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Musings on Station Names Train History

You would think that the naming of a train station would be a rather simple and straightforward process… alas this seems to be far from true. If history has shown us anything, station namings (and even renamings) can turn out to be a political or even touchy subject – just ask all the Connecticut commuters that voted for their new Metro-North station to be called Black Rock instead of Fairfield Metro, and were denied (and less than thrilled). But the more interesting thing, to me at least, is how history plays a significant part in many of these names – especially in the most clunky.


Months before even being scheduled to open, Fairfield Metro was already covered in graffiti, perhaps by citizens unhappy about the name ;) [image credit]

It isn’t too hard to find a few awkward names along Metro-North’s tracks – just note the Port Jervis Line, which has the honor of having stations with the two longest names in the system. Looking back at the history of the line, the main portion of rail which went through the busy centers of the local towns was abandoned in favor of a roundabout ride through the sticks previously used only for freight. Middletown, which previously had a station, was left without one. As to not forget the passengers it once served, a station was established on the new rail line and was called Middletown, despite it actually being in the town of Walkill. Thus the station was dubbed Middletown – Town of Wallkill. Salisbury Mills – Cornwall follows a similar convention, being located in Cornwall, but a (far older) station had once been historically located in Salisbury Mills.

Wingdale / State Hospital
State Hospital and Wingdale stations were combined to create Harlem Valley – Wingdale.

Mashup station names aren’t exclusive to the west side of the Hudson – one is located right on the Harlem Line. Harlem Valley – Wingdale is a combination of two former station names, both long closed. The Harlem Division once had two different stations in Wingdale – one for the Harlem Valley State Hospital, which went by State Hospital for short, and one just called Wingdale. In 1977 the two stations were consolidated, and given the name Harlem Valley – Wingdale to represent the two. If any station is deserving a name update, it would certainly be this one. With our increasing dependence on technology for train information, and Metro-North’s lack of naming consistency, finding information about this station can be a pain. While sales/ticketing seems to prefer Harlem Valley W’dale, Customer Service’s preferred abbreviation is Hm Valley Wingdale – causing digital havoc. For almost two entire years riders could not access mobile train information for the station unless they knew the magic “hm” abbreviation, which of course, nobody ever mentioned (after moving to the area I complained about it several times… the bug has since been quietly fixed at some point within the past few months). Despite the history attached to the name, isn’t it about time we end the difficulty and just call the station Wingdale again?

While politics likely played a role in the aforementioned naming of Fairfield Metro over the public chosen Blackrock, it was certainly the case in the renaming of a station in New York. In the early 2000s the town of Southeast petitioned Metro-North to change the name of Brewster North station. Southeast had been founded in the late 1700s, but most people knew nothing of it – only of Brewster, one of its villages, because of the train station. That station was established in 1849, when James and Walter Brewster invited the New York and Harlem Railroad to build a station on some land they had recently acquired. From then on the area became known as Brewster’s, and later just Brewster. In the late 1970′s a new station on the Harlem Line was established to provide ample commuter parking, and named Brewster North – much to the chagrin of the town. The railroad had dictated the geography of their town once, and they weren’t about to let it happen again – hence the request for Metro-North to change the name to Southeast.

Southeast, Brewster North
Brewster North was changed to Southeast at the request of the town.

The official statement will always be that the change from Brewster North to Southeast was to eliminate confusion between that station and Brewster village, but considering that ticket machines still list it (ten years after the fact) as Southeast (Brewster North) just seems to make it more confusing (and quite a mouthful). If the names are really so confusing, why don’t we also change other potentially confusing names? Maybe White Plains and North White Plains (NWP would have an obvious other name – Holland Avenue, which was formerly used as a platform for changing trains when there was no electric further north)? Or East Norwalk and South Norwalk? Maybe Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West (which historically were never problematic, as they were on two different railroads)? Explaining the true motivation rather succinctly, a town of Southeast employee stated: “I wear a name tag that indicates I am town clerk of the Town of Southeast. Nobody ever recognizes it. Perhaps, now they will.”

Sometimes station renamings are subtle. I first became interested in station, and local area names several years ago when I moved to Goldens Bridge. Or is it Golden’s Bridge? At the time I had no idea investigating a mere apostrophe would open Pandora’s box. Unlike other station names like Hartsdale, Brewster, Wingdale, and Millerton – which can all be directly attributed to the name of a specific person – nobody really knows the true origin of Goldens Bridge. Old railroad maps, and even transcripts from the New York state senate have used the alternate Golding’s Bridge. Despite the sketchy details, we know it was named for a man, and a bridge he likely owned. Wherever the namesake bridge once was, the spot is likely flooded by the reservoir today. The man for which it was named remains even more of a mystery. According to Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl, his name may not have even been Golden, “the bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names.” Either way, the preferred name today is Goldens Bridge – without the apostrophe. Metro-North quietly omitted that little piece of punctuation from signage in 2003. I’m still waiting for them to come and retire the apostrophe in Purdy’s.

