Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Goldens Bridge

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…

 
  
   
 
  
 
   
 
 
 
 

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Lettie Carson, and Old Posters from the Harlem Valley Transportation Association

Reading all about the history of the Harlem Line intrigues me. It was New York City’s first railroad, chartered in 1831, and an early example of a rail horsecar in the United States. As in every story, there are always intriguing characters. People like Cornelius Vanderbilt certainly stand out. But for me I think one rarely mentioned woman stands out the most. Her name is Lettie Carson, and she fought to prevent the closure of the Upper Harlem, a David against Penn Central’s Goliath. As we all know that the Harlem does not extend to Chatham anymore, unfortunately her plight failed, but her story still captivates me.

Lettie Gay was born in Pike County, Illinois in 1901, the youngest of nine children. On the family farm she helped raised livestock of every variety. It may be this upbringing that gave Carson her independent attitude. At age eight she would drive a horse and buggy fifteen miles to the train station to pick up her brother. In the early 1920’s she moved east to the New York area, and in 1924 married Gerald Carson. She held various jobs, including as food editor of Parents’ Magazine. She and her husband had a weekend home in Millerton, along the Harlem Line, which they retired to and became permanent residents in 1951.

If you’re on the north end of the Harlem Line you may be aware of Lettie Carson’s work without knowing it. In 1958 she helped create the Mid-Hudson Library System, which today has more than 80 member libraries across five counties. Brewster, Dover Plains, Mahopac, Patterson, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, and Chatham are a few of the towns whose libraries are members. Carson served as president of the Mid-Hudson for two years, and was on the board for eight.

Lettie Gay Carson later became associated with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association, as vice president, and then as president. The organization was formed in the early 60’s when the New York Central threatened to abandon passenger service on the Upper Harlem. When Penn Central took over they too wanted to end passenger service north of Brewster. The HVTA fought them for many years through demonstrations, public hearings, and in the courts. Ultimately the passenger service was abandoned north of Dover Plains in March of 1972, though the HVTA continued to fight for freight on the line. Eventually that too was abandoned, and the track was ripped out.

Through my research I managed to unearth some of the HVTA’s old documents: papers, posters, surveys and more. I’ve digitally restored some of them for posterity. Below are four of the HVTA’s early posters, as well as their logo and letterhead.




Later in life Carson moved to Pennsylvania, where she too attempted to protect rail service in and around Philadelphia. She died in March of 1992, at age 91.

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