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.

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 3)

If there is one thing that Westchester people have taught me, it is how to spend money (there are many times in which I feel that I am a strange observer here, really). Though instead of purchasing those two-hundred-dollar-a-pair pants from the Westchester Mall, I’ve decided to “invest” the precious little income I make in collection of postcards (uhh, and other things. I am an eBay addict).

Westchester people are funny to me, really they are. If you get a whole bunch of them into a single elevator and each person pushes a different floor button, somebody inevitably makes a comment about the elevator being a “local”, or not an “express”. The railroad is so deeply ingrained in their psyches, they don’t even realize it! We are approaching 180 years of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and 171 of those years the railroad has had a presence in Westchester… long enough for most people to not give it a second thought.

I do, however, think my collection of postcards is far more interesting than any pair of pants, as together we can look back at little glimpses of what the area was like, back when the railroad was only beginning to mold the landscape in where we now live, and driving the migration of people to these very suburbs. So here is part three of our series Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line. If you missed the previous posts, you can view them here: Part 1, Part 2.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

And really now, did you have any doubt there would be a part four? You can most certainly bet on it.

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 2)

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

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Pawling

Nestled in the rolling hills of Dutchess County lies the small village of Pawling, connected to the thriving city of New York by the railroad. When the New York & Harlem Railroad reached Pawling, the village had a population numbering in the 500’s. Today that population is a bit over 2000. It is the first station along the line in Dutchess County, and is roughly 64 miles north of Grand Central. When the line continued all the way up to Chatham, Pawling was approximately the midpoint. Historically, the station thrived due to the dairy industry. A factory visible from the platform today was once a milk plant – after processing the milk it was sent out via the Harlem. Located slightly north of the station was a yard, a small engine house, and a blacksmith and carpenter shop. There was once a turntable too, but that was later replaced with a wye.


Facilities at Pawling, circa 1920. Diagram by Lou Grogan

  
The original station, built in 1860, burned down in 1984. Photos by Lou Grogan

Today the station is, like most of the current Upper Harlem stations, rather quiet – except for the sound of a passing diesel engine. The station is past the zone of electrification, and unless you manage to board one of the few express trains, you’ll have to change at Southeast. The station is one of two in the town of Pawling – the other is the Appalachian Trail, which is a very limited service station.

That is about all I have for Pawling… next week I’ll be bringing you the final station on our Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line, Botanical Garden.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

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Chatham

Chatham: Revisited

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a strange affinity for the village of Chatham. Although it is an adorable place, rather quaint, I wonder what exactly it was like when the railroads ran through here. You might see a freight train, or a passing Lake Shore Limited, but none of them stop. Chatham once serviced the New York & Harlem Railroad, the Boston & Albany, and the Rutland – all of which are long gone. And thus the place is a little bit of a curiosity to me. The many suburbs along the Harlem – Bronxville, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, and even the ones further north, Katonah, Brewster – they were all influenced by the rail. They grew and morphed into the places we know now, and though the rail does not entirely define those places now, the rail still is there, playing a part in the futures of those areas. But Chatham, it is a special case. The single most defining factor of the village has disappeared. It is no longer the terminus of any railroads. The once busy Union Station no longer serves train riders, it is a bank. Chatham has reverted to a quieter version of itself, representing a little portion of historical Columbia County.

Many places across the country have seen transformations, with the things they were built upon playing a part in their downfall. Detroit was built on the auto industry, but as the industry migrated and moved overseas, parts of the city have become abandoned – a true example of urban decay. The small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was built upon anthracite coal, literally and figuratively. Ironically, it was the coal brought the death sentence of the little town, as it caught fire in the 1960’s and has been burning ever since. There is something about these changed places that intrigues me (high on my list of places to visit is also Pripyat, an abandoned town brought down by the failings of humans). All of these, of course, are radical examples. Chatham lives, it does not decay. Perhaps the once-fundamental core of its being is gone, but it still thrives. But just as one can compare the photos of Detroit’s urban decay with the historical photos of yesteryear, one can bear witness to the radical changes made in just a few scant years (or slightly longer than the years I’ve been on this Earth). There are no more signal towers, water towers, or turntables. The children of Chatham will never board a passenger train in their village to head the one hundred and twenty seven miles to Grand Central. And of course, the Harlem division will never again run this far north.

The time for Chatham as a railroad town has passed. As the time has ticked by it has reinvented itself, and is still reinventing itself. It is not the decline as a railroad hub that has intrigued me about Chatham, but that reinvention. It is a charming and beautiful little village, with a gazebo, clock tower, shops, and restaurants – plus a whole lot of history. The photos below were taken back in October upon my second visit to Chatham, a visit where I actually had time to shop and eat, and enjoy the surrounding history. Perhaps if you too find Chatham to be interesting you will take the time to visit some day…

 
  
 
 
 
  
 
   
 
 

The photos below were sent in by reader John. They were taken in the late 1960’s at Chatham.

 
 
 

For an even further back look, the Library of Congress has an illustrated map view of the village of Chatham from 1886. At this time the “Union Station” had not been built, and the Boston & Albany, and the New York & Harlem each had their own rail stations. For easier viewing I’ve given the B&A station a slight red tint, and the Harlem a blue tint.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Hawthorne

Every morning I start out my day taking Metro-North down to White Plains. Now one would probably assume that White Plains is the closest train station to my work, but the fact is that it is not. Mount Pleasant is actually the closest, but as it isn’t a regular stop, the closest train station would be Hawthorne. The place I work for has a shuttle bus that goes to and from White Plains though, so it is easier for me. But there are the occasional times where I end up going to Hawthorne or Valhalla, like when I leave work early and such. So although I am not a regular rider from the station, I am a bit more familiar with it than many of the other stations I’ve visited on the tour. I’ve seen it on the sunny days, and even on the snowy days. I am always curious about the changes going on at the station, such as the coffee shop that is supposed to be arriving at some point in the station building. And I was rather excited when the flowers arrived, along with the new clock in front of the station (which in my photos below had yet to be revealed).


Original Hawthorne station, circa 1900. Note the sign on the front which lists the distance in miles to each end of the railroad, in Chatham on one end and in New York City at the other. A similar sign still exists at Mount Kisco.

When the New York & Harlem Railroad first began making stops here in the 1840’s, the station was named Unionville. If the current name of Hawthorne evokes the memory of an American author, you are certainly on the right track (no pun intended). In 1901 Unionville became Hawthorne, honoring Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rose became a nun and was known as Mother Mary Alphonsa, founder of a home for those suffering from incurable cancers.

Below are some of the photos I took in Hawthorne at my last visit (which was sometime around July). The clock had recently arrived, the sky was an amazing shade of blue, and the flowers were blooming. In fact I think one of my favorite photos that day was the one of the flower. Although many of the stations I’ve visited I may never go to again, I’ll be checking up on Hawthorne in the future, as I’m eagerly awaiting the new coffee shop… and I’ll probably have to do a before and after of the little station building.

 
   
  
  
 
  
 
  
 

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 1)

Hi, my name is Emily, and I have a problem. An addiction, really. And no, I am not referring to my frequent use of hats with ears. I have an addiction to eBay, and buying crazy things there. I’m not quite to the stage where one ought to worry that I am going to end up on that TV show Hoarders. Nor am I to the point where I’ve collected a hundred cats and you can change my nickname from Cat Girl to Cat Lady. But I am somewhat interested in acquiring old things. Like train timetables from 1883, or postcards from the early 1900’s. I began scanning some of the postcards I’ve managed to get… I hope that one day I’ll have one for every station, but I know that is quite a lofty goal. Someday, perhaps…

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 

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Fall Roadtrip Day 1: Bennington Station, Vermont

Yesterday’s stormy weather played havoc on the trains and roads… perfect weather for the start of my fall roadtrip. Most of the stops I had planned (some of the old Harlem Stations) were postponed until Sunday, and perhaps the things I planned on Sunday will be cancelled. But determined to make the most of the situation, we headed straight up to Vermont where the rain was a bit lighter. Consulting the GPS for a restaurant around lunch time I noticed a place called “Bennington Station Restaurant”. I must say, the stop redeemed the day’s terrible weather.

Bennington Station, a station along the Rutland Railway, was built in 1897 and designed by architect William C. Bull. The style of the building is Richardson Romanesque, the same style I’ve previously mentioned when visiting Chatham. The outside is constructed of blue marble quarried in West Rutland, however with the rough finish of the marble, it resembles granite.

The inside is beautifully furnished with wood, and consists of a dining room and lounge. The food was great, and I definitely suggest a visit if you’re ever in the area!

