Tomorrow, 30 March 2009, marks the 100th anniversary of the day the first cars officially crossed the Queensboro Bridge in New York, New York. One might ask: "So what does this have to do with Caswell County?" Now for the rest of the story._______________
Thomas Rainey was born 9 December 1824 in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina, one of the many children of James Glenn Rainey and Sophia Hendrick Rainey. Apparently schooled in engineering and eventually becoming Dr. Thomas Rainey, he led a colorful life. Rainey taught school, wrote a book, became involved in Republican party politics, and studied steam navigation in Europe. At one time he owned a fleet of sixteen steam ferry boats in Brazil, and his brother Dabney Rainey is buried there. His fortune was made in Brazil, but it was a bridge that became his life's passion. This is the bridge being celebrated tomorrow.
Beginning after the Civil War, Rainey spent twenty-five years of his life and most of his fortune (purportedly some $600,000) advancing the construction of a bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City. Originally, it was to be named the Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island) Bridge. Leading citizens who supported the bridge (including piano manufacturer William Steinway) formed the New York and Queens County Bridge Company, with Rainey first as treasurer and eventually as president. Funding was difficult to find, and another bridge was receiving most of the attention -- the Brooklyn Bridge. The company even began construction of towers on the west side, but the project was aborted when funds were depleted.
However, adequate funding eventually was secured, and the bridge completed in 1909. On opening day, Dr. Thomas Rainey from Yanceyville crossed the bridge with New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes. Rainey received a gold medal inscribed: "Father of the Bridge." That day Rainey told the New York Times:
"This is my bridge. At least it is the child of my thought, of my long years of arduous toil and sacrifice. Just over there, are the old towers of my bridge, which I began to build many years ago. I spent all I owned on the project . . . It is a grand bridge, much greater than the one I had in mind. It will be in service to thousands in the years to come, when Dr. Rainey and his bridge projects will long have been gathered into the archives of the past."
Although the structure was named the Queensboro Bridge, Rainey's contribution was not forgotten. On April 18, 1904, the City of New York acquired several acres of waterfront property through condemnation procedures. The concrete sea wall, built where the park meets the East River, was completed in 1912, by which time Rainey had passed away. To honor his public spirit, the city named the property Rainey Park. An exchange of properties with a local landowner in 1917 added nearly 3 acres to the northern part of the park. Located in Ravenswood, it is often referred to as one of the prettiest and most popular parks in the New York park system.
Dr. Rainey's pride in the structure was so great that he reportedly attempted to walk the length of the span the year before he died at age 84 in 1910.
New York Times Letter to the Editor
Queensboro Bridge Photographs
Queensboro Bridge History
Book of Photographs
Everything About the Queensboro Bridge
Roebling's First Dream
Thomas Rainey and Grace P. Ogden appeared on the census of 1880 in Long Island, Queens, New York County, New York. Thomas Rainey, civil engineer, was fifty-five years old and besides his wife Grace P. Rainey, the household contained niece Florence O. Rainey, age six, attending school, and three servants. Florence was probably the niece of wife Grace, and her last name was probably Ogden, rather than Rainey.
Thomas Rainey and Grace P. Ogden appeared on the census of 1900 in Manhattan, New York County, New York. The household contained five. Thomas Rainey, bridge engineer, owned the residence at 349 Lexington free of mortgage, He was seventy-five years old and had been married for twenty-five years. His date and place of birth was given as January 1825, North Carolina. The date and place of birth of his wife Gracie P. O. Rainey was given as September 1840, New York. There were three "visitors" in the household: Antony Emile, age 32, born in Switzerland; James M. Covington, age 23, occupation railroad conductor, and [his sister] Carrie W. Covington, age 22, both born in New York. He died on 1910.3.29 in 346 Lexington Avenue, New York City, New York County, New York, at age 85.
For more on this famous Caswellian, including his dream of a bridge across the East River in New York City, go to Dr. Thomas Rainey.
City of New York Department of Health Certificate and Record of Death on file at the CCHA
Note that his birth date also is seen as 9 December 1824. Source: Greater Astoria Historical Society
John Hendrick originally was buried near Estelle in Caswell County, North Carolina. This is a small community on the road between Yanceyville and Milton. Sophia Hendrick Rainey originally was buried near Shady Grove, Caswell County, North Carolina. Henry Harrison Rainey, son of Sophia Hendrick Rainey originally was buried beside his mother near Shady Grove, Caswell County, North Carolina. All three were disinterred and buried in Germanton, North Carolina. Those responsible for moving Sophia Hendrick Rainey were her sons: Thomas Rainey; Virgil Rainey; and Josiah Rainey.
Source: Caswell County History and Genealogy Yahoo Group (Message #1817, 27 October 2008: Charles H. and Rebecca B. Hendrick by John Storey
Thomas Rainey 1910 Obituary
Thomas Rainey 1900 Letter to New York Times Editor
The birth date of Thomas Rainey also is seen as 9 December 1824. Source: History of Queens County, New York (1683-1882) with Illustrations, Portraits, & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals, W. W. Musell & Co. (1882).
