of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse
by R. LaRovere
Hudson & Manhattan
The Hudson & Manhattan RR Powerhouse building is an industrial age icon. Christopher Gray, the architectural history columnist of the New York Times, compares the Romanesque Revival structure built between 1906 and 1908 to ". . . some ancient, partly ruined cathedral--a masterpiece of brickwork."
The Powerhouse was designed by architect John Oakman of Carrere and Hastings, who graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. With his partner W. Powell Robins, Oakman received the commission to design the Hudson & Manhattan stations, buildings, and powerhouse from a relative, Walter G. Oakman, president of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad. The nine-story structure has a solid steel superstructure and 28-inch thick walls. It is noted for its brickwork and wide bay windows. James J. Ferris, for whom one of Jersey City's high schools is named, laid the foundation.
One of the engineers in the project was L.B. Stillwell, whose firm designed the first Niagara Falls power plant. John Van Vleck designed the structure's steel frame, Hugh Hazleton of Englewood, New Jersey, the electrical machinery, and the boilers by Babcock & Wilcox in Bayonne.
On February 25, 1908, the Powerhouse was activated by engineers; they responded to the receipt of a telegram from President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House to throw the switches and electrify the Hudson Tunnel. According to John Gomez of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, "The coal-powered, steam-generating Hudson & Manhattan Powerhouse energized the railroad's Hudson Tunnels, a subway line that in 1908 physically connected, for the first time, New Jersey and New York. The Hudson & Manhattan Powerhouse provided constant power to the system's lines, cars, stations, and terminals on both sides of the Hudson River, including the wondrous Hudson Terminal in New York City, then the world's largest office and train-terminal complex" (Gomez, "The Hudson & Manhattan RR Powerhouse")
The Powerhouse made possible the subway system between New Jersey and New York as part of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH). Prior to the tunnel that connected the mainland with Manhattan Island, travelers needed to board ferries to cross the Hudson River. The Powerhouse was closed in 1929 and utilized as a storage house for railroad equipment. The Hudson & Manhattan Railroad went bankrupt in 1963. The operation of the Hudson Tunnels was taken over by the PATH and its World Trade Center Complex. All that remains of the Hudson & Manhattan is the Powerhouse, which protects a cinderblock-encased substation
In the 1990s, the
building was cited by Preservation New Jersey as one of the state's ten
most endangered historic sites. The Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy responded with an aggressive campaign to save the site, and in December, 2001,
the National Register of Historic Places certified the building as a national
landmark. In 2009, the
Port Authority and Jersey City, who jointly own the building, agreed to the stabilization of the Powerhouse that continues to power some compressors for the PATH train track switches. The architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle of New York received the commission for the $3.4 million project. And in 2011, the project received $250,000 from the New Jersey Historic Trust for further stabilization.
|By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub