The Forgotten Spur: The Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road Wading River Extension and the Adjoining Communities

Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, Crystal Brook Hollow Road, Port Jefferson, view east (June 9, 2013)
Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, Crystal Brook Hollow Road, Port Jefferson, view east (June 9, 2013)

As an archipelago, Long Island boasts a sandy coastline that is home to many vacationers and residents alike.  During the late nineteenth century, seaside locations were first discovered as a getaway from the bustle of inner-city life.  Along Long Island Sound in the town of Brookhaven, new communities developed and older ones thrived as they became summer destinations.  No doubt the advancement of the region could not have come to fruition without the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as the only means of mechanical transportation.  Answering the demand to connect its Port Jefferson Branch with the Main Line at Riverhead, the company extended its North Shore route as far east as Wading River by 1895.  The right-of-way crossed the present hamlets of Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, East Shoreham, and Wading River, as well as the Incorporated Village of Shoreham.  However, an extension to Riverhead never materialized.  Although today the spur would serve as an alternate means of transportation in an era of environmental awareness and high gas prices, railroad officials in the early twentieth century did not envision a future need for the route and it was discontinued.  The following is a narrative of the bygone Wading River extension and an account of the neighboring territory.

Cedar Beach, Town of Brookhaven (June 9, 2014)
Cedar Beach, Town of Brookhaven (June 9, 2014)

Communities along Long Island Sound

The communities along Long Island Sound within the town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, date from the seventeenth century.  Around 1670, Richard Woodhull negotiated a deed with the Setauket Indians that granted Brookhaven full title to the waterfront lands from Setauket east to the then-Southold town line at present-day Wading River.[1]  In 1674, all of Long Island passed into English jurisdiction.  The island, and adjacent Staten Island and Westchester County, was called Yorkshire.  Suffolk County was named the East Riding of Yorkshire.  However, the ridings were abolished in 1683 and the province was divided into twelve counties.[2]

Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)
Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)

From west to east, the first hamlet beyond Port Jefferson is Mount Sinai.  Formerly called Old Man’s, the community is located near the head of a harbor which features numerous islands of salt grass.  Shipbuilding and clamming were once prominent trades.  Historically, the land surface was extremely ragged and broken, thus it was named in connection to the biblical mount where Moses received the Commandments.  The earlier name of Old Man’s originated as a reference to a small house kept by an old man for the accommodation of travelers.  Guests, asked where they spent the night, replied “with the old man.”  The Indian name for the area was Nonoewantuck, which translates as “dry creek.”  Indeed, a small stream called Crystal Brook once flowed through the area.[3]

Mount Sinai Harbor (June 9, 2013)
Mount Sinai Harbor (June 9, 2013)

Miller Place was first settled in 1671 by Andrew Miller, son of John Miller, one of the pioneers of East Hampton.[4]  Traditionally, colonial roads did not have proper names but often referred to where they terminated.  In this case, the road between Setauket and the hamlet referred to Andrew Miller’s place.  Eventually the Andrew was dropped and plural-S was added.  It was referred to as Miller’s Place or Millers Place until the early twentieth century when the apostrophe-S and plural-S was dropped.  Farming was the primary occupation for a time.  At the end of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, Miller Place was a summer destination for the New York middle and working class.  In 1979, a local community group sought and received national Historic District designation in Miller Place.  The district is also on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]

Miller Place (June 9, 2013)
Miller Place (June 9, 2013)

The next hamlet along Long Island Sound is Sound Beach.  The community began in 1929 when The Daily Mirror newspaper offered subscribers the opportunity to buy land in an undeveloped area east of Miller Place.  The new landowners were required to form a Sound Beach Property Owner’s Association to care for and maintain the beautiful, pristine beach that bordered Long Island Sound.  These new residents primarily migrated from Brooklyn and Queens.  At one time, the beach featured a pavilion that sadly collapsed following a heavy rainstorm.[6]

Cedar Beach, Town of Brookhaven (June 9, 2013)
Cedar Beach, Town of Brookhaven (June 9, 2013)

Adjoining Sound Beach to the east is Rocky Point.  While the surface along the sound is “rocky” and considerably broken, further inland it becomes level and elevated.[7]  Noah Hallock was one the first European settlers in the area.  His homestead was built circa 1721 and is the oldest house standing in Rocky Point, bounded by Hallock Landing Road, Culross Drive, and Hallock Lane.  The Hallock family was prominent in the hamlet to the mid-twentieth century.  The first written account of Rocky Point is in town records dated 1755 as a Thomas Robinson requested a road laid out in Rocky Point Hollow.  Gradually, other roads were cut such as Hallock Landing Road and North Country Road in 1772, and Broadway and Friendship Drive in 1802.  By 1790, fourteen families with ninety-one people were living in Rocky Point.  The number increased to almost 200 at the close of the Civil War.  Eminent farming family names included Brown, Horton, Hulse, Jones, Laws, Skidmore, and Tuthill.  In the latter half of the nineteenth century, seafaring was a dominant trade.  In addition, the business of cutting, carting and shipping cordwood flourished.  The landings along the shore, such as Hallock Landing and Hagerman Landing, were convenient places for sloops and schooners to come ashore and load cordwood.  Like Sound Beach, The Daily Mirror advertised land for sale on the “North Shore Beach” of Rocky Point in the 1920s.  The area developed as a summer destination and in 1929 the North Shore Beach Property Owners Association was formed.  However, most summer homes were converted to year-round homes by the latter part of the century.  Rocky Point also played a part in the history of radio.  In the early 1920s, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) built an extensive radio transmitting facility, “Radio Central,” in the pine barrens of Rocky Point.  The first message was transmitted by President Warren Harding.  The facility operated until 1961 and in the 1970s RCA donated the land to New York State as a nature preserve, Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve.[8]