(for larger image, click on photograph, then click "All Sizes")
Ferry house, built for Dr. Thomas Rainey, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In June 1854 I sailed for the Amazon and reached Para' in 28 days. An offer had been made for a steamer service from the great Marajo' Island, lying in the mouth of the Amazon, to take beef cattle to supply the Para market; the island having tens of thousands of cattle in excellent condition.... At Rio de Janeiro I endeavored, but fruitlessly,to interest the Imperial Government in my proposed line of steamer from New York...His words were fair and flattering; his works were woefully wanting.... On returning from Brazil (to New York) In 1856, I spent most of that year to my proposed steam line to Brazil until the crisis killed it, and to my work, "Ocean Steam Navigation and Ocean Post" published by Appleton & Co., New York, and Trubnet & Co.....[was the crisis he was referring to the overthrow of Rosas?] While in Europe (1857), the President of US appointed me Secretary of Legation to Brazil, salary $5000, or whatever I wished...I sent home iddediately my refusal and returned home..and found I was again appointed Secretary of Legation to Brazil.
1859 Brazil: I sailed again for Rio Janeiro and organized my ferry company...the first sent out in Dec. 1860 with my brother Dabney Rainey... [Dabney was buried in the British Cemetery at Gamboa...where is this?] I had in June two more steamers to go out. As there was already a privateer cruising, the "Alabama," in the Atlantic, I armed each steamer with fine brass rifled 12-pounder...I put an old captain on one of my steamers and commanded the other, the "Sequnda," myself; for the three first vessels were named "Primeira," "Segunda," and "Terceira." The Brazilian life was a sacrifice,not only to me personally, but to many of my family. Three brothers labored with me faithfully: James Patrick-Henry Rainey, sixteen years, William R., ten years with his wife and family, and his son George R. who spoke Portugeuse fluently, Dabney R. who sleeps in the British Cemetery at Gamboa, twelve years; and my sister Rebecca Blance, who was there many years looking after our homes. All of these unselfish souls suffered bitterly from the hot climate, and most of them soon died on returning home. All except myself were bitter Secessionists; and many were our battles royal, especially after 1865, when they were reinforced by the thousands of deluded who sought new slavery homes in Brazil.
24 Sept. 1868 - Forsyth Co., NC: Deed Book 4 pages 587-589
This Indenture made on the twenty fourth day of September AD 1868 between J. W. Alspaugh and his wife Olivia G. Alspaugh of the county of Forsyth and the State of N. Carolina of the first part and Thomas Rainey now of the Kingdom of Brazil S. America of the second part Witnesseth that the party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of Seven thousand Dollars to them in hand paid the party of the second part the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have given granted bargained soled & conveyed & by those present do give grant bargain sell & convey unto the party of the second part his heirs & assignees forever the following tracts & parcels of land Iying & being in the county of Forsyth and a small part there of in the county of Stokes.
Viz: The first tract is bounded as follows (viz) Beginning at a stake at the road leading from Germanton to Salem and Bethania thence running along said road south 10 degrees west three and a half chains to a bend south 30 degrees west Eight chains to a bend south go west twelve chains to a bend South 27 degrees west three & a half chains to a small Branch south 66 degrees west. Eight and a half chains to a stake in C. L. Banners late line south on said line along the road twenty four and a quarter chains to the corner of said Banner tract . a white oak fell down in Poindexters line in all along the road fifty nine chains and seventy five links thence east on his line fourteen & one forth chains crossing buffalo creek to his corner white oak fell Down between pointers. south nine & 1/4 chains crossing Morgan's Branch to Poindexters corner walnut stump east on his line crossing said branch fifty seven chains to a pine in the line of the race ground tract, North on the old line eleven & a half chains to a white oak old corner, East nine & 1/4 chains crossing the head of Frazier Branch to white oak old corner west down by a Black oak north on the old line now line fifty four & one half chains to a pine old corner west on Moody's former line fifty five chains crossing Fraziers Branch and said creek to the Beginning including the Mansion House & Plantation of the late Joshua Ban[n]er containing four hundred & four acres more or less.
The Second tract. Beginning at a white oak Marked B on the west side of the road leading from Germanton to Salem, thence running west a new marked line fourteen & 1/4 chains to Phillip Banners corner black gum continue west on his line in all twenty two chains and 75 links to pointers the So. corner of Buffalo School House, Lot No. 28 .North with the line of said lot five chains and seventy-four links to a black gum sapling west with said lot three & a half chains to a sowerwood in Jno. F. Poindexter line North on his line passing his corner and on Steadmon's old line twenty 2 chains and 76 links to a white oak East on his and R. D. Golding line twenty one chains is a dogwood. Goldings corner North five & a half chains is a red [oak?]. s for corner East one & a half chains to thence alone the same as it meanders thirty two and a half chains to the Beginning including the Race Ground & the place where William Cardwells dwelling house was consumed by fire contains 64 acres more or less.
The third Tract. On the waters of Buffalo Creek of Town Fork Beginning at a white oak pointers in Tate Burtons line running east on Jesse Frys former line twenty-six poles to the road leading from Germanton by the Buffalo wallows to Salem thence along the road south 4 degrees east sixteen poles to the bend of the road south 20 degrees east thirty-two poles to a bend south 4 degrees East sixteen poles to a bend South 10 degrees East past Through Saplings woods twenty four poles to a small old field pine south crossing a small hollow to make the road straight there falling in the road ninty one poles to the corner of Steadmon Morris race ground tract. west six poles to center between a Spanish oak & a red oak south twenty 2 poles to the old corner Post Oak fell down west on the line of the race ground land forty seven poles to a white oak by a black oak fell down. Ephraim Banners former corner thence North on his
former line two hundred and twenty two poles to the Beginning including the place call the Iron ore Bank and a small improvement formly made by George Suns (Sprague?) containing 50 & 3/4 acres more or less.
The fourth tract, on the waters of Buffalo creek Beginning at a stake 8 ft from Christians Lashes former corner on the west side of the main street in Germanton and runs North 42 degrees West four chains & a half to a stake thence North 48 degree East along said Lash & Alexander Moody, decd lots to the west corner of John L. Bittings former lot also Jesse Banner former lot thence North 50 degrees west on Peter Tuttles, line ten chains & a half to the corner a post oak thence south 35 degrees west Eleven & a half chains to a black oak and white oak Tuttles and Goldings corner thence south on Goldings line to the road leading from Germanton to Bethania. Thence along said road & Germanton Street to the Beginning. Containing 1 acres including the House & lots where John Pepper formerly lived.
The Fifth Tract Iying on both Sides of Buffalo creek Beginning at a post a comer of a lot John Pep[p]er sold to B. Jones on the west bank of the creek running North 42 degrees west allong said Jones line ten chains to his corner post fronting Germanton street thence south 48 degrees west allong said street to a stake corner of Lot No. 3 in the division of the cleared land of Alexander Moody decd laid off and apropariated to Sarah Moody or then south 28 degrees east along the line of Lot No. 3 fifteen chains to the creek then up the creek with it various meanderings to a box Elders on the bak of the creek in the line of the late Joshua Banner then east allong the line of said tract thirty two & a half chains to pointers corner of Lot No. 3 wood land thence North with the line of said lot ten chains & a half to a post by a hickory then west with Bittings line twenty chains & twenty-five links to the creek thence down the creek on the west side with its various Meanderings to the beginning Containing 46 & 3/4 acres more of less.
The 6th Tract: Being Lots No. 4 & 5 wood land. Beginning at a persimmon Bush corner of Lot No. 3 woodland and runs south with the same ten chains & a half to pointers in Joshua Banner line east on said line ten chains & a half to pointers corner of Lot no. 6 wood land thence North with the line of said lots ten & a half chains to a black gum in Bittings line thence west with his line ten and a half chains to the Beginning containing 11 acres more or less.
The 7th tract: being lot No. 7 in the division of A.[Alexander] Moody decd. wood land Beginning at a dogwood & black oak the old NE corner thence running south along the old line ten chains & a half to Joshua Banners corner Pointers west with said Banners line five & a half chains to pointers comer of Lot no. 6. North with said lot ten & a half chains to a sour wood & Dogwood thence east to the Beginning , containing 5 3/4 acres more or less. To have & to hold the aforesaid lands & premises with the appertenances unto the said Thomas Rainey his heirs and assignees to the proper use and ________? of the said Thomas Rainey his heirs and assignees forever and the said J. W. Alspaugh and Olivia G. Alspaugh his wife for themselves and their heirs the aforesaid land and premises and every part thereof against themselves and their heirs and the claim or claims of all & every other persons or persons whatsoever (saving and excepting from the warranty however the claims of Sally Pryor in a part of said lands and which now belongs to James G. Rainey & sons & except also a small lot of Land conveyed by the late W. W. Steadmon and his wife Olivia G. Stedmon to Samuel Shelton in trust for the sole and seperate use of his sister Mrs. Annie E. Mays including the female semnary House & lot in Germanton also Excepting a small lot of land conveyed by Olivia G. Stedmon to M. T. Burton Lying in an adjoining Germanton see said deed to the Said Thomas Rainey his heirs & assignees shall & will forever warrant & defend by these present.
In Witness whereof the party ofthe first part hereunto set them hands & seals the day & year first above written. } J. W. Alspaugh SEAL
Witnesses as to J. W. Alspauph } O. G. Alspaugh SEAL
Rec Amt Rev stamp to amt of 7000 attached & cancelled J. W. A. Sept 24, 1868
4 Sept 1868 - Forsyth Co., NC personally appeared before me John Blackburn Clerk of the Superior Court and Judge of Probate in & for said county the above named J. W. Alspaugh & O. G. Alspaugh his wife & acknowledged the deed & exection by them of the forgoing deed. And thereupon the said Olivia G. Alspaugh being by me privately examined seperate and apart from the said Husband _______? her free consent in the execution of the said deed of conveyance She on such her examination declared that she had executed the same freely of her own will & accord & without any force fear or under influence of her said husband or any other person. And did still voluntarily assume thereto Therefore let the said deed & this certificate be Registered Tax & clerk fees paid.
Judge of Probate
Forsyth County In the Registers Office
The foregoing deed from J. W. Alspaugh & wife to Thomas Rainey together with the certificate of Jno. Blackburn Probate Judge for said County is this day of September 1868 duly registered in Book Register No. 4 page #577-578 & 570
N. S. Cook Register
per C. L. Cook, D. R.
