Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Spuyten Duyvil


View of the railroad tracks near Spuyten Duyvil in 1890.

When coming up with superlatives for the Hudson Line, people generally cite it as Metro-North’s most attractive line. I, on the other hand, like to think of it as the most frequently misspelled. It is the Hudson Line that has stations like “Phillip’s Manor” and “Pokipse,” and, of course, the one that takes the cake – “Spitendivel.” Today’s tour takes us to the (correctly spelled) Spuyten Duyvil, a station about 10 miles north of Grand Central Terminal in the Bronx. Considering that it is a station that is frequently misspelled, as well as rather attractive, it seems to be a good representation of the Hudson Line.


Stock certificate for the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad Company

As I am sure you could gather, the name Spuyten Duyvil is clearly not from the English language. The name derives from the Dutch Spuitende Duivel, which means spouting devil. First bestowed on the creek nearby, the name was later adopted for the train station as well. Historically, there was also a railroad that bore the name – the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad Company. It was leased to, and later incorporated into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which allowed that road to connect with the Harlem Railroad at Mott Haven.


Spuyten Duyvil station in 1958.


1975 view near Spuyten Duyvil.

I don’t think there is really too much else to say about Spuyten Duyvil, other than the fact that it really is an interesting spot. Located right on the water, you can watch the Circle Line and other boats sail up and down the river. Right above your head is the Henry Hudson bridge, which provides an interesting vista very much unlike any other Metro-North station. Just north of the station is an old rail tower that is no longer used, which is visible in a few of my photos from the station. Also north of the station is where Amtrak diverges, and the tracks cross the river via a swing bridge which is visible from the platform. The swing bridge is definitely interesting to watch, it opens and closes somewhat frequently to accommodate around 30 trains that pass over it every day.


Aerial view of Spuyten Duyvil. The Henry Hudson bridge as well as Amtrak’s Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge are visible. If you look closely you can just make out the Metro-North platform under the bridge.

Anyways, that is all I’ve got for today and Spuyten Duyvil. I must insert a shameless plug here – if you like the historical photos I post along with these Tuesday Tours, you should totally like us on Facebook (if you haven’t already). I’ve been posting a bunch of old photos on there, and I promise something pretty interesting will be happening over there within the next month (shh, it’s a surprise!).

 
   
 
  
 
 
 
  
 
 
  
 
 
  
 
 

Read More

A 1918 Guide to New York City, and Hudson River Steamboats

By now, you readers are all well aware of my problem. I love old printed (and usually railroad-related) materials. Timetables, brochures, posters… you name it. Although I love having the real thing in-hand, most times I’m quite content to have just digital copies – which is part of the reason SmartCat came about. Somehow, I came across a website this weekend that I had never been to before – it is called the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The site pretty much operates in the same vein as SmartCat – historical artifacts, digitized and available to everyone for free over the internet. But this site really blows SmartCat out of the water. The quality of the artifacts, many of which are available in super-high resolution, are phenomenal. Although the site primarily archives maps, the collection does include some railroad timetables and brochures, which is where I found this 1918 guide to New York City, printed by the New York Central…

Hey, wait a second! Remember my introduction to the Hudson Line? How I mentioned the competition between the railroad and steamships traversing the Hudson River? And how the cold winters filling the river with ice was the primary reason the railroad got built?


Soooooo… about those steam ships… If you look very closely you can see the engineer on the train looking out the window shouting to the ice boats, “So long, suckers!”

In case you missed it, check out the page of the guide that says “Optional Ticket Privileges.” Apparently by 1918 the railroad wasn’t quite competing with the ships – New York Central train riders had the option to take a steamship along the river as opposed to the train. Folks heading eastbound could exchange their tickets with the conductor for a ride on a ship and change at Albany. This applied to people riding on the Hudson River Railroad side, or the West Shore side… and this, of course, was “an advantage offered by no other route.”

Although quite a bit earlier than the above guide, timetables for the steamships were also quite attractive. Below is an example of an 1885 timetable for the Peoples Line, one of the lines you could trade your train ticket for in 1918. It includes a nice little map with the various railroad connections made in Albany.

And for random kicks, here’s a 1862 ad for two different steamships on the Peoples Line.

Read More

New York Central trains and Bannerman Castle

Photos of Bannerman Castle: the crumbling castle in the Hudson River

Despite my professed love for the Harlem Line, I do in fact visit quite a few other locations and post photos… and today’s collection is no exception. Unfortunately for my dear Harlem, this time I cheated on him with his little brother, the Hudson. If you’ve ever been on the upper portion of Metro North’s Hudson Line you may have noticed a castle on an island in the Hudson. In fact you may have seen the collapse of the castle on your train ride past the island… Metro-North workers were the first to report the collapse of the castle last December to the trust that is attempting to restore the castle.

Although most people today know the island simply as Bannerman’s Island, the true name is Pollepel Island. Scottish immigrant and New York businessman Francis Bannerman purchased the island in 1900. By 1901 a castle for his business and residence had been built on the island for his family.

Francis Bannerman VI, better known as Frank, began collecting scrap at the harbor to sell as a young boy. As he got older, and after the Civil War, he began purchasing military surplus from government auctions and amassed quite the collection of ammunition – which he formed into a business called “Bannerman’s” in 1865. As having so much ammunition in the heart of Brooklyn began to be a safety issue, the island was a perfect location for his business.

