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Erie Railroad Passenger Terminal in Jersey
At Pavonia Avenue near Washington Boulevard

Detail of the 1850 Dripps Map of Jersey City showing the Long Dock at the eastern end of Pavonia Avenue. Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

 




Early twentieth century postcard of Erie Railroad trains and tunnels.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

  Early twentieth century postcard of Erie Railroad trains and tunnels.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

The letter "E" on the capitals of the columns at the Newport PATH Station gives local commuters evidence of the former New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad Station at the foot of Pavonia Avenue and the Hudson River. The terminal was built in the late 1880s for over $200,000 and was razed in 1961. Today, the site is part of the larger Newport complex in Jersey City developed a century later.

The New York and Erie Railroad was incorporated in 1832 to operate a railway line exclusively in New York State. In 1852, it began to make inroads into New Jersey through consolidation and mergers including expansion to the terminal in Jersey City belonging to the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company incorporated in 1832. Local historian Joan Lovero explains, "In 1852 the New York and Erie Railroad leased the tracks of the Paterson and Hudson Rail Road and four years later bought more than 200 acres at Pavonia Avenue where it erected a new terminal on landfill. Because this site was more than a mile north of the old depot, the Erie decided to blast a tunnel through the Bergen hill and so avoid a circuitous route through the cut. The heavy expense of this difficult excavation, followed by the Panic of 1857, brought the Erie to bankruptcy. It was rescued by an infusion of cash from a small New Jersey line, the Morris and Essex. . . Work resumed and in November 1860 a locomotive steamed through the first tunnel through the Bergen hill." (42).

In 1861, after bankruptcy and bailout, the railway was renamed the "Erie Railroad," as it continued to be called through future consolidations and bankruptcies. The rail line had also completed the Bergen Tunnel for trains to reach the Jersey City waterfront. Three years later, the Erie acquired the Pavonia Ferry Company of Jersey City, which had started in 1854, for $9,050. The ferry service across the Hudson River operated between Pavonia Avenue in Jersey City and Chambers Street in lower Manhattan. These and other transportation innovations began a significant period of growth in Jersey City. Between 1860 and 1870, the population grew 182.4% from 29,226 to 82,546, and to 120,722 or by 46.2% during the next decade.

From 1868, the New York railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt attempted to gain control of the Erie Railroad. At the time, it was controlled by the noted financiers Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and James Fisk who tried to corner the company's stock by issuing 50,000 shares to flood the market. After a New York court issued a warrant for their arrest, the three men reportedly left for a hotel in Jersey City. Gould, it is said, bribed the New York legislature to legalize their action. Fisk and Gould then came to an agreement with Vanderbilt, and the railroad remained in their control with Gould as its president in 1868. The railroad, none the less, went into bankruptcy in 1875 amidst further scandal. It was sold for 6 million dollars and transferred to the Lake Erie and Western Railway in 1878. The Erie again went into bankruptcy in 1893 and was reorganized in 1895 as the Erie Rail Road Company.

With the consolidation and expansion of mileage along the eastern seaboard, the railroad contracted with the Phoenix Bridge Co. in 1886 for the building of what was to be "one of the largest passenger train sheds in this country. . . . on the site of the old depot at the Pavonia terminus of the railway" (See Catskill Archive link below).

The terminal was opened to the public on December 4, 1887. That day a New York Times article describes the "handsome" building with a center section and two wings as "three stories high, of the English Gothic style of architecture . . . replete with all modern conveniences; . . It has a frontage of 127 feet on Pavonia-avenue, and a river frontage of 120 feet. . . . The interior is finished in hard woods in their natural colors; light is afforded by spacious windows of cathedral stained glass. The train shed is 140 by 600 feet." With its name "New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad" engraved above the first floor, the station prominently displayed four towers. The tallest square tower featured clocks on two sides and a widow's walk above. On the first floor, passengers entered a waiting room facing the tracks, 66 feet by 1000 feet, which had a ticket office, ladies' waiting room, restaurant and smoking room.