The following is from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Website:
This text is part of Parks' Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.
Dr. Thomas Rainey (1824-1910), a resident of Ravenswood, Queens, spent 25 years of his life and most of his fortune advancing the construction of a bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City. The area that now accommodates Rainey Park was to be the Queens anchor for the "Blackwell Island Bridge," a project backed by leading citizens of Long Island City after the American Civil War. In 1871, they incorporated the "New York and Queens County Bridge Company." The bridge, planned with one ramp south to Brooklyn and another out to Long Island, was promoted as a catalyst for developing growth in Queens and as a railroad link to Long Island. To the community’s disadvantage, the effort fell apart during the financial Panic of 1873.
Rainey had been one of the earliest and staunchest supporters of the project, and the burden of organizing and refinancing the company fell on him, first as treasurer in 1874, then as president in 1877. Dr. Rainey lobbied around the country to get financial backing and a bridge franchise. However, the War Department, concerned that a bridge could interfere with the defense of New York and access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, withheld approval. Most interest in the region was for another bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The sparse population in Queens at the time raised further concerns of need and profitability, and the project had once again lost steam by 1892.
A group from the community called the Committee of Forty kept the effort alive. After the consolidation of New York City in 1898, the project gained new momentum and the bridge was finally built at Queens Plaza, a few blocks south of the proposed location. On opening day in 1909, Dr. Rainey realized his dream as he crossed the new bridge with Governor Charles Evans Hughes. The Queensboro Bridge fulfilled its promise by tying the Borough of Queens into Greater New York and Rainey received a gold medal inscribed "The Father of the Bridge." On that day Rainey told the New York Times, "This is my bridge. At least it is the child of my thought, of my long years of arduous toil and sacrifice. Just over there, are the old towers of my bridge, which I began to build many years ago. I spent all I owned on the project . . . It is a grand bridge, much greater than the one I had in mind. It will be in service to thousands in the years to come, when Dr. Rainey and his bridge projects will long have been gathered into the archives of the past." Rainey’s pride in the structure was so great that, a year before his death at age 86, he reportedly attempted to walk the length of the bridge.
The structure was named the Queensboro Bridge, but Rainey's contribution was not forgotten. On April 18, 1904, the City of New York acquired several acres of waterfront property through condemnation procedures. The concrete "sea wall," built where the park meets the East River, was completed in 1912, by which time Rainey had passed away. To honor his public spirit, the city named the property Rainey Park. An exchange of properties with a local landowner in 1917 nearly 3 acres to the northern part of the park.
This park is the largest in Ravenswood, once an exclusive neighborhood with spacious plots of land along Vernon Boulevard. The area was industrialized in the 1870's and has been so thoroughly transformed that Rainey Park has become something of an oasis among the factories that populate much the neighborhood. The riverside promenade and baseball fields makes Rainey Park a popular spot for picnicking and play. Oaks, London Planes, and Callery Pear trees shade adorn this public greensward that one former Parks commissioner called "one of the prettiest parks in the system."
The following is from The Greater Astoria Historical Society's Website:
DR. THOMAS C. RAINEY
FATHER OF THE QUEENSBORO BRIDGE
A VENERABLE man, wearing a dark tweed suit, a skull cap and a pair of house shoes, slipped out unnoticed from his home at 349 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, on May 12, 1909. His tall, spare frame was bent with 85 years of strenuous life. But behind his gold-rimmed spectacles a pair of blue-gray eyes flashed determination, and the spirit of adventure swelled strong within him. Boarding a surface car, this elderly, white haired man rode north as far as Fifty-ninth street. There he alighted and walked slowly toward the East River.
When he reached First Avenue he paused as if uncertain what to do. The aged man crossed the thoroughfare and began to ascend the Manhattan approach to the Queensboro Bridge. Ascending the approach, he stopped every now and then to gaze at the great towers stretching skyward to a distance of 4o6 feet. "Taller and more massive than mine," he commented in an undertone. Having gained the first of the cantilever spans, the elderly man frequently turned to the railing and viewed intently the giant superstructure. With the trained eye of an expert he examined the top and bottom chords, each weighing thousands upon thousands of pounds; the beams and diagonals, and all the mighty pieces of steel that go to make up the latest of the big East River spans.
Threading his way slowly among the pedestrians, the venerable stranger finally reached the Queensboro anchor span. There he again turned to the railing and gazed wistfully at an old, weather-beaten masonry pier, which showed its crumbled head a little above the ground in the Ravenswood section of Long Island, just to the north of the new bridge. The longer he gazed the more wistful became the expression in the elderly man's eyes. Finally tears welled and coursed down his cheeks. Then followed a pulling together of the trembling figure, and from that old, storm-stained pier the eyes reverted to the marvelous superstructure behind. The tears dried, and in their place came that expression of pride, so strangely mixed with defiance and resentment.