The story of Shoreham begins in the seventeenth century.  In appreciation for securing the North Shore, Richard Woodhull was granted a large tract of land, which included a portion of present-day Shoreham east of Woodville Road.  The eighty acres were confirmed in a patent dated September 29, 1677, and the land was originally called Long Chestnuts.  By 1765, the Skidmore and Sells families owned the land and for a time it was called Skidmore’s Landing.  When the holdings passed to Daniel Swezey in the early 1800s, the area near the beach was referred to as Swezey’s Landing.  Swezey operated a small store at water’s edge.   Next the area was owned by William Dickerson whose family developed extensive orchards of apples, peaches, pears, and plums.  The principle business however in what was called Woodville by the mid-nineteenth century was woodchopping.  Cordwood was brought to Woodville Landing and loaded aboard small sailing vessels for transport to New York City to be used to fuel the brick kilns along the Hudson River.  The wagon trail to the beach became Woodville Landing Road.[9]

Mount Sinai Harbor (June 9, 2013)
Mount Sinai Harbor (June 9, 2013)

The history of modern Shoreham began in 1890.  When the news of the proposed LIRR extension was announced, Ohio banker James A. Warden acquired extensive landholdings in and around Woodville to develop a residential community under the name of Wardenclyffe.  In addition to spearheading the modern community, Warden was influential in persuading the famed scientist Nikola Tesla to select Wardenclyffe as the site for an experimental laboratory.  He set aside 200 acres of land for the endeavor and convinced a syndicate of New York bankers to finance the project.  Tesla, who it was later discovered invented the radio and not Marconi, envisioned a global system of enormous towers to wirelessly transmit information and electricity.   Intrigued with the idea that it could flash stock market reports worldwide, financiers like J.P. Morgan provided a substantial monetary backing.   In 1903 the first transmission tower was built on the property, the mushroom-shaped 187-foot structure known as Wardenclyffe.  The laboratory building was designed by the architectural giant Stanford White and the tower by White’s associate, W.D. Crowe of East Orange, New Jersey.  Unfortunately, Tesla was forced to abandon the project as Morgan lost interest in it and withdrew funding.  The tower was soon dismantled. The laboratory served for a time as the office of Peerless Photo Products.[10]  However, following a $1.37-million internet fundraising campaign, the property was purchased by the organization Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. Its mission is to establish a science and technology center and museum.[11]

Wardenclyffe Laboratory Building, East Shoreham (March 23, 2014)
Wardenclyffe Laboratory Building, East Shoreham (March 23, 2014)

While Tesla’s experiment failed, the community soon prospered.  In addition to the houses built by Warden, the development of the old village west of Woodville Road was undertaken by the Oak Ridge Company, financed through Charles J. Tagliabue.  In 1906 the area took on the name Shoreham.  It was most likely named after a seaside English town called “Shoreham by the Sea.”  However, a map of the LIRR, circa 1884 contains a reference to “Woodville Landing at Shoreham Beach.”  Like neighboring communities, Shoreham sported a boarding house known as Shoreham Inn where vacationers enjoyed a reprieve from city-life.  By 1913, the hilly terrain required the construction roads.  A proposal called for streets of concrete and for the incorporation of the village.  Incorporation was approved on September 6, 1913.  Next, the Suffolk County Land Company, owner of the lands east of Woodville Road, began the development of what became known as the “Estates.”  In the second half of the twentieth century, the completion of the Long Island Expressway to Shirley led to a large population increase in the incorporated village and the surrounding areas, such as the adjacent hamlet of East Shoreham.  Here was the site chosen for the Shoreham Nuclear Generating Station, devised to operate on a thirty-hectare site. However the $7-billion plant, which never cranked out a single kilowatt of electricity, was decommissioned soon after completion in the late-1980s.[12]

Shoreham Nuclear Generating Station and Wading River (March 23, 2014)
Shoreham Nuclear Generating Station and Wading River (March 23, 2014)

The easternmost community along Long Island Sound within Brookhaven is Wading River.  At a town meeting on November 17, 1671, the village was established along the shore of the river the Indians called Pauquaconsuk, which translates as “the place where we wade for thick, round-shelled clams.”  Eight families from Southold were the first settlers, Richard Woodhull would join them in 1675, and the land was divided into areas known as “lotments.”  Like most white inhabitants on the east end of the island, the new group had direct ties with Connecticut and New England.  By 1680, thirty more settlers arrived and the land was referred to as Westholde, Red Creek, or Red Brook.  At the time, Southold town bordered Brookhaven and the original boundary was a line from a certain pepperidge tree at the head of Wading River.  The tree was later replaced by a stone marker.[13]

Wading River State Park (October 17, 2010)
Wading River State Park (October 17, 2010)

Wading River progressed slowly for the first hundred years.  Comparable to other rural locations of the time period, the community was isolated.  The first road laid was King’s Highway from Southold to Wading River with additional roads were built in the nineteenth century.  Transportation was primarily by boat and the populace was self-sufficient.  Typically, one man started a mill where each family would grind grain into flour.  By 1710 there were three mills in the locale.  Another famous institution was Homan’s Tavern.  Established by Benjamin Homan from East Hampton prior to the Revolution, the tavern would later transport guests from the LIRR station at Manorville.  An additional tavern, the Miller Homestead, was built by Zophar Mills Miller in 1799 and operated as the first post office.  During the colonial-era, it is rumored that George Washington visited Wading River while en route to Boston in February of 1757 when he was a colonel of a Virginia regiment.[14]

Wading River began to evolve in the latter half of the nineteenth century in both industry and infrastructure.  The most important business was cordwood.  It was cut, hauled, stacked, and brought to a landing by sled where it met half-tide sloops.  Farming became another major component.  Of course the coming of the railroad to Wading River brought people from the city to seek the pleasures of summer on the shore.  Summer boarding houses became fashionable at the turn of the twentieth century.  Parklands such as Wildwood State Park which opened in 1926 offered picturesque bluffs overlooking Long Island Sound.  In general, summer residency steadily increased with the advent of the automobile.  Following World War II, and with the establishment of the Brookhaven National Laboratory at the former Camp Upton in Yaphank, the year-round population increased 150 percent.[15]

Here are some interesting facts regarding Wading River.  First, on March 12, 1927 Father Bernard J. Quinn, a parish priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn, purchased 122 acres at Herod Point and established a Catholic home for African-American boys.  It later became the Little Flower Children’s Services.  Second, the hamlet of Wading River has been part of three townships.  From 1671 to 1709, it belonged to Brookhaven town.  Then, a portion of the town on the east side of the river was given to Southold town.  Subsequently, in 1792 the western part of Southold became Riverhead town.[16]  Lastly, the Wading River Historical Society was established on January 5, 1947.[17]

Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)
Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)

Long Island Rail Road Wading River Extension

Naturally, the LIRR played a pivotal role in the evolution of communities along Long Island Sound.  No doubt, without the expansion of the road beyond Port Jefferson, the territory would not have developed into a summer destination at the turn of the twentieth century.  After all, rail transportation was the best means of long distance travel at the time.  In addition, the area could not have attracted Tesla’s laboratory and RCA’s station if it not for the convenience of rail transportation to the suburban location.  Essentially, the region owes its progress in the last hundred years to the LIRR.  Ironically, there has not been rail service to the area for almost eighty years.

In the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, shore villages on Long Island developed a growing and profitable summer resort trade.  Both the North and South Shore of the island saw an increase in population in the warm months.  Railroad accommodations were obviously an integral part of an area’s marketability for tourism.  Port Jefferson was both a summer destination and a terminal of the LIRR.  By the 1890s rumors spread that the company was planning to expand its Port Jefferson Branch eastward to Wading River and possibly beyond.  In May of 1892, a survey team worked out a possible right-of-way.  On July 14 of that year, the LIRR legally incorporated the extension as the Long Island Railroad, North Shore Branch with a capital of $100,000.  The certificate, registered in Albany, called for a standard-gauge steam railroad twelve miles in length extending from Port Jefferson Station east to a point near the Brookhaven-Riverhead town boundary.[18]

At the time of the Wading River extension, Austin Corbin was LIRR president.  To fund the project, he proposed the consolidation of the new North Shore Branch with the old Smithtown & Port Jefferson Railroad.  The merger would allow for the issuance of a $1,500,000 mortgage on the entire road, and thus allow for funding of both the extension and a portion of debt that accrued from the old Smithtown & Port Jefferson Railroad.  More importantly, the new road promoted the development of the North Shore.  On September 23, 1892, the roads were officially consolidated as the Long Island Railroad Company, North Shore Branch and the capital stock was $320,000.  Benjamin Norton became president of the new road and the route was officially adopted on May 20, 1893, running parallel to North Country Road (New York State Route 25A).  While plans for the extension progressed, a minor setback developed over the summer of 1893.  New York State passed a law requiring all new railroads be double-tracked.  Using political influence, Corbin was successful in the passage of a bill through the State Legislature which exempted the extension.[19]

Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, Columbia Street, Port Jefferson, view east (June 9, 2013)
Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, Columbia Street, Port Jefferson, view east (June 9, 2013)

Next, a construction contract was awarded to Allison & Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Originally construction was to be completed by June 1, 1894.  Throughout the spring, work progressed rapidly and trains were projected to be operational by the summer timetable.  There was speculation that Wading River would be a temporary terminal and that the road would be built through to Riverhead by the following year.  The entire area was expected to prosper and enjoy an economic boom.[20]  However, headway slowed as summer approached.  By the first week of July the LIRR awarded another construction contract to Messrs. A.H. & P.W. Hawman to complete the extension.  The contractors previously built the West Hempstead Branch a year before.  With a new contractor, the first rail was laid on July 24, 1894 and the last rail on March 6, 1895.[21]  Construction of the entire right-of-way was completed in the beginning of May 1895 and branch stations were anticipated to be on the summer timetable.[22]  The first passenger train ran on June 22, with regular service commencing on Thursday, June 27.[23]

Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, West Gate Drive, Mount Sinai, view west (June 9, 2013)
Former LIRR Wading River extension right-of-way, West Gate Drive, Mount Sinai, view west (June 9, 2013)

