Believe it or not, it was not easy being Edward F. Linton. It was hard work building an empire in East New York, building a new Brooklyn neighborhood in a town that wasn’t even part of the City of Brooklyn until 1886. When the former town of New Lots became Brooklyn’s 26th Ward, Linton was front and center as head of the powerful Atlantic Avenue Improvement Committee, lobbying hard for improved transportation and infrastructure. He was also amassing a fortune, buying up as many of the old Dutch farms as possible, and reselling the lots, or selling the houses he built on many of those lots. He invested in a baseball club, built a stadium for his club, and rented the field out for other sporting events. Like many wealthy men, he was drawn to the ultimate rich man’s sport, and bought himself a yacht, and a membership in a yacht club.
Linton had a loving wife and children, and a fine home, a former Dutch farmhouse that he had had enlarged and modernized. His real estate and development business had grown to the point that he started his own bank, in order to control his mortgages and real estate investments. He also had a business partner he trusted, William Winberg, his CFO, a man he regarded as a friend as well as former employee. In 1895, Winberg, had tragically tried to kill his wife, and succeeded in killing himself in a drunken jealous rage which may have been exacerbated by an undiagnosed brain tumor. That story and further background can be read in the previous chapters of our story, linked at the end of this chapter. With his death, Linton lost a fine financial mind, and a good friend.
Linton was one of those people who are so dedicated to their tasks, whether for themselves or others, that they tend to forget the social graces in their impatience to get the job done. He was famous for being impatient, brusque to the point of rudeness, and he loved the sound of his own voice. The Brooklyn Eagle, which would alternately praise him for his accomplishments and damn him for his high handed attitude. They also knew he made great press, and reported on just about everything he was involved with. There was a lot to report on.
The two biggest projects that Edward Linton wanted for East New York were improved transportation and sewers. Both were proving to be big problems, and of course, money was at the root of it all. Transportation is today’s topic, and the end of our look at this mover and shaker’s life and career, as well as those sewers, will be covered next time.
The Long Island Railroad was founded in 1832, with a ten mile track stretching from the East River to Jamaica, Queens. By 1844, they were going out to points on Long Island. The railroad is the oldest chartered line in the United States. By the time Edward Linton was building up East New York, the train had terminal stops in Brooklyn at Flatbush Avenue, Nostrand Avenue and East New York, before going on out to Jamaica.
Unlike today, the train was a surface line that ran along the center of Atlantic Avenue. Because of this, Atlantic had remained mostly commercial, and businesses along the street longed for a chance to get the railroad either elevated or buried. But there was no general consensus, and the city, railroad and state didn’t want to spend the money to do much of anything.
In 1897, Mayor Wurster of Brooklyn appointed Edward Linton to a commission to look at the possibility of improving the railroad and Atlantic Avenue. The commission issued a scathing report where they said that Atlantic Avenue was “worse than an average country road and unworthy of an enlightened and prosperous city of a million inhabitants.” The end result of the commission’s findings led to the railroad agreeing to foot half of the bill to dig a tunnel from Manhattan, under the East River to Brooklyn, ending at the Flatbush Avenue Station.
From there, the train would run down a covered trench along Atlantic Avenue, and come back up to the surface at Bedford Avenue, where it would rise to an elevated track, far above Atlantic Avenue. These tracks would continue above the street until Ralph Avenue, where they would once again submerge, before coming up again to street level at Manhattan Crossing, in East New York. It was felt there were so many tracks in that area crisscrossing each other; it would be far too expensive to elevate or bury the tracks there. After leaving Manhattan Crossing, the train would go back underground, until it reached the terminal at Jamaica.
The plan had to go before the State Legislature, which was paying part of the millions of dollars this project would take. They approved the plans, contingent upon the railroad and city paying their share of the bills. The news of the approval of the railroad plans were met with much joy in Brooklyn. In July of 1897, Edward Linton invited Mayor Wurstler out to East New York, where they were met with cheers and celebration at a town Hall meeting. Of course, it took another couple of years before plans were drawn up and bonds proposed to finance the project. By 1900, it looked like everything was ready to roll, but trouble was just around the corner.
The Board of Aldermen, the equivalent of today’s City Council, met to discuss the project. Brooklyn and Manhattan were no longer separate cities, but now part of a whole. The decision to build the tunnel between NY and Brooklyn was supposedly a done deal, but now, all of a sudden, certain Aldermen began speaking as if they had never heard of the tunnel, let alone approved it. The hold up by the Aldermen frustrated Edward Linton no end, and he wasn’t going to sit and take it. He charged some of the members of the Board of Aldermen with bribery.
Linton went on the attack, opining on the delay, “The reason appeared to me that no money was shown. Now I know what ‘bribe’ and ‘money’ mean when I use them. I don’t say that I was told directly that the men in charge of this application expected money, but I was given to understand so.” He went on to say that if necessary, he would take a group of men, armed if necessary, to the halls of the Municipal Assembly and compel the Aldermen to move on the tunnel project.
Alderman Bridges, one of those accused of bribery, said that no one could remember everything that went in in their meetings, so he couldn’t be expected to remember every tunnel. He also said that Edward Linton had bankrupted himself for the project, but was still going around selling it to the other Aldermen. Bridges said, “I warn this here Mr. Linton that if he comes here with a band of armed men to shoot Aldermen, he’ll find a lot of his creditors there to shoot him.”
Linton was not the only official involved in the project to surmise that bribes had not been paid, therefore holding up the project. An investigation took place, but no one was formally charged, as evidence could not be found. This involved the government of Tammany Hall, and the whole thing was a complete embarrassing mess. Finally, in 1901, both branches of the Municipal Assembly voted to approve the eight million dollar project, and bonds were issued. The aldermen and other city officials who had been accused of taking bribes took the opportunity to accuse others of holding up the process.
Alderman Bridges, who was a particular target of Edward Linton, turned around and accused Linton of offering bribes to other officials in order to get them to approve the project. He said, “When I say ‘bribe’ I mean it, and I have proof to substantiate the charge.” Linton laughed it off, saying, “They say I offered them a bribe, do they, but none of them accepted it. It seems to me that is enough to say about the matter. Alderman Bridges is a man with a fervid imagination.”
That year, 1901, the new bill to improve the Long Island Railroad service in Brooklyn was finally passed. It did not include provisions for a tunnel under the East River to Manhattan. That would have to wait. Phase 1 of the project was the tunnel from Flatbush to Bedford Avenues. Phase 2 was the elevated tracks from Nostrand to Ralph Avenues. Phase 3 was the tunnel from Ralph to Howard Avenues, and Phase 4 was the elevated crossing from Manhattan Center to Atkins Avenue. Because the railroad was also going to build a new station at Flatbush Avenue, the last phase of the project was completed first, in 1903.
The elevated track between Nostrand and Ralph Avenues was next, opening that November, and in 1904, the tunnel section between Ralph and Howard was finished. In 1905, trains (now electrified) began running on the Flatbush Station tracks, and the terminal itself opened to the public in April of 1907. The Atlantic Avenue project had taken ten years. Ironically, the part of the project that affected East New York the most; the tracks leading up to, and around Manhattan Crossing, now called Atlantic Junction, was not really finished until 1940, when the elevated platform that led from East New York to Morris Park, in Queens, was demolished, and the tracks were put in a tunnel below ground. By then, Edward Linton was dead and gone.
(Photo:East New York Project)