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74th Street Power Station, MTA.19 PM74th Street Power Station, NYTM Collections

For fans of transit and vintage photos, on exhibit at the New York Transit Museum is Anatomy of a Powerhouse: Electrifying the El. Black and white photos from the city’s archives display the construction and early use of the 74th Street Power Station, pivotal in the city’s development from steam powered to electric trains at the turn of the century. The station, first planned in 1899 and completed in 1902, helped to rid the city of the effects of steam powered elevated trains—smoke and other debris blanketing parts of the city.

The 200-by- 500 foot powerhouse–built using 6,000 tons of steel–is a behemoth of a structure. “An industrial Grand Canyon,” as described by The New York Times, it originally housed 10,000 horsepower rated Allis-Corliss reciprocating steam engines. Though a large portion of the building is unused, the scale and magnitude of the industrial machinery it once housed and some it still does is evident.

The power station, designed by the engineer George H. Pegram, was built under commission by the operators of the city’s Els line, the Manhattan Elevated Railway Company. The importance of Pelgram’s contributions to New York transit history are forever enshrined when, following his death in 1937, all trains in the city were stopped for two minutes. The station is located on the East River and was built to power the the second, third, sixth, and ninth elevated lines.

The station, along with its 59th Street sibling by Stanford White on the West Side built in the same era , is still in use today. Both are now owned and operated by Con Edison to produce steam.

The exhibit, as the museum outlines, “reveals the staggering scale of the powerhouse, offering a rare glimpse into early transit history in New York and the immense power required to move Manhattan’s entire elevated railway system.” The photos are on view until October 12, 2014.

To see remnants of a power station built in the same era, check out our articles on the abandoned Glenwood Power Plant in Yonkers and the 59th Street Power Station. Be sure to check out our article on Vintage Subway Entrances in NYC.

Get in touch with the author @spencercnyc

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