History - Back in
1839, the LIRR built its first branch off the Main Line - from
Mineola south through what was to become Garden City to Hempstead.
In 1872, the Central RR built its line to Hempstead, which branched
off southward from its Flushing to Bethpage main line several
blocks east (of course, there were no "blocks" back
then, it was all open space!) of the LIRR's line. In 1876, the
LIRR's route was abandoned and the Central's was used exclusively.
When the present West Hempstead branch was built in 1893, the
Central's ROW was moved to the present Hempstead branch ROW and
a connection was made at Country Life Press with the West Hempstead
branch. Thus it was possible to travel from Valley Stream on the
south shore all the way to Oyster Bay on the north shore. Around
1939 the portions from West Hempstead to Country Life Press and
from Garden City to Mineola were abandoned for normal passenger
service; however much of the old ROW's are still owned by the
LIRR and are still very much visible. Thanks to retired LIRR employee
JJ Earl, I have learned that the tracks from West Hempstead to
Country Life Press were still in existence until about 1960, and
were used for occasional freight service. Several others have
told me that there also were crossing gates across Hempstead Tpke.,
also into the 1960's. One of the visitors to this website, who
wishes to remain anonymous, adds the following " I can confirm what you say about the existence
of rails on the ROW . They were removed around 64 or 65. I remember
the third rail was still there but I never dared to test if it
was still live. I spent many many hours playing along those tracks
and the odd shaped empty lots caused by the ROW. I also recall
climbing into a coal silo near hilton avenue that still had half
a load of coal. The rails crossing Hempstead Tpke were not removed
until the road had major work on it in 1969. Many folks with lots
adjacent to the ROW extended fences across the ROW in early 70's
to keep marauding teens (like me) from using the ROW as a short
cut late at night. ( you bet we had a few in us)."
There has been some discussion lately of reviving the line, possibly light rail, for service to the "Nassau Hub" (Roosevelt Field, the old Roosevelt Raceway, Fortunoff's, etc.). However, there is much local opposition to this plan.
The following is a portion of the timetable of September 13, 1931, which shows some of the various service patterns in effect when the line was still in use. Note, for example, trains 932, 936, 940, etc. which went east from Jamaica via the main line to Mineola, and then south through Country Life Press, West Hempstead and eventually Malverne (and where the westbound portion of the timetable shows they continued on to Westwood and Valley Stream and looped back to Jamaica again via the Montauk branch). Then, there are trains 930, 934, 938, etc. which used the usual West Hempstead route through Valley Stream to West Hempstead. In addition, train 960 used the Hempstead Branch through Garden City, Country Life Press West Hempstead (and again looping back to Jamaica via the Montauk branch). There was also the regular Hempstead branch service as we know it today. Finally, a few years later, there was the shuttle from Country Life Press to Mitchel Field!
Here are some recent pictures:
Looking south from the present West Hempstead station.
Looking north from the same location. The LILCO (or is it LIPA?) wires trace the old ROW most of the way to Mineola.
Looking north from the Country Life Press station. The old ROW from West Hempstead is clearly visible merging in from the left just past the bushes.
Looking south from the CLP station. The Hempstead branch goes off to the left while the ROW to West Hempstead goes off to the right.
Looking south from 11th St. in Garden City behind Sears.
This is looking east from Mineola station. That's the Oyster Bay line branching to the left (north). The original Hempstead line branched off to the right. This picture was taken from under the Mineola Blvd. overpass (one of the first grade crossing eliminations ever in North America).
Here's a close up of the eastern end of the Mineola platform showing the last evidence that there was a branch to the south towards West Hempstead. Note the wooden ties going off to the right.
Here are two pictures (from Dave Keller) looking east from Mineola that show the area in 1966. The rails were still down at that time. They must have been taken up shortly after
Here's the same view, only about 100 years earlier! You can see the line to Hempstead branching off to the right.
A former West Hempstead resident, Don Bing - now of Moorpark, CA - writes the following about the Mineola-West Hempstead branch:
"In the 50s when I was in grade and high school, I
would ride my Schwinn bike to Mineola to watch trains in the evening rush hour.
Also rode to Valley
Stream and Hicksville. Took the train several times to Jamaica just to see
the trains go by. Here are some memories which may add to the
information already in the website.
1. The line from West Hempstead to Country Life Press existed at least
until 1959 when I graduated high school. There was a freight yard at
West Hempstead west of the station. The station itself was a substantial
LIRR building with two storeys. I believe the station agent lived in the
upper storey. There was a ticket window and a waiting room in the
station. As I recall it was pretty typical LIRR, with a slate roof which
connected with the canopy that ran along the platform. That
building has since been replaced by a cinder block structure. The old
station apparently had been moved from a location between Hempstead Avenue and Hempstead Tpke. leaving behind a large concrete area where the
station used to be. That location was later taken over by a "Carzappoppin" a carwash owned by the entertainer Al Jolson.
2. There was a freight yard with team tracks west of the current West
Hempstead station. One of the tracks was electrified for storing MU
trains overnight. Additional MU storage was on the track that runs all
the way to Hempstead Gardens. That track is probably still in use for
storage. Where the yard was is now a sleazy motel for prostitutes and
other quick sex.
3. West of the yard, toward the Woodfield Road intersection was a Railway
Express Agency office with tracks. When I was sent off to summer camp, my
parents either delivered my footlocker trunk at that office to be shipped
to camp, or REO came to our home to pick up the trunk for shipment.
On the east side of the REA siding was also a seed company,
probably a holdover from when agriculture was more prevalent in Nassau
County. That company also had a service track with a platform to unload
4. The line from CLP to West Hempstead was used to run a deadhead MU
train at 4 AM, probably northbound to Hempstead or Mineola. I know
because a friend of mine lived in a house next to the track on St. Pauls Rd. in Hempstead, and said that a train would wake him up at that time. Probably they had to run the train slow and flag the grade crossings because there were no crossing gates. That fact that they ran the deadhead was confirmed when I phoned a LIRR PR guy to inquire about a railfan trip that took place in the 1950's.
5. The line from CLP to West Hempstead was also used for freight. A
train came through every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, southbound. It
switched cars in the West Hempstead yard. The train began and ended in
Holban Yard. I believe the freight came by way of the Hempstead branch,
but conceivably it could have been routed via Mineola and then down the
spur line to CLP and West Hempstead. The power was a diesel switcher, and
there was a caboose. I used to go to the WH yard to watch them switch
cars. I recall one of the workers telling me that "during the war" they
used DD1 engines (third rail electric) to run the freights.
6. At West Hempstead, there was also a spur that ran east from near the
station to a coal yard. There was a fenced-in area with a small power substation east of the station. For some reason there was a section of track in the enclosure with third rail. As I recall, that track was isolated, not connected to the operational ROW.
7. East of the Garden City station, there was a spring switch west of
Franklin Avenue where the two-track Hempstead branch became one track
leading to CLP. There was also a crossing guard shack at Franklin Avenue
servicing as a tower with the name "Garden." There was a diamond east of
Franklin Avenue where the Meadowbrook line crossed the line that ran from
Mineola to CLP. There were turnouts in all four directions.so that a train going in any direction could switch to the crossing track in either direction. It was all electrified. I recall seeing steam power there when I was young.
There was also an east-west industrial spur crossing Franklin Avenue north
of 11th street between Garden City and Mineola. This of course branched
off of the line running south from Mineola. I don't know whether it served a commercial site or the Garden City Country Club. Again I recall seeing steam power on that spur once or twice. It was non-electrified.
8. I would hang out at the Mineola station in the evening rush hours. Saw
quite a lot of steam then. You could look west down the track and see a
huge black cloud of smoke with a headlight shining in the middle of it.
Some of the cars on the steam train were borrowed from Reading RR, and said Reading on them. I believe engine 35 was used for Port Jefferson service.
I would see it quite often at Mineola. Also once at Jamaica station.
9. In grade school, my father would take me to a barber shop just north of
the Mineolastation in the late afternoon. That would have been in the early 1950s. Atthat time there were nothing but steam locomotives running down the main line.
10. As I recall I went on two railfan trips back in the 1950s. One was
the "Farewell to Steam" trip. I recall going to Long Island City via the
Montauk Branch. Also going to Bay Ridge. That line had overhead electric
catenary from the Hellsgate Bridge. The Bay Ridge yard was used for
barging freight across the East River. I remember seeing electric LIRR
switchers with pantographs to collect power. I took photos of those, but lost them long ago. How I wish I still had my pictures from those trips! I
remember a railfan trip that went through West Hempstead and up to CLP.
It went a ways down the Meadowbrook Branch, then backed up. The power was a freight steam locomotive with four driving wheels on each side. The
cars were crappy non-MU coaches. There was also a railfan trip that went
up to Oyster Bay. It was late September or early October, because the
trees were at the very height of foliage color on that wonderful Indian
11. Also one of the railfan trips went to Port Jefferson. I believe the
train, or just the steam locomotive, turned on a wye. I don't recall
there being a turntable.
12. In the middle of the day, there was a MU train to Mineola that returned
to Jamaica. It arrive in Mineola on the south platform. Then went down
the track toward CLP, just west of the "Nassau" tower. It reversed
direction and switched to the Mineola north platform for the return trip.
13. Sometime in the 50s, LIRR got new MU cars which were a different
shade of gray than the old pre-war cars. They were quite sleek for the
time. The express that ran from Penn Station with the first stop at
Stewart Manor used those cars.
14. There was a train that had a private club car for wealthy North Shore
people to ride to work in. Probably from Oyster Bay, but could have been
from Port Jeff. I remember being on a morning train from Garden City.
West of Floral Park this diesel-powered commuter train passed, and the last car was the club car with guys smoking cigars, drinking coffee, playing cards, etc. One imagines that they had cocktails on the way home in the evening.
15. I remember also when diesel arrived on the LIRR. Newsday made quite a
thing of it. For horns they had something called "airchimes." They had a
different sound from the diesel horns of today. But I remember lying in bed
at night and hearing both the steam whistles in Mineola as well as the
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