Hidden railroad of East Patchogue
If you decide to go for a hike, or even a drive, around the East Patchogue or Hagerman neighborhoods, you might be stepping on a piece of history. A railroad that was years ahead of its time was built right here on Long Island.
The Boynton Bicycle Railroad, created by Eben M. Boynton, was an idea that started in Brooklyn and brought passengers to and from Coney Island. The train was a single-track steam engine that ran for two or three years.
George Walsh, a principal researcher for the project, has been looking into this piece of history for over 50 years. In 1961, Disney announced its own monorail, to which a coworker added that there had once been one on Long Island. His mentor, while working at Bayport Lumber as he studied at Hofstra University, said that the monorail had been present back in the 1890s.
While still in Brooklyn, Boynton created a narrow trolley car that weighed 60 tons — and was completely electric. Researchers say he used an alternating current to allow the train to reach high speeds and long distances.
Thanks to a team of two-dozen oxen, which traveled three weeks, the car made its way from Brooklyn to East Patchogue, where it was to be launched. Unfortunately, the train never left the station.
George Hagerman was a businessman who owned acres upon acres of land from the South Shore to the North Shore. Boynton wanted to involve Hagerman in the project in order to use that land to build the train track. He envisioned a train that would transport people from north to south, beginning near the Great South Bay and ending at what is now Hagerman’s Landing in Rocky Point.
But Walsh said that power barons prevented the train from coming to fruition. They viewed having a fully electric train as a threat to steam engines. The Long Island Rail Road wouldn’t allow the original test car to be transported from Brooklyn, which is why oxen carried it. They also wouldn’t allow the developers to build tracks that crossed over LIRR tracks, marking, essentially, the end of the Boynton Bicycle Railroad.
Earlier this year, a commemorative marker from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation was installed to mark the location of the test track, which is now the site of VFW Post 8300 in East Patchogue.
Pomeroy is an entrepreneur with two successful companies, and his foundation pays for historic land markers around New York State, which generally cost around $1,100 per site. There are currently around 700 markers in the state, and applicants must show proof that their site is of historic significance. The monorail marker was dedicated in a ceremony on July 14, with members of the VFW, researchers and Boy Scout Troop 4 from Brookhaven present.
Walsh said the name comes from the fact that travel in the 1890s was by either horse or bicycle. The car was 11 feet in height and could fit 24 people, compared to the steam engine in Brooklyn, a double-decker that could hold 108 people. The train could trail three or four cars at a time, each running separate electric feeds. The monorail could reach up to 100 mph and stop in seven-tenths of a mile.
“The guy was a genius,” Walsh said. “[Boynton] had a great idea ... and he got nowhere with it.”
After the failure on the island, Boynton took his idea up to Boston, where similar issues prevented it from becoming a reality.
Most of the information Walsh and his team have found is through libraries, archives and personal connections. He has met with many people, who have sent him looking for new information based on leads they had given. He says the story doesn’t end there, and is looking for any and all information that could complete the puzzle.
“Give us more information so we can finish this story,” he said, encouraging anyone who knows something about the monorail to come forward.
Walsh also has the benefit of working with the ancestor of one of the founders of the railroad, Randy Hagerman, originally from Rocky Point, the descendent of George, who has been chasing this story for over 15 years. He said he heard a few tales from family about a railroad, but nothing like what he learned in his research.
“I’ve really come to admire my grandfather,” he added.
Walsh, Hagerman and fellow researcher Art Tillman are all working to complete the story. Walsh is planning to write a book through Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, which requires 200 photos. He is currently seeking more photos. As of now, he has about 140. Hagerman is also looking to write a book.
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