An old IRT subway sign still in view at City Hall

This site has crazy love for vintage signs. But what a treat to come across a faded and worn remnant of the old time New York City subway—like this Lexington Avenue IRT sign, spotted at the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station after a trip on the 6 train.

The IRT—or Interborough Rapid Transit Company—was the independently owned subway system that launched the first trains in 1904. August Belmont founded the IRT in 1902, though it was soon dubbed the “Interborough Rattled Transit” by riders frustrated by late and overcrowded trains.

Illustration by W.A. Rogers, via Wikipedia

The IRT company disbanded in 1940, and the city bought the line. For decades, New Yorkers would still refer to numbered trains as the IRT, but I doubt you’ll find any straphanger who still uses the old-school name.

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20 Responses to “An old IRT subway sign still in view at City Hall”

  1. Ed Greenberg Says:

    I was born in 1955. We lived in Crown Heights, about five blocks south of the KIngston Avenue station on the New Lots line. (3) I would still say IRT and I am always conscious of whether I’m on the IRT or not. The BMT/IND lines are a lot more confusing to me. How many of us know that IRT cars are shorter, narrower, and only have three doors on each side. BMT/IND cars are longer, wider, have four doors per side, and run in trains of eight, rather than 10.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I have to agree about the confusion with the different lines; I find it hard to get them all straight!

    • countrypaul Says:

      That’s because the earliest line was the IRT and was built to a prevailing standard at the time. PATH trains are also only 36 feet long because of the available space for turning sharp corners.

    • Ginger Says:

      I find the lettering fascinating, because I have randomly seen “BUSES” and “TOILETS” signs with the same black font and red directional arrows in the system. I assume these are solely attributed to the IRT?

  2. Thomas Fedorek Says:

    Nice post & great cartoon, now more relevant than ever.

    For more about the IRT, check out my vlog about similarities between the 28 original IRT stations and the eastern half of the Cathedral of St John the Divine, both designed by the architectural firm of Heins & La Farge.

  3. countrypaul Says:

    The 1 line will always be the IRT to me!

    Some years ago, a tour sponsored by the NY Transit Museum included “the Hub” station at E. 149th Street in the Bronx, where there was still a tile sign in an active passageway for the long gone 3rd Avenue el. And further north at Morris Park Avenue on the Dyre Avenue line, there are two defunct but extant lights for inbound and outbound trains left over from when the line was part of the late lamented New York, Westchester and Boston Railway. I think there may be a similar set at the Pelham Parkway station as well. (On the same railroad, by the way, the Quaker Ridge station, designed as a mini-Penn Station homage, still exists as a private residence on Stratton Road in New Rochelle, even though the original is landfill in New Jersey.)

  4. petey Says:

    i do very occasionally slip into IRT, BMT, and IND. really!

    • petey Says:

      ps, great cartoon! is ben franklin there to suggest that the train is centuries late?

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I really couldn’t figure out the artist’s intention with Ben Franklin, but that sounds like a good guess!

      • Kevin McGeary Says:

        I don’t think that’s Ben Franklin…it’s Father Knickerbocker.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Father Knickerbocker…that makes more sense! Thanks Kevin.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        “Ben Franklin” is Father Diedrich Knickerbocker, who came from Washington Irving’s “Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York.”

        He was the symbol of New York pretty much until World War I, when anti-German feeling pushed him out. He never returned, sadly.

  5. Shayne Davidson Says:

    I lived in NYC in the late 1970s and recall the IRT trains from that era.

  6. Ty Says:

    Internally the MTA refers to the lines as IND BMT and IRT. Not the service on them but the tracks themselves.

  7. James Says:

    Behind the North and South walls of the Brooklyn Bridge station are additional tracks that used to go over the Brooklyn Bridge and terminated at BB/City Hall station when BRT didn’t run in Manhattan.

  8. David H Lippman Says:

    I’m a fourth-generation native New Yorker, and all four generations (and many others_ have used the term endlessly.

    I still hear it on newscasts from time to time.

  9. Bill Wolfe Says:

    There was a well-reviewed independent American movie from 1992, written and directed by Leslie Harris, called Just Another Girl On the IRT. It would seem the title that “IRT” was still used often enough at that time for the filmmaker to assume people would understand its meaning – at least in the New York area.

  10. Understanding New York subway routes in 1966 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] But some things have changed, as this guide to the various subway routes (included with a 1966 folded subway map) shows. For one thing, I don’t think anyone born after the 1960s knows the different lines as the IND, IRT, or BRT, though these initials remain on some old station signage. […]

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