An event of historic significance was commemorated at Port Washington’s Long Island Rail Road train station last Wednesday: 123 years ago, to the day, the first train to New York City departed.
LIRR officials joined the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society and local elected representatives in celebration, along with the grandson of the engineer who drove the first train in 1898.
A plaque commemorating the first LIRR service in Port Washington was unveiled.
Chris Bain, president of the society, spoke at the event, calling June 23 the most pivotal date in the history of the village.
“If you wanted to go into the city, you had to hire a horse,” Bain said. “But that changed when they extended the tracks from Great Neck into Port Washington.”
The viaduct crossing Manhasset Bay, which connects the two peninsulas, still carries commuters at their highest elevation on the Long Island Rail Road system.
Judi Bosworth, supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, gave remarks at the event. She was joined by an impersonator of Henry Thomas Dodge.
“I find if close my eyes, I almost feel like I’m back in that time,” Bosworth said. “And that didn’t happen by accident. That happened because of the great people of Port Washington, who have lived here for generations, who understand the importance of keeping our history intact.”
Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, who represents the 16th District, spoke of her love for history. Her husband has been a resident of the town all his life.
“What happened all those years ago totally transformed here,” Sillitti said. “Put Port Washington on the map.”
“I like to think of what it was like back then,” Sillitti said. “Taking that first railroad car into the city.”
Luckily, Sillitti didn’t have to think too hard. Also speaking to the audience was an impersonator of Henry Thomas Dodge, who speculated how visitors traveling on the new rail line would affect his town’s nearly 300 homes and 1,400 residents.
“Some of them may even like what they see here enough, to consider living in Port Washington and traveling to New York City every day to their jobs,” Dodge said. “Imagine that.”
The celebration came as the MTA continues construction on East Side Access, an $11 billion venture to connect all 11 branches of the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal. The project is expected to open for public use in December 2022.
But for Henry Thomas Dodge, it was still 1898, when there was rumor of building a bridge across the East River that would connect trains to a station on 45th Street.
“Can you imagine boarding a train right here behind me and not leaving the coach, until you were on Manhattan Island?” Dodge said. “Amazing.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the grandson of the train engineer as Henry Thomas Dodge.