It seems that everyone today has a GPS navigator in their car. They’re wonderful little devices (in the hands of someone that isn’t an idiot), but they really make you wonder how in the heck anyone got around in the olden days, before GPSes. In fact, even the days before the GPS, where you’d type in your destination in MapQuest and you could print out instructions, seems dreadfully archaic. And even more so, on the road yesterday I saw a woman pulled over to the side consulting a map!
Back in 1907, as is quite obvious, there were no GPSes, thus people had to rely on maps and booklets, like the one I am about to post, to find their way around. But Emily, you say, a historic guide on how to navigate by car from New York City to Poughkeepsie has absolutely nothing to do with trains! Albeit true, the guide is nonetheless has a cursory relation to trains, in that it offers you a glimpse into the mindset of travel in the early 1900’s. Roads, quite frankly, are something we all take for granted (you didn’t build that!). Prior to World War Two, the roads in this country (especially for long distance and intercity) were hardly spectacular. That was certainly a factor in the popularity of railroads at the time. It wasn’t until cars became more common, and roads became far better, that trains lost their status as our preferred mode of transportation.
In all honesty, I never knew that booklets like this – showing turn by turn photographic instructions on where to drive – actually existed until I had discovered this. Since we’ve been covering the Hudson Line the past few months, I figured it was somewhat relevant, as this journey by car parallels both the Hudson River and the railroad, traveling from New York to Poughkeepsie. In some of the turn by turn photographs you can even see what are likely trolley tracks, something you definitely won’t see today. At minimum, it is an interesting look into the past!
What a quaint little drive you just enjoyed! Of course, the fun part is trying to find what each of those places looks like today. Here’s one comparison:
Postcard views of Tuxedo, from the collection of Steve Swirsky.
While taking a ride on the Port Jervis Line, you will travel through Metro-North’s most rural territory. Although the trees and greenery along the route can be quite scenic, the stations along the line are rather rudimentary, bare-bones facilities. The only exception to that is Tuxedo – today’s stop on our tour of the Port Jervis Line. Tuxedo is the only station on the line that has its historical station building still standing, and at the same site of the current station (Metro-North’s Port Jervis station was relocated, about two-tenths of a mile past the original station). For this reason, you could probably say that Tuxedo is the nicest station on the Port Jervis Line. Though the building is owned by the town and is no longer used for any railroad-related purpose, it is a gorgeous old station that certainly gives the place a little character – something that is really absent at other Port Jervis stations.
(left) Early 1900’s view of Tuxedo, (right) Tuxedo in 1968
Tuxedo Park – the village where the station is located – is a nice little area with a bit of history behind it. Originally founded as a resort community for the rich, Tuxedo Park was conceived by Pierre Lorillard IV and designed by architect Bruce Price. Work commenced on this planned village in 1885 and took eight months, with the labor of 1800 men. As we’ve seen in many of the places we’ve visited, the placement of Tuxedo was deliberate and influenced by the railroad. Founder Lorillard hoped to create an exclusive community, attracting the well-to-do businessmen and socialites of New York City. The fact that Tuxedo was linked by the Erie Railroad to the city, in about an hour’s time, was certainly an important factor.
Though certainly known today for its charm as a beautiful community, Tuxedo does have a few claims-to-fame. One could consider it the “birthplace” for American etiquette, as author, socialite, and Tuxedo resident Emily Post (daughter of architect Bruce Price) wrote several bestselling books on proper etiquette. And although the origins of the term are not entirely agreed upon, the word tuxedo (as in men’s formal attire) perhaps originated here, a name that derived from the clothing men would wear to the Tuxedo Club.
Although the architect for the station in Tuxedo is not definitively known, it is assumed to be designed by Tuxedo’s architect Bruce Price. The Tuxedo Club, as well as twenty-six residences in the village were all designed by Price. In order to lend an air of exclusivity, the community was gated, and included a large stone entrance-way, also designed by Price. Although Tuxedo is certainly one of Price’s notable works, his most well-known achievement was the American Surety Building, one of Manhattan’s earliest skyscrapers. Price also did work for various railroads, including the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Photographs of a train crash at Tuxedo in 1951. According to one Tuxedo Park resident, one of the freight cars was filled with oranges that spilled all over – many young children at the time collected these oranges and brought them home. Photo from the collection of the Tuxedo Park Library.
