Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial

Today (February 2, 2013) marks the centennial of the opening of New York City’s magnificent Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. [1]

Whenever I am in the Terminal, I marvel at its beautiful details and overwhelming presence.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

 

 

 

 

 

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown

 

Being in the Terminal also reminds me of an ancestor who played a significant role in managing its construction for the New York Central Railroad: William Carlos Brown, who was a Railroad Vice President, 1902-1906; Senior Vice President, 1906-1909; and President, 1909-1913. He was the son of my maternal second great-grandfather, Rev. Charles E. Brown, and hence was my second great-uncle. [2]

William J. Wilgus
William J. Wilgus

The idea for the Terminal was suggested in December 1902 by William J. Wilgus, the Chief Engineer of the New York Central Railroad.

Wilgus was responding to the crash earlier that year (January) of two steam-powered trains in the Park Avenue Tunnel at 58th Street in Manhattan. Because of the steam, cinders, heat, fog and snow, the engineer of one of the trains could not see the other train and failed to stop. Fifteen passengers were killed instantly, and many others were injured.

As he pondered that year over the crash, Wilgus became convinced that it was no longer possible to run a massive railroad yard at the heart of the nation’s largest city and that electric locomotives would be much safer and more efficient to operate in cities. Therefore, he suggested demolishing the existing Grand Central Depot, replacing steam locomotives with electric ones and constructing Grand Central Terminal.

The New York Central’s board of directors in January 1903 approved this suggestion and committed to a massive demolition and construction project while not interrupting train service to and from the City.

The demolition phase was the largest in the City’s history at the time: 120 houses, three churches, two hospitals, an orphan asylum, stables, warehouses and other buildings on 17 acres were torn down.

On May 1, 1904, ground was broken for the new building. Upon completion it covered 70 acres with 32 miles of rails that converged into 46 tracks serving 11 platforms. The Terminal alone cost $43 million to build ($1 billion in today’s dollars).

N.Y. Times, Feb. 1913
N.Y. Times, Feb. 1913

When it opened, the New York Times called it the “greatest railway terminal in the world.” Another observer at the time said it “is not only a station; it is a monument, a civic center or, if one will, a city.”

Even more effusive in 1975 was the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division in rejecting a challenge to the designation of the Terminal as a “landmark” thereby restricting its redevelopment:

  • “Grand Central Terminal is unquestionably one of New York City’s best known buildings. Along with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, the image of its façade symbolizes [the] City for millions of visitors and residents. The Terminal as a whole includes a variety of architectural and engineering elements: railroad tracks and platforms; space and facilities for marshaling and handling railroad equipment; passage-ways and ramps affording access to adjacent streets, office buildings and subway stations; and concourses for the use of passengers and pedestrians passing through the Terminal. The Main Concourse . . . is a large room, 120 x 375 feet, with a ceiling 125 feet high at its apex. “
  • “From its formal opening to the public in 1913 . . . the Terminal has been recognized not only for its architecture, but as a superb example of comprehensive urban design. The complete submergence of all the tracks and a double track system not only resulted in the accommodation of more trains without the acquisition of more land, but permitted construction of revenue-producing buildings on the air rights over the railroad tracks and the development of Park Avenue as one this nation’s most prestigious residential communities . . . . Today . . . [the] Terminal still remains a splendid edifice and a major part of the cultural and architectural heritage of New York City.”[3]

[1] To celebrate the centennial, Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, published a wonderful article and video in the Times about the Terminal and its construction. The article was excerpted from his book, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, which was just published by Grand Central Publishing. The Times also has re-published its February 2, 1913, special section about the Terminal’s opening. Photographs of yesterday’s centennial celebration are online as is a collection of vintage photographs of the Terminal. This post is based upon these Times articles and upon Kurt Schlichting, Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press; Baltimore 2001).

[2] Prior posts have recounted tales of Rev. Charles E. Brown. Subsequent posts will review W.C. Brown’s amazing railroad career.

[3] Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York, 50 A.D.2d 265, 377 N.Y.S.2d 20, 24-25 (App.Div. 1975), aff’d, 42 N.Y.2d 1271, 366 N.E.2d 1271 (1977), aff’d, 438 U.S. 104 (1978).