Kenneth French in Railroads of Hoboken and Jersey City explains that between 1906 and 1910, the Erie dug a cut through the Bergen hill "to alleviate traffic and poor ventilation in the Bergen Tunnel [completed in 1861 and north of Dickinson High School], which ran parallel to it" (62). The 5,000-foot long, 85-foot deep and 58-foot wide cut between Kennedy Boulevard and Palisade Avenue is known as the Bergen arches as it forms a series of bridges or elevated streets over the cut.

On August 2, 1909, the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad under the Hudson River (now PATH) opened the Erie (Tube) station that was built at the Pavonia terminus to connect Jersey City with Lower Manhattan by rail. Popularly known as the Hudson Tubes, it had other stations at Journal Square, Hoboken, Newark in New Jersey and New York City.

By 1951 the Erie's main line had extended from Jersey City to Chicago with branches to Scranton, Pennsylvania, Rochester and Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio. In 1954, the Hudson and Manhattan installed at Pavonia Avenue an innovative underground moving electronic sidewalk, 6-foot wide and 227-foot long, called the "Speedwalk" and built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company ("Passenger Conveyor Belt to Be Installed in Erie Station." New York Times 6 October 1953).

Its purpose was to move a projected 21,000 passengers from the mezzanine of the Hudson Tubes station to the Erie Railroad Terminal. The passenger conveyance now common in airports was seen as futuristic but could not save the terminal. Changes in local and commercial transportation patterns brought a decline in passenger use of the terminal. In 1956, the Erie Railroad moved out of the Pavonia terminal for the Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken. The last train to depart from Jersey City's Pavonia Station was the Northern Branch train #1205 at 6:35 p.m., Friday, December 12, 1958.

In 1960 the Erie Railroad merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroads to become the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. The Erie Terminal was razed the following year after the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad withdrew its operations. For a time, railway track remained intact to Piermont, NY. It brought passengers to Jersey City and serviced the Continental Can Company until it closed in the late 1970s. Its freight yards became part of the Newport waterfront redevelopment near the Port Authority's Railroad Pavonia Station.

In 1962 the Hudson Tubes ceded under financial pressure to the PATH for the rights to its operation in New York City for the development of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. After 1988, the Pavonia tube station became a transfer station for the PATH, called the Pavonia or Pavonia Avenue Station. It was renamed the Pavonia/Newport station with the redevelopment of the Hudson River waterfront, ca. 2003, and then Newport in 2010.

References:
"Bi-State Past Near on Hudson Tubes." New York Times 22 June 1961.
Catskill Archives. "New York, Lake Erie & Western Railway Passenger Station, Jersey City," Engineering News and American Contract Journal, May 29, 1886.http://www.catskillarchive.com/rrextra/rspav.Html
"The Erie Boom." Jersey Journal 2 October 1886 .

"Erie Puts Deficit in '58 at 4 Million." New York Times 29 January 1959.
"The Erie Railroad Contest." Evening Journal 21 March 1868.
"Erie Sees Merger Gains." New York Times 14 March 1960.
French, Kenneth. Images of America: Railroads of Hoboken and Jersey City. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Gabrielan, Randall. Jersey City, A Monumental History. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2007.

"A Handsome Building: The Erie Railway's New Station at Jersey City." New York Times 4 December 1887.
Lovero, Joan Doherty. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Murphy, Tom. "Erie, The Scenic Railway to Chicago." Transportation, Past and Present: Jersey City, NJ. Jersey City,NJ: Jersey CityLandmarks Conservancy, 2006.
Parkhurst, Joshua. "Hudson & Manhattan, The Subterraneous Underwater Railroad." Transportation, Past and Present: Jersey City, NJ. Jersey City, NJ: Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, 2006.
"Passenger Conveyor Belt to Be Installed in Erie Station." New York Times 6 October 1953.
"The War on the Erie Railroad." The Evening Journal 14 March 1868.
"With Joy and Feast: The Opening of the New Erie Depot Completed." Jersey Journal 5 December 1887.

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub