There’s a lot going on outside the Third Avenue Railroad Depot in this 1859 painting

Sometimes a painting has so much rich detail, it just knocks you out. That was my reaction to this magnificent scene of the Third Avenue Railroad Depot between 65th and 66th Streets, painted two years after the depot opened in 1857.

Amazingly, the painter of this “precise representation” of the depot, William H. Schenck, was also the company’s superintendent, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the work.

In 1859, this stretch of what would become the Upper East Side (near the Treadwell Farm Historic District) was mostly untouched by developers, though some wood houses are off in the distance. Street lamps stand on corners, however, and the road looks paved.

The streetcars pulled by horses follow the rails in and out of the depot. People are scattered about; some are on horseback, and one man steers a wagon full of goods. A hot air balloon sails through the sky, what’s that about?

“In addition to highlighting the contemporary popularity of the horse-drawn streetcar, Schenck also included a hot-air balloon in the sky, identified in tiny letters as the Atlantic,” the Met states. “The balloon’s owners, John Wise and John LaMountain, hoped to fly it across the Atlantic Ocean to initiate an entirely new form of transportation, but they never succeeded.”

Sadly, the Third Avenue Railroad Depot was destroyed by fire four years later.

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11 Responses to “There’s a lot going on outside the Third Avenue Railroad Depot in this 1859 painting”

  1. caryl koses Says:

    We lived on 71st street and I loved the sound of the el going by.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. Edward Says:

    Curious as to the soldiers on the corner, and those marching down the drive near the wooden homes. A National Guard unit on parade? Was there a strike they were busting? What a great slice of 1860s NYC!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I wish I knew as well! I don’t know if strikes were a thing at this point in NYC history, though certainly they were a generation later.

  3. VirginiaLB Says:

    Thanks for this post. My great-great grandmother’s first husband worked at the Third Avenue RR Depot as a horse doctor/veterinary surgeon. He died suddenly in April 1861, two months before the fire that destroyed the Depot. The New York Times reported that workers freed 700 horses before the fire could harm them. James Bruton and family lived at the corner of Second Avenue and 61st Street, info from censuses, his death record and New York Herald obit. No street numbers then and no listing in the city directory which did not include addresses that far uptown. They were Irish immigrants and Eliza Faulkner was expecting their sixth child when her husband died.

  4. Bill Wolfe Says:

    Is the street paved or are those bricks or cobblestones? In any case, a fascinating view of Manhattan in 1859.

  5. Bill B Says:

    This depot was evidently replaced by the (trolley) car barns of the “Third Avenue Railway” company at the same location. The Manhattan House now occupies the site.

    See the images here:

  6. velovixen Says:

    I like the painting a lot. While the balloon actually existed, I wonder whether Schenck painted it in to signal progress: “onward and upward.”

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