 

Rev. Charles Edwin Brown’s Baptist Missionary Work in Iowa, 1857-1887

 

Rev. Charles E. Brown
Rev. Charles E. Brown

Rev. Charles Edwin Brown (my maternal second great-grandfather) and his family first went to Iowa for Baptist missionary work in 1842. He toiled at that work until 1851 when illness forced him and his family to return to their native New York State for recuperation.

In 1857 he and his family returned to Iowa to continue his missionary work, this time in the northeastern part of that State.[1]

The trip to Iowa this time presumably did not take a month like it had in 1842 although there is less discussion of the later journey in his memoirs.

Michigan Southern * Indiana Northern engine
Michigan Southern & Indiana Northern engine

All he mentions is taking an overnight voyage on the Great Lakes steamer “Southern Michigan” from Buffalo, New York to Toledo, Ohio and a train (the Michigan Southern and Indiana Northern Railway) to Chicago. Mrs. Brown and their three youngest sons continued by train to DeWitt, Iowa (not far from Maquoketa) while Rev. Brown went by horse and buggy to the latter town.

Howard County Iowa
Howard County Iowa

Rev. Brown soon learned that several Baptist families near the town of Vernon Springs in Howard County that abutted Minnesota to the north wanted to organize a church. He accepted their call, and he and his family made this town their home for the next 11 years and Howard County the site of his missionary work for the next 30 years.

This town then had a sparkling water spring, general store, post office, blacksmith shop, tavern, saw mill and a building for the county court house and about a dozen families. Soon thereafter the county seat was moved to another town, leaving its building for use as a school and church. The new Baptist church had an initial membership of 8 that grew to over 60 by 1860.

Baptist Church, Cresco
Baptist Church, Cresco

Today that church is located in the nearby larger town and county seat of Cresco, Iowa. Prominent in the sanctuary is a beautiful stained-glass window in honor of Rev. Brown. A panel states that he was “a Pioneer Missionary [who] settled in Iowa Territory in 1842 and continued in the work for nearly Fifty years, organizing Churches at many places in Illinois and Iowa” and that in “1857, He organized this Church, was its faithful Pastor for many years, and his revered example continues to inspire its membership.”

In 1858 Brown was elected as the very first Howard County Superintendent of Schools when it had only three schools and served in this position until 1861. He addition, he was a school teacher in the Vernon Springs, Iowa public school, 1858-1867.

The U.S. Civil War from April 1861 until its end in April 1865 was “a subject of absorbing interest and sleepless anxiety” for the people of Howard County. The War also affected the Brown family.

  • Brown’s eldest son, Charles Perry Brown (then 20 years old) in 1861 was the first volunteer from the County for Company D, Third Iowa Infantry. (In September 1862 Charles was home on leave during the U.S.-Dakota War in neighboring Minnesota as discussed in a prior post.)
  • In 1862 the Brown’s next eldest son and my first great-grandfather, James DeGrush Brown (then 17 years old) enlisted in the Sixteenth Regiment, U.S. Infantry (Regular Army), but a serious illness ended his service after a few months.
  • In early 1865 Rev. Brown was appointed the Chaplain of the 88th U.S.C. Infantry (and later the 3rd U.S.C. Artillery). In May 1866 he returned home to Vernon Springs to continue his pastoral work.

In 1868 Rev. Brown accepted a call to the pastorate of a Baptist church in Carroll County, Illinois, but he and his family returned to  Iowa and moved their home north to Lime Springs, but still in Howard County. There they helped build a new church and house. This was their home for the next 20 years except for another return to central New York in 1875-1876. During most of these years, he was not a full-time pastor although he did engage in pastoral work.

In his previously mentioned Fourth of July speech at Le Claire in 1845, Brown listed intemperance as the top domestic enemy. He elaborated at great length on this topic in a speech in Cresco, Iowa on January 3, 1875. He described intemperance as an “unsurpassed evil which entails upon the human family far more widespread and dreadful calamities than war, famine and pestilence combined.” It visits upon humanity “squalid wretchedness” and “untold and indescribable devastation, moral and physical.”

Iowa Capitol Building, Des Moines
Iowa Capitol Building,      Des Moines

In 1877 Brown was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives. He served one term and declined to run for re-election in 1878. He was especially proud of his resolution, albeit unsuccessful, to amend the State Constitution to authorize majority civil jury verdicts, instead of unanimous ones. He lamented, “So long as our legislative bodies are made up largely of lawyers it can scarcely be hoped that measures looking to simplify litigation–expediting and reducing cost–will meet with favor.”[2]

After his death, the Iowa House of Representatives on February 13, 1902, adopted a resolution proclaiming that his “life and character . . . command our love and esteem, and his public series to the state and country were of such distinction as to demand the respect and gratitude of his fellow citizens” and that the State of Iowa “has lost an able conscientious citizen.”

One of the House members said on that occasion that Brown was “a man of excellent judgment, strong character, and of a progressive nature, and could have attained a high place in the commercial world, but preferred rather to devote his life to the betterment of his fellow men.” Another Representative said, “Throughout his life, whether in the cabin or more pretentious dwelling, he was always the same social, devout Christian gentleman, practicing in his daily walk those precepts he sought to inculcate in others. He was intensely loyal and patriotic and when his conclusions were reached upon any subject, they were definite and positive. He advocated his religious and political opinions with earnestness, sincerity, and fidelity, and he was never vacillating or uncertain. He had a clear head and a strong mind.”

The economic importance of the U.S. development of railroads in the latter part of the 19th century is seen by three of the Brown’s sons being initially employed by the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway.  William Carlos Brown (W.C. or “Will”) was in its Minneapolis’ trainmaster’s office; James DeGrush Brown was an engineer; and George Lyon Brown was a trainman. In September 1871 George (age 18) was killed in a railroad accident.

In the Fall of 1882 a diphtheria epidemic broke out in northern Iowa, and two of Rev. Brown’s grandchildren died of the disease.

Frances Lyon & Charles E. Brown
Frances Lyon & Charles E. Brown

On June 12, 1887, Frances Lyon Brown (my maternal second great-grandmother) died at age 74 in Lime Springs, Iowa. Her husband said, for “nearly fifty years, she was my constant companion and helpmeet [sic]. Her cheerful, sunny disposition made itself felt through all these years, in the lonely cabin on the frontier, or the more comfortable home in the East. Whatever of success attended my labors in the ministry, and the success attained and positions of honor and trust gained by our sons, are largely due to the loving care and instruction of the sainted wife and mother.”

Rev. Brown died at age 88 on July 23, 1901 in Ottumwa, Iowa.


[1] This post is based upon Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 and The Family Record 1767-1907 (Ottumwa, IA 1907). Another source in that book is J.W. Wendell’s “Lest We Forget,” a Memorial Discourse in Honor of Rev. Charles E. Brown, Oct. 6, 1901.

[2]  Brown might be pleased to know that his great-grandson (the author of this blog) was an attorney who was an active member of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s section for alternative dispute resolution, which sought to develop and promote less expensive and more conciliatory ways to resolve legal disputes.

Rev. Charles Edwin Brown’s Recuperation in New York, 1851-1857

Frances Lyon & Charles E. Brown
Frances Lyon & Charles E. Brown

A prior post discussed the 1842 travel to the Iowa Territory by the 29-year-old Rev. Charles Edwin Brown (my maternal second great-grandfather) along with his wife, Frances Lyon Brown (my maternal second great-grandmother), and their two young sons to engage in Baptist missionary work. This they did for the next nine years, as described in another post.

In 1850, however, Rev. Brown became very ill with “inflammatory rheumatism,” and the next year he and his family returned to his native State of New York to recuperate.[1]

For the first year they lived with his father, Rev. Phillip Perry Brown, the Pastor of the Baptist Church in Holland Patent and my maternal third great-grandfather. Over these six years Rev. Charles E. Brown himself served as a Baptist pastor of churches in Steuben, Russia and Norway, New York.

When Rev. Charles E. Brown joined the Norway church as its pastor, he discovered that his predecessor had divided the church with his “extreme anti-slavery views.” Although Brown was also against slavery, he sought reconciliation and harmony within the church. Indeed, the members of the church “agreed that all agitation on the subject of discord [slavery] shall cease in private and public.” His sealing of his lips on slavery seems strange in light of his passionate plea against slavery in 1845 in Iowa.

While in Norway, the Brown’s twin sons, William Carlos and George Lyon Brown, were born on July 29, 1853. (In the early 20th century William Carlos or “W.C.” became the President of the New York Central Railroad, and his amazing railroad career will be covered in subsequent posts.)

In July 1857 after regaining his health and at the request of the Baptist Home Mission Society, Rev. Brown returned to Iowa for missionary work in the northeastern part of that State.


[1] This post is based upon Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 and The Family Record 1767-1907 (Ottumwa, IA 1907).

Adventures of a History Detective

Ever since my high school days in the 1950’s, U.S. politics, law and history have fascinated me. From the start, I was passionate about civil liberties, especially freedom of speech.

Joe Welch & Joe McCarthy

This interest was sparked by watching the Army-McCarthy hearings on my parents’ new TV set in the spring of 1954. The hearings were high drama, and the lawyer for the Army, Joe Welch, was a charming Bostonian, so I thought. I was appalled by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on civil liberties and free speech and thrilled by Welch’s courageous defense against McCarthyism.

Three years later, in the fall of 1957, my freshman year at Grinnell College, I discovered that Welch in fact was from an even smaller Iowa town (Primghar) than mine (Perry) and that he was a Grinnell graduate, Class of 1914. I learned this when I heard Welch speak at the College’s Convocation “American Culture at Mid-Century.” But I was too timid as a first-semester freshman to speak to Welch directly.

Burling Library Grinnell College
Edward B. Burling

In 1959, the College’s new library was being built and was named “the Burling Library.” A substantial amount of the funds for the building was donated by another Grinnell graduate and lawyer from another small Iowa town (Eldora), Edward Burling (Class of 1890). While attending American University that Fall on the Washington Semester Program, I met Mr. Burling at his office to thank him for the new library. After an interesting conversation, he invited me to a Sunday afternoon at his cabin on the Potomac River. Little did I know at the time that such a Sunday afternoon had become a famous Washington institution. I do not recall our conversation that day, but I do remember how Burling, then 89 years old in a wool plaid shirt, vigorously chopped wood on a beautiful fall afternoon.

As I continued my education and started my own career as a lawyer, I had no time to do anything about my interest in these two men. But in the spring of 1982 I took a sabbatical leave from my law firm to teach a course about law at the College. In my spare time I examined materials about Welch and Burling in the College Archives. (See Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 26, 2011).)

Somehow I learned that the Boston Public Library had a collection of Welch papers, and while on a business trip to Boston in 1985 I had spare time to examine those papers. This was my first digging into original historical documents, and I was thrilled to be touching and reading such documents and attempting to make sense of them. (This was more fun, I thought, than my more common project of reviewing documents produced by an adversary in a civil lawsuit by “A” against “B” to recover a substantial sum of money.) Among the interesting documents in the Welch collection were letters between Welch and Burling after the conclusion of the Army-McCarthy hearings that were discussed in my paper about Burling, which was excerpted in The Grinnell Magazine (Edward Burnham Burling: Grinnell’s Quiet Benefactor (Summer 2009)).

I returned to Boston in the summer of 1986 to attend the Harvard Law School’s Summer Program for Lawyers. While there, I visited the Boston offices of Hale and Dorr, Welch’s former law firm, and interviewed Fred Fisher, the lawyer who had been attacked by Senator McCarthy, and James St. Clair, the lawyer who assisted Welch in the Army-McCarthy hearings and who later represented President Nixon in the litigation over the White House tapes. I also searched the Harvard Law School Library and found references to Welch in some of its collections of papers regarding the Sacco-Vanzetti case, which was discussed in my paper about Welch, which also was excerpted in The Grinnell Magazine (Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie’s Offstage Hero, Joseph Welch (Summer 2006)).

I also discovered in Harvard’s collection of the papers of Learned Hand, an eminent federal judge and one of my legal heroes, that he and Burling had been law school contemporaries and life-long friends. This spurred my interest in Burling as I read the extensive correspondence between them, another topic of my paper about Burling.

While in the Boston-area that summer I also visited the Kennedy Presidential Library, but failed to find any documents about Welch in the papers of Robert Kennedy, who had been a lawyer for the McCarthy committee in 1954. The time at the Library, however, was not wasted when I found oral history interview transcripts of two men that I knew.

