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Posts Tagged ‘cornelius vanderbilt’

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

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

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.

A Recap of Events: Grand Central’s Centennial Events Transit Museum History Photos

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

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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Booklet spread 9

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!

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

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

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!

 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Welcome to the Hudson Line Train History

Monday, June 18th, 2012

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.

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

Friday, April 27th, 2012

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.