The Wading River extension included station stops at Miller’s Place, Rocky Point, Wardenclyffe, and Wading River. However, early timetables only included stops at Miller’s Place, Rocky Point, and Wading River. Wardenclyffe was not listed until 1899. Initial service on the June 27, 1895 timetable was three daily trains in both directions, and one extra on Saturdays. On Sundays, there were two trains both ways. Timetables effective for the summer of 1898 scheduled four daily eastbound trains, including Saturdays, bound for Wading River. Two of these consists featured parlor cars, the LIRR’s premium service (one was discontinued as of October 15). Heading west in the summer of 1898, two daily trains left Wading River as well as one parlor car consist. Additionally, there was one westbound parlor car train on Saturdays. Sunday service was two trains in both directions.[24]  The following year, Wardenclyffe was listed on the summer timetable.[25]

Miller’s Place was the first stop beyond Port Jefferson at Sylvan Avenue and was sixty and one-half miles from Long Island City.  A depot was built in 1898 on the east side of Sylvan Avenue, north of the track.[26]  At dawn on September 5, 1903, the depot and five rail cars were destroyed by arson.  The loss of the building was estimated at $1,500.[27]  The building was rebuilt and sadly destroyed by fire the week of September 16, 1934.[28]  The structure was not replaced and the station relied on a low-level platform.[29] The apostrophe-S in the station name was dropped by 1905.

Miller’s Place Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened June 27, 1895
Depot building opened 1898
Depot building destroyed by fire September 5, 1903
Depot building replaced Fall 1903
Renamed Millers Place Station By 1905 (author’s analysis)
Depot building destroyed by fire September 16, 1934
Last passenger service October 9, 1938
Station closed June 25, 1939
LIRR Miller’s Place Station, second depot building, east, circa 1915 (Thos. R. Bayles Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Miller’s Place Station, second depot building, east (Circa 1915: Thos. R. Bayles Photo, Dave Keller Archive)

Rocky Point Station was a little over sixty-four miles east of Long Island City, east of Broadway and south of the rails.  There was a movement in October of 1929 to add a station stop in between Miller Place and Rocky Point at Groveland Park, present-day Sound Beach.[30]  However, nothing developed.  The Rocky Point depot building was built in 1898. Large covered platform sheds were added in 1928.[31]

Rocky Point Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened June 27, 1895
Depot building opened 1898
Passenger shelter sheds erected 1928
Last passenger service October 9, 1938
Station closed June 25, 1939
Depot building sold After 1939
LIRR Rocky Point Station depot, view northeast, circa 1930 (Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Rocky Point Station depot building, view northeast (Circa 1930: Dave Keller Archive)

Wardenclyffe Station was on the west side of the North Country Road crossing and a depot was built in 1895.  A widespread forest fire on April 27, 1901 that destroyed thousands of acres from Wading River to Rocky Point almost destroyed the Wardenclyffe depot.  However, the LIRR sent an engine from Port Jefferson to protect the structure.[32]  The station moved to the east side of the street crossing in 1902 and a new building was built on the north side of the tracks.  The station, like the hamlet, changed its name to Shoreham in 1906.[33]

Shoreham Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station and depot building opened as Wardenclyffe Station 1895
Regular passenger service began 1899 (author’s analysis)
Depot building replaced 1902
Renamed Shoreham Station 1906 (author’s analysis)
Last passenger service October 9, 1938
Station closed June 25, 1939
Depot building razed 1950
LIRR Shoreham Station, second depot building, view northwest, circa 1914 (Thos. R. Bayles Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Shoreham Station, second depot building, view northwest (Circa 1914: Thos. R. Bayles Photo, Dave Keller Archive)

The Wading River terminus was on the west side of the Wading River-Manorville Road and the depot building was north of the tracks, sixty-eight and six-tenths miles east of Long Island City.  The one-story structure with a long wooden platform was built in 1895 and enlarged to two stories in 1906.[34]  The property was donated by Elihu S. Miller on the condition that the LIRR continue to serve the community with no less than one train daily.  Sadly, service to the four communities east of Port Jefferson was brief, lasting only four decades.[35]

Wading River Station
Historical Fact
Date
Station opened June 27, 1895
Depot building opened 1898
Depot building remodeled 1906
Station relocated 1933
Last passenger service October 9, 1938
Station closed June 25, 1939
LIRR Wading River Station depot, view northeast, September 6, 1937 (George E. Votava Photo, Dave Keller Archive)
LIRR Wading River Station depot building, view northeast (September 6, 1937: George E. Votava Photo, Dave Keller Archive)

The Demise of Rail Service to Wading River

The Wading River extension was a major accomplishment for the LIRR at the end of the nineteenth century.  The adjoining communities thrived with summer business and railroad service increased both on and off season.  Discussion of extending the North Shore Branch to Riverhead seemed like a reality rather than a dream for local residents.  However, as the twentieth century progressed and the automobile replaced the railroad as the major source of transportation in the suburbs, the LIRR was faced with the prospect of abandoning the twelve-mile line.  Residents and riders fought to the end but ultimately service to Miller Place, Rocky Point, Shoreham, and Wading River ceased.

In the final years of the nineteenth century, the LIRR’s investment in the Wading River extension paid dividends.  In the second year of railroad operations, vacationers utilized the road to gaze at the beauties of the sea shore and the bold wooded bluffs along the line.  In fact, rail business was booming in the first few days of July in 1896, typically the heaviest travel days at the time.[36]  Pleased with the increase in traffic, the following year the company increased service on the branch in the winter months to two trains a day.[37]  Prosperity continued into the twentieth century.  In the first decade, the LIRR, now under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Railroad, planned major improvements such as the Long Island Railroad Extension Tunnel into Manhattan.[38]  Another projected upgrade was the extension of the North Shore Branch to Riverhead.  In February of 1906, LIRR president Peters approved the spur and work was first scheduled to commence in the succeeding months.[39]  However, by August the company delayed the work to the following year.[40]  The extension never came to fruition.

LIRR Time Table no. 26, in Effect May 27, 1903: Weekday service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension listed as part of the Port Jefferson Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective May 27, 1903: Weekday service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension listed as part of the Port Jefferson Branch)
LIRR Time Table no. 26, in Effect May 27, 1903: Weekend service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension listed as the Port Jefferson Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective May 27, 1903: Weekend service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension listed as the Port Jefferson Branch)

The favorable situation began to change for the LIRR in the second decade of the twentieth century.  By mid-decade, Monday through Saturday service was two trains per day in both directions.  Two of these trains contained parlor cars, a service premium on the road.  Saturday included an additional eastbound parlor car train.  Sunday service was a total of three trains in both directions.[41]  However, in the summer of 1914, the company failed to profit in transient summer business, which represented a large part of its revenue.  Undoubtedly, world events, a general depression, and poor weather were to blame.[42]

Nevertheless, the railroad woes continued with the advent of the automobile in the 1920s.  Suburban residents chose to use their own means of travel rather than wait for one of the few daily trains along the Wading River line.  Gradually, quality of service diminished and all LIRR branches fell under scrutiny.  The New York State Public Service Commission authorized an investigation of the delays on the entire Wading River Branch.  Although the LIRR blamed a recent railroad strike and coal strike, a public hearing was held on November 22, 1922.[43]  Further investigation throughout the decade led the commission to order the company to make certain changes and improvements in its service to Nassau and Suffolk.  These related to regulations, practices, equipment, facilities, and service.[44]  In the wake of scrutiny and declining ridership, the LIRR was forced to abandon its experimental farm at Wading River.  The project, undertaken in 1906, was opened by the company’s short-lived Agricultural Department to prove that land was capable of producing high-quality, valuable agricultural products.  By 1930, both the Wading River and Medford locations were sold.[45]

LIRR Effective October 17, 1916 (Corrected to December 6, 1916): Eastbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch designated as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective October 17, 1916 (Corrected to December 6, 1916): Eastbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch designated as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Effective October 17, 1916 (Corrected to December 6, 1916): Westbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch designated as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective October 17, 1916 (Corrected to December 6, 1916): Westbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch designated as the Wading River Branch)

By the end of the 1920s, the loss of customers led to service changes on the Wading River extension and repeated attempts to abandon the right-of-way.  In October of 1927, the first service change was suspension of steam-hauled trains in favor of a one-car combination engine and coach.  Similar to the Toonerville Trolley of comic fame,[46] the car was supposed to connect with regular steam service at Port Jefferson.  One roundtrip was provided daily.  The electric car had to back-up to Port Jefferson since the “Y” turnaround was removed.[47]  In the summer of 1928, service was two daily trains, eastbound and westbound, and three to four trains on Sundays.[48]

LIRR Taking Effect May 23, 1928, Time Tables: Eastbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch referenced as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective May 23, 1928: Eastbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch referenced as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Taking Effect May 23, 1928, Time Tables: Westbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch referenced as the Wading River Branch)
LIRR Wading River Branch Timetable Effective May 23, 1928: Westbound service at the Wading River extension station stops (the extension and former Port Jefferson Branch referenced as the Wading River Branch)

The first attempt to discontinue the extension was in 1932.  Citing revenue loss, the railroad posted signs at all stations suggesting that it intended to abandon the branch on June 1, 1933.  Preparing to wage a battle, permanent and summer residents of the neighboring communities, under the direction of Maurice Hotchner, counsel for the Association of Long Island Commuters, turned to the New York State Public Service Commission.  At a preliminary hearing on May 16, 1932 at Nassau County Courthouse, the commission’s chief engineer M.C. Cleveland said the railroad could not make any drastic changes until further hearings were held and called for the company to submit all schedules, timetables, and statistical data to the commission.  Alfred W. Varian, Acting Mayor of the Village of Shoreham, added that 1,000 houses were built in the vicinity of Shoreham and Rocky Point from 1931 to 1932, with confidence that the LIRR would continue operations.  Ultimately, the railroad was unable to get the support of the Public Service Commission to abandon the extension and was forced to continue service.[49]

The story of the railroad’s second and eventual successful attempt to suspend service east of Port Jefferson began in 1933.  In need of a higher authority, the company turned to the Interstate Commerce Commission.  On June 26, Alfred A. Gardner, counsel for the road, announced that an application for permission to abandon the extension was forwarded to Washington, DC.  The railroad’s operating deficit was $28,000 in 1932 and the company saw no future in the Wading River extension area “because private automobiles and busses [served] the territory in the transportation of passengers and motor trucks [served] in the transportation of freight.”[50]  The request persuaded the Public Service Commission to reopen proceedings regarding the branch, in particular the failure of the railroad to comply with an order to have service run to and from Wading River and Jamaica without requiring passengers to change trains.  After a public hearing on July 14 and several residential complaints, the LIRR promised to improve service.[51]

