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Special Collections



Finding Aid

Ellen H. Belcher
January 1998

The O'Rourke Construction and Engineering Company excavated the foundations for many buildings and railroad tracks in New York City. Projects documented by this collection date between the years of 1896 to 1913. The projects documented by this collection show the company's' specialization in demolition of older buildings and excavation of foundations for new buildings. Some time before 1907, the name of the company changed from The Stephens and O'Rourke Engineering and Construction Company. The company was sometimes called the "John F. O'Rourke Consulting Contracting" and "John R. O'Rourke Co, Engineer". The offices of the company were for some time located on Park Row. In 1910 the company was maintaining a plant at 33rd Street and 11th Avenue.

Some notable buildings that the company excavated the foundations for were: The New York Stock Exchange (1901), Hanover Bank (1901), the Altman Building (1905), and the Municipal Lodging House (1907). The company also appears to also been involved in demolition of buildings. Some photographs show buildings that appear to have been prepared for demolition.

The company was involved in various railroad construction projects. Starting in 1903, the O'Rourke company began work on a job to excavate tracks and yards for the NY Central Railroad's proposed new tracks. This work included excavation of a yard running along Fifth and Lexington Avenues. In May of 1907, citing difficulties with the NY Central RR, the O'Rourke company withdrew from its contract.

In 1904, the O'Rourke company was awarded the contract for their most famous project: the excavation of railroad tunnels running under the Hudson river. The construction of the "North River Tunnels" run from Weehawken and North Bergen, New Jersey into Manhattan allowed Pennsylvania RR and other trains to run directly into New York. They were also hired to excavate the site of Pennsylvania station, and excavation of the lines of tracks running from 57th to 42nd street on the west side.

The collection of photographs documents projects of the company dated between 1895 and 1913. The photographs show successive stages of each projects as well as events such as cave ins and building collapses. The photographs also document buildings and streets adjacent to project areas. Especially well documented is Ninth avenue and West 32nd street (box 6). The collection consists only of photographs; there is no written documentation of the company other than the captions on the photographs.

Each photograph is identified by project(sometimes only by initials) dated and numbered. The photographs are grouped by project and arranged by photograph number. The earlier photographs are albumen prints, later photographs are both albumen and silver print. Linen backing and attached stubs indicate that the photos were at some time cut out of albums.

Many of the buildings have not been identified or are only identified by street or by initials on the caption of the photograph. These buildings might be identified by named adjacent buildings or associated streets (boxes 1-3, 6). Some captions also identify the initials of the architectural firm.

The collection contains photographic documentation of the early phases of the job ("Grand Central Yard improvements" in box 2). Included are pictures of Sunnyside Yards. A few streets and houses along the tracks on the east side were also photographed.

More than half of the collection documents the Pennsylvania Railroad project, especially the construction of the "North River Tunnels" under the Hudson River (box 4-6).

Provenance: Donated by Saul I. Heller to the Library Learning Center in 1974 as part of the Heller Collection of Transportation Photographs

REFERENCES (available at LIU Library):
"The Pennsylvania Extends its Rails to Manhattan Island." Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. New York: Arno Press, 1976: 463-471.

Black, A. The Story of Tunnels. pp. 146-49.

"Stock Exchange's New Building." The New York Times. April 19, 1903.

"O'Rourke Will Build Pennsylvania Tunnel: New York Firm gets Contact for North River Section." New York Times." March 12, 1904.

"Contractor Drops N. Y. Central Job: O'Rourke Company Withdraws from Building the New $70,000,000 Terminal." The New York Times. May 29, 1907.


Care and Handling Note: These early photographs are especially susceptible to light, and should be protected from unnecessary exposure to light. All photographs should be handled only while wearing white cotton gloves (available from LIU Special Collections).

BOX 1 (Oversized)
[unidentified building] 1895-99 [63rd and Madison]
LB 1898 ("Stephens & O'Rourke")
H & S 1898
McC. Building, 1899
GIB, 1899-1900 [RR trestle bridge]
AMI Building, C&R Architects, 1900 [Atlantic Mutual Addition? Located near Wall Street]
New York Stock Exchange, 1901
[unidentified pier, quarry] c1890-1900s
[unidentified bridge] c1890-1900s

BOX 2 (Oversized)
H&S, 1898
CB, 1897
BG, 1896
CCB, 1896
Hanover Bank, 1901
Century Building, 1901
Grand Central Yard Improvements, 1904-05
North River Terminal, PRR, 1904
Altman Building, T&L Architects, 1905 [Next to Knoedler Gallery]

Municipal Lodging House, 1907
[Unidentified building], 1910
Manhattan Plant, 33rd and 11th Ave, 1910
20 East 12th Street, 1909
Test for John Downey, Hubert and West Streets, 1910
Stewart Building, 1911
EIS Bank, R.F.A, Architect, 1909 [Fifth Ave?]
Butler Building, 1910
80 Maiden Lane, 1911
[unidentified building], 1913
Hubert Street Building, John Downey, 1910
WB Exchange, C&R Architects, 1909
Whitehall Building, 1910

[Unidentified Warehouse] (#D-1-12)
PRR Tunnels, NRD View in NYCRR yard, 1905 (#D-13-17)
PRR Tunnels, NRD Section-GJ Fowler Warehouse, 1906 (#D18-25)
PNY&LIRR Terminal 427 West 31st Street, 442 West 42nd Street, 1906 (#D-26-31)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div Gy East, 1907 (#D32a-d)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div, Weehawken Shaft, Emslie Stable, 1907 (D33-35)
PT&TRR Terminal Station, West, 1907 (#D36-45)
PRR Tunnels NR Div, 1909 (#D46-63)
PT&TRR Co. NR Div, Manhattan Shaft, 1910 (#D-64-65)
PRR Tunnels, NRD Sect Gy East, W 32nd Street, 1906 (D-101-118a)

NRD. Bergen Hill Tunnels, 1905 (#K-3-45)
PRR Tunnels NRD Sect. K,-Weehawken Shaft, 1906 (#K-46-93)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div. Sect. Gy West, Rebuilding Pier 72, 1909 (F-1-22)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div. Sect Gy-Span Twin Tunnel, 1907 (#L-185-99)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div Sect Gy. Weehawken Tunnel, 1907 (#L-201-230)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div. Sect. Gy East, 1908 (#L-231-251)

PRR Tunnels, Davis-Calyx Drill, 1902 (#B-2-7)
PRR Tunnels, NR Div. Sect Gj River Tunnel- Weehawken, 1906-07 (#B-8-17)
PRR Tunnels, Pier 62 (#B-83-108)
Cement Testing Equipment and Labs (#B-109-112, B-123-143)
NR Div. 1905 (#B-144-150)
NRD Field Offices 1905 (#B-151-156)
Ninth Avenue, West 32nd Street [RR Construction], c1905? (B-156-1 to 157-53)
Sunnyside Yards, 1910 (#3111-40)
West 32nd Street [RR construction], c1904? (#2-32)
PRR Tunnels-NR Division-Weehawken Shaft, 1903, (SH50-69)
Grace Building, 1912
[unidentified building in midtown] 1912 (#1-20)
W-L Building, 1911

Top Of Form

Created By: Ellen Belcher
Revised: 3/14/2000

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