Farmingdale and the Long Island Rail Road
The movement of people and goods has always been requisite for economic health and growth. This can readily be seen in the development of our Farmingdale—Bethpage community and in its connection with the Long Island Rail Road. Let us briefly review this vital connection between our area and the growth of this transportation artery.
Commercial desire for a rapid means of transportation between New York City and Boston was the impetus that gave rise to the LIRR. In the early 1830's engineering studies indicated that the rough terrain in Connecticut would preclude the development of a railroad across that state. An alternative scheme of constructing a route linking Brooklyn and Greenport was devised and considered to be more practical. Such a line would link up via ferry service to Boston.
The Long Island Rail Road had its genesis on 24 April 1834 when the company was formed out of the earlier Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company. Embarking on its proposed plan, the new firm began construction of a line that would traverse the level central plains of our island. By 1837 the railroad had reached Hicksville and had purchased two new engines - "Ariel" and "Post Boy." Small by modern standards, each was seven tons with a cylinder of 10" x 16" and a boiler of but 38.5" in diameter. Then the Panic of 1837 struck, holding further construction in abeyance.
Farmingdale and Central Park (now known as Bethpage) finally received service on 15 October 1841 and within three years thereafter (27 July 1844) service was extended from Greenport to the Brooklyn terminus. The trip took three and a half hours and the fare was 68.75 cents. A passenger in these early days certainly had an exciting, if (what we of the twenty-first century would call) uncomfortable journey. With the locomotive spewing sparks and smoke from the wood-fueled boilers and the cars being little more than stage coaches mounted on train wheels, it must have been a dirty, bouncy ride. Occasionally in the span between Farmingdale and Deer Park, the locomotive's cowcatcher would smash into and kill a deer. The locals were then treated to a community roast wherein doubtlessly a grand time was had by all.
Meanwhile Farmingdale village became an important stopping point where the train halted for lumber and water. During the delay, passengers could eat in local inns which were close to the station — then located immediately to the west of Main Street. By the 1870's, Long Island was also served by the North Side System, the Central System, and the South Side System. Our area grew as its products - bricks (from the yards north of town), pickles, and vegetables were shipped west to the urban areas of Brooklyn and New York City. The Central Railroad was acquired by the LIRR in 1876, but total amalgamation with the remaining lines was not achieved until the 1890's.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, the engineering problems that had hindered the building of trans-Connecticut railroads had been overcome, and the LIRR became more of a commuter railroad and has remained so ever since. In 1900 the system served 12,300,000 passengers per annum, and this figure grew to 118 million in 1930 -nearly a tenfold increase. Most of these were commuters to New York City, since 1898 including Brooklyn and Queens.
The Summer of 1899 witnessed Charles Murphy's "mile-a-minute" bicycle ride behind a locomotive on the central line spur which passes just south of the village. This symbolized the increasing pace of life for both our area and the LIRR as the twentieth century dawned. In the following year, the Long Island Rail Road was purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. It then commenced work on a tunnel connecting Long Island and Manhattan. The tunnel was completed in 1910. Trains from Farmingdale and other points on the Island were then able to pull into a new, elaborate Penn Station, and full service was instituted with urban areas to the west. In 1965, the LIRR was incorporated into the MTA so familiar to us today.
Electrification came to the Farmingdale station on June 22, 1987. Until that time, travelers into New York City had to take a diesel-powered train, and change at Jamaica station. Since that date, commuters could sleep undisturbed all the way into Penn Station.
Bibliography: Books and Booklets
Florence B. Dulion. The Long Island Railroad.
Roslyn Pub. Library: unpublished manuscript.
Long Island Railroad: 100th Anniversary, 1934.
Main Line to the Mainland - Long Island Railroad, 1959
Vincent F. Seyfried, The Long Island Railroad (Seven Vols),
Garden City, 1963.
Mildred H. Smith, Early History of the Long Island Railraod, Uniondale: Salisbury Printers, 1958.
Edward J. Smits, "Nassau-Suburbia, USA, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1974.
Computer (on-line) Resources:
Long Island Rail Road History Website (unofficial)
Farmingdale Station - 2008
LIRR Historic Sign
Leaving The Station
All Photos above