Meanwhile, the Interstate Commerce Commission reviewed the case and initially one examiner ruled in favor of abandonment.  In a report published February 9, 1934, the commission cited an annual saving of $21,000 if service was discontinued.  It also pointed out that the area served was generally seasonal and most residents drove from Port Jefferson Station.[52]  The population was 10,000 in the summer as opposed to 1,500 in the winter.[53]  As a consequence, winter service ceased in the winter of 1934.  Regular service was limited to May through October.  The aforementioned combination engine and coach car, dubbed by one Shoreham commuter as “a chicken coop on wheels,” was replaced by steam service in the summer of 1933, which ultimately saved the railroad $500 a year since the combination vehicle was plagued with issues.  Heated by an old-fashioned coal stove, the car often needed to be “coaxed” to start, added Shoreham attorney and commuter Robert W. Ashley.  Furthermore, Wading River attorney Leslie Emmett testified at a hearing that the introduction of the “dinky” car was a “plot” of the railroad to discourage passenger service.[54]

While the railroad made a convincing case, the Interstate Commerce Commission denied the petition.  The announcement came on April 25, 1934 much to the delight of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum Society of Brooklyn, whose land holdings were the deciding factor in the case.  The commission ruled that since funds were slated for construction of an orphan asylum the LIRR needed to honor its duty to serve the community in both passenger and freight service.  Consequently, the new timetables for the summer of 1934 supplied steam-hauled trains for the communities of Miller Place, Rocky Point, Shoreham, and Wading River.[55]

The summer-only service would last six seasons.  By 1937, there were two eastbound trains daily and one westbound.  On Sundays, there was one train in both directions.[56]  The westbound train departed Wading River at 6:53 a.m. daily and 6:32 a.m. on Saturdays.  Eastbound daily service arrived at noon and 7:04 p.m., and noon and 3:53 p.m. on Saturdays.  The Sunday schedule was an arrival at Wading River at 11:51 a.m. and a departure at 6:34 p.m.  While the hamlet was renamed Miller Place (dropping the apostrophe-S and plural-S) by this time, the LIRR timetable still referred to it as Millers Place.[57]

The following year, the LIRR sent another application to the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the extension.  A hearing was held at the Hotel New Yorker in Manhattan on July 22.[58]  The railroad’s perseverance paid off.  On September 27, 1938, the commission granted the LIRR permission.[59]  The decision was officially read to the Huntington Town Board on September 28.  The certificate stated the action was to take effect forty days from September 22, or November 1.[60]  Previously, the station agencies closed at Millers Place in 1928, at Rocky Point in 1929, at Shoreham in 1935, and Wading River in 1933.  The Trains are Fun website claims the last revenue train was Sunday, October 9, 1938, and the branch was officially out of service March 29, 1939.[61]  The railroad timetable effective September 18, 1938 was to be the last to display revenue service. On Sunday, October 9, 1938, the last eastbound train made flag stops at Millers Place (11:25 a.m.), Rocky Point (11:38 a.m.), and Shoreham (11:43 a.m.), and arrived in Wading River at 11:55 a.m. The last westbound train left Wading River at 6:30 p.m., making flag stops at Shoreham (6:42 p.m.), Rocky Point (6:47 p.m.), and Millers Place (7:00 p.m.).  On timetables effective June 25, 1939 these station stops were removed but the branch was still referred to as the Wading River Branch until the war years.[62]

Some of the station depot buildings endured and the railroad land was rezoned.  Rocky Point depot building was moved a short distance east and is currently the site of a lumber yard office.  The Shoreham depot was eventually torn down in 1950.[63]  The Wading River depot has the most interesting story.  In 1933, the station facilities were relocated one mile west to Randall Road.  The former depot building was abandoned.  Elihu S. Miller, who donated land for the old depot and station, won a court decision which granted him repossession of the property.  Since the winter trains were cancelled in 1934, the Suffolk Supreme Court ruled in early December of 1937 that the LIRR failed to provide daily year-round service to Wading River thus reneging on its 1894 agreement with Miller.  The company was forced to pay $350 in damages.[64]  Subsequently, Miller tore down the old depot building.[65]  Beginning in 1939, there were several requests to rezone some of the land along the right-of-way from residential to industrial.  From Port Jefferson to Shoreham, companies such as Shoreham Farms, Inc. called for land to be designated for business purposes.[66]

Location of the former LIRR Millers Place Station, view east (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Millers Place Station, view east (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Rocky Point Station, view east (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Rocky Point Station, view east (June 9, 2013)
Former LIRR Rocky Point Station depot building, view east (March 23, 2014)
Former LIRR Rocky Point Station depot building, view east (March 23, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Wardenclyffe Station, first depot building site, view west (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Wardenclyffe Station, first depot building site, view west (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Shoreham Station, second depot building site, view west (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Shoreham Station, second depot building site, view west (June 9, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Wading River Station, view west, July 13, 2013
Location of the former LIRR Wading River Station, first location, view west (July 13, 2013)
Location of the former LIRR Wading River Station, second location, view west (March 23, 2014)
Location of the former LIRR Wading River Station, second location, view west (March 23, 2014)

