DR. THOMAS C. RAINEY FATHER OF THE QUEENSBORO BRIDGE
A VENERABLE man, wearing a dark tweed suit, a skull cap and a pair of house shoes, slipped out unnoticed from his home at 349 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, on May 12, 1909. His tall, spare frame was bent with 85 years of strenuous life. But behind his gold-rimmed spectacles a pair of blue-gray eyes flashed determination, and the spirit of adventure swelled strong within him. Boarding a surface car, this elderly, white haired man rode north as far as Fifty-ninth street. There he alighted and walked slowly toward the East River.
When he reached First Avenue he paused as if uncertain what to do. The aged man crossed the thoroughfare and began to ascend the Manhattan approach to the Queensboro Bridge. Ascending the approach, he stopped every now and then to gaze at the great towers stretching skyward to a distance of 4o6 feet. "Taller and more massive than mine," he commented in an undertone. Having gained the first of the cantilever spans, the elderly man frequently turned to the railing and viewed intently the giant superstructure. With the trained eye of an expert he examined the top and bottom chords, each weighing thousands upon thousands of pounds; the beams and diagonals, and all the mighty pieces of steel that go to make up the latest of the big East River spans.
Threading his way slowly among the pedestrians, the venerable stranger finally reached the Queensboro anchor span. There he again turned to the railing and gazed wistfully at an old, weather-beaten masonry pier, which showed its crumbled head a little above the ground in the Ravenswood section of Long Island, just to the north of the new bridge. The longer he gazed the more wistful became the expression in the elderly man's eyes. Finally tears welled and coursed down his cheeks. Then followed a pulling together of the trembling figure, and from that old, storm-stained pier the eyes reverted to the marvelous superstructure behind. The tears dried, and in their place came that expression of pride, so strangely mixed with defiance and resentment.
"Yes, it is a greater bridge than mine could have ever been," exclaimed the venerable man; "but it’s my bridge, anyhow! It’s the child of my thoughts; the realization of my idea. In fighting for it I lost all I had - health, strength, fortune. When all was gone the city stepped in and did the work; but, though the city robbed me of a personal success, it has turned my original idea into a $17,000,000 bridge. That's monument enough for any man. The city did the work, but I furnished the idea - and it's my bridge. I have lived to see my great life work completed; I am content."
Turning again to the east, the aged man resumed his journey toward the Queens Borough end of the bridge. Near the end of the approach he was halted by a party of men in a swift-moving automobile. "What are you doing over here, doctor?" the men, with one voice, exclaimed. "Jump right in here with us." Before the bewildered octogenarian could remonstrate he was sitting in the tonneau of the machine, which whisked him back to his home in Manhattan.
Unquestionably, the Queensboro Bridge would have been built. As a sorely-needed artery of traffic between Queens Borough and Manhattan, it was an rise that could not have been long delayed under any circumstances. But the greater city there is not a person so selfish or ungrateful as even to attempt to deny that the existence of the Queensboro Bridge as an accomplished fact to-day is due chiefly to the prophetic vision, the unremitting labors and undaunted determination of Dr. Thomas C. Rainey.
For twenty-five years that grim old promoter of Ravenswood, looking into the future with clear-cut vision that it is given few to have, battled heroically for the construction of a bridge across Blackwell’s Island. Time, money and he gave to the project unstintingly. By his heroic labor, which extended over about a quarter of a century, from 1875 to 1901, he laid the true foundation of the structure which has now become a reality. When one group of capitalists failed he formed another. He went to Albany, to Washington. He interested any men and visited any place whereby he thought the idea closest to his heart might be be furthered. He enlisted the aid of such men as the Steinways, the Crimmins brothers, Austin Corbin and Charles H. Pratt. Away back in the 60’s he foresaw what the world sees to-day-that the building of the Queensboro Bridge would mean the coming of Long Island into its own.
The New York and Long Island Bridge Company, of which he was the promoter, was incorporated by an act of the legislature passed April 16, 1867. C. A. Trowbridge (Old Astoria) was the president of the company, R. M. C. Graham, secretary and treasurer, and Thomas C. Rainey (Ravenswood) financial manager and director. Among other directors were William Steinway (Steinway), Edward J. Woolsey (Old Astoria), Archibald M. Bliss (Sunnyside?) , H C Poppenhusen (College Point), Charles F. Tretbar (Steinway) , Gotlob Gunther and Herman Funcke (College Point).
The plan of the company organized by him was to build a steel cantilever bridge 153 feet above high water at a cost of $10,000,000. It was to have four tracks for freight and passenger transportation. On the New York side there were to be two approaches, one in Second Avenue, high above the elevated at Fiftieth street, and thence by a curve to the Forty-second street railroad tracks. The other one was to go up Second avenue above the elevated tracks over the Harlem River to Mott Haven junction. The contract to build the structure was awarded to Clarke. Reeves & Company for $6,394,964.
At the Long Island City end one approach was to connect with the Long Island Railroad and the second one was to run South to the Navy Yard.
Work was begun on this bridge on February 24, 1893. Large sums of money were spent, but for a variety of reasons the project languished. A committee of forty was formed in Long Island City in 1898, however, to see to it that the scheme to build a bridge should not fall through.
When, standing on the great cantilever span, Dr. Rainey muttered to himself that the Queensboro Bridge was the "child of his thoughts," he spoke the exact truth. Although the bridge that he planned more than a quarter of a century ago was primarily a railroad bridge, and was to cost but a little more than $6,000,000, in erecting the &17,000,000 Queensboro Bridge the city carried out practically every fundamental idea underlying the Rainey project. It is a cantilever bridge just as Dr. Rainey's bridge was to have been. It is reared almost exactly in the same place that Dr. Rainey had planned for his great span. The same use has been made of Blackwell's Island that Dr. Rainey proposed to make, and when contemplated railroad facilities shall have been had , it will be capable of about the same railroad connections that Dr. Rainey designed for his structure.
And, finally, just as Dr. Rainey so prophetically pointed out, with the spanning of the East River over Blackwell’s Island, has come in very truth the awakening of Long Island. All of which only serves to demonstrate what a remarkable and far-reaching triumph the Queensboro Bridge actually is for Dr. Rainey and his idea. Personally and financially he failed, but his idea conquered and will live for ages to come. Dr. Thomas C. Rainey will always be known as the "Father of the Queensboro Bridge."
Dr. Rainey was born on December 9, 1824, in Yanceyville, Caswell County, N. C.
It was proposed to commemorate Dr. Rainey’s work in his lifetime, at least by erecting a suitable bronze tablet at the bridge, reciting his relation to the idea. A committee was formed. Dr. Rainey died the following year.