The New York and Harlem Railroad Company was incorporated on this date in 1831. A wealthy banker named John Mason co-founded the company. It was one of the first railroads in the country, and the first streetcar railway in the world.
The first section of the railroad opened in 1832. It ran for a mile, along Bowery from Prince Street to 14th Street, and over the next five years the line was extended in sections up to Harlem. It was powered by literal horsepower in the beginning; the teams of horses had to work very hard to pull the heavy streetcars, and usually only lived for a couple of years. Many people were concerned for their welfare. Groups formed to make sure that the horses were given ample water throughout the day, and in 1866, New York officials granted a charter to an animal welfare association called the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — the ASPCA — to protect the horses and establish a horse ambulance. In 1837, steam engines took over part of the route, but they were only allowed in the less populated parts of the city. At that time, that was anything north of 23rd Street. Horsecars were still used for public transit in some parts of New York City until the early 1900s.
The New York and Harlem Railroad is now part of the Metro-North commuter rail system’s Harlem line, and it runs all the way up through Harlem into Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties.