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.

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
 
  
 
  
  
 

Read More

Photos from Canaan Railway Days

Some months ago I randomly stumbled upon the old railroad depot in Canaan. Stumbled is really the appropriate word – I wasn’t looking for, nor expecting the station. I suppose one could say the station found me. In the original post I wrote about the station, I mentioned that I knew there had been a fire there, and after seeing fire photos in the internet I had assumed the station would be demolished. How wrong I was!

Apparently I am not the only person fascinated by the old Canaan depot. That original post has been one of the most popular stories on the blog this year. Not to mention that the people I’ve met from Canaan are fiercely proud of their depot, and proud of the railroading history of their town. Perhaps this is why I find them, and this depot so endearing.

The work on the station continues, and has progressed a little bit since the last time I was here. This time I was able to actually see the inside, which I hadn’t been able to do before. And I am not going to lie, seeing a train waiting on the platform right outside makes this place look so much more alive! I was only at the depot for a short time, and didn’t get a chance to partake in all of the activities (there was a parade, and even fireworks one night!), but I did manage to get a few photos…

 
  
  
 
 
  
 
   
 
   
  
    
   
  
 
  
 

As a side note, I noticed that on the depot’s website there is a form for ordering an engraved brick that will be placed at the station. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting one and having them write IRideTheHarlemLine.com on it (assumedly we’re not advanced enough to be placing QR codes on bricks…) Anyone want to contribute? They cost $150.

Read More

Old & Abandoned: Middletown’s O&W Station

Despite only having returned from Africa a few weeks ago, I’m all ready for another vacation. Thankfully, I’m taking tomorrow off and will be spending the long weekend relaxing in the Poconos. I’m not even going to bring my laptop – though having my newly-acquired Blackberry somewhat defeats the purpose.

The one thing I couldn’t resist though, was to check and see if there were any interesting old rail stations nearby the place I’m staying. I found a beautiful one on the internet – only to find out that it was gutted by fire several years ago. What is it about train stations and fires? As if we didn’t have enough to worry about from people wanting to tear down history in the name of progress, fires have ravaged quite a few train stations that I’m familiar with. Canaan Union Station was the victim of an arson, Pawling’s station burned in 1984, and even beautiful Sharon had a fire, though it was later restored. The old Ontario and Western station that I happened to stop at last weekend was also the victim of a blaze, and for many years has just sat, lonely and abandoned.




Photos from YouTube video by kizzo11

There is something about HDR photos that somehow lend themselves to portraying the character of an abandoned ruin. Somehow they just feel more lonely, and a bit creepy. I’m not quite sure if I even like these photos, as they might be a little too much. But they do show the character of a once-beautiful station, constructed in 1892, until its apparent “death” in 2004. In the time between then it served as a station, then much later a nightclub, and as a home for various shops. But perhaps, there is hope for this place after all. The Middletown Community Health Center is looking to restore the station over the next three years, at an estimated cost of five-million dollars. Hopefully this place will have a happy ending after all.

 
 
   
   
 
   
 
    
   
   
 

Read More

The rebirth of a train station: Canaan

When I announced at the beginning of this month that April would be Harlem Railroad Month, I failed to mention that not only was it the New York & Harlem Railroad’s 180th birthday, but this blog’s second birthday. April 10th was the official day, and I let it pass without much thought… but I must say now, Happy Birthday IRideTheHarlemLine!

Back when I first started the blog I think I was a little bit more shy than I am now. Despite any way I might present myself on the internet, I really can be quite shy at times. When people first started recognizing me on the train I think it freaked me out a little bit. But now, I think I’ve been taking it more in stride. I enjoy talking with people, and love to hear their stories about trains. Through talking with various people about trains, I’ve come across two comments that are almost always mentioned to me: Why are you interested in this, and especially history – when nobody in your generation really cares about it! The other one thought I hear a lot is a bit more simple: you’re a girl that likes trains!?

