The following page was retrieved from the Wayback Machine, and saved locally, after the original pages disappeared twice from the host site. Apparently the original host site, ViaductGreen, was a pet project of the author, Paul vanMeter, who apparently passed away and then his page went defunct. There were lots of very interesting photos on the original page, but the Wayback Machine apparently did not save them.  Perhaps someone interested in this subject can help retrieve them someday.

Mad Men and their Big Ideas. p.III. New York Connections.

Posted on  by Paul vanMeter


P&R presidents Franklin Gowen and Archibald Angus McLeod were features in our previous ‘mad men and their big ideas’ posts. Between the two them was the greatest mad man of the three – nabob and true robber baron, Austin Corbin.  His NYTimes obituary in June 1896 hardly lists his interest in our P&R, so eclipsed by his shocking death in a carriage accident and all his other achievments. The obit calls him “the very embodiement of energy throughout his life.”  True that. To say the least.  Austin Corbin Jr. had a knack for placemaking, among other things.

“Austin Corbin was born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1827, grew up on a nearby farm, studied law and received a degree from Harvard in 1849. He traveled west to Iowa in 1851 where he joined a banking firm and became very wealthy. He returned east in 1865 to organize his own bank in Brooklyn, New York. He gained a reputation as a successful businessman and de- veloper of hotels and other properties. Corbin was admired by some and thoroughly despised by others no doubt because of his autocratic and ruthless dealings with fellow businessmen and employees.”

After the Civil War, Corbin invented Coney Island as a tony resort, consolidating railroads and building luxury hotels. First was the 1877 Manhattan Beach Hotel (where on opening day Ulysses S. Grant gave the dedication and John Philip Sousa first performed his “Stars and Stripes Forever.” In 1880, Corbin opened the 480-room Oriental. In December, 1880, Drexel, Morgan & Co. sold their interest in the Long Island Railroad to Austin Corbin and a syndicate of Boston and London capitalists. The Englishmen were to build a series of large resort hotels on Long Island, to which the railroad was to extend its service.

Austin Corbin was, in 1887, the Morgan syndicate’s hand-picked choice to replace Franklin Gowen“A voting trust created by Pierpont supervised the railroad’s management in order to prevent any resumption of Gowen’s freewheeling speculations” writes Dan Rottenberg in The Man Who made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Riase of Modern Finance.  Speculations to survive and prosper say we. We suspect Corbin became throughly disgusted with Morgan and Drexel and their efforts to contain and restrict P&R’s success and expansion; Corbin quit in 1890 – just after setting up the Philadelphia and Reading Terminal Railroad. As we like to say, the Reading Terminal and its grand and glorious trainshed was’t built for the Chestnut Hill Local!  Placemaking for sure!

Francis Hatch Kimball was His choice as the architect of his own Corbin Building down Broadway at John Street in Lower Manhattan in 1888. With a potentially problematic building site,  only 20 feet wide on Broadway—the width of an average townhouse—the property stretched back 161 feet along John Street.  When completed the Corbin Building was striking in its proportions and exquisite detailing.  In relation to its neighboring buildings, the Corbin Building soared.   It rose a full eight stories above the pavement with a pavilion on the Broadway end; a pioneering skyscraper.”

I suspect Kimball’s design for the Montauk Club in Park Slope Brooklyn in 1889, had much to do with Corbin; see note below

Importantly to Philadelphia, Francis Hatch Kimball was His choice as the architect for the Reading Terminal headhouse commission in 1890. Corbin’s capable clerk, A.A. McLeod, moved that along to completion.

I think Austin Corbin was involved with the making of the Montauk Club because he was about the remaking (and taking) of Montauk, NY. Corbin first visited Montauk in 1881 as the guest of Arthur Benson who began to develop a hunting preserve soon after he purchased land there in 1879. In grand form, Benson hired Stanford White to design summer cottages for his guests and Frederick Law Olmsted to marry architecture and land. Nice! Benson introduced “English-style” fox hunting and, yup, – golf.

Before Corbin became president of our P&R he had extended his Long Island Railroad to, well, Montauk, from Bridgehampton.  You see, get ready for this – Austin Corbin wanted to connect his Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, Pa. to his planned deep-water port in Montauk, NY.- the very tippytip of the ‘eastern shore.’  Austin Corbin, as P&R president from 1887-’90 wanted his P&R trains skirting beneath Manhattan.  Reading Station, not Penn Station, NYC ?   Quick Transit between New York and London was the goal.  The energy and details of Corbin’s writing is infectious. Rudyard Kipling used Corbin as a model in Captain’s Courageous about a rail baron who owned “every railroad on Long Island.”

