If you ever want to amaze your friends at a cocktail party, ask them how old the Long Island Railroad is. Most people will date it to the post-War housing boom and you'll get something in the range of 50 years...maybe even less if you ask a young man on Fire Island. Well, the astounding and true answer is that it's 175 years old as of this year. And the reason it's so damn old is pretty interesting.
The LIRR was originally set up not as a commuter railroad but as a freight and passenger route from Brooklyn to Boston, via a ferry at Greenport. Back in 1834, Long Island was just a bunch of farms and fishing communities....the idea of commuting was nearly 100 years off. But Brooklyn was the second largest city in America and there was no bridge/tunnel routes to get from there to Manhattan or Connecticut or anywhere north. So a rail route was devised to cut straight through LI as opposed to going up the Connecticut coast which would have been a longer, more indirect route. And thus the LIRR was born as a train to get to Boston. Who knew, right?
Something other interesting facts; the railroad was founded only 9 years after the concept of a railroad was created, it is the oldest surviving US railroad under its original charter, and it's currently the largest commuter railroad in the country with over 700 miles of track. To read more about it (as they used to say on CBS), check out the LIRR 175th anniversary webpage, which has some fun informational videos too. There is also an exhibit about the way the LIRR shaped the Island currently up at the NYC Transit Museum, one of my favorite non-touristy tourist spots, located in downtown Brooklyn.
Finally, to celebrate their quartoseptcentennial the LIRR are giving away birthday gifts too...you can enter a monthly drawing for Long Island-related freebies, like a free night at the Sag Harbor Inn. So you go LIRR....keep on railing!