There is nothing that I love more than the art on old timetables. And when I say old – I mean old – like 1800’s old. SmartCat has a few of these old timetables on display, including the oldest timetable I personally own – printed in 1865. There is just something beautiful about these bits of rail history, they are not just functional, but attractive – something timetables seem to have lost in the many years since.
As a graphic designer, I love the unique typography, as well as the illustrations found within. When I got bored on the train yesterday, I had the idea to turn some of the old art from these timetables into posters. I made four separate 11″ x 17″ posters, and had them printed up today – now I just have to find a place to hang them… hmmm…
Back in November I posted a whole bunch of postcards that I had collected of stations along the Harlem. I had promised a part two, and here it is now… but why stop at just part two? I’ve sort of realized I have quite the boatload of postcards, and I keep acquiring them. One of my rather lofty goals was to be able to collect a postcard for each Harlem railroad station. But I also couldn’t help purchasing alternate designs of the same stations. So although some places I have no postcards for, there are others that I have a bunch. I have far too many of Grand Central, and three or more of stations like Pleasantville, Chappaqua, and Chatham. Needless to say, there will be a part three, and possibly a part four at some time in the future. I do have a request to any of you out there, though. If you happen to have a postcard that I don’t have in my collection here, I would love you so much if you could scan it for me. As much as I’d love to actually have it in my possession, I would love it even more to have it available in my digital gallery!
The last four postcards are a little different. They are not Harlem stations per se, but once upon a time you could board a Harlem Division train that went into Massachusetts, across the Boston & Albany’s tracks. Leaving from Grand Central, the train would make stops at 125th Street, White Plains, Brewster, Pawling and Chatham. After a short pause in Chatham, the train would continue to East Chatham and Canaan, before crossing into Massachusetts and making stops at State Line, Richmond, Pittsfield, Cheshire, Adams and North Adams. Most of those stations are long gone, just like the Upper Harlem stations. Amtrak trains still make stops in Pittsfield, though the two stations in the postcards were torn down, which is unfortunate. They were gorgeous in comparison to today’s Pittsfield station. I think the waiting room there looks more like a school cafeteria than part of a train station!
Timetable for Harlem Division service to Massachusetts
Several months ago I was amused when I saw a blog linking to my own, and they referred to me as a “closeted rail fan.” Despite “coming out” and accepting the title I still wonder if it is really an appropriate term to call me. I certainly like riding on trains, but I know very little about the physical machine that is a train. I think my primary interest is the history, and most specifically, how technology affected places and people. And I think it is undeniable that the railroads played a big part in how New York evolved. Back when Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the land for the original Grand Central Depot, the location was considered “the boonies,” as City Hall was thought of as the northern end of the city. And what would Westchester County be like without the rail? The rail encouraged the people of the area to move north and spread out, turning the rural areas into the suburbs we know today.
I think another thing that interests me about the rail is the abandonment. I really don’t know why, but I have a fascination with abandoned places – and the rail has plenty of them. The railroad was once the primary way mail and freight was delivered, and how people got around. But cars became increasingly more popular, and with the advent of the interstate system, cars took the place of trains in getting around. And so stations were closed, rail lines cut, and railroad companies went bankrupt. I do mention it frequently on here, but the Harlem Line is no stranger to abandonment. In 1972 passenger service north of Dover Plains ceased, and around 50 miles worth of track, all the way to Chatham, was abandoned.
Old photos and postcards of Chatham, NY
In the grand scheme of things, Chatham was luckier than most. It was once a thriving area for transportation: the Harlem Division, Rutland Railway, and the Boston and Albany all made stops. Though the Harlem and Rutland’s track has been ripped out, CSX and Amtrak still use the Boston and Albany track, running through the quiet village without stopping. Quite a few of the former stations on the Harlem Division have really nothing to see… station buildings long gone and mostly forgotten. But as I said before, Chatham was luckier than most, the historical Union Station still stands, restored and used as a bank. And in 1974 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Henry Hobson Richardson was an influential architect in the 19th century, popularizing a style of architecture that was named for him: Richardsonian Romanesque. The revival style incorporated 11th and 12th century European Romaneque traits. Although Trinity Church in Boston was his most notable work, he designed several railroad stations for the Boston and Albany. Several architects trained with Richardson, including Charles McKim and Stanford White, who designed the original Pennsylvania Station, though in the Beaux-Arts style. Following Richardson’s style, however, were two others that worked for him: George Shepley and Charles Coolidge. Their firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, based in Boston, completed Richardson’s partially completed and pending projects, one of which was Chatham’s Union Station. In total, the firm completed 23 of B&A’s stations, including Boston’s South Station, still in use by the MBTA.
Chatham’s Union Station opened on August 31, 1887. The ticket office in the station was closed in 1960, and pieces of the inside, including the waiting benches, were sold off. Passengers used the station up until it’s final closure in March of 1972, ending the many years it served as the terminus of the Harlem Division. The station has been restored, and reopened in 1999. It is now the office for the Chatham branch of the Bank of Kinderhook. And it is still quite beautiful… one of the few remaining vestiges of the Upper Harlem Line that I can actually see.
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.