The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 2: Hyde Park

Quite a while ago I shared with you the story of Newport’s Marble House, one of the many mansions constructed by the Vanderbilt family with their wealth earned from the railroads. Today we’re going a little bit closer to home, and checking out the mansion of Frederick Vanderbilt in Hyde Park. Frederick was one of four sons born to William Henry Vanderbilt, and was the grandson of family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Postcard and brochures from the Vanderbilt Mansion Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Brochures and postcards from the Hyde Park Vanderbilt mansion. Although considered modest by the standards of the “Gilded Age,” a mansion is still a mansion, and far more than a regular person could afford.

I always joke that both Cornelius and William Henry Vanderbilt were experts at making money, while all the further generations were just experts at spending it. This is for the most part true – William Henry’s two eldest sons Cornelius II and William Kissam inherited $75 million and $50 million, respectively. With that money they constructed mansions in New York City, Newport, Long Island, and other locales, and threw extravagant parties within. Frederick, on the other hand, was lucky to inherit only $10 million (apparently eloping with your cousin’s ex-wife, over 10 years your senior, is generally frowned upon). Despite that, Frederick was the only grandson to wisely invest that inheritance and actually earn, rather than spend, all the money.

Frederick’s Hyde Park mansion was designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White, and completed in 1899. The Beaux Arts mansion was one of several that Frederick owned, and was usually occupied during the winter.

Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Postcards from the inside of the mansion.

Today the mansion is owned by the National Park Service, and is operated as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The place is worth visiting, not only for the mansion, but the grounds also provide a lovely view of the Hudson. I must admit I was quite impressed with the guides – I am aware that I know far more than most about the Vanderbilts, and generally the architecture folks aren’t quite as versed in the history of the railroads. While I was waiting for some sort of factual slip up, our guide Mike actually gave a wonderfully detailed introduction to the Vanderbilts that was not only historically accurate, but both humorous and interesting.

If you’re interested in checking out the mansion, Hyde Park is located just a few miles north of Poughkeepsie. The National Park Service offers shuttles from Poughkeepsie station seasonally (May to October) to the historical sites in Hyde Park, so it is completely possible to do a trip by public transportation alone. Unfortunately Metro-North does not offer any package deals with train fare to these historical sites, so you’ll have to purchase them separately.

Anyways, that is about all I have for you today – enjoy some photos of the mansion below! Note that in the past photography was not permitted inside the mansion, however that has been rescinded this season. Photography is permitted inside, provided you do not use a flash.

 
  
 
 
  
 
  
  
 
   
 

Oh, and before I forget, if you’re interested in playing the acorn game, it is possible to find a few around the mansion…
 
The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, were frequently found in the mansions and other buildings that the family commissioned. Unlike some of the other mansions, the motif is far less prominent here. The few acorns you’ll find at Hyde Park are mostly on the second floor – incorporated into the banisters and other minor detail work.

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A Recap of Events: Grand Central’s Centennial

Last Friday the MTA held a celebration for Grand Central’s Centennial, which expectedly turned out to be a widely attended day-long event. One of the main events was a rededication ceremony for the Terminal, held that morning. There were a wide array of speakers at the ceremony, including Mayor Bloomberg, Cynthia Nixon and Caroline Kennedy. Peter Stangl, the first president of Metro-North also spoke, as did Howard Permut, current president of Metro-North.

  
  

The West Point Brass and Percussion Band also performed, which seemed quite appropriate. According to historical accounts of Grand Central’s opening, the first song to ever be played in the Terminal was the Star Spangled Banner, which was not yet our national anthem at that time, on the east balcony. The band’s placement right below the east balcony as they played the song seemed rather appropriate, and probably the closest we’d get to reenacting what happened on February 2nd, 1913, at 12:01 AM. Also a fitting mirror was a presentation of a key to Mr. Permut by members of the Vanderbilt family – similar to the presentation of keys to Terminal Manager Miles Bronson one hundred years ago.

The only unfortunate thing to note is that much of the celebration was focused on the VIPs, as opposed to the lowly commuters that actually use Grand Central. (And for the record, no, running this blog did not qualify me as a VIP – I asked and was rejected. An “actual” member of the “press” granted me a pass in their stead. Thanks Steve!) VIP guests to the event got a special program and booklet, which are visible here:

Rededication ceremony program
Program for the Grand Central rededication.

Long poem in one booklet, short poem on this "Poetry in Motion" poster.
Two poems were written about Grand Central by poet Billy Collins. The long poem was illustrated in one booklet, and the short poem appears on this "Poetry in Motion" poster. The posters were not handed out at the event, but have been sighted on trains.

Booklet spread 1
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The text on the inside of the booklet was the longer poem that was read by Billy Collins during the ceremony. The shorter poem, which he also read, appears in the program, and on trains thanks to Poetry in Motion and Arts for Transit.


Billy Collins speaks at the Rededication Ceremony

If you’re not familiar with Collins, he is a New York native that was both New York State Poet Laureate, and Poet Laureate of the United States… which in the poetry world is kind of a big deal. While I’m sure plenty of poems have been written about Grand Central, Collins’ poems may be the most high profile written about our lovely Terminal.


Well, Cornelius Vanderbilt is supposed to be here…

As of right now, I have little to say about the Transit Museum’s show “Grand by Design.” Unfortunately, a hundred years wasn’t quite enough to finish up the exhibition, and it seemed that things were missing. The fact that Cornelius Vanderbilt was not mentioned or pictured seemed like a mistake of monumental proportion. Apparently it turned out that Mr. Vanderbilt was supposed to be on that nice blank spot we’re all pointing to in the photo above. I was also disappointed that there was no mention of William Kissam Vanderbilt either – he was really the only Vanderbilt that had a direct influence on the construction of Grand Central. (If the Vanderbilts are still confusing you, it means you haven’t yet read this.) But in all honesty, I may have just been depressed that Anderson Cooper did not attend the event – he is a Vanderbilt, after all.

USPS Grand Central stamp

Another event that happened on Friday regarded the new United States Postal Service stamp, picturing Grand Central, illustrated by Dan Cosgrove. If you were one of the hundreds of people that failed to get the Grand Central centennial cover and stamp on Friday, you can purchase them directly online. Word was that within fifteen minutes they ran out of envelopes for the stamps. The whole purpose of the event was to get the stamp on the special envelope and get it postmarked… so I feel bad for all the people that waited in that line to get just the stamp, which could be purchased at any post office. If you’re looking to grab the covers with the February 1 date stamp online, the USPS site offers two versions for purchase, one with a color postmark for $21.10, or a regular first day stamp for $20.39.

Back on topic, the entire event was a big birthday bash for Grand Central. And no birthday celebration would be complete without a little music…
 
Sarah Charness played the electric violin, and later Melissa Manchester sang. Manchester also shouted “I love you, gorgeous!” at the sky ceiling, which might be cute, had I not been thinking about this.

…and a little bit of cake…

I hope you all like this photo, I dropped my piece of cake on the floor while taking it. And yes, only the VIPs got delicious cake.

The gorgeous cake was made by Eric Bedoucha of Financier Patisserie – a delicious confection modeled after the Information Booth’s clock. It was supposedly saved for the VIP dinner to be hosted at the Oyster Bar that night… which in itself is another mirror to actual events, as the first VIP dinner happened February 1st 1913 at 8 PM.

That about sums it up for the Centennial. With the ceremony past, I figured I’d leave off with a quick recap of all fifteen articles I wrote about Grand Central over the past hundred days.

Happy Birthday, Grand Central!

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Pennsylvania Railroad stock certificate, depicting Horseshoe Curve in Altoona

A Collection of Railroad-themed Etchings by the American Bank Note Company

A few days ago I posted some lovely illustrations showing the fancy cars that operated on the New York Central and Boston and Albany railroads, all done by the American Bank Note Company. Admittedly, I had never really heard about that company until I saw their signature on the bottom of several of those illustrations. It was an intriguing discovery – not only does the company have roots dating back to the founding of this country, they’re still around today! Over the years they have done the engraving and printing for currency, postage stamps, stock certificates, and even railroad timetables. This style of illustration is what makes me absolutely adore old timetables from the 1800’s.

Because of my love of these illustrations, I’m amassed quite a little collection of them which I would like to share with you all. Though there were other engravers that did similar work, this collection is comprised of railroad-related engravings exclusively done by the American Bank Note Company. Many railroads used their services – you’ll note illustrations for the New York Central, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Grand Trunk Railway, and many others. In some cases I’ve isolated the illustrations from whatever they were a part of, often in the case of stock certificates. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do… Have a favorite? Tell us in the comments!

 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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Welcome to the Hudson Line

As riders of Metro-North, we are quite familiar with the Hudson River. It serves as an important dividing line of the system – west-of-Hudson service, operated by New Jersey Transit, and the more familiar east-of-Hudson service which is comprised of the Harlem, New Haven and Hudson Lines. For those that still use Metro-North’s website for scheduling, acknowledging on which side of the river you fall is still a necessity. Besides providing a dividing line for Metro-North, the river has always been an important part of the landscape of New York. Boats on the river have been commonplace for hundreds of years, and although we hardly think of boats as a significant method of transportation today (beyond short jaunts or luxury cruises), sloops and steamboats were once a staple on the river for moving both people and freight.


Construction photographs of one of the tunnels on the Hudson Line

The river has also played a significant role in shaping the railroads of our area. When plans were made for a railroad from New York City to Albany, an inland route was chosen as to not compete with the already existing shipping lanes on the river. This inland route was, of course, The New York and Harlem Railroad, or today’s Harlem Line. But besides the ships, the idea of building a railroad along the Hudson was avoided because of the immense challenge and expense of cutting through the Hudson Highlands. When the railroad was ultimately built, large amounts of rock had to be excavated – on the sixteen mile portion from Peekskill to Fishkill alone, over 425 thousand cubic yards of rock had to be removed. Winters on the Hudson proved to be the major factor in finally building the Hudson River Railroad, as although ships were well established, there were many times that the river was unpassable due to ice. Trains were a perfect solution – not only could they operate in weather that boats could not, they were also much quicker.



1851 woodcuts of spots along the Hudson River Railroad – New Hamburg, Ossining, and Peekskill

When the railroad opened on on September 29th, 1849 it stretched from New York to Peekskill – a distance of forty miles. By the end of 1849 the railroad had reached all the way to Poughkeepsie. Over that span of track, eight tunnels bored through solid rock were required, totaling 3595 feet. The cost of the railroad was around nine million dollars, or roughly 233 million in today’s dollars. It is interesting to note that the weather played a part in determining the fares in the railroad’s early years. According to the railroad’s charter, fares from New York to Albany were not to exceed three dollars. When there was no other competition in the winter, tickets would be full price. In the summer months the fares likely fluctuated due to competition with steamships – even though the trip by train shaved several hours off the journey.

By 1864 the Hudson River Railroad had come under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and he merged it with the New York Central to form the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. The line was an important part of the famed “Water Level Route” which, expectedly, followed various bodies of water and was relatively flat.


Timetables along the Hudson Line, from 1901, 1912, 1972, and 1983.

Despite the railroad’s difficulties over the years, transitioning from New York Central to Penn Central, Conrail, and later Metro-North, this portion of rail has always been an important link to Albany and beyond. Besides Metro-North’s commuter trains, Amtrak also operates here, making stops at Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, and Poughkeepsie.


Cash fare receipts and tickets from the Hudson Line. From the collection of Otto Vondrak.

It is the Hudson Line that we now turn our attention to, as our highly-anticipated Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line begins tomorrow. The Hudson Line is the last Metro-North line to be featured here, and is sure to be a treat. Like our previous tours of the Harlem and New Haven Lines, stations will be presented in no particular order, as I am still exploring and photographing.

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The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 1: Marble House

When it comes to historical figures related to the subject of railroads, I don’t think you could find a more interesting person to read about than Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Commodore, as he was known, was brusque, at times ruthless, and didn’t really give a damn what anybody thought of him. While one biographer tells an interesting story of Vanderbilt’s sunset years – suffering from syphilis, going slowly mad, and operated like a puppet by his son – another biographer refutes that story as a complete fabrication (and he makes a fairly convincing case).

The undeniable thing we do know of Cornelius Vanderbilt is that he amassed a fortune first from steamboats, and later from railroads. The Commodore had no desire to split up his massive fortune upon his death, and thus the overwhelming majority was bequeathed to his son William Henry. From there the inheritance was divided between William Henry’s sons, with the larger portions going to the eldest two – Cornelius II and William Kissam. While the Commodore and William Henry were quite adept at making money, the next generation of Vanderbilts were quite fantastic at spending it. Today’s post is the first in a series about the extravagant things that this railroad fortune was spent on. A few of the Vanderbilt mansions are still in existence, two of which are in Newport, Rhode Island. The first we will be visiting is Marble House, which was financed by William Henry’s second son, William Kissam Vanderbilt.


Postcard view of Marble House, located on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island

Anyone who has been in Grand Central Terminal is somewhat familiar with the Vanderbilt family and some of the characteristics found in architecture created for them. A common motif is the acorn and oak leaf, which is frequently sighted in the Terminal, and at another Newport mansion – The Breakers – which belonged to Cornelius II. Other than its extravagance, not much about Marble House screams “Vanderbilt” – likely because it was wholly a creation of Alva Erskine Vanderbilt, wife of William Kissam, and architect Richard Morris Hunt. Alva and William wedded in mostly a marriage of convenience – she was sociable and knew her way around the high society the new generation of Vanderbilts desired to be a part of. He was certainly wealthy, but lacked the full acceptance of New York City’s elite. Together, however, they managed to host extravagant balls that launched them to the forefront of New York society.

Marble House was known as a cottage – or in the parlance of the wealthy of that era, merely a summer home. It was William’s gift to his wife for her 39th birthday – and an extravagant gift it was. The building cost around $11 million, $7 million of which was for marble alone. Built in the Beaux Arts style, the inside and out was influenced by both French and Greek art and architecture. After completion in 1892, Marble House remained in Alva’s possession until 1932 – despite her divorce with William in 1895.

Although a masterpiece for Alva, Marble House served as more of a gilded prison for one young Vanderbilt. Consuelo was the second child of William Kissam and Alva, and their only daughter. She described her mother as, “a born dictator, she dominated events about her as thoroughly as she eventually dominated her husband and her children.” She said of her father: “He was so invariably kind… gentle and sweet… with a fund of humorous tales and jokes that as a child were my joy,” but also noted “he only played a small part in our lives… our mother dominated our upbringing, our education, our recreation and our thoughts.”


Consuelo Vanderbilt, later in life. Drawn by Paul Helleu, the artist responsible for the sky ceiling in Grand Central Terminal.

Marble House was completed when Consuelo was 16, and it was not long after that Alva began searching for the perfect mate for her daughter. Though many desired Consuelo’s hand in marriage (and clearly, the money that came along with), her mother found the young Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough the clear winner. When Consuelo told her mother she would not marry the Duke, she was sequestered in the mansion: not permitted to leave, nor contact any friends. Her mother even faked a heart attack, “brought about by [Consuelo’s] callous indifference to [her mother’s] feelings.” Consuelo relented, and agreed to marry the Duke – who officially proposed to her in Marble House’s Gothic Room. Though the wedding was certainly paid for by Vanderbilt money, Alva did not permit any Vanderbilts to attend the ceremony, with the exception of her ex-husband.

Today, Marble House is maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who has owned the mansion since 1963. Regular people can tour the mansion, however, for the truly wealthy, you can rent the place out for an event. The weekend I was visiting, this was the case. One of the employees there even said to me that some of the guests arriving for the festivities, “had more money than God.” I suppose it turned out well in the end – while everyone was distracted with the wealthy visitors, I was able to surreptitiously take a few photographs of the inside of the mansion. Many furnishings in the house are original that were donated to the Preservation Society, though the visage of the Commodore is visible throughout the house. Assumedly, these are not original, as I can not imagine Alva keeping these in her meticulously designed abode.

 
 
  
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
  

In addition to the main house, the mansion has a small Chinese tea house in the back yard, right next to the water. Several years newer than the main house – the tea house was commissioned in 1912, and opened in July of 1914. The small tea house is 1125 square feet with 14 foot high ceilings, and played host to various meetings of Alva’s pet cause – womens’ suffrage. There is something slightly amusing about a woman who fought for womens’ rights, yet forced her daughter into an arranged marriage for a noble title, but Consuelo did not seem to hold this against her mother.

   
 
 
  
 
 

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Another side of Grand Central, views during Summer Streets

In two short years our lovely Grand Central Terminal will be celebrating her centennial. In the years that we’ve known her, she has relatively few undiscovered secrets – countless books, documentaries, and articles have told her stories to anyone curious enough. Sure, media outlets always present these as grand, never-before-heard secrets, but for the railfans, we know (and have discussed their veracity endlessly). One can be so caught up in the immense grandeur of the monument designed by Reed, Stem, Warren, Wetmore, and Wilgus (one must never forget Wilgus) that some of the most obvious details are completely overlooked. Perhaps overlooked is not the correct word – as on a normal day one cannot really get a proper look of the exterior of this grand structure. In fact, a closer look is completely blocked by the roadway that diverts traffic around the station – one of the details that won Reed and Stem the contest for design of the station in the first place. Unless you’ve taken the roadway around the station, chances are you’ve not gotten a chance to see up-close the eight-and-a-half foot tall likeness of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Nor have you gotten a good, full-frontal view of the massive sculpture on the front facade (the enormous scale of which is practically imperceptible from the ground). But there are days in which these views are open for all to explore, and to photograph. They may call them Summer Streets, but to me, they are a great time to view Grand Central.

If you are familiar with the concept of Summer Streets, the most typical image that probably comes to mind is a bicycle. For three Saturdays, usually in August, seven miles of street are temporarily closed off to cars – allowing bicyclists, skaters, and pedestrians to stroll to their heart’s content. Although the scene is dominated by the bicyclists, you will definitely see a few photographers (like me!) capturing the view sans the ubiquitous automobile. You can get up close and personal with the Commodore and a perched eagle, and roam around the exterior to see the New York Central (now the Helmsley) Building, which was once viewable behind Grand Central – until it was eclipsed by the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building in 1963.

Both the eagle and the Vanderbilt statue predate the Terminal, but have both returned to stand watch. The cast-iron eagle, with a thirteen-foot wingspan, once perched above Grand Central Depot, the predecessor to today’s Terminal. In the late 90’s the bird was discovered in Bronxville, eventually donated to the MTA, and returned to its historical home. The statue of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was designed by Ernst Plassman in 1869, and was relocated to its current home in 1913, when the Terminal was completed. The 35-story building at 230 Park Avenue, originally the New York Central Building, was designed by Warren and Wetmore and completed in 1928.

 
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
  
 
  
 
   

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Happy (early) Birthday, Chauncey Mitchell Depew

Every day when I ride the train down to White Plains, a crowd of folks hovers on the platform, waiting for the train to slow and then stop. They crowd around every door, masses of them, and a fight ensues. A fight of currents. The current of those disembarking clashes against those pushing themselves through and onto the train. If you don’t hold fast and push, you will be swept away before you can even place a foot on the yellow tactile stripping of the platform. And this, this is a daily ritual that I loathe. There is only one thing I hate even more than those that crowd around the doors attempting to get on the train: the people that hover in front of the doors, not to get on the train, but to accost each of the people disembarking with papers – usually some sort of politician’s propaganda. And while we’re being pretty honest here, I am not much of a fan of politicians, especially the ones that swarm train stations whenever an election looms. Some of you may remember back in the “olden days” when I first started this blog, every time a politician would forcibly hand me a piece of propaganda at a train station, I photoshopped it in some odd way and posted it. It was my own little way of rebelling. Though I may have stopped my photoshopping of politicians, the fact still remains: I don’t like politicians.

Politicians today are pretty weak. They don’t even write their own stuff, they get other people to do that. You think if they didn’t spend time writing it, the least they could do is memorize it. But no, they have to stoop to writing on their hands, using teleprompters, or just spewing complete bullshit that makes the rest of the world laugh at us – but hey, we elected them! It makes me want to go back to a time where politicians were badass… where they had duels to settle differences, and despite getting shot in the chest, still delivering their speeches. A time where the politicians could actually speak, a wonderful and eloquent stream of words – not any of this crap that dribbles like a man foaming at the mouth. Politics then would be a heck of a lot more interesting, and elections wouldn’t be a battle between the lesser of two evils.

I’m not sure if anyone really has a “favorite” historical politician. And if anyone does, it is probably a former president. I’m sure Abraham Lincoln’s name would probably come up. Maybe it is just a consequence of us looking back at history in retrospect. We learned his speeches in school, and heck, maybe even the fact that he was assassinated makes us look back and think, damn he was a good politician. But there was another man, not nearly as popular and most people today probably don’t even know his name, but I always seemed to think he was pretty cool. At minimum, he was a brilliant orator, the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of speeches today. But I must admit, perhaps I am a little biased about this fellow, as he was not only a politician, but he was also a railroad man.


