Brooklyn Boro

It’s the 112th anniversary of the Battery Tunnel. (No, not that one.)

And boy, how public perception of the subway has changed.

January 9, 2020 Meaghan McGoldrick

On this day in 1908, scores of New Yorkers who had not yet been disenchanted — nay, betrayed — by their beloved subway reveled in the opening of the subway passage formerly known as the Battery Tunnel.

The tube, which would later be called the Joralemon Street Tunnel, was the city’s first underwater subway tunnel. To this day, the tunnel carries the 4 and 5 trains, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan via the East River.

On the Battery Tunnel’s opening day 112 years ago, thousands of people stayed up until at least 1 a.m. to meet the first train from Manhattan and take a ride under the river. Even more flocked to Brooklyn Borough Hall to mark the occasion.

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As reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1908, an additional 12,000 straphangers tried out the tunnel during their morning commutes that Thursday. Believe it or not, rush hour went smoothly.

“Rush hour in the tunnel gave a striking example of handling crowds with efficiency and dispatch,” the Eagle reported as part of a massive front-page spread. (Excuse me, WHAT?) “Trains left every three minutes through the rush hours. They moved like clock work. There was not a hitch at any time.” (And… it never happened again.)

The celebration was spontaneous. “There had not been time to organize a great celebration, as the announcement of the opening came too late,” the Eagle reported (ah, there’s the subway system we know and love loathe), “but Brooklyn turned out just the same with a splendid welcome for the first train and a mighty testimonial of its appreciation of the new tunnel.”

There were speeches. There was music. There were American flags floating from parachutes. (Evidently, these Americans had not yet met the R train.)


“The subway was officially opened by an eight-car train that dashed from Bowling Green to Borough Hall in 3 minutes and 45 seconds,” the Eagle reported. Today, that ride takes about a minute, according to Google Maps.

Little did celebrants know that 42 years later, another record-breaking passageway dubbed Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel would come along. Today’s Brooklyn-Battery — known also as the Hugh L. Carey — is a toll tunnel connecting Brooklyn’s Red Hook to Manhattan’s Battery Park.

It is the longest continuous underwater vehicle tunnel in North America, and was built at the insistence of President Franklin Roosevelt.

The original Battery Tunnel took a beating in October 2012, when it was inundated with flooding as a result of Superstorm Sandy. The flooding caused significant damage to the 1.6-mile-long tube, according to the MTA, which made repairs during 2016 and 2017 as part of a $75 million recovery plan.


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