So why all this talk of names? I happened to catch an article this weekend regarding some folks in the Bronx already disgruntled with the name of their new Metro-North station – a station that is only in the earliest planning stages (and not even guaranteed to be built). Fortunately for us, the citizens say that they are open to compromise, “we’re okay with sharing the name, we just want to make sure it’s in there.” That can mean only one thing – get ready for a nice, long, hyphenated name. Perhaps it will even be able to compete with Middletown – Town of Wallkill!

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Comments
  • TJ:

    Speaking of odd station names, there is a Country Life Press station stop on the LIRR.

  • Michael Napolitano:

    Named for the Doubleday Publishing Company’s facility which it served, the “Country Life Press.” Wonder how many other stations were named for businesses they served. Can think of at least two more on the LIRR, now gone, Grumman and Republic.

    • The only one I can think of on Metro-North is Merritt 7, named for a corporate park. Technically Fairfield Metro is too, Fairfield Metro Center has some pretty renderings, but really isn’t much yet. The station was the first part to actually be completed. That is probably one reason why the opinion of the citizens didn’t have much weight. Money talks :P

    • Lee Winson:

      NJ Transit has a station named for a nearby college, Montclair State University.

  • Backshophoss:

    Van Nest was the location of New Haven’s Electric Shops where all of
    New Haven’s electric locos and MU’s were maintained and likely all of
    NY,W&B’s MU’s were maintained there as well.
    Van Nest Shops were closed by the NHRR to save money due to
    Mangement changes/Bankruptcy.
    The nearby freight yard of Oak Point dates back to the New Haven RR,
    NY Central’s Port Morris yard was shut down by PC and all NY City and LIRR
    bound freight was rerouted to Oak Point,ConRail,and now CSX use
    Oak Point yard.

    • Right, so it is kinda cool that the Van Nest people want to get their name in there… perhaps it will end up being Parkchester – Van Nest. Provided nobody ELSE is disgruntled about the name.

  • T Man:

    Sleepy Hollow/Philipse Manor also have an unusual naming lineage.

  • 1) I didn’t know that schedules had mention of Brewster North as early as 1979? I thought that Brewster North did not exist until 1980 or ’81.
    2) A more appropriate name for the above station would have been North Brewster, as it would have been proper with naming convention (e.g. North White Plains) and there’s a few instances of the use of “North Brewster”, so it wouldn’t be taboo.
    3) I didn’t know about the “Hm” bug. Interesting!

  • South East is a legal jurisdiction established in Dutchefs County in the colonial era, and it persisted into U.S. administration when the eastern half of Dutchefs became Putnam County.

    Perhaps the best corporate station name is Mars on the Metra’s Milwaukee District West. It’s named for the nearby candy company, not the planet.

  • Lee Winson:

    SEPTA has a station on its Doylestown line named “Link Belt”, for a nearby company.

  • I hadn’t thought Mt. Vernon “East” was correct; I thought it was just Mount Vernon. However, I took a look at the map and sure enough “East” is there. I wonder if the station signage reflects “East” or “West” on either line. I just never recall “East”. Perhaps I should check your tour.

    I still refer to it as Brewster North. I’m stubborn. Definitely agree on “Wingdale”. Wasn’t that “State School” once? There’s Metropark on New Jersey Transit similar to Fairfield Metro, and West Haven will soon be joining the mix (chosen as a new station over another location, Orange).

    As for Golden’s Bridge, think if the “around the horn” Put service had survived. We’d be arguing over how to pronounce Mahopac (mah-HO-pac or MAH-oh-pac). Then there’s Bethpage on the LIRR, which seems to emphasize the BETH.

    • You’re totally right about the Mahopac thing ;)

    • Backshophoss:

      Jeff,Believe Mt Vernon West/Mt Vernon East was a creation of Penn Central’s,
      after the “shotgun” wedding of the New Haven RR into PC. Before that merger,
      Mt Vernon had 2 seperate RRs serving the town in seperate stations.
      Believe the state wanted the station name changed from “State Hospital” to
      “Harlem Valley” after the state renamed the facilty next to the station.
      Wingdale(mp69.73) was about 1/2 mile north of “State Hospital”(mp69.10)
      Still think of Southeast as Brewster North or “B” North Between the CP’s
      “Park” and “Ride”.
      LIRR brought back Alantic Terminal,was and still called “Flatbush Ave.”

  • Dave:

    I’ve always pronounced it MAYO-pac. Is that not right?

    • I’ve always said it that way too, but there are some that are quite fervent about pronouncing the “ho” part. Joe Schiavone, the guy that wrote the books on the Putnam Division, is one of them. If you were to go on any of his Put walking tours, he’d make sure you know it is Ma-HO-pac. :P

  • Walter:

    Wow, no mention yet of Westport’s former dual name, Westport & Saugatuck, going back to the New Haven Railroad days. It’s even mentioned numerous times in the “Next Stop, Willhoughby” Twilight Zone under it’s original name.

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