Photographs of Chauncey Depew over the years

“Don’t be a damned fool!”
Usually when you’re looking to hire someone for a job, those are not the words you utter to the person you may potentially hire. But then again, most people aren’t the brusque Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt approached a Peekskill-born lawyer by the name of Chauncey Mitchell Depew, offering him a position as the attorney for the New York & Harlem Railroad – a position he was about ready to turn down. Depew had been offered a position as the US Minister to Japan. At that time the journey to Japan took a full six months, and thus the sending of any message took a full year. However, the monetary compensation was far higher than the railroad job – and Depew said as much to the Commodore. It was then that the Commodore fired back with the following: “Railroads are the career for a young man; there is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.” Depew took the railroad job.


1895 Harlem Division pass, signed by Chauncey Depew

Chauncey Mitchell Depew was born in Peekskill, New York on April 23, 1834. In his youth he spent significant amounts of time reading – his uncle was a postmaster, and at the time there was no mail delivery. Mail often sat a long while until the recipient came to pick it up, and in the interim a young Depew would peruse any newspaper or magazine that would arrive. As a young man Depew would attend Yale, and graduated from there in 1856. At that time there were no law schools in the country, and one would have to “read law” – a sort of apprenticeship – to become a lawyer. Depew “read law” with a lawyer in Peekskill and was accepted to the bar in 1858. Before being called by Vanderbilt, Depew worked as a lawyer in New York City, and served a brief stint as a member of the New York Assembly, and the Secretary of State for New York.


Photograph of Chauncey Depew, from the Library of Congress

All of that probably sounds just as boring as the pedigree of any politician, but there was something about Depew that intrigues me. He was quite the orator, and rubbed elbows with quite a few influential people that maybe you’ve heard of: Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, and Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few. Depew was described as having a “personal charm and a lovable disposition” – but for the most part he was remembered in his day as a brilliant speaker. You can in fact read many of his speeches, as well as his as his autobiography, for free online – and if you ever get a spare moment, I do find them rather interesting.

Most people today, however, will remember Depew as a railroad man (even though he served as a senator later in life as well). He accepted Vanderbilt’s offer of a position in 1866, a time when Vanderbilt’s roads consisted of a little over two-hundred-and-fifty miles. In the early 1900’s, that number had ballooned to over twenty-thousand miles in the system. By 1874 Depew had ascended to the position of Director of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and by 1882 was the Vice-President for the New York Central. In 1885 he was elected to the presidency, and in 1898 chairman of the board. He served as chairman until his death in 1928, working for the railroad for a total of 62 years.


The cover of New York Central Lines magazine, after the death of Chauncey Depew

Upon his death, Grand Central was draped in mourning. If one questioned the influence of Depew, one needs only look to the list of pallbearers for his funeral, consisting of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. His wife received condolences from American presidents and European royalty. Though the man is long gone and many have forgotten him, you will still occasionally see references to him: Depew Park in Peekskill, various Depew Streets located around train stations, and the village of Depew, New York, located upstate. And then, of course, there are the words he left behind…

If your construction of success was honestly analyzed, it would probably mean to most minds the getting of money. The desire to acquire property is the most potent force in the activities of our people. It is the mainspring of of our marvelous development, and the incentive and reward of intelligent industry. It is alike the cause of the noblest efforts and the most revolting crimes.

We are at present sailing upon tranquil seas, with no clouds above the horizon and no warnings from the barometer. It is at such times that the prudent and experienced navigator hopes for the best and prepares for the worst.

Keep the roads paved and free from obstructions by which the industrious, the honest, and the capable, with no additional capital but character, can rise from any condition to the highest honors of the Republic, and the largest rewards of business.

Give to all men and women their full opportunities to work on their own destinies, and provide the incentives to efforts and ambitions which promote the enterprises and develop the resources of the country, and enrich and invigorate its intellectual life.

The indestructible union of liberty and law has given character and perpetuity in American institutions. It produced those perfect conditions, of freedom, protection, and equality, which peoples have sought for ages through bloody revolutions, and never before found. It has attracted to our shores fourteen millions of emigrants, against the superior advantages of soil and climate in Mexico and South America, or equal material opportunities in Canada. Most of this vast population have fled from the oppression of laws made for classes and working injustice and wrong to the masses. They have been of incalculable benefit to the country, and without them onr development and resources would be fifty years behind their present state. They have brought with them industry, integrity, and an intense desire to better their lives and improve the condition of their children.