When I visited Tuxedo, I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of the inside, as a fairly raucous party was going on (and getting rid of the tipsy party goers on the outside was a chore as well). Although it made photo-taking difficult, in a way I have to think it is pretty wonderful. In 2009, at the cost of about a million dollars, the town restored the 1885 Tuxedo station. The building truly belongs to the community, as it is available for use by scout groups, or even to rent out for parties (and who wouldn’t want to get tipsy at Tuxedo?). Over the years the station sported various color schemes – for a time it was even white with brown trim – but during the restoration the goal was to make the station look as it did when it was first built. Some of the details, like the stained glass, are historians’ best guesses – either way, they look great. Not only is the station on the National Register of Historic Places, the village of Tuxedo Park is as well.
Timetable and ticket for Tuxedo. From the collection of Otto Vondrak.
The Metro-North portion of Tuxedo station is not much compared to the grandeur of the historical building, but it includes a low-level platform, a small shelter, and a canopy covering a portion of the platform. Some of the benches on the platform have likely been there for quite a while, as they are still labeled “Erie.”
Tuxedo is 37 miles from Hoboken, which takes about an hour or more by train. A commute to Penn Station (with a transfer at Secaucus) takes about an hour to an hour and a half.
After Tuxedo we head further north, towards Harriman. It is just ahead where the rail line diverged – branching off from the Erie main line was the Graham Line. As mentioned before, that original route was abandoned in favor of the Graham Line. Harriman had a station on the main line, but after that abandonment Metro-North built a new station on the other – it is there we will visit next week.
Dear readers, I am certain you are all acquainted with my terrible eBay habit. Lots of the old timetables, photos, and postcards find their way onto this site at some point in time. I must admit though, I love old things. Specifically, old paper things. Maybe it is because I am a graphic designer, and I love looking at old printed art, especially on pre-1900’s timetables and books. Though it is also possible that I’m just a nutjob destined to be one day featured on the show Hoarders. Either way, today I do want to share with you all my most recent acquisition, which is a little bit different than most things I come across on eBay.
If you’ve ever taken the Harlem Line north of White Plains, and past Valhalla, you are most likely familiar with the large cemetery that dominates the view in between stations. Kensico Cemetery shares a nearly mile-long border with the railroad, and astute observers can glimpse the main cemetery office, which once served as a railroad station, on the west side of the tracks. The choice of location of the cemetery isn’t hard to figure out – it offered both a beautifully rural final resting place, and was easily accessible from the city by the railroad. In fact, on the cemetery’s Board of Directors was Chauncey Mitchell Depew, whose name might be familiar, as I posted about him in April. He got his start as the legal counsel for the New York and Harlem Railroad under Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and eventually worked his way up to the presidency of the New York Central – conveniently the railroad running right alongside the cemetery. Not only did the cemetery have its own private railroad station, it also had a private railcar named Kensico which could be rented for funerals. In 1910, the rental price for a locomotive with the railcar Kensico attached was $60.00, which today seems like a paltry sum.
All of these things I’ve discovered about the Kensico Cemetery were gleaned from a little hand-bound booklet printed in 1910, titled “Views in the Kensico Cemetery.” I bought the thing just for the single photo of Kensico station, and after flipping through it, I’m glad I did. I love it for the silliest reason, too – at the time of printing, the United States used three-digit phone numbers. There are plenty of things that I don’t really think about, and anything but seven-digit phone numbers are one of them (despite the fact that I know Brazil uses eight digits for cellular numbers, and don’t even get me started about their downright bizarre method of placing long distance calls). The book is chock-full of photos of the cemetery with plenty of open land, a much different view than today’s cemetery with over 130,000 “residents.” Below you’ll find a few of my favorite parts of the booklet, including the photo of Kensico Station.
Of all the places I’ve been on this little tour of the Harlem Line, it is funny that I have not yet featured the one station I spend the majority of my time at. As of the first of this month, I have been living in and commuting from Goldens Bridge for two years (I’ve been commuting regularly on the Harlem Line slightly longer, though from Brewster station). Besides some of my crazy neighbors, it is a fairly nice area, albeit a little quiet.
Goldens Bridge station in the 1920’s
Over the years that the railroad has been servicing the area, much has changed in Goldens Bridge, and it was probably not as quiet as it now feels. In the early 1900’s the Muscoot Reservoir was created, flooding areas in the town that people had formerly lived. Some of these people had their entire houses moved to other locations. The construction of Interstate 684 in the late 1960’s also changed the landscape of the hamlet significantly, and the two dangerous grade crossings that were in the town have been removed. The station building that was in Goldens Bridge was on the east side of the track, roughly located where the southbound entrance to the Interstate now is.
