Early Harlem Line Timetables, and new timetable catalog

Quite a while ago I started up a minor project, what I called the Historical Archives. My goal was to collect as much old paper history of the Harlem Line and assemble a museum of sorts – timetables, maps, tickets, photos, and news articles – digitize it, and put it online for everyone to view, completely for free. (There are folks in the city that have better collections than I, such as the Transit Museum and the NYPL, but these are kept under lock and key, and you can’t have them unless you shell out the dollars.) Anyways, the more I added to the archives, the clunkier the directory page that listed all the entries got. I wanted to arrange it in a better way – especially the timetables. I’ve been working on just that for the past week or so, putting all the timetables in a special catalog that you can view with a short description and thumbnails. If you see something you like, you can click on it and go to the main entry for that item with a larger image. I think this is much easier.

In honor of the new catalog I thought it would be fun to show some of the earliest timetables that I have in the collection. The first is from 1871, when Cornelius Vanderbilt was still president of what was known as the New York and Harlem Railroad, with his son William Henry as vice president.

Note the first station is 26th Street, the first Grand Central Depot was only opened later in the year. At the time of publication Hartsdale was still known as Hart’s Corners, Hawthorne as Unionville, and Craryville as Bain’s. Bedford did not have the “Hills” added yet, and Purdey’s was the spelling used, as opposed to today’s Purdy’s.

The timetables below are from 1890, 1909 and 1914. The center timetable, from 1909, is important historically because at this time Grand Central Terminal was being constructed, as the older Depot was being demolished. Despite that, train service still needed to go on interrupted, and a temporary platform at Lexington Avenue was used. The timetable makes note of this on the front, directing riders to the temporary terminal.

Name evolution: After the New York and Harlem Railroad was leased to the New York Central, it was listed as the Harlem Division of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Later the name was shortened to just the New York Central.

The timetables above are from 1922, 1931 and 1940 and list service to Lake Mahopac, a branch of the Harlem that diverged at Golden’s Bridge. Below are timetables from 1958 and 1964. Service on the Mahopac branch was discontinued in 1959, and so the timetable from 1958 is one of the last to list that service.

Not long after that 1964 timetable the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central. Although the service was not the best, in my opinion the Penn Central had some of the nicer timetables in the collection. But that is a post for another Friday. Enjoy the day, and the weekend everyone!

As an additional note, I thank the Danbury Railway Museum’s library for giving me access to their collection of timetables to digitize. If anyone out there has some timetables that I don’t have listed, I would love it if you could contact me and send me a scan so I can add it into the catalog.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Art of Jules Coutan, Grand Central Sculptor

Growing up, I probably passed throuigh Grand Central at least a hundred times. Each of those times were through either the Lexington Avenue portal, or the one on Vanderbilt Avenue. Unfortunately, that means I missed the grand front façade of the building on 42nd Street. About a year ago, I figured I would change that. Looking up at the sculpture high on the building, I was amazed. But from my low vantage point on the street, it was pretty hard to imagine quite how large it was.

As a building, Grand Central was heavily influenced by the French. The architect Whitney Warren trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France. Paul Helleu, who designed the night sky on the ceiling of the main concourse, was a French artist. The two sculptors who worked on the project, Jules Alexis Coutan and Sylvain Salieres, were also French. Salieres sculpted the things inside the station, like the oak leaves and acorns which Cornelius Vanderbilt had decided upon as a crest for the family. The sculpture on the 42nd Street façade was designed by sculptor Jules Alexis Coutan, and is called Transportation. Standing tall in the center of the group is the Roman god Mercury. With his winged cap, he represents speed, which for a railroad is a pretty good trait to aspire to. Seated to his left is Hercules, a character with many are familiar with, who is representative of strength. At the right of the group is Minerva, representative of wisdom. Along with these mythological Roman gods is an eagle, representative of the United States.

The meaning behind the sculpture was described by architect Whitney Warren as follows:

…the glory of commerce, as typified by Mercury, supported by moral and mental energy – Hercules and Minerva. All to attest that this great enterprise has grown and exists not merely from the wealth expended, nor by the revenue derived, but by the brain and brawn constantly concentrated upon its development for nearly a century.

Coutan was born in Paris on September 22, 1848. References to him and his work at Grand Central are common, but real biographical information is few and far between. Most books about Grand Central refer to him as Jules Alexis, but other art sources use the name Jules Felix. It is known that he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and was a student of Jules Cavelier. As a student, he was awarded the Prix de Rome, a prestigious award given to a promising art student after completing a difficult elimination contest. It was awarded from 1663 all the way until 1968 – Coutan won it in 1872. Later in life he returned to the school as a Professor, and mentored artists including Louis Leygue and Hippolyte Lefebvre.

Photo credit: 1, 2.

