Today, the Morgan Silver Dollar Coin remembers when the locomotives began moving the large Brighton Beach Hotel on April 3, 1888.
A description of moving the Brighton Beach Hotel found in an article by James Walter Smith entitled How Buildings Are Moved in the Strand Magazine of June 1897:
A more remarkable feat—one which may be said to mark an epoch in the history of American house moving — was the removal of the Brighton Beach Hotel in 1888.
The hotel was raised from its foundations, placed on flat trucks, and by means of locomotives hauled one tenth of a mile back from the sea.
The hotel was first opened to the public in July, 1878. It stood 600 ft. away from the water, but it was soon threatened by the encroaching Atlantic, which gradually washed its way under two-thirds of the hotel.
The total loss of the structure was predicted.
It was first thought possible to move the building back, but its enormous length of 460 ft., its five large towers six and seven stories high, and its weight of 5,000 tons, strongly pointed to a failure.
A contract to move the hotel was, however, soon signed, and on April 3rd, 1888, Messrs. B. C. Miller and Son had the huge building ready to start.
The hotel had been raised, twenty-four lines of rails had been placed under it, and upon the rails rested 112 flat trucks.
The arrangement of these trucks, or cars, is shown in the illustrations.
Huge timbers were then laid from end to end of each line of trucks, and upon these timbers transverse beams were stretched.
It was carefully arranged that no part of this platform of timber could be moved unless the movement was common to the whole.
The locomotives were on two lines, or tracks, three on each line, and the cables attached to the hotel extended from the locomotives like the ribs of a fan.
To witness the moving of this immense structure, crowds of people came from the neighboring cities, and great enthusiasm reigned.
Nothing like it had ever been known before in the United States, and when the engines were ready to start, the excitement was at its highest point.
Mr. Miller gave the signal to start, and, in the glowing words of a Metropolitan reporter, “simultaneously six throttles were thrown open—first gradually, then to their full. The music of the guy-ropes and tackle was weird and Wagnerian; then the tug of war began.
“Panting and puffing, the iron horses strained every fiber of their mechanical muscle. For a moment, and a moment only, they tugged in vain; their immense drive-wheels revolved with perceptible swiftness; then, as if with a mighty effort, they forged ahead. Slowly, but surely, the mammoth structure followed.
“The puzzling problem as to what was to be the fate of Brighton Beach Hotel had been solved. Shouts of joyous approval and triumph arose from the small army of work men and spectators, which were caught up and echoed by six brazen throats in shrill and prolonged blasts.”
A second description provided additional detail and came from a British point of view in the Boy’s Own Paper, November 30, 1889:
A greater task than the above has, however, been accomplished by Mr. Benjamin C. Miller, of Brooklyn, who in 1888 moved the Brighton Beach Hotel, on Coney Island, New York, back from the encroaching ocean.
This is indeed the greatest “house moving” undertaking ever accomplished, and we shall briefly describe and illustrate this remarkable undertaking.
The Brighton Beach Hotel was built by the Brooklyn and Brighton Beach Railway Company, and was first opened in July, 1874.
It was then six thousand feet beyond high water mark, but the Atlantic Ocean so encroached upon it in later years that its destruction was inevitable unless it could be removed.
The building was of great magnitude, being 460 feet long, 210 feet wide, and three to four stories high, its four towers being higher still. The weight of the structure was about 5,000 tons. The furniture, utensils, and crockery were not disturbed during the removal.
The first thing done was to so work under the hotel as to eventually lift the whole gigantic structure upon a great number of hydraulic jacks, each capable of bearing from 60 to 90 tons.
The ground under the hotel and far inland was then sufficiently, leveled, and laid with twenty-four double lines of railway tracks.
The Iron Railway Car Company of New York built 112 iron railway cars or trucks, each of great length as compared with English railway trucks, and these were placed upon the tracks, forming, side by side, twenty-four trains of four or five cars each.
These trains were all run in under the great hotel. The trains were then all connected with each other by great beams placed across the cars and fastened together; and, across these, other beams were placed transversely until they formed a skeleton platform weighing 600,000 pounds.
The hydraulic jacks, upon which the hotel was propped, were then slowly reversed, and the building was gently lowered till it rested upon the monster platform thus constructed upon the cars.
The next thing to look to was the moving power. Upon one track they laced three powerful locomotive engines linked together, and three more were similarly placed on another track.
Ropes, from twelve of the trains of cars, were hitched to the hindmost engines, which stood 160 feet ahead of the hotel.
The rope used was only 1.5 inches thick, but it was a specially made Manilla rope, was two miles long, and weighed about 4,000 pounds.
Some of the rope lengths were straight with the engines, while those reaching from other cars were placed diagonally, and were, therefore, longer, and it required the nicest calculation to so allow for the variable stretching of these varying lengths as to make the strain of each exact equal when the force should be applied.
The ropes had to run through an elaborate system of pulley blocks, so arranged that the engines must move six feet to move the hotel one foot.
And so, on April 3rd, 1888, amidst a concourse of thousands of people, at 9.15 am. the signal was given, and the six throttles of the locomotive engines were thrown open, first gradually, and then to the full.
The ropes glided through the pulleys, drew taut, and quivered with the strain.
Amidst the breathless suspense of the multitude the engines’ wheels began to move, spun round upon the track, and then, catching hold, they gradually forged ahead; and as the great building was seen to grudgingly, yet perforce, yield to the strain, and slowly move from its location, a mighty cheer rose from the spectators, and was joined in by the discordant shrieks of the steam whistles of the six locomotives, whose deafening screams of triumph told of another victory of mind over matter.
As the “New York Star” said next day: “The big hotel moved; the engines went forty feet, the hotel moved six feet six inches, and it did not tremble. The experiment had succeeded; the problem of railroading hotels was settled!”
A halt was now made for inspection, but everything was proved to be in good order.
The hotel had moved evenly; not a mirror was broken, nor a plaster ceiling cracked.
So the journey was resumed, and by the close of the day the hotel had been carried 117 feet inland.
Day after day the ropes and pulleys were suitably re-adjusted, and progress was made till the whole journey of 595 feet was accomplished.
Then the hotel was again lifted upon jacks; the cars were run from under to do future service as freight trucks; a new foundation was built under the great edifice, and on June 29th of the same year the Brighton Beach Hotel was once more thrown open to receive the thousands of guests who make it their home during the seaside season at Coney Island.
The enterprise shown by Mr. B. C. Miller—who is a level-headed temperance man, being treasurer of the Good Templar Grand Lodge of New York—in accepting such a contract, and the ability displayed in carrying it out, were thus fitly rewarded by a success which makes us wonder what our American cousins will next place among the possibilities of the age.
The Morgan Silver Dollar Coin shows with several images showing the work of moving the Brighton Beach Hotel in 1888.