 
  
 
  
   
   
   
 
   

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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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Conversations With My Neighbor: Fireman for the New York Central

It has been my opinion for quite a while that my house ought to be a reality TV show. Not far from Goldens Bridge train station, we roommates met via Craigslist. We currently have three people in the house, but in the past have had four. And one dog. Her name is Kaylee, and she weighs almost as much as me. Correction, she weighs nearly what I weighed before I got a job that provided me enough money for my junk food and Coca-cola addiction. The fourth roommate, and there have been two, has always been the smelly one – whether it be from not washing, or from smoking a million packs a day. The first two formed a band that frequently makes noise in our basement, which if you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably heard about. They are also dating off and on. If I had a dollar for every time they broke up and she moved out, only for her to move back in not soon after, I’d be rich. They are currently together, but by the time the next train arrives in Goldens Bridge, who knows…

In a strange coincidence during one of those breakups, the two got into a fight outside. He threw a CD at her, but was off the mark and it flew into the neighbor’s yard. And they forgot about it. Several days later the neighbor shows up, CD in hand, returning what they must have “lost”. In the chatter that followed during this encounter, my roommate discovered that the neighbor once worked for the railroad, back when they still used steam on the Harlem Line. When my roommate told me about it, I knew I had to speak to this man. And so, one afternoon while walking the dog, I spotted him outside on the porch and said hello.


The man on the left is my neighbor, John

My neighbor certainly has an intresting viewpoint in regards to the history of the Harlem line. He witnessed the final years of steam on the line, and the trains that replaced them. He was a Fireman, while that position still existed, anyway. He told me he’d put water in the boiler in the engine in Goldens Bridge that would run to Mahopac, and then on break, would walk to his house, have a sandwich and tend to the plants in his garden. It was one of the many jobs he had over the years, including working in Chatham, Dover Plains, Brewster and Goldens Bridge. Occasional winters were spent working on the Maybrook Line in Danbury and Hopewell Junction. Besides seeing the end of steam, he witnessed the transition from the New York Central to Penn Central, Conrail, and Metro North, until finally retiring in 1991.


The above photos of his are of the Empire State Express no. 999, taken in Chatham in 1952

We always thought we’d lose the passengers. We never thought we’d lose the freight…

John motions to his wife, telling me how she hates how he always says this. It is hard for him to understand the state of matters today, shipping everything by truck. Trains were so much more efficient, he says. Watching the news every morning, the traffic reports show cameras of the traffic on every bridge going into the city, with traffic backed up for miles… and plenty of box trucks in wait. He muses about how everything has changed. Everything today is technology based…

“It was boring…” he said of being an engineer today. He turns to look at me with his weathered face, but his light blue eyes are still bright. He tells me that having good eyes was essential for working on the railroad. When starting out he had to undergo various vision tests, to have the vision to see a signal light from a mile away. To see in fog, and to see through your peripheral vision. It baffled him to see people working for Metro North, people that wore glasses. Because now, you didn’t need to see signals outside, everything was in the cab. Having perfect vision isn’t a necessity as it once was. Although hiring a more diverse workforce, in both gender and color, was a new thing, seeing the people wearing glasses seemed like it was harder to get used to for him.

He refers to himself as an “old timer” and says that most of the people he worked with weren’t really interested in his stories. I think he finds it amusing that someone is so interested in them, especially a young female. But that is hardly the first time I’ve heard that before. Some of the things he told me were not stories in their entirety, but quick smatterings of thoughts and memories. Comparing distractions of cell phones today, to people he recalled watching baseball games on portable televisions long ago. People that would throw rocks and bottles at the train, and how he once got a “face full of glass” – an event he didn’t care much to elaborate on. Stories he heard from the “old timers” of his day, of bootleggers during prohibition, and people that smuggled out Canadian ale on the trains. And when I asked about uniforms, he told me of others on cleaner trains that wore suits to work, suits with inner pockets where flasks could be hidden.


More photos from my neighbor’s collection

For 43 years my neighbor worked for the railroad, though he mentioned another family member that had a record, close to 50 years of service to the rail. His daughter and son both work for Metro North, in North White Plains, and over on the Hudson Line. Despite living next door, I don’t see the man much. He spends part of his time at a house upstate, and when he happens to be in Goldens Bridge, he often sits outside, on the porch hidden by bushes. But every time I walk by, mostly on the way to or from the train station, I look over to see if he is hidden behind those plants. Because even though our conversations have been few, they’ve always been most interesting.

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