A train at Goldens Bridge
The busy station of yesteryear is a stark contrast to what the station is now. It was from Goldens Bridge that the Mahopac branch diverged from the main line, a once-popular service which was discontinued in 1959. The station had a turntable as well as a water tower -northbound steam trains would take on water here and be set until they reached Millerton. By 1902 the New York Central had two tracks all the way up to Goldens Bridge until 1909 when the line was two-tracked up to Brewster.
For all the changes the area has gone through over the years, it does slightly amuse me that the current station is sandwiched between the concrete and asphalt of the highway on the east side, and a little bit of wilderness surrounding the reservoir to the west (if you’re interested about visiting that little bit of wilderness, I’ve posted about it before). But it is that Interstate that brings many people to the station, the parking lot is always filled with commuters from New York and Connecticut… and plenty of folks for me to people-watch…
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I don’t really like trains. Really, I don’t. Trains are a means to getting somewhere, and you can often meet intriguing people aboard, but the mechanical object that is a train doesn’t really interest me. The thing that interests me about trains though, is how they effect people and place. Over its long history, as New York City’s first railroad – chartered in 1831, the New York & Harlem Railroad (todays Harlem Line) has undeniably had a significant influence on the towns it traversed. The railroad was an important catalyst for the growth of Westchester County over the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – and Scarsdale is no exception.
The town of Scarsdale, named for the ancestral home of land owner Caleb Heathcote, was mostly farmlands before the railroad arrived in 1846. In fact it was so rural the entire population of the town numbered 255, mostly farmers, in 1840 (today’s population numbers over 17,000). Due to increased demand, by 1877 train service to Scarsdale was regularly scheduled and reliable. In 1891 the Arthur Suburban Home Company purchased a 150 acre farm and began subdividing it into lots – marking the beginning of large scale suburban development in the town. The first influx of residents were wealthy New Yorkers who built estates and used the train to commute to the city.
Today’s Scarsdale station was completed in 1902 and was designed by Reed & Stem. I’ve mentioned Reed & Stem several times before, as they have designed a few stations along the line, including Tuckahoe and Chappaqua, and also did work on Grand Central Terminal. Their design was in a neo-Tudor style, the first building in Scarsdale with that style. Many buildings later completed in the commercial areas of the town mimicked it, and today Scarsdale is known for the style. It is definitely a beautiful area, and was a well-enjoyed stop on my tour of the Harlem Line’s stations. Neighboring station Hartsdale is sort of like a younger twin brother to Scarsdale – Hartsdale’s station also mimicked Scarsdale’s neo-Tudor style. The two also share a companion Arts for Transit piece, comprised of silhouetted figures, by Tom Nussbaum. Scarsdale’s portion is called Travelers, and the figures are located on the top of the platform canopies.
For some time I’ve wanted to write a post about a particular odd topic, and have waited until now to do so. I figured Halloween would be an appropriate time of the season to mention it, as not only does it have to do with Grand Central, but a ghost in Grand Central. An equine ghost.
I’m not exactly sure how I first came across the story of racehorse Maud S, but it was likely when randomly reading about some of the Vanderbilts’ extravagant and expensive possessions. Without a doubt, Cornelius Vanderbilt was a true master at making money, and his son William Henry was quite adept at adding to that fortune. Cornelius’s grandchildren on the other hand, William Kissam and Cornelius II, were quite the masters at spending money. Though that is not to say that their father William didn’t purchase some pretty crazy things. One such purchase was the racehorse, Maud S. At the time Maud S was one of the fastest racehorses in the world, and held the record for the fastest mile. Her sale to Vanderbilt infuriated some in the racing world – he was taking this amazing horse away from the races to instead be privately corralled outside of Grand Central so he could ride her whenever it struck his fancy. Of course, this is the 1880’s and much of the area around Grand Central Depot was rural, and in terms of the city of New York, considered well “uptown”. But the fact of the matter was, if one of the richest men in the world wanted one of the fastest horses in the world to pull him around in a carriage, it would be done, and William Henry Vanderbilt certainly had deep enough pockets to pay for it. Plus, he was probably never late to New York Central board meetings.