Today, the island is a part of the Hudson Highlands State Park. Unfortunately, it is not quite the jewel it once was. Besides the two collapses in the past year, the castle was ravaged by fire in 1969. Many portions of the castle became covered in vines over time, which amusingly might be helping to hold the structure together. The Bannerman Castle Trust is attempting to preserve and restore the castle, but are desperately in need of funding. As we wait the castle will continue to crumble, and perhaps be lost forever: with little money to spend they’ve chosen to attempt to restore the residence first, since it is in better condition than the castle itself.

If you’re interested in learning more about the castle, taking a tour, or donating to the Bannerman Castle Trust, be sure to check out their website here: bannermancastle.org.

  
 
 
   
 
   
  
 
  
 
 
  
  

Read More

Nature along the Harlem Line: The Muscoot Reservoir & Bridge L-158

I thought it might be fun to do something different this Friday… Tuesdays I visit train stations, but I don’t talk much about what else is around the station. The Harlem Line has plenty of intriguing spots along the route, and many for the nature lover. I do get emails every once and a while asking me questions about doing things – people wondering what is within walking distance of the stations, and what they can get away and do. And for those who, like me, do not drive, or don’t feel like driving, you can definitely take Metro-North to get to interesting spots.

As I mentioned, there are many nature-related locales on the Harlem Line. Some of the obvious ones are the Botanical Garden and the Appalachian Trail, but there are many lesser-known spots. Pawling has the Pawling Nature Reserve, which is not far from the Appalachian Trail. At the end of the line in Wassaic is the trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail which follows the old route the Harlem Line once took further north. Lower Westchester has the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is more than 13 miles long and stretches from Valhalla to Bronxville – and passes by North White Plains, White Plains, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, Crestwood and Tuckahoe stations.

One of the lesser-known spots is near and dear to my heart, situated in Goldens Bridge and not far from my house. In the evenings it is here that I make laughable attempts at running off the past nine years I spent sitting on my ass in front of a computer. In all seriousness though, it is beautiful and quiet little spot that few people other than fisherman and neighborhood residents (and some deer, swans and bullfrogs) know about. The trails are not extensive, but they surround the beautiful reservoir and provide access to various fishing spots. I went one step beyond that and purchased a boat for use on the reservoir as well (boat use is heavily regulated, this is NYC’s drinking water, after all). However, the most noteworthy part of this “Public Access” DEP area is the old railroad bridge.


I created this map based on my own explorations of the area. Maps are actually fun to make. :P

I’ve mentioned Bridge L-158 a few times before. It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the branch of the Harlem Line that ran from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY, but was moved in 1904 by the New York Central Railroad to Goldens Bridge. Although the original bridge carried two tracks, the Mahopac branch was a single track line and when the bridge was reconstructed the width was shortened for a single track.





If you’re interested in visiting this part of the Harlem Line, it is within walking distance of Goldens Bridge station. Although it is rarely enforced, you do need an access permit to use the land for recreational use. But access permits are easy to get – you can register for one online and print it out immediately. If you’re interested in fishing or boating, you’ll need additional permits, so I advise checking the DEP’s site. People fish in the reservoir all year long, as the Muscoot is one of the reservoirs in which ice fishing is permitted. Although it is a lot smaller than some of the other nature spots around it is at least worth visiting to see the historic bridge. There are some times where it gets so quiet, except for the crunching leaves under the foot of a squirrel or deer, that you forget that you’re not that far from the city… only until you hear a train go by, yanking you back to reality.

Read More

Tunnel Under the Tracks

Obviously if you’ve ever been on the Harlem Line you know that the tracks run alongside various bodies of water. An astute observer can see the Kensico Dam in Valhalla… And around the stations of Purdy’s through Katonah if you look out you will notice the Muscoot Reservoir. Over the summer I purchased a small row boat in order to go out on the reservoir. The DEP is actually rather strict what varieties of boat can go out, and where the boats must be kept.

My boat was assigned a spot up in Purdy’s, and it is named the Brazilian Nut. Train conductor Guy actually came up with the name, because the best I could come up with was Horizon, and I didn’t really like that much. Anyways, one afternoon I decided to row down to where I live in Goldens Bridge, which is about two and a half miles. The water runs parallel to the train tracks, so I watched all the trains go by. I also saw a rather large machine go by on the tracks, I think to clean the tracks. While I was rowing, closer to Goldens Bridge I saw some man near a tunnel, and the next time I looked, he had disappeared. A few weeks ago I decided to take my boat and investigate.

I found a random little tunnel, accessible only by boat, where you can sort of hide out, right under the railroad tracks. Honest to god though, I’d be really freaked out if I was under there when the diesel train going up to Wassaic went by. Hell, I was freaked out when there weren’t any trains going by, there were lots of spiders hanging out under there too. Here are a few pictures I took while investigating the tunnel.

Sadly, the days are too short for me to take the boat out after work, and most weekends I am busy, so I have retired it for the season. Next summer if you pass by Goldens Bridge and you see a little green rowboat out on the water, it may be me, sitting out and watching the trains go by.

Read More