Conclusion

Present-day communities along the North Shore in the town of Brookhaven personify suburban life.  Population is steady year-round, with a select few remaining summer homes along the beach.  While the railroad’s decision to end service was justified in light of the automobile and the demographics of the early twentieth century, in hindsight it was poorly-timed and the infrastructure and environment of the island suffers because of it.  Considering the growth of the Port Jefferson Branch in the latter part of the twentieth century, the twelve-mile extension to Wading River would be a bonus to those commuters who must travel west by automobile to Port Jefferson or drive to Ronkonkoma Station to catch a train.  Initially, Quinn’s Bus Line provided local service from Port Jefferson to Wading Service beginning in the summer of 1940.[67]  Today, Suffolk County Transit maintains routes in the neighboring communities.  The old LIRR right-of-way was sold to the Long Island Lighting Company.  Lined with power-line towers, it is currently overgrown with trees and other plant life, except for an area in Rocky Point.[68]  There is a movement to transform the route into a bike path, to be funded by Suffolk County.[69]

Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)
Oldman’s Harbor, Mount Sinai (June 9, 2013)

 

Next page: The History of the Three Villages and St. James: With a Modern Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road’s Eastern Port Jefferson Branch

 
___________________________________________________________

[1] Mervin G. Pallister, “A Short History of Shoreham Village,” Village of Shoreham, accessed February 23, 2014, http://shorehamvillage.org/Shoreham_History/Village_History.html.

[2] Evelyn Rowley Meier, The Wading River, Pauguaconsuk (Riverhead, NY: LeValley Press, 1955), 4.

[3] William Wallace Tooker, The Indian Place-names on Long Island and Islands adjacent with their Probable Significations (Port Washington, N.Y.: I.J. Friedman, 1962), 164; Richard M. Bayles, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Suffolk County with a Historical Outline of Long Island (Port Washington, NY: Ira J. Friedman Inc., 1962), 251-252.

[4] Ibid., 253.

[5] Edna Davis Giffen, “Town History,” Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, accessed February 23, 2014, http://www.mpmshistoricalsociety.org/new_site/index.php?id=8.

[6] “Sound Beach History,” Sound Beach Property Owner’s Association, accessed February 23, 2014, http://www.sbpoa.org/soundbeach.htm.

[7] Bayles, Historical and Descriptive Sketches, 253.

[8] Rocky Point Historical Society, “Short Summary of the History of Rocky Point, Long Island, New York,” Rocky Point Historical Society, accessed February 23, 2014, http://www.rockypointhistoricalsociety.org.

[9] Mervin G. Pallister, “A History of the Incorporated Village of Shoreham,” Village of Shoreham, accessed March 9, 2014, http://shorehamvillage.org/Shoreham_History/Pallister_hx/Tbl_contents.html.

[10] Ibid.; Ronald H. Bailey, “Tesla: The Wizard Who Electrified the World,” American History 45, no.2 (2010): 52, http://www.proquest.com.

[11] “A Brief History of Tesla Science Center,” Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe,accessed May 13, 2014, http://www.teslasciencecenter.org/a-brief-history.

[12] Pallister, “History of the Incorporated Village of Shoreham”; Rae Corelli, “Fall from Grace,” Maclean’s110, no. 34 (Aug 25, 1997): 18, http://www.proquest.com; May Lou Abata, “History of Shoreham,” Village of Shoreham, accessed March 9, 2014, http://shorehamvillage.org/Shoreham_History/Abata_hx/Abata_hstry.pdf.

[13] Meier, Wading River, 3.

[14] Wading River Tercentenary Committee, Wading River, 1671-1971 (Ridge, N.Y.: George’s Printing Service, 1971).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Meier, Wading River, 49.

[18] Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, The Golden Age 1881-1900 (Garden City, NY: Seyfried, 1984), 78-79.

[19] Ibid., 79-81.

[20] “Hundreds of Laborers,” Long Islander (Huntington), March 3, 1894, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[21] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 84-87.

[22] “A Noble Stand,” Long Islander (Huntington), May 4, 1895, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[23] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 88.

[24] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 13, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, Schedule in Effect June 23, 1898, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1898), Port Jefferson Branch.

[25] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 13, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, Schedule in Effect June 28, 1899, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1899), Port Jefferson Branch.

[26] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 275.

[27] “Island News Notes,” Suffolk County News (Sayville), September 11, 1903, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[28] “Fire Destroys Long Island Railroad Station at Miller Place a Second Time,” Suffolk County News (Sayville), September 28, 1934, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[29] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History,” Trains are Fun, accessed March 2, 2014, http://www.trainsarefun.com/lirrphotos/LIRR%20Station%20History.htm.

[30] “Suffolk County News,” Port Jefferson Echo, October 17, 1929, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[31] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History.”

[32] “Serious Fire near Wardenclyffe,” Port Jefferson Echo, May 4, 1901, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[33] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History.”

[34] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 275.

[35] “Give Wading River Station to Former Owner of Site,” Patchogue Advance, December 10, 1937, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[36] “Summer Rush of Travel on the Long Island Railroad Begun,” Long Islander (Huntington), July 11, 1896, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[37] ”Village Notes,” Long Islander (Huntington), September 4, 1897, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[38] “L.I.R.R. Improvements,” Long Islander (Huntington), August 30, 1901, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[39] “Village Notes,” Long Islander (Huntington), February 23, 1906, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[40] “Another Warm Winter,” Long Islander (Huntington), August 24, 1906, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[41] Long Island Railroad, Effective October 17th, 1916, Corrected to Dec. 6th, 1916, Long Island Railroad Schedule of Trains (New York: Long Island Railroad, 1916), Wading River Branch.