"Yes, it is a greater bridge than mine could have ever been," exclaimed the venerable man; "but it's my bridge, anyhow! It's the child of my thoughts; the realization of my idea. In fighting for it I lost all I had - health, strength, fortune. When all was gone the city stepped in and did the work; but, though the city robbed me of a personal success, it has turned my original idea into a $17,000,000 bridge. That's monument enough for any man. The city did the work, but I furnished the idea - and it's my bridge. I have lived to see my great life work completed; I am content."
Turning again to the east, the aged man resumed his journey toward the Queens Borough end of the bridge. Near the end of the approach he was halted by a party of men in a swift-moving automobile. "What are you doing over here, doctor?" the men, with one voice, exclaimed. "Jump right in here with us." Before the bewildered octogenarian could remonstrate he was sitting in the tonneau of the machine, which whisked him back to his home in Manhattan.
Unquestionably, the Queensboro Bridge would have been built. As a sorely-needed artery of traffic between Queens Borough and Manhattan, it was an rise that could not have been long delayed under any circumstances. But the greater city there is not a person so selfish or ungrateful as even to attempt to deny that the existence of the Queensboro Bridge as an accomplished fact to-day is due chiefly to the prophetic vision, the unremitting labors and undaunted determination of Dr. Thomas C. Rainey.
For twenty-five years that grim old promoter of Ravenswood, looking into the future with clear-cut vision that it is given few to have, battled heroically for the construction of a bridge across Blackwell's Island. Time, money and he gave to the project unstintingly. By his heroic labor, which extended over about a quarter of a century, from 1875 to 1901, he laid the true foundation of the structure which has now become a reality. When one group of capitalists failed he formed another. He went to Albany, to Washington. He interested any men and visited any place whereby he thought the idea closest to his heart might be be furthered. He enlisted the aid of such men as the Steinways, the Crimmins brothers, Austin Corbin and Charles H. Pratt. Away back in the 60's he foresaw what the world sees to-day-that the building of the Queensboro Bridge would mean the coming of Long Island into its own.
The New York and Long Island Bridge Company, of which he was the promoter, was incorporated by an act of the legislature passed April 16, 1867. C. A. Trowbridge (Old Astoria) was the president of the company, R. M. C. Graham, secretary and treasurer, and Thomas C. Rainey (Ravenswood) financial manager and director. Among other directors were William Steinway (Steinway), Edward J. Woolsey (Old Astoria), Archibald M. Bliss (Sunnyside?) , H C Poppenhusen (College Point), Charles F. Tretbar (Steinway) , Gotlob Gunther and Herman Funcke (College Point).
The plan of the company organized by him was to build a steel cantilever bridge 153 feet above high water at a cost of $10,000,000. It was to have four tracks for freight and passenger transportation. On the New York side there were to be two approaches, one in Second Avenue, high above the elevated at Fiftieth street, and thence by a curve to the Forty-second street railroad tracks. The other one was to go up Second avenue above the elevated tracks over the Harlem River to Mott Haven junction. The contract to build the structure was awarded to Clarke. Reeves & Company for $6,394,964.
At the Long Island City end one approach was to connect with the Long Island Railroad and the second one was to run South to the Navy Yard.
Work was begun on this bridge on February 24, 1893. Large sums of money were spent, but for a variety of reasons the project languished. A committee of forty was formed in Long Island City in 1898, however, to see to it that the scheme to build a bridge should not fall through.
When, standing on the great cantilever span, Dr. Rainey muttered to himself that the Queensboro Bridge was the "child of his thoughts," he spoke the exact truth. Although the bridge that he planned more than a quarter of a century ago was primarily a railroad bridge, and was to cost but a little more than $6,000,000, in erecting the $17,000,000 Queensboro Bridge the city carried out practically every fundamental idea underlying the Rainey project. It is a cantilever bridge just as Dr. Rainey's bridge was to have been. It is reared almost exactly in the same place that Dr. Rainey had planned for his great span. The same use has been made of Blackwell's Island that Dr. Rainey proposed to make, and when contemplated railroad facilities shall have been had, it will be capable of about the same railroad connections that Dr. Rainey designed for his structure.
And, finally, just as Dr. Rainey so prophetically pointed out, with the spanning of the East River over Blackwell's Island, has come in very truth the awakening of Long Island. All of which only serves to demonstrate what a remarkable and far-reaching triumph the Queensboro Bridge actually is for Dr. Rainey and his idea. Personally and financially he failed, but his idea conquered and will live for ages to come. Dr. Thomas C. Rainey will always be known as the "Father of the Queensboro Bridge."
Dr. Rainey was born on December 9, 1824, in Yanceyville, Caswell County, N. C.
It was proposed to commemorate Dr. Rainey's work in his lifetime, at least by erecting a suitable bronze tablet at the bridge, reciting his relation to the idea. A committee was formed. Dr. Rainey died the following year.
No monument to him was ever constructed.
1852: Thomas Rainey to Sister
Posted on August 10, 2015 by Griff
Though there is no envelope to accompany this letter to aid in confirming the identity of the author, I believe it was written by the well-traveled Thomas Rainey (1824-1910), the son of James Glenn Rainey (1805-1876) and Sophia Hendrick (1807-1870). A comparison of handwriting between this letter and a sample of his signature and handwriting on the inside cover of one his books convinces me that Dr. Rainey authored the letter.
Rainey’s obituary was published in the New York Times which reads:
Dr. Thomas Rainey, known as the “Father of the Bridge” because he spent twenty-five years of his life and $600,000, his entire fortune, in an endeavor to promote the building of a bridge across the East River, between Manhattan and Long Island City, died yesterday at his home, 340 Lexington Avenue. The immediate cause of his death was pneumonia, but he had been in failing health for some time, owing to his advance age — 85 years.
Dr. Rainey was born in Yance[y]ville, N.C. in 1824. He was the oldest of fifteen children, and lived at home until 1842, when, because of a thrashing, he ran away and wandered out West. With only the moderate education he had picked up in the local schools and with a pistol and $3.50 in his pocket, he continued his journeyings by working his way until he had crossed West Virginia, Ohio, and Missouri. He taught school at the age of 18, and thus acquired enough money to go to St. Louis, where he studied phonography, arithmetic by cancellation, and medicine. For several years he lectured throughout Missouri and Iowa, and in 1847 published “Rainey’s Improved Abacus,” a treatise on arithmetic and geometry by cancellation. Afterward he lectured in Ohio and Indiana and established first The Ohio Teacher, then the Western Review, and finally in 1852 The Cincinnati Daily Republican.
It was about this time that Dr. Rainey became acquainted with such scientists as Prof. Agassiz and Prof. O. M. Mitchell and such journalists as Greeley, Dana, Raymond, Bennett, and Webb. He became actively interested in politics, and at the request of the National Whig Committee established The Cincinnati Daily Republican as their official organ. He also went to Washington, where he became acquainted with Daniel Webster, then Secretary of State. In 1853, through his scientist friends, he was appointed Consul to Bolivia. Dr. Rainey had opposed the election of Pierce, and so refused the appointment.
He did go to South America, however, the next year, where he made many explorations in the Amazon Valley and decided to make Brazil his future home. This decision he admitted later in life was “the great mistake of his life.” In 1857, Dr. Rainey went to Europe where he studied steam navigation. Returning to Brazil he purchased a concession to operate a fleet of steam ferries in the Bay of Rio Janeiro. He built sixteen new vessels and made a considerable fortune in this business between 1860 and 1874.
Sample of Rainey’s handwriting from book signature (1858)
He then returned to this city [New York], settled in Ravenswood and devoted all his time and energy to furthering his project of a bridge over Balckwell’s Island. He spent all of his money and ruined his health in his efforts to get the men and capital to carry out his ideas, going many times to Albany and Washington to interest political leaders in his plans. these were for a cantilever bridge, primarily intended for railroad use, to cost $5,000,000, and it was to be constructed on almost the same site as that on which the $17,000,000 Queensboro Bridge now stands.
Dr. Rainey failed to interest capital in his project and retired a broken, weary man, to live the last ten years of his live at the home of his youngest sister, Mrs. William P. Covington. He never gave up hope, however, that “his bridge,” as he called it would be realized, and when the Queensboro Bridge was completed last year he took as much pride in it as if he had had a part in its actual building. Last May he stole out of his home and walked across the bridge. “This is my bridge,” he said when found by his anxious family. “It is the child of my thought and of long years of arduous toll and sacrifice.”
At the time of the bridge celebration Dr. Rainey received a gold medal inscribed, “The Father of the Bridge,” and a tablet commenmorating his work in seeking to build a bridge across the East River will be placed on the Queensboro Bridge.
Dr. Rainey’s wife, who was Grace Priscilla Ogden, daughter of John Odgen of this city, died last August. They had no children.
Rainey’s letter gives a delightful description of Richmond, Virginia, in 1852.
April 8, 1852
I arrived here this afternoon after a most fatiguing trip. I really suffered last night & the night before in my stage rides & have slept only 3 hours since Monday night.
I fell in with Mr. Chas. Bruce ¹ of Charlotte today & found him a most agreeable & intelligent gentleman.
Mr. Lyon I found yesterday morning at Anderson’s store. He has had the “Blues” slightly, but is now, through many a jolly laugh, & uphill & downhill “rough & tumble” in the stage-coach, thoroughly recovered. He says tell you that he feels well & is about all right.
Notwithstanding the fatigues of my trip which would put most persons “to sleep,” I have this afternoon seen much of Richmond. The falls of James River commence some two miles above the city & extend nearly three miles making a descent of about eighty feet. This is one of the best water powers in the states, being inexhaustibly while the entire volume of the river is available. As yet, it is used only for manufacturing wheat — the mills at this place being very extensive and altogether in the hands of companies. There will be scarcely a limit to the manufacturing establishments of Danville & Richmond when the railroad is extended from Danville to Charlotte, North Carolina.
A sketch of Capitol Square in Richmond on the Eve of the Civil War
Two bridges, one for the Petersburg or South Side road, the other for the Danville road, cross the river at this point. Each is nearly one mile long. That of the Petersburg road cost about 70,000 dollars & is 80 feet high.
I visited the State House, the Medical College, & the Monument of Washington now in progress, beside the railroad depot & many other important places. The State House green [“Capitol Square”] is nearly one fourth of a mile square & very broken & picturesque, giving from the top of the Capitol a magnificent view of the whole James River country. It is beautifully fitted with promenades & is adorned with very many beautiful rural improvements, terraces, flights of stone-steps, &c., all grateful to the age of the visitor, & refreshing in a high degree to the stranger.