The comment about me being female, well I can’t really say anything about that. But about the history, well, that I can agree. Lots of people in my generation really could care less about history. There are times when I think I really baffle librarians, because they ask me what school I go to, and for what project I need these rail-related books. But having a lack of interest in the past is a significantly different thing than being destructive to history. I, sadly, can display to you a complete disregard of history, and the utter stupidity of some of my generation in one single photograph:

That is Canaan Union Station in Canaan, Connecticut. Until the station was devastated by fire, it was the oldest continually operating station in the United States, built in 1872. In 2001, however, four young boys wandered away from their homes late at night and started the fire. Two of the boys were charged as juveniles and their names were not released. The other two, not much younger than me at the time, were charged as adults and served a few months jail time. All it took were four young boys and a cigarette lighter to destroy a beautiful historical monument…


1953 photo of Canaan Station from Life


Old postcard view of the station

I must admit, that first photograph makes me quite depressed. Thankfully there still are people out there that do in fact care about history (perhaps if you are reading this, you are one of them), and about this station. When I had made a mental list of train stations I wanted to visit in Connecticut, I left off Canaan. And it isn’t that I didn’t know about it – I had seen the photos of the fire! For some reason, in my head I believed that the station would be torn down and eventually forgotten. The happy thing I’ve discovered was that I was completely wrong… which I didn’t find out until I, in a random fluke, just happened to pass by it while in the car with my friend. Though the majority of the station was consumed by the fire, a portion of it did survive, and the remainder was being rebuilt. Although I don’t remember the station before (though my parents tell me that they had taken me there when I was a child), I am pleased that this station is being reborn, and will become beautiful once more…

 
  
 
   
  
   
  
 
  
   
  

If you’re interested in learning more about the station, seeing additional photos of the fire and the rebuilding process, please visit the Connecticut Railroad Historical Association’s site for Canaan Union Station.

Read More

Looking back at 2010… a countdown of the most popular

Ah, 2010. You were the first full year that I actually operated this blog. Lots of fun and shenanigans were to be had. I decided to take a look back at what was popular on the site this year, as a wrap-up for 2010…

1. BPGlobal Billboards

The first entry here is not train-related in any way… however it was such a major news story at the time I couldn’t not have some fun with it – though fun is actually a terrible way to describe it, as the Gulf Oil Spill was quite tragic. To me the two standouts in coverage on this was a fake twitter account, BPGlobalPR, and Boston Globe’s The Big Picture. I merged the two into fake billboards, which apparently caught on and made their rounds on the web – and brought around thirty thousand viewers to the site in a single day.

2. Harlem Line Timetables

It is true, I have turned into an eBay whore… collecting just about anything regarding the Harlem Line. Many of the timetables I have can be found on the second most popular part of the site, the Harlem Line Timetables archive. It is desperately needing updating, as I own or have scanned many more timetables than are currently pictured. My goal was always to have a timetable for every year, and for the most part I do have that, from 1930 on up. Look for a major overhaul of this section in 2011!

3. Stupid Warning Signs

Ah, stupid warning signs. One of the most amusing things I’ve made for the site. These popular signs round out the top three most popular things on the site this year. Folks have requested that I turn these into stickers, but if you people start sticking these on trains the MTA PD might actually have a real reason to arrest my ass.

4. The Cutest Train Car in the World

One of the posts I made after returning from Japan featured the Tama Densha railcar of the Wakayama Electric Railway. The railroad is known in offbeat circles around the world due to the fact that they employ a feline Stationmaster (I believe she’s actually been promoted to Vice-President now). Tama the cat was so popular, designer Eiji Mitooka created a train car in her honor. The front of the train has whiskers, the seats inside have cat print. My favorite part of the train? The library full of books for the kids.

5. Centalia, PA – Burning Ghost Town

I’ve always been fascinated with Centralia, ever since I first read about it on the internet many years ago. Since then I’ve visited several times. The story begins in the 1960’s, when a coal seam under the town caught fire. It continues to burn to this day. The land has fissures that belch smoke, and it permanently smells of sulfur. It is a tragic story, as the once bustling small town has been whittled down to less than ten citizens.

The coal under the town that is burning is anthracite – which was popularized in little rhymes about Phoebe Snow in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad.

6. The Loneliest Station on the Harlem Line

Although I hadn’t come up with the concept yet, the Harlem Line Panorama project began with Mount Pleasant – which I labeled as the loneliest station on the line. The tiny station in between Hawthorne and Valhalla services the cemeteries in the area, and has very limited service.


The first panorama posted on the site

7. The Harlem Line Panorama Project

If you’re interested in seeing all the panoramas to date, located on a map – this is the place to go. This Google map is the seventh most popular portion of the site, although technically it lies off site and on Google’s servers. However, each placemark contains my favorite panorama from that stop, and a link back to the post on this site.

