October’s Map of the Month, “Railroad terminal map of New York Harbor” created by the Port of New York Authority in 1933, shows New York Harbor in all its early 20th century might. According to The Encyclopedia of New York, New York Harbor became the busiest port in the world around 1912 and remained so for the next 50 years.
This map is large at 44” x 37”, too large to include a reasonably good snapshot of the entire map online. Even so, I could not keep from sharing this map–it is too striking. This portion shown above can gives a sense of its visual impact.
The entire map shows railroad lines and waterfront terminals from Staten Island to the Bronx, and from East Orange, N.J. across Newark and Jamaica Bays to Flushing. The legend shows the industrial focus of this Port Authority map: waterfront terminals, types of rail yards, railroad stops and their load limits, tubes (i.e. railroad tunnels), ferries, and float bridges.
Here is a close-up showing Jersey City, lower Manhattan and Brooklyn:
The Jersey City waterfront is nearly solid with rail terminals, with rail lines funneling in from the every part of the mainland, and the lower Hudson is crisscrossed with ferries between New Jersey and Manhattan.
So why is it that Brooklyn’s many waterfront terminals are not near rail yards? These terminals were rail-marine terminals which used a car-float system to transport railcars across the Harbor. If you look closely at the pier labels for the Wallabout, Jay Street or Fulton Terminal, you will see one labeled ‘FB,’ indicating the location of the float bridge. Cargo was unloaded into rail cars, and then driven rail cars over these bridges onto the car float and ferried across the Bay by tugboat to a another terminal directly connected to a rail line. Although Brooklyn’s terminals were predominately rail-marine terminals, the map shows all of the waterfront terminals had float bridges. The Harbor was busy with car float operations at this time.
The rise of trucking for transport after World War II led to the demise of car float operations in the Harbor, and the shift to container shipping in the 1960’s meant the hub of operations would move to New Jersey with its spacious port facilities. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey runs the last float operation (now ferrying containers rather than rail cars) between Greenville Yards in Jersey City and the 65th Street Yard in Brooklyn. The Port Authority’s plan to develop the sites and increase capacity has recently been granted a fresh infusion of funding for its next phase. Who knows—perhaps one day the Harbor will recapture a tiny bit of its former industrial might.
Interested in seeing more maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps.
This map was cataloged with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.