[42] “Time Table Changes,” Long Islander (Huntington), September 4, 1914, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[43] “P.S.C. after L.I.R.R.,” Long Islander (Huntington), November 10, 1922, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[44] “Improvements State Requires of the Long Island Railroad,” Patchogue Advance, April 29, 1930, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[45] “Railroad Sells its Demonstration Farm,” Patchogue Advance, Feb 11, 1930, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com; “LIRR Demonstration Farm Goes to Private Ownership,” Port Jefferson Echo, February 13, 1930, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[46] “Toonerville Trolley,” Internet Movie Database, accessed on March 5, 2014, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0027123.

[47] Wading River Tercentenary Committee, Wading River, 1671-1971.

[48] Long Island Railroad, Taking Effect May 23, 1928, Daylight Saving Time, Long Island Railroad Time Tables (New York: Long Island Railroad, 1928), Wading River Branch.

[49] “Working to Retain Wading River Trains,” Long Islander (Huntington), May 20, 1932, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[50] “Wading River Line Held Big Liability,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 27, 1933, http://www.proquest.com.

[51] “Wading River Hearings Reopened,” New York Times (1923-Current file), July 4, 1933, http://www.proquest.com.

[52] “Long Island Rail Link is Held Unnecessary,” New York Times (1923-Current file), February 10, 1934, http://www.proquest.com.

[53] “Consider Stopping Wading River Branch of L.I.R.R.,” The Watchman, February 15, 1934, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[54] “Commuters Deride Wading River Service at Hearing,” Suffolk County News (Sayville), December 30, 1932, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[55] “Wading River Line Ordered Retained,” New York Times (1923-Current file), April 21, 1934, www.proquest.com; “Wading River Branch is Saved,” The Watchman, April 26, 1934, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[56] “Man and Woman from City End Lives in Long Island Woods in Suicide Pact,” Suffolk County News (Sayville), May 21, 1937, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[57] Long Island Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Zone, Long Island Railroad, Time Table No. 8, In Effect 2.00 a.m. Sunday, September 19, 1937, For the Government of Employes Only, Eastern Standard Time (New York: Long Island Railroad, 1937), Wading River.

[58] “Wading River Rail Hearing Set,” New York Times (1923-Current file), June 29, 1938, http://www.proquest.com.

[59] “Long Island to Abandon Line,” New York Times (1923-Current file), September 28, 1938, http://www.proquest.com.

[60] “Various Matters before Town Board,” Long Islander (Huntington), September 29, 1938, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[61] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History.”

[62] Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 15, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, Schedule in Effect September 18, 1938, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1938), Wading River Branch; Robert M. Emery Long Island Rail Road Collection, Box 15, Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries, Long Island Rail Road Time Tables, Schedule in Effect June 25, 1939, by Long Island Rail Road (New York: Long Island Rail Road, 1939), Wading River Branch.

[63] Seyfried, The Long Island Rail Road: A Comprehensive History, vol. 6, 275

[64] “Give Wading River Station to Former Owner of Site.”

[65] “Long Island Rail Road: Alphabetical Station Listing and History.”

[66] “Change Allowed in Shoreham Zone to Start Factory,” Mid-Island Mail, March 1, 1939, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[67] “North Shore Route for Quinn Bus Line,” Patchogue Advance, June 14, 1940, http://apa3.olivesoftware.com.

[68] Thomas Freedman, “Two Museums Worth Visiting,” Newsday, June 7, 1987.

[69] “Editorial: New Trail a Step Forward for Life in Suffolk,” Newsday, August 22, 2013.

 

Next page: The History of the Three Villages and St. James: With a Modern Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road’s Eastern Port Jefferson Branch

8 thoughts on “The Forgotten Spur: The Chronicle of the Long Island Rail Road Wading River Extension and the Adjoining Communities

  1. I found your article very interesting, but I must correct a few things:
    1. The Tesla property is no longer owned by Agfa. On May 2, 2013, Friends of Science East, Inc., dba Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, purchased the site for the establishment of a science, technology, and innovation center.
    2. The Shoreham Nuclear Plant was not stopped by tight community opposition. In fact, there was a lot of community support for the project, due to the tax advantages it would provide to the local residents and school district. The opposition within the community was a small, but vocal group, supported by most of the rest of Long Island, which recognized the potential for hazard and didn’t get any of the financial benefit.

  2. Very interesting, I knew most of the basic story. But I filled in quite a few details that I was not aware of. Life long resident of Shoreham.

  3. Outstanding histoory…..you have a very comprensivve report…..I especially agree with your commennt about the infrastructure sufferiing….undoubtedly becauuse of the.opuortunity. to properly plan for the rapid growth of the area…It be came necesary to build roads and.communities quickly to acomidate it…The towns are playing catch up now but it is way more dificult at.this point…

  4. You should get the Arcadia book (“Images of Rail) on the LIRR’s Pt. Jefferson Branch for further views of the Wading River extension….written by ex-LIRR exec Dave Morrison

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