Today, we think of the Long Island Railroad as one system with different branches. This was not always the case. Throughout much of the Nineteenth Century, Long Island was serviced by numerous competing railroad companies.
Alexander Turney Stewart was an Irish immigrant, who became successful as a dry-goods merchant. In fact, he became one of the wealthiest men in the world. In 1869, Stewart purchased the Hempstead Plains from Floral Park to Bethpage. His intent was to build a community of tenants and charities.
Back then, the only railroad running through the area was the Long Island Railroad's branch to Hempstead Village. Stewart required large amounts of building materials for his planned development. He attempted to negotiate with the Long Island Railroad to build a new line. The Long Island Railroad had no use in building another line, and wanted to charge absorbent rates for Stewart's shipments. They felt that Stewart had no power to do otherwise. Stewart went to the Flushing and North Side Railroad, a LIRR competitor. A contract for construction and operation was drawn up in 1871, and in 1873 the line was completed.
Originally, it ran from the Flushing and North Side's line all the way to Bethpage, with a spur to Hempstead and to Stewart's brickworks in Bethpage. Both freight and passenger service was provided.
To make the line more popular it was extended to Babylon Village, where the trains would meet ferries to Fire Island.
Eventually, the Flushing and North Side Railroad was merged with the Central Railroad of Long Island (CRRLI), and then became part of the Long Island Railroad. So what happened to the Central Railroad of Long Island's infrastructure? Does any of it still survive today?
A portion of today's Hempstead branch of the LIRR uses the CRRLI's right of way. Two old CRRLI trestles still exist on this branch. The dates are still visible from the roadways underneath. One is on Cherry Valley Ave and the other Edgemere Road, both in Garden City. Click the images to see the year marker. Click the map to make it larger.
Just east of the Meadowbrook Parkway, and south of Stewart Avenue, sits an old railroad bridge. This bridge was built in 1925, replacing an older bridge. This was built long after the LIRR took over the right of way.
In old Bethpage sits a circular brick structure in the woods. This was part of a turntable used to turn locomotives around. It was cleared out by rail buffs from the Friends of Locomotive #35. It can be found off Round Swamp Road just south of Winding Way.
The CRRLI's extension to Babylon is still in limited use by the LIRR as a crossover between the Ronkonkoma and Babylon branches. Though it has been rebuilt it is still the original right of way used by the CRRLI.