S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse

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A large, open room filled with wooden support beams, top floor

The S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse was built in 1886 on the shores of Brooklyn’s vile Gowanus Canal. It stored grain and animal feed, both which were valuable commodities in a time when horses were used for everything from pulling the carriages of the elite and wealthy to plowing the fields of the farms still prevalent in the outer boroughs. The company’s fortunes were directly tied to grain,and when cars replaced horses on the city streets, the storehouse was forced to become a general warehouse, until it was finally abandoned sometime around the 1960’s.

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The very top of the factory. Those flimsy boards are the only things between an explorer and a 2 story fall.

S.W.Bowne, the storehouse’s owner, was not the standard rich person of his day. Instead of sitting in a comfortable office lavishing in his own wealth, he spent his time in the storehouse, doing manual labor alongside his workers. One day, while helping his workers carry lumber, his foot broke through the floor and was caught in a machine, which tore apart his leg. After the amputation that followed, Bowne was forced to sue for worker’s compensation, which was contested by his board of directors. He won, however, when the NY Appeals Court ruled that while Bowne was the owner of the company, he was also a working employee, and was therefor entitled to worker’s comp.

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Wooden beams and floors still stand strong after almost 150 years

While Red Hook is filled with abandoned warehouses, the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is uniquely significant. Most abandoned industrial buildings, even ones older than this, are filled with modern equipment and have often been renovated or added to in more (relatively) recent times. This storehouse, however, looks pretty much the same as it did in the 1880’s, inside and out. Nothing has been added to it. The original wood floors were never done away with in favor of concrete. This old building may be the best look into industrial history you can still visit today.

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Before newfangled elevators were invented, pulleys like this were used to hoist heavy goods into the upper floors of factories and warehouses. This very obsolete piece of equipment still stands tall over the canal.

Wood floors are usually very unsafe for urban explorers. Wood floors that have not been maintained since the 1960’s have usually long since collapsed. However, bags of grain are very heavy, so the floors of the storehouse were built STRONG. In most places the wood floors still feel as solid as concrete. Time and the elements have created some weakness though, especially under the small collapse in the roof. On the top floor, you can still see two holes, one where an explorer fell through, and one where his friend fell through trying to help him. Watch your step, look out for water damage and stay safe.

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Signs in English, Italian and Yiddish can be found in the storehouse, giving a glimpse into who worked here long ago.
*Update: This is a no smoking sign written in Yiddish- thank you to Joseph Alexiou for the translation!

Due to ease of access, the storehouse has a lot of graffiti, a lot of which is beautiful and well done.

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Third floor, with pillars marked west and east. Notice how well supported the roof is.

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Factory door

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The first floor

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The storehouse from outside

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An industrial sunset

Next to the storehouse are two huge, empty warehouses. Getting in is easy, and there isn’t much inside, so the urban explorer would probably take little interest. However, they are filled with graffiti, so if that’s your thing stop by and check it out.

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The warehouses near the storehouse are huge but empty

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This one has an old boat out front for some reason

Substation No. 3

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Substation No. 3 is one abandoned building that has truly been forgotten. While many abandoned places have names and extensive histories already written about them, substation no. 3 boasts no fame, recognition, or even acknowledgment. Even finding the name “Substation No. 3” required 2 days of research, finally turning up one old photo with “substation no3 at Kingsbridge NY” scrawled in pen on the bottom. While other Bronx substations such as Substation No. 10 have been noticed, explored, and even redeveloped, substation no. 3 still sits forgotten in a small lot next to the Merto-North tracks and Bronx River.

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Inside Substation No. 3

There were multiple of these substations, or converter stations, built around the city in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s as the city’s transit system started to grow. Their main purpose was to convert the AC power from power plants into the DC power that the trains needed to run on, which is what happened in the massive rotary converters that can be seen in these photos. The rotary converters were difficult and costly to run, requiring constant maintenance and supervision by a team of workers on station 24/7. Eventually, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the rotary converter was rendered obsolete by new technology that could do the same thing with almost no moving parts and no personal. The substations were obsolete, and were demolished or abandoned.

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A rotary converter

The main room of Substation No. 3 is large and open, with two massive skylights letting in the light and now the elements. Other than the rotary converters, there are massive control boards covered in buttons and levers.

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Mad scientist looking electrical controls

There is a small door right next to the entrance to the substation. Going into it leads you to a couple of storage bays, dark, dirty, and completely filled with debris. Having no respirator, i chose not to stay in these rooms for long.

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The gloomy and dark storerooms

The way into Substation No. 3 is huge, exposed, and obvious, although it does require a climb to get into and a jump to get down from. As far as i could tell, this is the only practical way in and out.

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Looking at the entry point from the catwalk on the other side of the substation

The massive skylights on the roof both let in light and the elements, causing the deterioration of the substation’s machinery and floor.

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One of the massive skylights

The grounds of Substation No. 3 are still used as a parking lot/storage area by the MTA. Be weary, as there may be security on site.

The McMyler Coal Unloader

The early 1900s, the sheer amount of coal needed for industry and other applications around the NYC and NJ area got inventors and industrialists thinking. Supplying the area with coal was no easy task, as it had to be unloaded from train cars and reloaded into barges, which would sail for wherever the coal was needed. Eventually, someone got to thinking about how to make this process faster and easier, and in 1917, the McMyler Coal Unloader was built on the shores of Arthur Kill in NJ. The way that this coal unloader went about its job was extraordinary: a loaded train car would be lifted into the air and flipped over, dumping the coal into a funnel, which would pour it into a waiting barge. It was only operated by 12 men, and could unload a railway car every 2.5 minutes. The Unloader was so efficient and timely that all other coal unloaders in the area were shut down. The McMyler Coal Unloader continued to faithfully supply coal to the industries of the NY/NJ area until its closure in 1983. Now its rusty hulk still stands tall, way out on the end of a crumbling concrete pier. 

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It was a long walk down the pier where the Coal Unloader stands. I finally reached the base of the towering structure, unstuck the thorny vines from my pants, and entered the machine room.

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Huge machines inside the heart of the McMyler Coal Unloader

The machine room’s floor was covered with coal dust and flakes of rusty metal. There were multiple massive wheels, which i believe turned to pull the train car up and dump it out. It’s hard to imagine the amount of power and the sheer size and strength of machines needed to lift a train car off the ground. The machine room was lacking any kind of controls, and the stairs to the operator’s box had been removed.

DSC_0490The Machine Room from outside

Sadly, even though this structure was built to last, strong winds from the multiple hurricanes that have hit the northeast recently have caused multiple parts of the loader to collapse. I can only hope that someone with the know-how and funding can save this piece of America’s industrial history before it collapses into Arthur Kill. 

DSC_0509  The funnel that dumped coal into barges has collapsed