Before PATH Became PATH: The Wonder Years

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett


More than 50 years ago, in 1962, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) acquired the title to rehabilitate the Hudson & Manhattan (H&M) Railroad Tunnel and begin operations.  Ten years later, two bronze plaques were unveiled designating the old H&M tunnel as an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  One plaque was placed in the Hoboken Terminal (at the west end of the platform between Tracks 1 and 2, above the dispatcher’s booth) and another was placed in the World Trade Center.  But the backstory of PATH had begun years earlier, during the late 1800s, as America opened its eyes and ears to new possibilities.  From Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell, the country was transmitting light and sound across great distances like never before.  Bridges were built, and railroads lines were extending in a crisscross of intersecting track and signals both above and below ground.

5/26/1873:  The history of the PATH system dates back to the incorporation of the Hudson Tunnel Railroad Company on May 26, 1873, led by Colonel De Witt Clinton Haskin, a businessman from Upstate New York, who made his fortune on the construction of the California Pacific Railroad and in the Utah silver mines.

11/17/1874:  Tunnel construction began with the sinking of a shaft on Fifteenth Street in Jersey City, N.J.  Work halted for five years because of litigation by Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad for the amount of compensation for property acquired through eminent domain.

9/22/1879:  The injunction was dissolved and construction of the first tunnel under the Hudson River got underway.

7/21/1880:   A major blowout occurred when a leak developed on top of the tunnel, letting out compressed air into the 30 feet of silt between the tunnel and the river bottom.  As the hole grew larger, river water flooded the tunnel, trapping 28 men inside.  Miraculously, eight men escaped through the air lock, but the rest of the men died.

11/4/1882:  Construction progressed for the next two years until the death of Trevor W. Park, Haskin’s associate and financial backer.  At that time, the north tunnel extended 1,542 feet from the New Jersey side and 75 feet from the New York side, while the south tunnel extended 562 feet from the New Jersey side.

2/11/1902:  After work halted again in 1892 because of financial difficulties, the New York and New Jersey Railroad Company was formed to complete the project.

9/29/1905:  The Uptown Tunnel – North Tunnel “holed” through on March 11, 1904. Six months later, the South Tunnel holed through.

12/1/1906:  The New York and New Jersey Railroad Company was later consolidated into the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (H&M), which has nothing to do with the H&M retail clothing store for men, women, teenagers and children.

2/25/1908:  On the afternoon of February 25, President Theodore Roosevelt pressed a button from the White House that turned on electrical power to the system.  The first train was filled with dignitaries and celebrities, including New York Governor Charles Hughes, New Jersey Governor John Fort, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Westinghouse.  They journeyed from Sixth Avenue and 19th Street in Manhattan to the Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken in just 10 ½ minutes.  The H&M Railroad began operating at midnight and nearly 100,000 passengers used the system during its first day of service.

7/19/1909:  Service on the downtown H&M tunnels began between Jersey City and the Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan to what is now the World Trade Center Transportation Hub Oculus.

11/10/1910: The Uptown Tunnels were extended north to a new terminal station at Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street, then known as Greeley Square . Each of the terminal stations was designed with platforms on both sides of the track so that passengers could exit one side of the train while passengers could enter on the other side.

11/26/1911: The system was extended to Newark.

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