Subways: The Tracks That Built New York City
by Lorraine B. Diehl
Manhattan, 1870. As overcrowded horse carts and weary pedestrians push through the clogged city streets, a man named Beach secretly works by candlelight 2,112 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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REVIEWS & PRESS:
From Phillip Lopate - The NewYork Times - January 23, 2005
CHRONICLE / NEW YORK BOOKS; All Around the Town
''Subways: The Tracks That Built New York City'' is more a handy picture book and impulse gift for transit buffs than a study in depth. But Lorraine B. Diehl, the author of ''The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station,'' is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her subject, and the copious illustrations are a delight. Through this breezy historical overview, taking us back to the pre-subway days when the streets of New York were almost impassable -- clogged with horse-drawn carriages and manure -- through the heroic days of underground tunnel construction and the nickel fare, we come to see why, ''for countless New Yorkers, native or newly arrived, the subway was the great emancipator, part of the road map to self-discovery.''
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From TimeOut New York
Diehl's short, highly readable illustrated history smartly plots out the history of NYC transit along with plenty of illustrations, photos and vintage maps. While Subways will mainly appeal to transit-history novices, even regular visitors to the Transit Museum will enjoy Diehl's lively writing and images of everything from an early pneumatic-tube train to the gorgeous nature-themed mosaics in the 81st St-Museum of Natural History station.
From Jonathan Yardley - The Washington Post
Diehl's [book] is a compact, well-illustrated history of the system, from the one-block, pneumatically driven line that Alfred Ely Beach constructed in the late 1860s -- incredibly, he built it secretly, because "Boss" Tweed's cronies were opposed to subways -- to the revival of the system in the 1990s after its painful decline in the 1970s.
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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