This entire post was merely an excuse to post a picture of William Vanderbilt’s amazing facial hair
I’m not exactly sure what fascinated me about the story of this horse… maybe the fact that even today, a bed and breakfast has a room named after her? Or maybe how a windmill manufacturing company was also named after her? Perhaps it was her big obituary in the New York Times and other papers across the country? (Several internet sites claim the obituary made the first page of the Times, though this is false – it made the 12th page on March 18, 1900) Nope, I think it was the article in City Scoops that said that she is currently roaming the halls of Grand Central near the Oyster Bar – as a ghost.
Of course, the story is most likely a joke. The author even describes herself as a “professional storyteller”. Whether a joke or not, there are actually tourists that believe this shit! I had no idea that there are actually New York City ghost tours, and ones that even visit Grand Central! Perhaps I am a Halloween party pooper to say it, but there is no ghost of a horse wandering the station. I’d be more likely to believe that ghosts of some commuters haunt the station. In fact maybe that should have been written as a warning in Mileposts – don’t run to your train as you might trip, fall, die, and become the next ghost to wander the halls of the station come next October! And way before Metro North, I’m sure plenty of people have died in the station. It was, after all, built in the early 1900’s, railroading was hardly the safest occupation, plus it was being constructed as the previous station was being dismantled, all while maintaining train service. People certainly have died there. But those deaths are hardly as glamorous, and frankly amusing, as a fancy racehorse.
For all of you that happen to be in Grand Central on Sunday, have a Happy Halloween… and do keep your ears open for suspicious neighing…
…coming from me standing in front of the Oyster Bar.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a big fan of both Project Gutenberg, and Google Books. Both have available many old books free to read. And who doesn’t like free? If you find yourself interested in the history of the railroads in our area you can check out some of these books (and portions of books) from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
A nice book about the history of railroads in the United States. The first chapter is a synopsis of rail history, and the second deals with Commodore Vanderbilt, and the New York Central Railroad.
The railroad builders: a chronicle of the welding of the states, Published 1919 Download an excerpt (first two chapters) here, or view the whole thing on Google Books.
For those interested in the Hudson Line, check out this book about the Hudson River Railroad:
I’m currently reading the autobiography of Chauncey Depew, over his 93 years he served as Secretary of State for New York, as well as a senator, not to mention many years working for the railroad. He was the attorney for the New York and Harlem Railroad, and later became president of the New York Central. He mentions in his memoirs that he almost turned down the position when Vanderbilt offered it to him, as he had also just been offered a position as US Minister to Japan which paid more. Vanderbilt told him, “There is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.”
Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun poring over the history of the Harlem Line and trains in the area. I mentioned a few weeks ago a new part of the site called the Historical Archives. When it first opened the Historical Archives had a few timetables, maps and newspaper articles. Now it contains well over a hundred different entries. I must thank the folks at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum because many of the timetables in the Archive come from their collection. I figured that in addition to my normal blogging of current events and craziness, I shall from here forward designate Friday as Historical Archive day, and I will be posting an article about something interesting about this history of the Harlem Line. The navigation at the top of the site changed slightly, in order to accommodate the new category, called History.
To kick it all off, I thought it may be interesting to post about the 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel wreck. Trains today are relatively safe, however in the past there were many dangers, and many people died over the course of history…
Above are just some of the headlines of newspaper articles now in the Historical Archives. On January 8th 1902 the worst train wreck in New York City’s history occurred underground in the Park Avenue Tunnel. The tunnel had originally been built in 1876 to make Manhattan safer by removing the tracks from aboveground. However low visibility in the darkness, and especially the smoke from coal-burning locomotives, made the tunnel quite hazardous. This was not the first wreck in the tunnel: accidents had occurred in 1891, where six people were killed, and 1882, where two people lost their lives.
At first, the engineer John M. Wisker was blamed for the accident. He had missed several signals, and he was controlling the train that slammed into the train in front of it. Ultimately, Wisker was acquitted – the dangers and low visibility in the tunnel was to blame for the crash. Fifteen people died as an immediate result of the crash, and several others died in the hospital shortly after. The deaths, however, were not in vain: they provided the final push for electric service on the line, and led to the replacement of Grand Central Depot. It was reborn as the Grand Central Terminal that we know today, and opened in 1913. The first regular service on the new electrified line ran to White Plains in 1910, an article of which also appears in the archive.
If you are interested in learning more about the Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck of 1902, and the influence on Grand Central, you should certainly check out Grand Central, a part of PBS’s American Experience, which is viewable online.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.