Some of his other work includes decorations on the Pont Alexandre II, the ornate bridge over the river Seine in Paris, and decorations on the Paris Opera house. He is known in Argentina for designing the mausoleum for diplomat and journalist Jose Clemente Paz, who is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. But in the United States, he will always be known for his work on Grand Central. Although it was his design, Coutan didn’t actually carve the final piece himself. In fact Wikipedia claims that he had never even been to the United States, though I can’t seem to verify this little factoid in any other source.

Using the quarter-size model done by Coutan, the full-size final sculpture was constructed by Donnelly and Ricci, and William Bradley and Sons. It was constructed in pieces, which were later assembled on top of Grand Central. In the center is a clock made of Tiffany glass, which measures 13 feet around. In totality, the sculpture is sixty feet wide, fifty feet high, and weighs 1500 tons, and is made of Bedford limestone from Indiana. Visualizing those numbers is just as difficult as perceiving exactly how large that sculpture is on top of the building when looking up from the street. I have a small collection of photographs from 1914 that really give you an idea of the size of the piece. Note the person in each picture, and how small they look compared to the sculpture. It is massive. When completed, it was the largest sculptural group in the world.

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for Toronto… unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write anything for next Friday, so after going for 17 weeks straight Friday’s history will take a little break. I do promise some good stuff will be coming though!

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Wartime Magazine Advertisements

I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.

But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.

That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.

It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!

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Friday’s from the historical archive: old Penn Station, Jackie Kennedy and the Grand Central we almost lost

A few weeks ago when I posted some photos of New Haven’s Union Station a reader commented about how nice the station was, compared to some of MTA’s other stations. The example given was Penn Station. Not only did the comment remind me of some old photos I saw of Penn Station, but a post that I had started writing back in March and had never posted. And that post was about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In comparison with other stations, Penn Station today isn’t too noteworthy in an architectural sense. Of course when I talk about Pennsylvania station, I am referring to the station in New York City. The name had been used by the Pennsylvania Railroad at several of their other stations, including one in Newark, which occasionally causes confusion. But considering that the station is the most used in the country, you’d think it would look nicer. And of course it would have, had the original not been demolished to make room for the new Madison Square Garden.

The original station was completed in 1910 and was designed by McKim, Mead and White. By the 1950’s the railroad industry was hurting, and in a move to attempt to make some money, they proposed the demolition of the station in order to use the “air rights” and build something over it. The station would be located under street level, and Madison Square Garden and some office buildings would be above it. Despite some protests, the glorious station was demolished in 1963. What exactly does all of this have to do with Jackie Kennedy? The loss of Penn Station eventually led to the formation of a Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the New York City Landmarks Law. It was the Commission that protested when the New York Central decided that they too wanted to demolish Grand Central and build above it. And one of the most prominent members fighting for Grand Central was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The fight to save Grand Central went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1968 two designs submitted to replace the station were rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1978. Grand Central would not be demolished. In 1998 after an overhaul Grand Central was rededicated, and for her endeavors to save the station a plaque honoring Jackie Kennedy was placed in Vanderbilt Hall. The last time I was in Grand Central I found the plaque and took a picture. It reads:

In an age when few people sought to preserve the architectural wonders that are a daily reminder of our rich and glorious past, a brave woman rose in protest to save this terminal from demolition. Because of her tireless and valiant efforts, it stands today as a monument to those who came before us and built the greatest city known to mankind. Preserving this great landmark is one of her many enduring legacies. The people of New York are forever grateful.

I’m going to leave off with a few quotes, a rededication newspaper article, and a random thought. If as a child I had never felt the awe of stepping into the gorgeous Grand Central, a particularly fond memory, would this site even be here? The station utterly captivated my thoughts, and despite all these years, I can’t help but smile every time I step into that main concourse. So thanks, Jackie, thank you very much.

Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters.

If we don’t care about our past, we cannot hope for our future.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: The Mystery of the Grand Central Postcard

I’ve had a little obsession as of recently. It seems to be a common thing with me. The obsessions, they come and go, they fade with time. A book, a place, a subject… this site has turned the Harlem Line, and its history, into one of those obsessions. And through that came another minor obsession, that of collecting postcards. Specifically older postcards of Grand Central. They’re not too difficult to find. For a dollar or two you can pick them up on eBay.

At first I was looking for postcards in good condition. Old, yet preserved. Not tarnished by passing from hand to hand and through the mail system. I suppose the most recent auction I wasn’t paying too much attention. I liked the front of the card so much, I bought it, without a glance at the condition. But instead of being discouraged by the card’s lack of clean perfection, I am fascinated by it.

The scene in the postcard looks a little bit different from the scene today… and I don’t just mean the little things like the cars. As to be expected, the city’s skyline has changed. Buildings have changed hands, and changed names. Behind Grand Central’s facade stands the New York Central Buiilding, once the headquarters for the railroad. Opened in 1929, the building was designed by the architecture firm of Warren & Wetmore, who also worked on Grand Central itself. After changing hands several times, the building is now known as the Helmsley Building.