8. Sadie the Subway Cat

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn has employed a cat or two, mostly in the hopes that they would chase away any subway rats. In this eighth most popular post I recollect my first visit to the Transit Museum and my encounter with Sadie… and my crazy idea to get her a miniature-sized train conductor’s hat. Of course none of that really panned out – and as far as I am aware, Sadie has been quietly retired from the public.

9. The #1 Reason to Ride Metro-North

Back in June I posted these spoof ads for Metro-North and beer. If you are a regular commuter you will notice that in the afternoon, and most especially on Fridays, there are quite a few people drinking beer. The exception to that if you are those people that work at Target in Mount Kisco, you’re drinking it in the morning. But since you can’t drink and drive, and you can certainly drink and ride, Metro-North could always have an amusing new ad campaign.

10. M8 Cars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line

Ah, April Fools Day… I couldn’t resist making a fake post about the new M8’s. Shattering the dreams of many New Haven Line riders, I posted that the red trains would be repainted blue and running instead on the Harlem Line by the end of the year. I even made up some fake quotes and attributed them to Dan Brucker – which probably doesn’t place me very high on his list of awesome bloggers.

So that is it! The ten most popular things on the blog in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Katonah

By now my little photography adventures have taken me to almost all of the Harlem Line stations (the only outstanding stations are Woodlawn, Williams Bridge, Botanical Garden, Melrose and Tremont. I’ve been warned for my safety at the last two). I’ve done a lot of fun things, and gotten to explore quite a bit. I’ve eaten an italian ice in Hartsdale with @kc2hmv, splashed in the river near Crestwood, and munched on good food in Mount Kisco, Valhalla and Tuckahoe. I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces, and other randomly cute things, like the Commuter Rooster in Scarsdale. But despite all this, when I chatted with @bitchcakesny last night and she asked me my favorite station of all, I couldn’t quite answer.

There are so many good things about some of these stations, how could I pick just one? Wassaic and Pleasantville have my favorite Arts for Transit pieces, and I loved Harlem-125th’s art too, not to mention it was a great spot for photography. Bronxville has a unique station, and the shops surrounding Mount Kisco, Hartsdale and Scarsdale are cute and worth exploring. Chappaqua’s restored station building is a beautiful sight, and I’ve always been fond of Brewster’s old station building. What I was able to do though, is narrow it down by asking myself a question: If I had to be stuck at a single station for the entire day (maybe there was a big fire or something, shutting down Metro-North??), which would it be? And that answer is Katonah.

What makes Katonah special? The area around the station is very cute – full of shops and restaurants for eating good food. I will admit though, the Katonah Museum played a part in the decision. If you don’t mind walking the half mile from the station to this art museum, you really could spend the entire day here viewing art, shopping and eating. And if there was still time left you could hang out in the gazebo not far from the station, or go and visit the library which is two blocks away. Katonah is just another one of the nice places located along the Harlem Line, but one that certainly sticks out in my mind.







Read More

Harlem River Bridge Fire, Metro-North Suspends Service into GCT

The twitterverse is abuzz with news and photos of the fire that has suspended all Metro-North trains into and out of Grand Central Terminal. The fire is a trending topic in the New York area, and folks in the city, including the NY Fire Department, are posting pictures.

Metro-North’s statement below was sent to everyone that is subscribed to their alerts service.

Service is temporarily suspended in and out of GCT due to a fire in the vicinity of 138th Street Bridge.

As of 1:20 PM Metro North has issued the following statement regarding alternate methods of transportation:

Service remains temporarily suspended into and out of Grand Central due to a fire in the vicinity of the E. 138th Street Bridge.

Outbound customers departing Grand Central are advised to take New York City Transit’s 4 or D train to E. 161 Street where they can transfer to a Harlem, Hudson or New Haven Line train at Yankees-E. 153rd Street Station.

Inbound customers traveling to Grand Central are advised to do the following:

Hudson Line–Take a Hudson Line train to Yankees-E. 153rd Street Station and transfer to the 4 or D subway line.

Harlem and New Haven Lines–Take a train to Woodlawn Station for the 2 or 5 subway line.

During this incident, New York City Transit is honoring cross fares.

Read More