Long before the NYC subway became the modus operandi for local travel, New Yorkers used an extensive system of elevated railways to get around town. Starting in the 1870's, steam trains ruled the skies of the city, blazing smoky trails up and down 3rd avenue, 6th avenue and 9th avenue downtown. They pre-dated the subway system by a good three decades and, if Boss Tweed had had his way, might have expanded to take the place of the subway.
This week The Bowery Boys have posted an excellent podcast detailing the reign of the elevated train. The last elevated tracks in Manhattan on 3rd avenue were torn down in 1955. If you are feeling nostalgic, you can get a glimpse of them in the Billy Wilder flick "The Lost Weekend", a rare Hollywood film shot on location in the 1940s.
The Bowery Boys are great local historians who truly know their stuff. And they have some great visuals too. Below is a picture from their site of the 3rd Avenue El where it hit the Bowery. You can subscribe to their podcast on iTunes or get it directly from their website. It's my recommended weekend listening. Enjoy!