Book available for download: The History of the New York & Harlem Railroad

When it comes to the history of the Harlem Line, you can’t beat The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, by Lou Grogan. It is, by far, the most complete history of the line, and full of wonderful pictures. There was, however, another book written on the New York & Harlem, covering the line’s early history many years prior. I had been trying to get my hands on it for a while… I know of only three copies that exist: the one I didn’t win on eBay, one that belonged to Gouverneur Morris, Jr., and is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society, and one that belongs to the Katonah Village Library. The book was written by Clarence Hyatt in 1898, so it is hardly something that bookstores or even internet booksellers have. The only thing I knew about it was that it was quite small, about 36 pages. Beyond that, I knew nothing of what was inside.


Photo of Chatham from the book, taken at some point in the late 1800’s

I finally got off my butt and made the trip to the library in Katonah on one of the days we had warm weather. I’d never been to the library before, so I didn’t know what to expect, or whether the book would even be in a “public” area. The person at the front desk was rather snippy with me when I asked her to help me find the book, despite me saying I had never been there before and had no idea where to look. I told her that I figured the book would probably be in a special section, given the fact that it is over a hundred years old… and she told me to go talk to the reference librarian. Thankfully, the reference librarian was kind and helpful. The book was in a locked cabinet, and I took it to a couch, where I read it in short order.

And then, of course, I digitized it. I would have much rathered to scan it, to get a better quality, but I ended up just photographing each page. The majority of the book is text, though there are a few photographs: two of Chatham, one of Mount Kisco, and another of Chappaqua. It does have some pretty cool little anecdotes about general rail history, and the history of the Harlem.

Did you know that Peter Cooper, other than having absolutely amazing facial hair, was the designer and creator of the first steam locomotive in the US, a locomotive which could only attain a speed of eighteen miles-per-hour? I didn’t.

Amusingly, the book details people opposing railroads, and not for things that at least make sense – like the noise of the locomotives. No, people protested because they thought that railroads would effect animals: preventing cows from grazing, causing hens to stop laying eggs, and railroads would lead to the destruction of birds. But then there were also people on the opposite side of the spectrum: the citizens of “primitive” and rural areas, such as Dover Plains, that gazed at locomotives for the first time with intense curiosity.

In the continued celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I am happy to share this wonderful book. It is a relatively short read, but an interesting one.

[pdf-ppt-viewer href=”http://www.iridetheharlemline.com/ny_harlem.pdf” width=”600″ height=”500″]

If you’d prefer to download the book (or the above preview doesn’t work), please right click on this link, and choose to save the target as.

Read More

The Last Train

This blog of mine doesn’t get too many comments. Well, if you’re talking about legit comments that is. I think my comment blocker is up to more than thirty thousand pieces of spam. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve got that many readers, I mean, besides myself and possibly my mother. But there must be some readers out there, because I do get quite a bit of email. All sorts of email: from people asking me how much their timetables are worth (not really sure), to people sending me their phone numbers if I ever want to talk about trains (I have a phobia of telephones. Really, I do). More often then not, I enjoy the emails I get. (I did get a mail once, telling me that I was the ugliest person on planet earth. I LOL’ed.) People send me pictures, people tell me their train stories. I really enjoy this, despite the fact that I feel a tad socially awkward and often fail miserably at responding to my mail. A few people recently have mentioned something about a song called The Last Train, and something about maybe a book coming out. I didn’t really think much of it, until I happened to see the book hanging out by the checkout line of Borders the other day.

I was standing behind a woman in line, she was even more indecisive than I, debating which of the silly knicknacks they put buy the checkout counter she should buy. Hiding on the shelves was a book called The Last Train. I tend to ignore the children’s book section (unless the book is The Stinky Cheese Man, because frankly, that book is awesome) but I had some time to kill, so I flipped through it. Let me just say, I absolutely adored the illustrations of this book. I would love to have a print of one of these illustrations on my wall (and conveniently the illustrator, Wendell Minor, sells them on his website… if only I had an extra hundred dollars lying around.) Anyways, I loved the illustrations so much that I made an impulse buy, and I wanted to share it all with you…

The spread above is definitely my favorite illustration from the book, and the one below my favorite part of the text. I definitely remember putting pennies on the tracks when I was a kid. Obviously not in Metro-North’s territory, but out in the hills of Pennsylvania, waiting for a freight train to pass.

If you’re interested in the book, it was written by Gordon Titcomb, and as previously mentioned, illustrated by Wendell Minor. And if your local Borders is closing like mine is, you might even get a deal on buying it! Oh, and you can check out this video that features some of the book’s illustrations, as well as Titcomb’s song The Last Train.

Read More

A little bit of old reading…

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:

Hudson River and the Hudson River Railroad, Published 1851
Click to view on Google Books

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.”

My Memories of Eighty Years by Chauncey Depew
Download this book from Project Gutenberg

Anyone else have some interesting books saved in their library on Google Books? Let me know! You can view my library here.

Read More

Friday’s from the historical archive: 1800’s photos from “The Road of the Century”

If any of my readers are insomniacs, I highly recommend the book called “The Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central.” I noticed that one of the libraries in the state owned it, and so I requested my local library to acquire it for me. The copy of the book looks remarkably ancient, though it was only published in 1947. Old enough, I suppose. Upon checking the book out, the librarian said to me, “So… You must like railroads?” I wonder if she were to work at a supermarket, and a customer was to purchase toilet paper, would she ask, “So… You must like toilet paper?” or “So… You must enjoy going to the bathroom?” …Sorry, I went off on a little tangent there. Back to the book, this dreadful, awful book. I don’t think I’ve ever held in my hand a more boring book… hence my comment about insomniacs. Get a copy, it will put you right to sleep. The New York Central has quite a rich history, but no one could have told it in a more dry fashion. In my mind I hear Ben Stein reciting the words in complete monotone…

So why exactly would I bore my readers with stories of a horrible book? Because it had one redeeming quality. Pictures. Wow, don’t I feel like a child, saying the only good part of a book was the pictures. But the pictures, they were good, and I figured I’d share with you all. Let’s “read” this book, together. And when I say read, I mean look at the pictures, and ignore all the snooze-inducing text.


Apparently the book was a donation to the library from the New York Central itself


1864, Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana conductors (or perhaps Abraham Lincoln impersonators).


1877, Train with snow plow during a snow storm.


1896, First advertisement of Red Cap service.

See more pictures from the atrocious book “The Road of the Century”

Read More