[Exterior of 491 1/2 Pearl Street, New York City, March 25, 1908].
The collection consists of ca. 50,000 photographic prints accompanied by route maps. The New York City board of Rapid Transit, the Public Service Commission, and their successors photographed construction of the subway, and its surface extensions in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. By systematically documenting the condition of buildings before construction began, they created an extensive survey of commercial and residential structures along subway routes and also provided glimpses of everyday street life. The Society's collection is strongest in views from 1900, when subway construction began, to 1920. The most heavily represented streets are Broadway and Lexington Avenue. Other photographs record underground tunneling, sewer reconstruction, pristine new stations, workmen, and such unexpected images as pool hall interiors. Most prints are identified by date, contract number, and location along a subway route. Despite the archive's size, the lack of some prints within assigned number ranges indicates that it is incomplete. A recent acquisition filled a gap of 80 views along Sixth Avenue in the 1930s.