Manhattan, 1870. As overcrowded horse carts and weary pedestrians push through the clogged city streets, a man named Beach secretly works by candlelight 2112 feet beneath Devlin’s clothing store on Broadway, carving out New York’s very first subway tunnel.
In the years following the Civil War, New York City experienced unprecedented growth. Commerce boomed as immigrants and tourists poured onto the tiny island in huge numbers. But at a time when commuting distance was measured by the strength of one’s legs and the soles of one’s shoes, the city was unable to expand alongside its population. All of that would change with a few miles of track and a nickel fare.
In Subways, her highly anticipated follow-up to The Automat, Lorraine Diehl sets off on another sentimental journey, recounting the true story of a city transformed by underground passageways. Through archival photographs, interviews with New Yorkers who “remember when,” and an assortment of rare memorabilia, Diehl introduces us to the entertaining characters who conceived, built, and rode the city’s subways, then travels to the familiar destinations shaped by their tracks.
From the last days of the horsecars to the remarkable excavation and construction of the tunnels, from an age of elegant wood-and-brass cars to the streamlined stainless-steel rolling stock of the 1940s, from the once-remote reaches of the boroughs to the bustling metropolis of today, to tell the story of the Subways is to tell the story of New York City.
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LORRAINE B. DIEHL is the author of The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station and coauthor of The Automat, and has contributed to the New York Daily News, New York magazine, the New York Times, Travel & Leisure, and American Heritage. She grew up and still lives in New York City, with her husband, Bill, an entertainment correspondent for ABC network radio.From Publishers Weekly:
In celebration of the New York City subway system’s 100th birthday, Diehl (The Great Pennsylvania Station; Automat) offers up this easy-to-read, informative history. From its beginnings as an underground amusement ride, to the development of the IRT, BMT and IND rail systems, to its crime-ridden and graffiti-covered fall in the 70’s and, finally, to its current revival, the system has had a more colorful history than most straphangers and tourists realize. Diehl’s well-pitched nostalgia leads readers to appreciate the wonder of the subway’s nascent period and to imagine how incalculably different New York would be today had the transit option that is so taken for granted not been created how and when it was. As Diehl shows, the subway and the cities of New York and Brooklyn grew up together and gave each other character. Tracks weren’t always laid to reach existing neighborhoods. Often neighborhoods sprung up as subway service pushed out farther from the city, while the areas below the elevateds (now long gone) developed a reputation for shadiness in every sense of the word. Those familiar with the layout of the city will most appreciate the implied differences between then and now but any fan of trains, history, New York or grand public works will enjoy the ride. Although Diehl’s tribute is not the definitive work on the subject, this book passes on enough fascinating tidbits, evocative depictions and serious history to have wide appeal. 60 b/w and 20 color photos.
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