Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
For the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of digitizing our photographs of the construction of the 74th Street Power Station located on the East River between 74th and 75th Streets. Most power plants in New York City at the turn of the 20th century were located on either the Hudson or the East River because they used the river water as a coolant.
This power station, designed by George H. Pegram, is still in use today and I was blown away by its beauty. The Manhattan Elevated Railway Company broke ground in 1899 on the 200 x 500 foot power house and it was fully operational by 1902. It began its life as a coal-powered plant designed to supply electricity to the elevated trains of New York City, which were in the process of being converted from coal to electricity. The city at the time was badly in need of relief from the soot and pollution from the coal-powered steam engines. By 1904 “the power for the operation of all trains on the Manhattan Railway Division [was] generated at one power station located near the centre of the system on the East River, between 74th and 75th Streets.” The New York Electrical Handbook, by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
The main towers were the first part of the building to be completed, in October, 1900.
You can see here that from February to June 1901 the engine room was almost fully completed.
According to the IEEE Global History website regarding the history of railway power stations of New York City: “Originally, the power house was equipped with eight huge Allis-Corliss reciprocating steam engines, each rated at 10,000 horsepower maximum. Each engine drove directly a Westinghouse three-phase, 11,000 volt, 25-cycle alternator rated for 7500 kilowatts.” At the time these eight Westinghouse alternators were the largest ever built!
Here is the completed engine room with those impressive steam engines cranking away.
I especially loved the photographs of the men who built this amazing example of engineering and construction.
Though the 74th Street Power Station is still in use today, it is no longer coal powered. In 1959 the plant was taken over by the Consolidated Edison Company and it continued to supply coal power to substations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. In 1999 new boilers and gas turbine generators replaced steam ones and the station continues to contribute to the city’s electric power grid. For more information about this and all power stations in New York, you can read the IEEE Global History Network’s page on the Railway Power Stations of New York City.