South Ferry

Full-Screen-enlargeThe Ferry at Brooklyn, New York, by G.K. Richardson.

The South Ferry Company was established on May 16, 1836 to connect Lower Manhattan to the Long Island Rail Road, newly-opened to Jamaica one month prior. Four years later, the Fulton Ferry Company, which then operated only the Fulton Ferry, merged with the South Ferry Company to form the New York and Brooklyn Union Ferry Company.

The route ran between Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn where, from 1844 to 1859, passengers could connect directly to the Long Island Railroad at Court Street. Long forgotten until 1980, when an intrepid engineering student sought to prove rumors of a buried secret under Atlantic Avenue, a tunnel had been built as part of the main branch of the railroad from Brooklyn to the north fork of Long Island.

The early ferry boats were catamarans with center paddle wheels, double-ended to obviate the need for turning, and to accommodate horse-drawn vehicles as well as pedestrians. The South Ferry was in service for nearly one-hundred years, ceasing service in 1933..

At left, a 1911 image (restored from a newspaper scan) of the former South Ferry Station on Atlantic Avenue. Demolished in 1914, the building had long since been abdicated by the LIRR, and was a “swinging door saloon” at the time of the photograph.

Thanks to the Long Island Railroad Online Museum for this rare picture and accompanying information.

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Image Details:

Private Collection


Period Color




Atlantic Ave , The Heights

Published in W.H. Bartlett's American Scenery Vol. I, 1840