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Queens Chronicle

100 years of the station at Jamaica

Book, lecture presage anniversary

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Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:04 pm, Thu Apr 26, 2012.

With the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica Station and the recent publication of “Jamaica Station,” the latest in the Images of Rail series from Arcadia Publishing, the double meaning of the oft-heard phrase, “change at Jamaica,” familiar to just about anyone who has ever ridden on the LIRR, becomes much more apparent.

Jamaica is the hub of the LIRR, which carries 265,000 riders each weekday on 735 trains over 700 miles of track on 11 different branches, all but one of which converge at the station. And, as outlined in the book, the station, itself, has undergone considerable change since it opened nearly a century ago.

The book’s author, David Morrison, a retired LIRR branch line manager and railroad historian, spoke on Saturday afternoon at the Kingsland Homestead in Flushing, home of the Queens Historical Society, before a limited but appreciative audience about the history of the station, which will be celebrating its centennial in March of next year.

To help tell the station’s story, Morrison incorporated dozens of slide images, many of which are rare and also included in the book.

As described in the book, the massive construction project involved “the installation of fill, retaining walls, underpasses, steel overpasses and a new brick station building.”

One photo, dating to Dec. 3, 1912, is the only known image of the building under construction. In the book, Morrison laments that “there must have been numerous photographs taken as the building went up, but they have evidently been lost over time.”

Equally unusual is a depiction of the original Jamaica Station waiting room, which featured an island-type ticket office in the middle.

The book is divided into eight chapters, including “Early Railroad Years in Jamaica,” “Early Street Scenes and Grade Crossings,” and “Planning and Construction,” as well as a reflection on “Trains Through the Years” and “The Employees Who Made Jamaica Work.”

Among the many interesting bits of minutiae touched upon by Morrison was the 1959 visit by actress Sophia Loren to the Long Beach Station, where she filmed a scene for “That Kind of Woman.”

“I don’t think it was ever a blockbuster,” he said, “but I enjoyed that movie,” particularly because it includes scenes of Grand Central Station and the Old Penn Station.

Edgar Bayrami of Flushing, who worked for the LIRR for 15 years beginning in 1973, was among those attending Morrison’s lecture.

A self-described “rail fan,” Bayrami said the history of the Jamaica Station is “a remarkable thing to study.” He was most impressed upon learning that the entire construction process was carried out without interrupting train service.

As described in the book, the project “required construction of temporary wood viaducts and tracks to permit the on-time movement of regular trains. Tracks were shifted as the work progressed.”

Morrison spent 14 years working at the Jamaica station in the LIRR’s labor relations department, before getting involved in its passenger services, where he oversaw 39 stations, including the ticket office operations, maintenance and customer concerns.

“I always had an interest in railroad history,” he said following his presentation. “Realizing the 100th anniversary was coming up soon, I decided to do the book.” Morrison said he was “instrumental in formulating plans for the 75th anniversary,” and he will be working with the railroad in planning the upcoming celebrations, which will be open to the public.

While researching the book, he was most interested in finding the descendants of both the chief engineer and the architect of the station. “For some reason, we never paid much attention to those individuals,” he said.

Through the efforts of Carol Mills, a world-class genealogist and retired LIRR employee, he said he was able to locate a grandson of each of the two men. “They each sent me nice photographs,” he said, some of which are included in the publication.

Now, Morrison would like to obtain from them any artifacts they may have that are connected to their grandfathers — a T-square, perhaps — to put on display at the upcoming anniversary celebration.

Caroline Roswell, a Glendale resident who teaches sixth grade social studies, attended the lecture and said afterward, “Preserving history is important. Once these pictures are gone, they’re gone forever.

“I’m so nostalgic,” said Roswell, who grew up near the LIRR’s 88th Street station and recalled “a grade crossing watchman in a little shanty who turned a crank” to lower the protective arms while trains passed by.

“It was such a fascination for a kid, a big curiosity,” she said.

Those days, of course, are long gone, but the history of the railroad lives on.

To order a copy of “Jamaica Station,” visit arcadiapublishing.com.

For further information on lectures, walking tours, concerts and other events sponsored by the QHS, visit queenshistoricalsociety.org or call (718) 939-0647.

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