Building ace helped shape N.Y.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The New York subway system, nearing its centenary in 2004, shares a historic connection with Col. Lawrence B. McCabe, a Baltimorean who was hailed as one of the leading railroad, bridge and tunnel builders of his time, and who is remembered (if at all) as a Govans street name.

McCabe Avenue is named for the 19th-century builder of the North Avenue and St. Paul Street bridges, the water tunnel from Loch Raven to Montebello and the B&O; Railroad's belt line tunnel under Howard Street. McCabe also built the first tunnels of Manhattan's Interborough Rapid Transit System, which opened to the public in 1904.

Most motorists are probably unaware of the tiny street that extends east from York Road - where the colonel's white-columned mansion, "Linden," still stands - to Midwood Avenue. Through the years, McCabe's former home has survived as a funeral home and currently houses several businesses, including several computer start-up companies.

McCabe erected the distinctive-looking mansion, constructed of white sandstone quarried from Beaver Dam in Baltimore County, between 1868 and 1873. The home took its name from the linden trees that once surrounded it.

Born in 1847 in Havre de Grace of Irish immigrant parents, McCabe was one of the first students to graduate with a civil engineering degree from Lehigh University.

After working with his uncle in the general railroad contracting business for several years, he formed a partnership, L.B. McCabe & Bro., with his older brother, James.

After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in Philadelphia, James McCabe worked in the West surveying railroads and fighting Indians with Buffalo Bill, until establishing McCabe Brothers, which became the largest railroad and city contractor in Maryland at the time.

The IRT project in New York reunited the McCabe Brothers with John B. McDonald, a New Yorker, who in 1890 also worked on the construction of B&O;'s belt line extension and Howard Street Tunnel beneath Baltimore.

"McDonald knew how to manage his laborers and how to finish jobs on time and on budget," wrote Clifton Hood in his book, "722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York," published in 1993 by Simon & Schuster.

"In addition, he had two special qualifications for the subway project. First, he had recently completed the first major underground electric railroad ever constructed in the Western Hemisphere, an 1894 tunnel that carried the main line of the B&O; Railroad under Baltimore." He also "enjoyed a warm relationship with Tammany Hall," Hood wrote, referring to the notorious New York patronage system of that day.

Of the McCabe Brothers, an 1897 profile in "The Genealogy and Biography of Leading Families of the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Maryland" stated: "Their work will stand for years as monuments of their efficiency. Not only have they had important contracts in this state, but throughout the east and south as well.

"By their efficient business management and sagacity they have established a reputation as reliable, honest and capable business men, and their large success is well deserved," concluded the profile.

Legend has it that Lawrence McCabe lost his fortune building the Holland Tunnel beneath the Hudson River, forcing him to abandon his mansion home and take up residence across York Road in a cottage he shared with a daughter.

McCabe died in 1921; the Holland Tunnel did not open for vehicular traffic until 1927. There also is no mention of his association with the tunnel project in his obituary published in The Sun.

At his death, a Mass of Christian burial was offered for McCabe at St. Mary's of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, not far from his former mansion.

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