  • Donald “Duke” Norberg had been the Chairman of Iowa’s Democratic Central Committee, for whom I had worked in the summer of 1960 on a Grinnell Program in Practical Politics grant. I fondly recall seeing then Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in Des Moines to woo the Iowa delegates before the Los Angeles Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention.
  • Frank Coffin had been a Democratic Congressman from Maine who was defeated in his run for Governor of Maine in 1960 because of the anti-Catholic vote prompted by JFK’s being the presidential candidate. Coffin recalled President Kennedy’s introducing him to Jackie Kennedy at an inaugural ball as the man whom Kennedy had pulled down to defeat. In the Kennedy Administration Coffin was in charge of the U.S. Agency for International Development and later was appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. (I had met Coffin in the early 1980’s when we both were on the University of Chicago Law School’s Visiting Committee, and in 1984 Judge Coffin participated in a liberal arts seminar for lawyers that I organized at the College.)

When I returned those transcripts to the library desk, I noticed a transcript of an interview of Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly), and a brief glance revealed an account of her fatalistic view of history.

This research prompted a request to a law school classmate and friend at Covington & Burling, the Washington, D.C. law firm started by Mr. Burling, for additional information about him, and my friend sent me a copy of the firm’s history. I also have been assisted in my research by another Grinnellian, James Burling (Class of 1972), who is not related to “my” Burling, but who is a partner in Welch’s law firm, Hale and Dorr.When I retired from the active practice of law in the summer of 2001, one of my future projects was to review all of the information that I had gathered and write articles about the two gentlemen, and I mentioned this project in an essay about retirement that was posted on the Internet by another law school friend as part of materials for a lawyers’ seminar.

In 2005 I was inspired to finish these papers when I received a totally unexpected call from Professor Roger Newman, the biographer of Hugo Black and a member of the faculty of Columbia University. Newman said that he was the editor of the forthcoming Yale Biographic Dictionary of American Law and asked if I would be interested in writing short biographies of Welch and Burling for that book. Newman said he had discovered my interest in these men from the just mentioned essay on the Internet. I said that I would be glad to do so and retrieved my materials, did additional research and wrote the two 500-word biographies. (This Biographic Dictionary, which was published in 2009 by Yale University Press, was the first single-volume containing concise biographies of the most eminent men and women in the history of American law who have devised, replenished, expounded, and explained law. See Yale University Press, The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (ISBN 978-0-300-11300-6), http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300113006.)

These sketches, however, barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about Welch and Burling. As a result, I did additional research, including examination of several collections of original papers at the Library of Congress. While I was spooling through microfilm of the papers of Felix Frankfurter, I came across his file of correspondence with Albert Einstein. I paused and saw Einstein letters auf Deutsch in small, precise handwriting.

Two other subjects of my history detective adventures are more personal. My maternal great-great grandfather, Charles Edwin Brown, was a Baptist missionary to the Iowa Territory and then the State of Iowa from 1842 until the late 1800’s. One of his sons and my great-uncle, William Carlos or “W.C.” Brown, started working on the railroad as a section hand at age 16 and worked his way up the corporate ladders to become president of the New York Central Railroad in the early 20th century. I have done some research on their lives and written essays about them.

I have not been in a position to even attempt to research all the original and secondary sources and to write complete biographies of these men, but my work on much shorter articles made me realize and appreciate the work that has to be done to produce a major biography of a historical figure such as the one of Andrew Carnegie by my Grinnell History Professor, Joe Wall.

Although I was a history major at the College, I did not do any independent historical research or paper and instead obtained a good background in European and American history. Because I did not do any independent paper, I did not learn historical research methodology at the College, a lacuna I now regret.

Instead, I learned such techniques from being a litigation lawyer. Defining the problem or issue was the first task. You then develop an ever evolving plan to gather relevant evidence or original sources. You start with the documents and interviews of your client. They suggest other possible sources. Library (and now Internet) research provides more information and leads. They are pursued with other research and interviews using publicly available information plus information available through the formal discovery process under the rules of civil procedure. The lawyer also has the right and opportunity to compel witnesses to be examined under oath for further information. (Historians do not have this advantage.) All of the resulting information has to be evaluated for admissibility into evidence and to be synthesized into a hopefully persuasive story as to why your client should win the case.

I enjoy this investigative process, whether as a lawyer or as a history detective. There is the thrill of  the hunt for original papers about my subjects and being so easily diverted by coming across things like the Frankfurter-Einstein correspondence and the Grace Kelly oral history interview. I also enjoy the challenge of putting all of the pieces of research into a good story and writing it all down on paper. Through all of this lies an interest in finding out what happened.

My work as a lawyer and as a history detective has made me somewhat nostalgic for one “road not taken:” continuing my work as a history major into graduate school and becoming a historian.