A Fiery Centennial – Hartford Union Station

Exactly one hundred years ago, Connecticut was gripped in a frigid and snowy winter, much like the one we are currently experiencing. And exactly one hundred years ago last Friday, Hartford’s Union station was ablaze. On its own, a fire can be pretty devastating enough, but coupled with the snow, firefighters had difficulty getting to the station to put the fire out. Ultimately there were several small explosions, one of which displaced a large section of the roof, pieces of which fell and destroyed the ticket office. The station was heavily damaged, and much of the items in the baggage room – where the fire started – were destroyed.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire
All fire photos are from the Connecticut Historical Society, accessible at CTHistoryOnline.org

Originally constructed in 1889, Hartford’s Union station was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which first gained popularity in the Boston area and was used for several stations along the Boston and Albany Railroad. Conceptually designed by local architect George Keller, the bulk of the design work fell to architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, successors of Henry Hobson Richardson (which is where the “Richardsonian” part comes from. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge also designed a few stations we’ve featured: Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown). The station featured the typical arches and rusticated stonework characteristic of his style, using stone quarried in Portland, Connecticut.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire

Besides the 100th anniversary of the fire, the station is also celebrating the centennial of its rebirth. The entire building was not completely destroyed by the aforementioned fire, but the roof and interior were both gutted. Though some of the decorative arches at roof level were only slightly damaged, it was decided that the rebuild would not be to the exact specifications of the old station. Roof-level decorative elements were removed, and stonework was repaired – now bearing the date “1914”. The “new” Union Station boasted a full third story, and, as one would imagine, a fireproof roof.

Hartford Union Station Fire
The station after the fire was put out. Note the detail on the roof that no longer exists.

Despite spending the first twenty plus years of my life living in Connecticut, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I had never visited Hartford’s Union Station until recently. Likewise, I must also admit that I was unaware that Hartford’s Latin motto is Post nubila, phoebus (after clouds, the sun). That motto can be found within the station, above the doors that once led out to the platform, flanked between the past and present of railroading – steam and electric.

Train at Hartford
A northbound train at Hartford in the late 1940s. Note the Capitol visible in the background. [image source]

These days, Hartford is not the hub it once was. No longer are the days where trains were plenty, and it has been many decades since quasi-celebrity citizens like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe called Hartford home. About twelve trains stop daily at the station, the station is along Amtrak’s Vermonter, and Northeast Regional routes, and is a station stop on the New Haven – Springfield shuttle. Technically trains don’t run from the historical building – Amtrak occupies out of an addition underneath the viaduct carrying the railroad over the city, along with bus operators and a few fast food kiosks. One can, however, enter the addition from the historical depot.

If you’re ever passing through Hartford, the old station is at least worth a look. The stonework and detailing found on the exterior is undoubtedly beautiful, only marred by a few trappings of today – you’ll find security cameras just above decorative elements, and a garish Subway logo above a once more graceful arch. Be sure to check out the artwork at the top of the steps, and keep your eyes peeled for views of the the Capitol building from the platform.

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
 
  
 
  
  
 

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Vacationing on the Railroad, yesterday and today

It is starting to be that time of the season where everyone is thinking about summer, and about taking vacations. The railroad has always been a great method of getting around, and there are plenty of places you can see by train. If you’re looking for something more local, Metro-North will be having their Staycation Showcase in Grand Central next week. Amtrak also has a wide variety of places to vacation, all accessible by rail.

Despite all of these offerings, rail travel really isn’t the primary method that most people go on vacation these days. After getting patted down by your friendly neighborhood TSA, airlines can whisk you away to the other side of the country in a matter of hours, not days. And America’s love affair, the automobile, offers a more individualized and customizable trip across our nation’s Interstate system. However, neither of these options were available to folks living in the early 1900s. Rail was the way to go, and the best way to take a vacation.

New York Central vacation brochures
Vacation brochures printed by the New York Central in 1908 and 1903.

Vacation packages, including rail tickets, were offered by the New York Central, and they printed many varieties of brochures advertising all the places one could visit. Summer resorts included in-state locations, like Niagara Falls and the Adirondacks, and some faraway places like Canada, Michigan, and even Yellowstone National Park – an 82 and a half hour trip from Grand Central Terminal, at a round trip fare of $97.80.

The winter resorts booklet might prove to be the most interesting – it offered long distance vacations to warm locales around the world – places that one would reach after long journeys via train and steamship. Setting out for “one of ‘Uncle Sam’s’ new possessions” – “Porto Rico” – would be a 20 day affair in total. The most fascinating part printed is certainly the map of the Pacific Ocean found at the back of the brochure, labeled as places “reached by the New York Central Lines and their connections.” If you had the time, and the money, you could certainly reach the Empire of Japan, and beyond. Straying not too far from home, a traveler could reach Honolulu by steamship from San Francisco in a total of seven days.

Map of the Pacific
Map of the Pacific Ocean, printed by the New York Central in their 1903 America’s Winter Resorts brochure.

Interested in staying closer to home, or taking a shorter vacation? The New York Central also had a brochure of journeys taking two to fifteen days. Two days could get you to the Adirondacks or Lake George, four a nice trip to Montreal, eight a meandering journey to and from Quebec, and fifteen a wonderful itinerary stopping at several different resorts in many of the aforementioned spots.

Two to fifteen day journeys
Brochure of two to fifteen day journeys from 1912, and the Harlem Division map within.

If you’re really looking to stay in your own backyard, there were plenty of vacationing spots along the Harlem Division. The Harlem’s long-gone Lake Mahopac branch was established especially for that purpose. But as you can see from the map above, one could get more places via the Harlem than you can today – transfers were available in Chatham for the Boston and Albany Railroad to Massachusetts, and to the Rutland Railroad for Vermont.

Resorts on the Harlem
Close to home – summer resorts along the Harlem.

Anybody out there planning on taking a vacation (or a “staycation,” even) by train this summer? Drop a note in the comments about where you’re planning on going!

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Remembering the Upper Harlem Division, Part 3

As we complete our journey along the abandoned Upper Harlem Division, it is worth taking a moment to look at the timetables printed for the line. The Upper Harlem’s timetables were New York Central’s Form 112 – and its size changed drastically over the years, reflecting the railroad’s slow death.

Upper Harlem Timetables over the years
The ever changing timetable design for the Upper Harlem ((All timetables from the author’s collection))

A 1909 timetable, which was actually a foldout booklet that contained descriptions of the stations and schedules for connecting railroads, was actually 32 pages. The tall size seen in a later 1939 timetable was standard for many years, and it featured the additional trains offered beyond Chatham to Pittsfield and North Adams. Many changes came in the 1950’s – timetables got smaller when the North Adams service was cancelled, and by 1953 the four panel foldout was reduced to three panels. By the time the Upper Harlem Division’s passenger service was cancelled in 1972, the line timetable was just a double sided card, reflecting the only two trains that operated on the line every week day.

Moving on, we continue our tour north of Hillsdale, heading towards Craryville. For much of its route, the Harlem Division follows New York State Route 22 northward, but after arriving at Hillsdale the route turns in a westward direction to follow Route 23.

Craryville

When the Harlem Railroad was established through Columbia County, the station here went by the name of Bains, for hotel owner Peter Bain. When the land was purchased by Peter Crary, the station became known by a new name – Craryville. Gail Borden, who constructed his first successful milk factory along the Harlem in Wassaic, also had a processing plant here in Craryville. This was one of many plants located along the line, and used it for freight. ((Postcards from Craryville from the author’s collection))

Craryville Today

 

Craryville is a relatively quiet area, with little reminder of the railroad beyond a barely paved Railroad Lane. The old station house still exists, but is privately owned.

Martindale
Harlem Division engineer Vic Westman was quite the talented artist, creating many drawings and even paintings of the rails he worked, sometimes just from memory. For many years he even had a small studio on the sixth floor of Grand Central Terminal in which to work during his long swing time. ((Sketch of Martindale by Vic Westman for Lou Grogan’s book.))

The name Martindale derives from John Martin, on whose land the original Martindale station was built upon. It was never an extremely prominent station, and by 1946 it was just a mere flag stop on the line. Martindale met its end years before the rest of the line, and was eliminated in 1949. The station building itself was dismantled by a railroad employee in that year.

Martindale Today

  

South of where Martindale station was lies an overpass where the railroad traversed over Route 23. Little else in the area reflects the area’s railroading past. In fact, little even bears the name Martindale besides the Martindale Chief diner, located next to the Taconic.

Philmont

About 119 miles from Grand Central is the station of Philmont. Philmont was historically one of the larger communities that that the Harlem ran through, and was rich with industry. Several mills were located in the town, and they of course used the railroad for freight. ((Postcard of Philmont at left from the collection of Steve Swirsky. Postcard at right from the author’s collection))

Philmont Today

 

Besides Railroad Avenue, and the former railroad hotel located upon it, it is hard to tell that a railroad once crossed Main Street here in Philmont. The Empire House, the aforementioned railroad hotel, lacks the porches it had in historical images and may be a bit beat up, but it is one reference to the railroad that ran through town.

The Arch Bridge

   

Leaving Philmont, about three miles north of the station, but in the town of Ghent, lies a street named Arch Bridge Road. The eponymous arch is a single lane underpass, with the railroad’s former ROW running above. Running along the side of the arch is a small stream where, at some point over the years, some of the railroad’s roadbed washed out. It is a nice vestige of the railroad in Ghent, and most certainly an old one.

Ghent

Just under 125 miles from Grand Central lies the second to last station on the Harlem – Ghent. The station itself was shared with a short branch of the Boston and Albany. The railroad crossed over New York State Route 66 just south of the station.

Ghent Today

 
 

Splitting off from Route 66 at the center of Ghent is Railroad Avenue, which still exists today, although with no railroad to be seen. Appearing in many historical photos of the station is the Bartlett House, which was a railroad hotel, and still stands today.

Chatham

The end of the Harlem Division, just a bit more than 127 miles from Grand Central Terminal, is in Chatham, New York. The Harlem met with the Boston and Albany and the Rutland Railroad here, and the former two shared a quite beautiful Union Station. Stylistically, the station’s Richardsonian Romanesque aesthetic matches more to the Boston and Albany than it does to the Harlem, but it is attractive nonetheless. Built in 1887, Chatham station was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

The New York and Harlem Railroad always seemed to be a modest affair. Some railroads chose grandiose names for themselves, dreaming of the locations that they would one day reach (and often fell short of – the New York, Boston and Montreal Railway comes to mind), but when it was chartered in 1831, the Harlem only planned to be a link from the core of New York City to Harlem just a bit further north. The original plan was to connect with the New York and Albany Railroad at Harlem – except that railroad was never completed. In their absence, the Harlem was granted the right by the state legislature to build into Westchester in 1840, and all the way to Albany in 1846. Despite that right, the Harlem gradually extended north, and instead chose Chatham to be its terminus. From there, riders could easily continue to Albany on the B&A, and some of the earliest timetables show the trains on this additional route.

Chatham Today

  

For over a hundred years the railroad has been an important part of Chatham’s identity. Though both the Rutland and the Harlem are gone, the Boston and Albany’s former line still runs through Chatham, owned by CSX. The trains may run through, but they don’t really stop here – though the town seems to firmly hold onto their railroad identity. A fence has been put up to separate the former Union Station from the remaining tracks, which somewhat mars the attractive vista of yesteryear. The building had significantly fallen into disrepair by the ’60s, but it has been restored to glory and is the home to a branch of the Kinderhook Bank.

The very end of the Harlem’s tracks still exists, and extends around a half mile south, where they abruptly end in front of a gas station. The mile marker for mile 127 – the end of the Harlem – has been saved and transplanted to a garden in front of the Chatham firehouse.

Then and Now

As we’ve seen on our tour of the former stations of the Upper Harlem Division, many of the locales have changed drastically over the 41 years that passenger service has been absent. But two towns along the route provide an interesting look back and allow us to compare today and yesterday. Both Philmont and Ghent had railroad hotels that were established close to the tracks. Because of that proximity to the rails, the buildings appear in many old photos – which makes a comparison especially moving. The two hotels may have come to town because of the trains, but they managed to outlive the demise of the Harlem itself.

Philmont then and now

Philmont’s Empire House was built sometime in the 1880’s, and also included an Opera House. After the hotel was long gone, the building was converted to serve as a textile manufacturing facility. At some point in the ’60s Philmont’s American Legion purchased the building. They added a 30 foot by 70 foot section to the building, which included a kitchen. Due to the post’s declining membership, the members voted to put the building on the market in 2009.

Though the main structure of the building is similar to the above historical view, the original porches are gone from the building. The addition made by the American Legion is also apparent to the left of the building. The building itself gives us a point in which to gather our bearings, and highlights the absence of the railroad, and the old rail depot.

Ghent then and now

Ghent’s Bartlett House was likewise a railroad hotel, built in the 1870’s, and recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel hosted teachers, traveling salesmen, and plenty of other rail passengers – it was even captured by the lens of famed photographer Walker Evans. Besides the hotel, the building contained a dining room and a ballroom, occasionally the site for brawling politicians. Though part of the building is blocked by the train in our historical photo, the Bartlett House looks very much as it did when first built – in 2011 the front porch was redone based upon historical photos.

That pretty much wraps up our tour of the Upper Harlem Division’s stations. Many of the physical stations may be gone, but there is surprisingly quite a bit that can be found that reminds us that there was a real railroad that once ran through here. In fact, much of the former route can be seen visually from satellite maps – there is an obvious swath of barren land that marked where the rails once were. That, of course, may one day fade. But if the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association has their way, the entire route of the former Upper Harlem Division will at least be preserved as a trail, which I suppose is better than being forgotten entirely.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Tarrytown


Tarrytown postcard, monthly ticket from 1896, and a Hudson Division timetable from 1967

As we continue our travels along the Hudson Line, our next stop is Tarrytown station, about 25 miles north of Grand Central Terminal. Today’s tour is chock full of photos and information – certainly befitting one of the line’s busiest stations. Tarrytown is second only to Croton-Harmon in terms of ridership on the Hudson Line. It boasts an 1890 station building, which has been recently restored, and one of Arts for Transit’s newest works. Undoubtedly, Tarrytown is one of the more interesting spots on the Hudson Line, and certainly worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.


Postcard views of Tarrytown station

On our Hudson Line travels, you may have noticed that there are three stations on the line that match with very well with each other, but don’t quite match with the rest. Although beautiful, the stone stations at Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, and Irvington look a lot more like Boston & Albany stations than they do New York Central stations. This would be an apt observation, as each of those stations were designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge – the same architects that designed over 20 Boston & Albany stations (including one of my favorites, Chatham). Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed a total of five stations for the Hudson Division in 1898 and 1890 – Riverdale, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, New Hamburg, and Tarrytown. New Hamburg’s station was never actually built. Of the four that were built, Tarrytown’s station was the most expensive, at a cost of $34,492 (which, adjusted for inflation, would be around $826,126 today).


Early 1900’s view of Tarrytown station.

Many stations along the Hudson Line have gotten recent repairs, but the efforts that Metro-North went through to fix up Tarrytown went above and beyond. The $45 million dollar effort not only restored the historic station depot, but built new platforms, overpasses, stairways and shelters. Although all of those things are nice, I think it is the station building that people will notice first – especially since it contains one of the few remaining manned ticket windows. The building’s restoration included a new slate roof and gutters – but it is Metro-North’s attention to history that makes me give them major bonus points on this project. At some point over the years, the three dormer windows in the roof of the building had been lost. In a nod to history, the roof was restored to what it looked like when first built – and those restored windows definitely look nice!


Tarrytown station in 1970.

Admittedly, one of my favorite parts of the station isn’t the historical – it is one of the new additions to Tarrytown. Holly Sears created some lovely art for the station through the Arts for Transit program. The piece, titled Hudson River Explorers, consists of 11 windows made of laminated glass. Each window features various animals above and below the water, some native to our area, and others that are a bit more exotic. Although all the animals look quite realistic, the scenarios and scale in which they’ve been placed are closer to fantasy. Polar bears swim with elephants and a house cat in one panel, and in another a bobcat stands next to an equally-sized butterfly. Many of the combinations, like a seahorse and a full-sized galloping horse, seem quite playful, and are a cheerful addition to the often humdrum travels of a regular commuter.


Two of the original paintings by Sears. Bright background colors were later added for the finished piece, which is made of laminated glass and was installed in the two station overpasses.

I’m always appreciative when an Arts for Transit artist includes more information about the work on their website, and Sears has done a good job with that. Seeing the process of the art – in this case from a painting into beautiful laminated glass – is always enjoyable. Sears’ site is worth checking out, as she features each of her original 11 paintings for this piece. These paintings are also on exhibit at the Hudson River Museum until October 13th.

  
 
  
   
  
 
  

That is about it in terms of information on Tarrytown station. Below you’ll find the photographs I took while wandering around – including a few as the construction was wrapping up. There is going to be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new station on September 27 at 2:45, which should be interesting. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the event to get any further photos!

  
 
  
 
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
  

*Special thanks to Terri Evans at Shepley Bulfinch for pulling some documents from the Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge archives for this post!

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Riding in style on the New York Central and the Boston & Albany

Several years ago when I visited Japan, I got to ride one of the lovely novelty trains designed by Eiji Mitooka. Though he is more well known for the shinkansen he designed, he did create a few rather unique trains for the Wakayama Electric Railway, which, yes, is the system where a cat is vice-president. One of the trains is, of course, modeled after the cat, and when I reviewed it, I was pretty excited about the library on board. I always thought that a concept like that would never survive in popular use in the United States. It wouldn’t take long for every book on that train to be stolen or vandalized, if it were here and not in Japan. But really, the concept shouldn’t have surprised me so – as libraries on trains date back even to the 1800’s. No luxury train would be complete without a library, after all.

In fact, this is how the New York Central described one of their luxury cars, complete with library, in an 1889 timetable:

…made up of the most substantial and the handsomest railway carriages ever constructed. In the Buffet, Smoking and Library car are a unique buffet, movable chairs and couches in the most luxurious upholstery; a secretary supplied with stationery and writing material, and an enclosed Reading Room with a well-stocked library, in which is represented the best literature of the day, including the current newspapers and magazines.

I am not normally a collector of items from the Boston and Albany railroad, but they did print joint timetables with the New York Central, and some of them were a little bit too hard to resist on eBay. Contained in my most recent acquisition were some lovely illustrations of the luxury cars on the B&A. These illustrations were done, and printed by, the American Bank Note Company. That company has been around in some form since the late 1700’s, and still exists today. They’ve done everything from postage stamps, to stock certificates, and even old railroad timetables. While I have plans to feature some of the American Bank Note company’s illustrations for various railroads in the future (because they are so absolutely amazing), today I’m just going to share their depiction of long-gone fancy railcars.


Seriously, how could you resist this? If only timetables were still this gorgeous…


Vestibule of a train car manufactured by the Wagner Palace Car Company, formerly known as the New York Central Sleeping Car Company.


Dining car of the “very latest design and pattern, containing all the improvements known to the car-builder’s art.”


The buffet, smoking and library car, as depicted by the New York Central


“The sleeping cars in service on the Boston & Albany Railroad are of the latest and best designs.”

 
This is an example of the lunch basket you could order on the Boston and Albany. The train crew would take everyone’s orders and telegraph them ahead, for pickup at the next station stop. It was described as the “English method” of serving lunches.

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