The State House is a small brick building containing in the rotunda which is small, a large statue of Washington [by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon] in the plain habit of domestic life with bare head, cane in hand, & spurs on the old “fair-top” boot. The rotunda contains also a small bust of Lafayette while the Hall of the Senate Chamber are adorned with many fine paintings, which owing to the gloomy darkness produced by the rain I was unable to examine.
The Washington Monument in Richmond at the time of its completion in 1858
The Washington Monument in Richmond in 1858; Note that the statues of other Virginia Statesmen do not yet adorn the base pedestals.
The [Washington] monument is comprised of very compact granite, broad at the base, which is a flight of steps, & will be about 20 feet high surmounted by an equestrian statue of Washington with Lee, Jefferson, & other Virginia distingue on pedestals rising from the base half the height of the monument. I learn that it will cost about $125,000. It certainly will be very beautiful though not very imposing.
The Medical College is a beautiful & unique structure composed as seen in the distance of granite, although it may be “rough cast.” It is very imposing. So also are the City Hall, the Exchange Hotel, & the St. James & Monumental Churches. The latter church is a great quadrangle with a vast rotunda for the main body. The former is finished with an imposing portico in the full Corinthian order & a spire which shoots symmetrically from its base of open columns in a perfect cone to a perfect point. It has a fine effect, contrasts beautifully with the clumsy foot & flagstaff like structures which have a broad and mighty base to hoist a mere pole on. Richmond is a handsome city of 33,000 souls.
I passed near the farm of the late John Randolph of Roanoke. ² It is situated north of Staunton River in the southwest part of Charlotte County & about 25 miles from the Junction of Staunton with Dan. Just above this the river, after running 33 miles from a certain point, comes back to within two miles of the place where it started, so circuitous is its course. There is nothing of interest on Randolph’s farm except his grave. He has a deaf, dumb, & insane half brother at Charlotte Court House — St. George Randolph. ³ You see that I stop writing ____ off to leave ______ of this hour, 9 P.M.
Your affectionate brother, — T. Rainey
Write not only this Saturday to me but next also. — T. R.
¹ Charles Bruce (1826-1896) was educated at the University of North Carolina. He visited Europe in 1848 and married Sarah Alexander Seddon, sister of the Hon. James A. Seddon of the Virginia Senate. Charles raised an artillery company for the Confederate Service (“the Staunton Hill Artillery”), equipped it at his own expense, and went into service as its captain. He settled down to his plantation “Staunton Hill” in Charlotte County, Virginia, after the war.
² The remains of John Randolph (1773-1833) were originally buried on his farm but in 1879 they were removed and taken to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. A book on Randolph claims that he was originally “buried under a tall pine in a spot not more than one hundred and fifty feet from the front door of one of the two dwellings which constituted [his] home, and, in accordance with his directions, his grave was marked only by a rude stone from his plantation which he had selected for the purpose.”
³ St. George Randolph was born deaf and dumb, and died after “many years of hopeless insanity” according to a book on John Randolph. “St. George died at an advanced age, after being taken under the roof of his committee, Wyatt Cardwell, at Charlotte Court House, and his estate, so far as made up of what he received from the compromise in the Randolph will litigation, was distributed…among his kindred.”
Source: Spared and Shared 10: Saving One Letter at a Time (1852: Thomas Rainey to Sister
Posted on August 10, 2015 by Griff)[Accessed 18 June 2016. Website
This letter was written by Thomas Rainey (1824-1910) to his sister Jasmine Rainey. Thomas was born in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina — one of many children born to James Glenn Rainey (1805-1876) and Sophia Hendrick (1807-1870). Apparently schooled in engineering and eventually becoming Dr. Thomas Rainey, he led a colorful life. Rainey taught school, wrote a book, became involved in Republican party politics, and studied steam navigation in Europe. At one time he owned a fleet of sixteen steam ferry boats in Brazil, and his brother Dabney Rainey is buried there. His fortune was made in Brazil, but it was a bridge that became his life’s passion.
Beginning after the Civil War, Rainey spent 25 years of his life and most of his fortune (purportedly some $600,000) advancing the construction of a bridge across the East River between Manhattan and Long Island City. Originally, it was to be named the Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island) Bridge. Leading citizens who supported the bridge (including piano manufacturer William Steinway) formed the New York and Queens County Bridge Company, with Rainey first as treasurer and eventually as president. Funding was difficult to find, and another bridge was receiving most of the attention — the Brooklyn Bridge. The company even began construction of towers on the west side, but the project was aborted when funds were depleted. However, adequate funding eventually was secured, and the bridge completed in 1909. On opening day, Dr. Thomas Rainey crossed the bridge with New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes. Rainey received a gold medal inscribed: “Father of the Bridge.” That day Rainey told the New York Times:
“This is my bridge. At least it is the child of my thought, of my long years of arduous toil and sacrifice. Just over there, are the old towers of my bridge, which I began to build many years ago. I spent all I owned on the project . . . It is a grand bridge, much greater than the one I had in mind. It will be in service to thousands in the years to come, when Dr. Rainey and his bridge projects will long have been gathered into the archives of the past.”
