Ferry Routes around 1900. Courtesy of Cudahy, Brian J. 1990.
In the late 18th century, before the Williamsburg Bridge was built, the only way to cross the East River was by ferry. At that time, competing ferry services in Williamsburg were provided by developers Richard M. Woodhull and Thomas Morrell. The Grand Street Ferry became an important terminal in this area. The ferry service from Broadway and Grand was discontinued after the Broadway elevated train line was extended into Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge in 1908. Two years later, a new company called Brooklyn and Manhattan Ferry Company reopened two of five routes. These routes lasted only a few years before being discontinued again.
The function of the transit system in Williamsburg was to connect it to different areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan. In 1854 the first transit system in Brooklyn was the horse car, which served both land and ferry passengers. The Broadway Railroad Company replaced the horse car when they began running the Broadway Line from the Broadway Ferry. From the 1860s to 1880s several streetcar lines began to operate from the Broadway and Grand Street Ferries to different areas in Williamsburg and Brooklyn. Trolleys would eventually replace these horse-drawn cars entirely. Once the Williamsburg Bridge was built, the streetcars operating at Broadway Ferry and Grand Street Ferry also serviced the terminal at the Williamsburg Bridge. Trolleys were eventually replaced by buses in the 1930s.
In 1888 the Union Elevated Railroad Company built an elevated train line in Williamsburg called the Broadway Brooklyn Line. The line ran between Gates and Driggs Avenues, above Broadway, and connected with the Lexington Line. It also connected with the Myrtle and Fifth Avenue lines; an extension to the Broadway Ferry was completed one year after its opening. The Broadway Brooklyn Line was leased to the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad Company in 1890, and in 1899 both companies merged into the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT).
After the formation of BRT, the Broadway Brooklyn Line became a subway line. The Dual Contracts of 1913 between BRT and Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) formed most of today’s subway system by improving the existing system and building new lines. One of the three subway lines in Williamsburg is the original Broadway Brooklyn elevated line, known as the Jamaica Line (now J, M, and Z trains). The Canarsie and Crosstown lines (today’s L and G trains), also helped to shape the area’s current transit past and present.