaced with the structure below.
This view below shows the station at the left as well as the new Hotel Victoria behind the trees, on the corner of Haven Avenue, now occupied by Starbucks. For many years, horse drawn carriages mixed with the increasing number of auto-mobiles.
This view, from the west looking east, shows the station on the right with beautiful cars standing at the ready at the station, the horses of a few years earlier now gone. The Fleming Building, across Main Street on the left, suffered a major fire in early 2013.
Above, the Morning Express, soon to be bound for New York City, sits ready to pull its three passenger cars. The travel time in those days was approximately 35-40 minutes, about the same as it is today.
If ever there was a “before and after” moment in Port Washington, the little village once known as Cow Neck, it was June 23, 1898. The population of our village had reached 1200, and most of the town turned out that day to welcome the first Long Island Rail Road locomotive as it steamed into town.
Great Neck had achieved train service in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, and soon multiple plans for extending the line further were being discussed. One plan suggested extending the train from Great Neck to Manhasset and then directly to Roslyn and beyond. There were many other railroad companies building competing rail lines on Long Island, eventually all merging and consolidating into today’s LIRR.
In 1895 the wealthy residents of Port Washington persuaded the railroad to terminate in Port Washington, requiring the building of the Manhasset Viaduct (built by Carnegie Steel Company – and still the highest train trestle on all of Long Island). Since the train’s western terminus was Hunter’s Point, in Long Island City, a trip to New York City still required a ferry across the East River to the 34th Street ferry terminal.
Once the train reached the village of Port Washington, the town started to grow rapidly in the first decade of the 20th century. A “main street” quickly developed, then known as Flower Hill Avenue. When the four East River Tunnels were completed in 1910, passengers could ride from Port to Penn Station in under one hour. This quickened the transformation of this sleepy little village into a much sought after home for commuters. More schools, stores, hotels, churches, restaurants, ball fields, yacht clubs and industries of all types were soon to follow.
April 15, 1896: Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Lastly, a snowstorm on the night of Tuesday, January 21, 2014, blanketed the town with 10-14” of snow. The station has been rebuilt a few times over the years, always keeping the original style that has served it well for 100 years.