Of course, back in the 1890′s there were no ‘quick transit’ tunnels under the Hudson or East Rivers. Enter engineer Charles Mattathias Jacobs in 1889. “Austin Corbin, then president of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad brought him to this country to superintend several important changes that were to be made in the road.”  “To advise on various schemes in which…more especially with reference to designing deep tunnels for rapid transit between Brooklyn, New York and Jersey City.” “During the period between 1890 to 1896 he was consulting engineer of the New York & New England Railroad and the Elmira Cortland & Northern (A Corbin controlled road. Then it was managed by A.A. McLeod with ideas as a P&R connection from Williamsport, Pa. north to Elmira, giving P&R a direct outlet for its coal to points in northern New York State, Canada and Vermont and a quick passenger route to the Thousand Islands, a popular resort with grand hotels and steamboat touring. Corbin was ahead of the game.

With his hands full enough Corbin left the P&R in 1890. No doubt harboring the same thoughts, he left it to Archie McLeod to say “I would rather run a peanut-stand than be dictated to by J. P. Morgan.”

Corbin was a director of the New York in New England Railroad in 1891 when NY&NE inaugurated the elegant the New England Limited, a crack Boston-New York night passenger train. In 1891, the Pullman Palace Car Company refitted the train with luxurious new cars decorated in white and gold, inspiring the advertising department to call it the White Train. Folks along the line called it the Ghost Train as it sped through their towns. The train crew even wore white uniforms. “Parlor cars  furnished with velvet carpets, silk draperies, and white silk curtains…chairs are upholstered in old gold plush, …large plate glass mirrors set off the car handsomely. Three of them have each a stateroom and 26 chairs in the main salon, while the other four have 30 chairs each. The royal buffet smokers which will be run in addition to the ordinary smoking cars are decorated in the same manner as the parlor cars and contain 20 handsome upholstered chairs for the passengers. We suspect Corbin loved it.


In 1892 Corbin was “crowded out” from the directorate of the NY&NE in what the NYTimes described as “a blaze of epistolary indignation.”  His successor removed the railroad’s headquarters from his Corbin Building to Wall Street; Corbin didn’t accept dismissal without a fight. Asked if the gold “New York and New England R.R.” should be removed from the glass of his suite of offices, Corbin replied “Oh, no; don’t be in a hurry.”  The NYTimes noted “Mr. Corbin is apparently in quest of satisfaction.  He is a good fighter, and his friends say that he is desirous of obtaining control of the New England property again in order to punish those persons who crowded him out.”  With him out of P&R and his P&R-Poughkeepsie Bridge scheme working well enough, Corbin, then as President of the Long Island Railroad projected “a new route from Philadelphia to Boston evading Poughkeepsie Bridge by running along Staten Island and Long Island and crossing New York Harbor and Long Island Sound by means of ferries.” After years long, and punishing pissing battle (with the Morgan controlled New Haven), Corbin backed away from New England railroading, but he made his point and got paid along the way.

Also in 1892, Corbin approached the Pennsylvania Railroad with his tunnel ideas. “It was Mr Corbin’s idea to use these tunnels for standard equipment but other officials considered this not feasible….At the request of George Roberts, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, a comprehensive report on the question of establishing and reaching a railroad Terminal in New York City was prepared in October 1892 by Mr Samuel Rea…”  Buoyed by the conversations, in 1895 Corbin purchased an additional 5,500 acres in Montauk  still planning to build his port where trans-Atlantic passengers could disembark and travel into New York at ‘a mile a minute’ and thus save a day in travel time.” From there to anyplace.

Nabob robber baron that he was, the surest way for maintaining mile-a-minute travels was having a private railroad car (pv for private and varnish).  We love talking about A.A. McLeod’s famous Alexanders. Clearly Archie had his mentor! And it wasn’t Franklin Gowen, who always prefered his “Black Diamond.” None of that for Corbin.

Corbin’s ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Oriental’ were both named after his hotels. ‘Manhattan’ arrived 1885, “from Wilmington’s Jackson and Sharp, and was what some authorities regard as one of the best cars built to that time…The Munich-lake color sides were emblazoned with rich gilt decorations. The windows glazed with clear French plate and color-leaded glass. Sage colored carpets, Mexican mahogany, dark brass hardware, and silk tapestry in subtle hues created a somber but rich interior. One unusual decorating note was the sheepskin mats in the master bedroom. Other features included the bathtub that was hidden under a sofa, the five water tanks storing 300 gallons, and the air and vacuum brakes that were part of the mechanical equipage.”

Corbin purchased the ‘Oriental’ from Pullman in 1889. On March 3, 1893, his pal, then President-elect Grover Cleveland, used ‘Oriental’ to go to Washington (over Reading’s Royal Blue Route of course). The NYTimes described it as one of the most sumptuously-furnished cars in the country. It is 76 feet 11 inches long. the exterior is of a brownish green color, and the artistic paneling of the sides is lightened up with gilded festoons. The platform rails are light silver, and there is much jeweled glass above the plate windows which has a habit of sparkling in the sunlight. The interior is finished in hand-carved mahogany, and upholstered in silk plush of old-rose tint. The curtains at the windows are of raw silk of an old rose tint, with golden braid. The carpeting is of dull blue and old rose. The car has an observation room at the rear, a dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a wine cellar. It is lighted by incandescent lights by means of a storage battery.”