Steam and electricity have made us one people, and for commercial pnrposes unified the world.

Trust and confidence are the foundation of success. Without them it is useless to begin and impossible to advance.

While we’re continuing our celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I figured profiling a man who got his start on the New York & Harlem Railroad would be appropriate. Conveniently, Depew’s birthday would be tomorrow – so we’ll wish the two of them Happy Birthday on this day!

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The Vanderbilts

Railroads, Mansions and Money: The Vanderbilts in a nutshell

There is a lot of wrong information, or downright confusion, when it comes to the Vanderbilts on the internet. I’ve seen articles saying they earned their fortunes in the 1930’s, and that Gloria Vanderbilt’s father was the man who made the millions. But the family has origins much earlier than that, with the “Commodore Cornelius” Vanderbilt. Can I fault people for the confusion? Not really, considering that there were six or more men named Cornelius, at least five Williams, and several George Washingtons. It is my belief that all New Yorkers, and everyone that ever steps through Grand Central, ought to know about the Commodore and his family that had so much influence on our area. It was he that united New York state’s oldest railroad, with New York city’s oldest railroad. The family that built the New York Central railroad into an empire, and constructed our wonderful monument, Grand Central Terminal. So, if you were ever confused about the Vanderbilts, hopefully they’ll now make more sense to you… as I present to you, the Vanderbilts in a nutshell.






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The curious story of the ghost horse in Grand Central

For some time I’ve wanted to write a post about a particular odd topic, and have waited until now to do so. I figured Halloween would be an appropriate time of the season to mention it, as not only does it have to do with Grand Central, but a ghost in Grand Central. An equine ghost.

I’m not exactly sure how I first came across the story of racehorse Maud S, but it was likely when randomly reading about some of the Vanderbilts’ extravagant and expensive possessions. Without a doubt, Cornelius Vanderbilt was a true master at making money, and his son William Henry was quite adept at adding to that fortune. Cornelius’s grandchildren on the other hand, William Kissam and Cornelius II, were quite the masters at spending money. Though that is not to say that their father William didn’t purchase some pretty crazy things. One such purchase was the racehorse, Maud S. At the time Maud S was one of the fastest racehorses in the world, and held the record for the fastest mile. Her sale to Vanderbilt infuriated some in the racing world – he was taking this amazing horse away from the races to instead be privately corralled outside of Grand Central so he could ride her whenever it struck his fancy. Of course, this is the 1880’s and much of the area around Grand Central Depot was rural, and in terms of the city of New York, considered well “uptown”. But the fact of the matter was, if one of the richest men in the world wanted one of the fastest horses in the world to pull him around in a carriage, it would be done, and William Henry Vanderbilt certainly had deep enough pockets to pay for it. Plus, he was probably never late to New York Central board meetings.


This entire post was merely an excuse to post a picture of William Vanderbilt’s amazing facial hair

I’m not exactly sure what fascinated me about the story of this horse… maybe the fact that even today, a bed and breakfast has a room named after her? Or maybe how a windmill manufacturing company was also named after her? Perhaps it was her big obituary in the New York Times and other papers across the country? (Several internet sites claim the obituary made the first page of the Times, though this is false – it made the 12th page on March 18, 1900) Nope, I think it was the article in City Scoops that said that she is currently roaming the halls of Grand Central near the Oyster Bar – as a ghost.

Of course, the story is most likely a joke. The author even describes herself as a “professional storyteller”. Whether a joke or not, there are actually tourists that believe this shit! I had no idea that there are actually New York City ghost tours, and ones that even visit Grand Central! Perhaps I am a Halloween party pooper to say it, but there is no ghost of a horse wandering the station. I’d be more likely to believe that ghosts of some commuters haunt the station. In fact maybe that should have been written as a warning in Mileposts – don’t run to your train as you might trip, fall, die, and become the next ghost to wander the halls of the station come next October! And way before Metro North, I’m sure plenty of people have died in the station. It was, after all, built in the early 1900’s, railroading was hardly the safest occupation, plus it was being constructed as the previous station was being dismantled, all while maintaining train service. People certainly have died there. But those deaths are hardly as glamorous, and frankly amusing, as a fancy racehorse.

For all of you that happen to be in Grand Central on Sunday, have a Happy Halloween… and do keep your ears open for suspicious neighing…
…coming from me standing in front of the Oyster Bar.

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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.

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