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~ 35 Years Ago - November 1967 ~ The End of Trans-Cross Hudson Ferry Service

by Theodore W. Scull

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Pennsylvania Railroad's ferry terminal and umbrella train shed at Exchange Place Jersey City before the contruction of Pennsylvania Station, Manhattan. Ferries ran to The Bronx via the East River and Hell Gate, Fulton Street Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and Chelsea.

Ferry services across the Hudson from points in New Jersey to New York date from the early 18th century when they were powered by sail and oars. By the early 19th century, ferries had become more regular and reliable with team or horse boat propulsion then side wheel steamboats. At the beginning of the 20th century, the most important routes were operated by the railroads - the Central of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Erie, Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, and the New York’s Central’s West Shore Line. All had combined railroad terminals and ferry houses on the Jersey side of the Hudson facing Manhattan.

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Ferryboat NIAGARA in mid-Hudson between 42nd Street and the New York Central's West Shore Line terminal in Weehawken, New Jersey. Note the Day Line's screw steamer PETER STUYVESANT, bow out above and to the right of the ferry, and the American Export Lines' Pier 84 to the left. Another New York Central ferry is docked above the NIAGARA. (October 10, 1956.)

Just prior to the opening of the Holland Tunnel in 1927, the passenger traffic south of 59th Street was evenly divided between the railroad ferries, 50 boats on 13 routes, and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad with one line to the Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan and a second uptown to 33rd Street and 6th Avenue. A typical business day averaged 150,000 passengers for each mode. An additional 18,000 used the North River tunnels into Pennsylvania Station after completion in 1910.

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The view today is not entirely different from this 1938 scene. While the West Shore Line freight and coach yards are now a parking lot for the NY Waterway Ferry to Manhattan, there is still a single track running north and south beneath the Palisades carrying container trains along the former West Shore Line between Port Elizabeth and Port Newark and the river line up the Hudson. In about two years, this line will carry the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, now operating between Bayonne and Hoboken, northward through the exiting tunnel to the New Jersey Turnpike. The concrete sloping road (Pershing Road), though now without the Public Service trolley line, still provides access between Boulevard East atop the Palisades and the present Port Imperial ferry terminal.

When the Holland Tunnel opened on November 12, 1927, vehicular traffic on the Lackawanna Ferries from Hoboken to 23rd Street, Christopher Street and Barclay Street dropped 30 to 40 percent. But three years later, an overall increase in traffic brought the levels back to the previous numbers. The George Washington Bridge opened on October 25, 1931 and the Lincoln Tunnel on December 22, 1937, and the long slide in both passenger and vehicle numbers began in earnest.

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Central of New Jersey's ferryboat ELIZABETH (1904) leaves Liberty Street, Manhattan for Jersey City where passengers connect to CNJ, B&O and Reading Railroad trains. Note the Hudson Terminal Building above the ferry slips and the Woolworth Building to the left and the Singer Tower to the extreme right, the latter soon to be demolished along with the Hudson Terminal, to make way for the World Trade Center towers. (April 18, 1967)

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An Erie Railroad ferry, before merging with the Lackawanna, passing
a pre-war Moore-McCormack liner bound for the East Coast of South America.

The Lackawanna’s 23rd Street route closed on the last day of December 1946 and Christopher Street on March 30, 1955. Following the closure of the New York’s Central West Shore Line commuter rail service, the Weehawken to West 42nd Street ferry was abandoned in 1959.

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The Erie-Lackawanna Ferry Terminal at Barclay & West Streets, Lower Manhattan, dates from 1884. Ferries left from here to the E-L Terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey. Note the Railway Express truck to the right. (Sept. 1964)

With the Erie Railroad merging its ferry and train operations with the Lackawanna at the Hoboken Terminal between 1956 and 1960, there were but two Trans-Hudson ferry routes left, handling just five percent of the traffic. The Barclay Street route became Monday to Friday only on February 1, 1964 carrying just over 10,000 passengers a day into Manhattan, 90 percent of those between 6 and 10am. Traffic was so skewed that just 260 passengers crossed from Manhattan to New Jersey during these same four hours. Those who remained with the ferry, rather than taking the PATH trains (former Hudson and Manhattan), had work destinations closer to the Barclay Street Terminal than the Hudson Terminal located further inland.