It must have been quite a site passing Frank Furness’s B&O station at Chestnut Street along the Schuylkill. ‘Manhattan’ would have fit right in beneath the great Victorian P&R Trainshed; I wonder if  it ever got there.   Corbin was known to have his cars couple against the locomotive, unusual for open-platform observation “porch-cars.” Seems he figured it best for the following cars to catch the cinders.

With so much business in so many places the PVs must have been busy! Before there was Michael Jackson and Neverland Ranch, there was Austin Corbin and his Corbin Park. Perhaps best another story for another time, suffice for here to say that back at Montauk, Corbin and Benson started collecting exotic animals – “part zoo, part hunting preserve, part animal-breeding operation. “By the late 1880s, however, Corbin decided he needed more room and began looking to his native New Hampshire for land. In 1889, his agents began acquiring struggling farms and assembling acreage. The few who held out had their land blocked in on all sides, and Corbin persuaded the towns to stop maintaining their roads. They eventually sold. He then began stocking the park with a wide variety of deer, elk, bison, and wild boar. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of animals that Corbin imported were dead within a year because they were not suited to the climate and conditions. But some of the herd lived on, and the park was a popular stop for Corbin’s wealthy and famous friends who would visit for a day or two of shooting.” Corbin Park lies long the eastern side of Augustus Saint-Gauden‘s and later Maxfield Parrish‘s Cornish, New Hampshire.

Corbin was still pursuing his schemes well into the 1890s: his seaport, his plantation (in South Carolina-anther story), and his railroad expansions. He scoffed at the notion he might retire…right up until June 4, 1896. On that day, while riding in a carriage on his expansive New Hampshire estate, he popped open an umbrella to create some shade from the sun and spooked his horses. They bolted and dumped him eight feet onto a rock wall that cracked open his head. The carriage driver died quickly. Corbin survived another six hours, as his family and physicians made their way to Newport, via private trains naturally, arriving in time to watch him expire.

The legacy of his visioning and building amazes.

In Philadelphia, the Reading Terminal remains with its magnificent trainshed and fabulously quirky market. The entire landscape infrastructure we walk as VIADUCTgreene is the result of its creation. “City planner Edmund Bacon’s plan for the cross-town rail connection proposed the demolition of the terminal but Marianna Thomas’s 1972 graduate school project showed that it was cheaper and more efficient to preserve the structure in place during the excavation for the tunnel. The building’s exterior has been restored under the supervision of John Milner Associates as the entrance to Market East’s commuter station, while the office levels have been adapted to serve as hotel rooms. The great vaulted hall of the train shed is now the great hall of the Convention Center, which connects via a bridge across Arch Street to the center’s main volume (1990–1992, Thompson Ventulett Stainback and Associates). The rail station is now underground to provide connection to other rail lines.”

In New York, Charles Mattathias Jacobs built his tunnels.  He built them for P&R’s arch rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad with Sam Rea as its president. Today, they hurry trains to and from Manhattan’s Penn Station.

Corbin’s deep-water port was never constructed, though today, his Hamptons are now, well, the Hamptons. Today, Long Island Railroad trains roll through the Hamptons right out to Montauk Point.

Today, the Corbin building is recently and immaculately restored, part of the Fulton Street Transit Center.

Today, the Montauk Club remains one of the more premier social clubs in New York. Look for it in the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

After Corbin’s death his ‘Oriental’ was purchased for use by August Belmont Jr. who was chairman of the board of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. There, ‘Oriental’ traded brownish-green for L&N’s livery of royal blue and gold and over time was modernized. Howaard Fogg included it in his painting of the pv tracks at the Royal Poinciana Hotel

 Today, you can walk through it at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, NY.

In March 2012, the Wall Street Journal advised Corbin’s New Hampshire home was for sale; his once 20,000+  acres down to a mere 500. Though today, the connecting 20,000 acres are still are a park of sorts. Today, “it remains a vast playground for the rich, exempt from most hunting laws and heavily subsidized by local taxpayers. The preserve, now owned by the Blue Mountain Forest Association, made news in 2004, when one hunter fatally shot another inside the park…Although the owners of Corbin Park like to keep their sprawling game preserve out of the public eye, its impact has been felt well beyond the locked gates and high fences that surround it. Over the years, the park has helped save the American bison from extinction, influenced the writing of Rudyard Kipling, brought a factory to Newport and introduced an agricultural pest to Sullivan County.” Wild Boars are still in woods.

Read all about Corbin Park, here, and especially here.

note-Another reason I think Corbin was involved with the Montauk Club, in addition to swearing I saw the definitive portrait of super mustacieoed A.A. McLeod on the wall one night when watching Boardwalk Empire, is that while laying the building’s cornerstone, General Stewart L. Woodward “remarked on the history of the once dominant Montauk Indians (the name is said to mean “fortified”) of eastern Long Island and their subsequent drift into extinction.” Kimball’s inspiration was  Venice’s Gothic Ca d’Oro,” less the Grand Canal.



this page created March 29, 2018