Although the structure was named the Queensboro Bridge, Rainey’s contribution was not forgotten. On April 18, 1904, the City of New York acquired several acres of waterfront property through condemnation procedures. The concrete sea wall, built where the park meets the East River, was completed in 1912, by which time Rainey had passed away. To honor his public spirit, the city named the property Rainey Park.
See also — 1852: Thomas Rainey to Sister
November 16, 1856
My dear Jasmine,
I have been to New Orleans since I last wrote you. Arriving on Wednesday, I remained until Saturday afternoon. I had intended leaving for Aberdeen & Athens this morning, but was not awaked in time. I go tomorrow.
Yesterday I went to church & dined with Mr. & Mrs. [Charles Denston] Dickey. Mrs. Dickey’s mother, Mrs. [Mary] Witherspoon, was a sister [in-law] of Gov. [William Alexander] Graham of your state [North Carolina].¹ Mr. Dickey is the agent of Brown Brothers & Co., New York. He introduced me to Judge [Arthur Francis] Hopkins, President of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. He is a native of the country near Danville.
This is a pretty little city, [population] 35,000, & is very active commercially. The exports of cotton are immense. No sugar, rice, or molasses. It is high & dry, wholly unlike New Orleans & has some beautiful roads made of small seashells which [with] lime, easily cement into a white & hard mass, being very smooth, form, & free from dust, but disagreeable in making a loud, roaring noise.
Octavia Walton Le Vert (1833)
This place is the residue of the celebrated Madame [Octavia Walton] Le Vert. It is said that she was never known to say any harm of anyone. When she gives a party, she has hundreds — a thing scarcely possible in the higher & more exclusive society to the _______ most judicious ordinarily. Yet she is not very intimate with anyone. This is in addition to “bridling her tongue” — the great secret of her success.²
I shall be able to get home as I return. My duties are imperative. It was my wish to stop at Richmond but I am unable. I go from Charleston to Savannah when I take the steamer home. My best love to all the family.
Your devoted brother, — T. Rainey
In New Orleans I saw cousin Ann Eliza Massey. She had her brother James Rainey with her; & I saw also the widow of her older brother, Thomas William Rainey. She has come to New Orleans to educate her children.
My business here is procuring petitions from commercial men to Congress in behalf of our South American & West India Steamship Line.³ I have succeeded admirably. You will doubtless receive the “Baltimore” & “Picayune” which I send you. Be a dear good girl & let me hear from you next at New York. — T. R.
¹Charles Denston Dickey married Mary Witherspoon in 1850. She was the daughter of Dr. John Witherspoon of Greensboro, Alabama. Sophia Graham Witherspoon (1791-1865), an older sister of North Carolina Governor Graham, was the widow of Dr. John Ramsay Witherspoon (1774-1852). The Witherspoons lived at Brookland, their plantation near Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama.
²Octavia Walton (1811-1877) moved with her family from Georgia to Mobile in 1835 where she met Dr. Henry Strachey Le Vert and married the following year. The Le Verts settled into a large circa 1827 home, expanding it into a mansion in 1847. It was located at the corner of St. Emanuel and Government streets in Mobile. Here she excelled as wife, mother, hostess, and manager of the household. By the mid-1840’s, Octavia — known more commonly as Madame Le Vert — began hosting lavish parties at her home for Mobile society and encouraging the development of music and the arts in the city. During this time she entertained at her home the likes of Frederika Bremer, James Buchanan, Joseph Jefferson, Lajos Kossuth, and Alexander H. Stephens. Her literary correspondents included Edwin Booth, Edward Everett, Millard Fillmore, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She was Buchanan’s special guest at a ball in honor of the Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.
³Thomas’ proposal to Congress was to establish a mail route between the United States and Brazil. The gist of his proposal reads as follows:
“A highly important steam enterprise is in contemplation. Several leading capitalists have submitted a Memorial to Congress in which they ask for a contract to carry the mails of the United States between New York, Barbadoes, Demar__ and Para. The steamships are to be of the first class, ranging from 1200 to 1600 tons burthen; and the projector is Dr. Thomas Rainey, who has given much attention to the subject. The line will connect at St. Thomas, directly with the numerous steam communications, by which Europe has established easy intercourse with the West Indies, and all the Southern and Eastern countries of South America. Under existing circumstances, letters and travellers for the Brazils, the Spanish Main, and most of the West Indies, go by the way of Europe, subject to great delays and heavy charges. This difficulty of communication gives to British merchants immense advantages over Americans in the whole commerce of these regions, which is very great. With the establishment of these British lines of steamers, the American share of the trade has been, over this immense field. to a great degree transferred into British vessels…. Our commerce with Brazil, with all these obstructions, is nevertheless estimated at nineteen millions annually. With facilities for speedy and direct intercommunication by steam, it might be doubled in a few years….” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 31 December 1856]
Source: Source: Spared and Shared 11: Saving One Letter at a Time (1856: Thomas Rainey to Sister (posted on June 16, 2016 by Griff)[Accessed 18 June 2016. Website