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The CNJ ferryboat CRANFORD aims for the ferry slip on the New Jersey side. (June 1962.)

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In the above photo a coal stoker is working the ferryboat ELIZABETH on one of the last days of operation in April 1967.

On the Central of New Jersey’s Jersey City to Liberty Street route, there was no alternate PATH service for CNJ, B&O and Reading Railroad riders. Then the Aldene Plan switched the trains from the CNJ’s waterfront terminal to terminate at Newark, Penn Station or Pennsylvania Station, Manhattan and the Liberty Street ferry closed down on April 25, 1967.

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The above photo shows the departure board for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western train Phoebe Snow, departing Hoboken at 10:00 for the Poconos and Buffalo then overnight to Chicago. The board to the right shows the arrival of the New York Mail and the Lake Cities, a former Erie train. The date is Nov 27, 1966, the last day of operation for the Phoebe Snow. The Lake Cities, the last long-distance train, would bow out on January 5, 1970. The E-L train service will now become commuter only.

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Above a Pre-Christmas 1956 photo of the observation car of the Phoebe Snow, the DL&W's premier train.

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The Erie-Lackawanna Ferryboat LACKAWANNA (1891) leaves Barclay Street on July 31, 1964. She was dieselized in 1949 and in the last years of service, the only non-coal burner in the fleet. She would make the final passenger sailing at 5:30pm on November 22, 1967 from Barclay Street to Hoboken. Note the World Telegram Building.

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Above the ferryboat BINGHAMTON (1905) makes a Hoboken-bound crossing in the 1960s. Note the sanitation truck on the vehicle deck, an important outbound business following the inbound rush hour. This 187-foot boat and her four sisters had certificates for 1,986 passengers,
and they were completed by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company.

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The ferryboat POCONO (1905) leaves Barclay Street for Hoboken. Directly above the ferry rises the Telephone Building,
to the left is Woolworth Building and to the right the twin Hudson Terminal and the Singer Building spire. (July 31, 1964)

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The photo above shows ferryboats resting at the Erie-Lackawanna Terminal (1907) on Sept. 2, 1964.

The Erie-Lackawanna ferryboats were now over 60 years old and one, the LACKAWANNA, dated from 1891. The boats had become expensive to maintain and had hulls plates worn dangerously thin. In the era before commuter subsidies, the financially failing railroad had no money to replace them. In the last week of operation, just 3,000 daily riders remained faithful, or less than the capacity of two boats.

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Left a boat-length cabin flanking the vehicle deck on an Erie-Lackawanna ferry dating
from the early 20th century. The date is Nov. 21, 1967, one day before abandonment.

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Above another fuller view of the graceful E-L cabin design on ferry. (Nov. 21, 1967)

On November 22, 1967, the ferryboat LACKAWANNA departed Barclay Street at 5:45pm, and 15 minutes later the ferryboat ELMIRA followed. By 6pm with the hooks in, over 300 years of cross-Hudson Ferry service came to an end, including 156 years of Hoboken steam operations. On Thanksgiving Day, passengers arriving off the Erie-Lackawanna trains were directed to the PATH entrance or to a local bus service to Port Authority Bus Terminal.

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Ferryboat Binghamton (1905) docked at the former Holland America Line
pier in Hoboken in August 1968 following withdrawal of E-L ferry service.

The only cross-Hudson ferryboat to survive is the BINGHAMTON, docked at Edgewater, New Jersey.

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Ferryboat BINGHAMTON as a restaurant on the Hudson at Edgewater, New Jersey. August 1981.

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The former E-L ferryboat ELMIRA (1905) abandoned at Edison, New Jersey.
The ELMIRA made the last trans-Hudson trip at 5:45pm on November 22, 1967. (Sept. 1978)

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The same ferryboat ELMIRA at Edison, New Jersey. (Sept. 1979)

Then in 1986, Trans-Hudson ferry service was revived from Port Imperial, Weehawken to West 38th Street, and soon after from Hoboken to Battery Park City, because of need due to rail and road congestion and an entrepreneurial spirit. Looking out on the Hudson today, the river is crisscrossed with as many routes as the turn of the last century. In this case, the more things change, the more they remain to same.

(All Photographs courtesy of Tim Dacey, Bill Ewen Jr., Conrad Milster and Theodore Scull.)