A glimpse of history underneath Nevins St.By
When the MTA recommissioned the old South Ferry loop last week, New York saw a subway station once closed for good returned to service. In the history of the city’s subways, this is a rare occurrence with only a few stations once lost to time returned to service. Throughout the city, the abandoned or half-built and never-completed stations flash by like ghosts from another era. Stare hard enough into the dark and stations at 91st St. and Broadway or 18th St. and Park Ave. South materialize out of the tunnels.
Elsewhere, parts of a system never realized remain hidden from view, poking their heads out now and then before receding into the shadows of history. The South 4th Street station shell above the northern end of Broadway on the G’s IND Crosstown line had its moment in the sun two and a half years ago when street artists turned it into their Underbelly canvas. That shell is part of a series of provisions for IND Second System lines at various stations throughout the city, and while the hints exist for those who know where to look, they’re largely out of sight and out of mind.
At another station in Brooklyn, an intriguing abandoned/never-used platform exists underneath Nevins St. and runs for some distance nearly to the Pacific St. platform along 4th Ave. at the current Atlantic Ave./Barclays Center station. Unlike the South 4th St. shell, this one has wall tiling and completed tunnels, and various nearby stations — DeKalb Ave., in particular — were constructed with its usage in mind. Today, it exists off of the Nevins St. underpass and remains forever unused, a remnant of a time when the city planned ahead even it wasn’t quite sure of where those plans might lead.
Various explorers, sanctioned and not, have ventured into the Nevins St. area. Before a rehab of the upper levels, the lower level was visible from the cross-under, but the existing platform areas have since been sealed off. Still, the photos available show finished tile and mosaic work and track beds. LTV Squad has a series of photos showing the extended tunneling and water damage to the current area.
The history of the station, as Joseph Brennan has explored, hints at the politics behind early subway construction. The lower level at Nevins St. was not, in fact, part of the original plans, and the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners ordered a redesign amidst ongoing construction in April of 1905. Six months later, work started on the lower level, and it never came to use. Brennan explains:
The purpose of Nevins St lower was to allow two connections on the Brooklyn-bound local track that crossed under the other tracks. North of Nevins St, there could be a track coming from the Manhattan Bridge line (De Kalb Ave station) joining the Brooklyn-bound track. South of Nevins St, there could be a track diverging off the Brooklyn-bound track into a subway in Lafayette Ave. Running the other way, provisions were made for both the same connections in the wall alongside the main level local track…
The subway was opened in May 1908 to Atlantic Ave. The extension beyond was added in the Dual System plan in 1913, and was opened in April 1919. The provisions of 1905 for future construction were…:
3 West of Nevins St: Lower level trackway under main tracks to north edge of construction, and upper level removable wall. For two tracks off a Manhattan Bridge route. The BMT De Kalb Ave station was built as if this had still not been ruled out: its main track level is at the level of the IRT lower level, for the outbound track connection, and its upper mezzanine level has no structure blocking the path of a track off the IRT main level.
4 East of Nevins St: Lower level trackway under main tracks to east edge of construction, and upper level trace of provision for an opening in the side wall. For a Lafayette Ave subway. Such a subway was actually built for the IND system later.
5 West end of Atlantic Ave station: Upper level outbound local curve south into 4 Ave, and lower level crossing under main tracks to a ramp up to main level inbound local. Both are now obscured. The upper level curve is still visible in the wall of the Atlantic Ave station side platform, as extended northward in 1964. The lower level is hidden, and the ramp up is covered by the present westbound local track (2 3 trains) built 1962-1963.
Today, history sits beneath our feet at Nevins St., invisible to nearly everyone as thousands of passengers pass through the station each day. I’m always struck by the planning — or the over-planning — of the original builders of the subway. These days, we pare back our subway expansion plans from two stations to one, from four tracks to two. But a hundred years ago, construction was halted for six months to build provisioning never actually put into place.
These days, the BMT uses the connection over the Manhattan Bridge via DeKalb, and of course, it extends to Atlantic Ave. and beyond via tunnels that mirror the Nevins St. plans. That routing though swings north of and around the Nevins St. station. The IND, via the G, utilizes the Lafayette Ave. route and cuts through part of the tunnels constructed around Nevins St. Subway planners built the lower level at Nevins St. for a purpose, and though that purpose came to pass, trains forever bypass the station. All that remains is an intriguing abandoned station out of sight and out of mind.