But today if you were to stand in front of Grand Central’s facade, it would not be the Helmsley Building that you see. For another addition to the skyline came in in 1963. The PanAm Building, today known as the Met Life Building towers over Grand Central, the thirteenth tallest building in the city. Its 59 floors block any visibility of the old New York Central building’s 35 floors.

The mystery of the postcard is hardly the front. It is the back of the postcard that captured my interest. The postcard bears a mail date of August 24th, 1936, and the stamp cost a mere cent. The sender, whose name is never established, happened to be staying in a hotel close to Grand Central. She (I’ve imagined the scrawl as belonging to a female) has used Grand Central as a landmark for orientation in the city, as so many before and since have done, and will continue to do. I wonder if the receiver of the postcard, Gracie, is still alive. And if she is, does she remember receiving it, or has the card been long forgotten? The address to which the postcard was sent, if it was ever residential, is no longer. A doctor of radiology makes his office there now, in a small, historic neighborhood of Boston. Within an hours drive of the location resides a woman, Grace Robinson, aged 98. I wonder if she was the original recipient. Perhaps I will never know. That is unless I send her a postcard of my own…

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Friday’s From the Historical Archives: Solari Departure Boards, Photos & History

Whether you knew the name or not, if you’ve ever been to Grand Central or Penn Station, you are familiar with a Solari departure board. Since the 1950’s Solari boards have been installed in airports and train stations worldwide. Although most people refer to the original flap style boards as Solaris, the company also produces more modern LCD and LED display boards, such as the one that is now in Grand Central. On Monday I showed some photos from Union Station in New Haven, the last Metro-North location to have one of the Solari flap-style displays. Most unfortunately, that sign is going to be replaced. In honor of that board, and of Solari’s functional yet elegant contribution to rail and public transport, I thought I’d feature the history of the company this Friday.

Solari split-flap clocks. Silkscreened flaps. Massimo Paniccia, president of the Solari company.

Solari is based in Italy, and has roots back to the 1700’s, where they produced timepieces and later on, clocks for bell towers. The current incarnation of the name is from brothers Remigio and Fermo Solari, who broke from the original family business and established their own business also under the name Solari. Remigio was a self-taught engineer, and it was he who invented the iconic flap display which many are familiar with. The idea was used in both large and small scale: from large departure displays used by railroads and airports, to small clocks for the home.

Flap-style displays

The flap display was introduced in 1956, and was installed in airports and rail stations across the world. The design used various metal (and later, plastic) flaps with silkscreened information, all which were mounted on a wheel. Each wheel could hold up to 40 flaps. When the information on the board had to change, the wheel was rotated until the proper flap was displayed. With each flip, the board made a particular clack, which is so memorable to passengers that when Boston replaced their Solari flap display with an LED display in 2004, they kept the noise. It plays over a loudspeaker to alert passengers that the information has changed (Though I’ve heard from a commenter that it doesn’t do a very good job at imitating it).

Solari flap-style board in Grand Central

As a young girl I remember my first train ride on Amtrak: I was travelling with my grandmother from Penn Station to Jacksonville, Florida. I remember seeing that flap display in Penn Station, and being mesmerized. Today, that flap display is gone: it was replaced in 2000. Long Island Rail Road’s flap display, also in Penn Station, was replaced in 2003. During the New York Central days, Grand Central also had a Solari display, perhaps one of the most famous. I’ve tried digging up information about that board, but I had some difficulty. From what I can gather, that Solari display was later replaced by another split-flap display, though not made by Solari. This other board, called the Omega Board, was used by Metro-North until it was replaced during the station renovations in 1998. The current departure board in Grand Central was made by the Solari company, though it is one of the more modern LED-style boards.

Grand Central today, Solari LCD departure board visible on the left

The Solari display in New Haven’s Union Station, which will be removed shortly.

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Friday’s from the historical archive: 1800’s photos from “The Road of the Century”

If any of my readers are insomniacs, I highly recommend the book called “The Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central.” I noticed that one of the libraries in the state owned it, and so I requested my local library to acquire it for me. The copy of the book looks remarkably ancient, though it was only published in 1947. Old enough, I suppose. Upon checking the book out, the librarian said to me, “So… You must like railroads?” I wonder if she were to work at a supermarket, and a customer was to purchase toilet paper, would she ask, “So… You must like toilet paper?” or “So… You must enjoy going to the bathroom?” …Sorry, I went off on a little tangent there. Back to the book, this dreadful, awful book. I don’t think I’ve ever held in my hand a more boring book… hence my comment about insomniacs. Get a copy, it will put you right to sleep. The New York Central has quite a rich history, but no one could have told it in a more dry fashion. In my mind I hear Ben Stein reciting the words in complete monotone…

So why exactly would I bore my readers with stories of a horrible book? Because it had one redeeming quality. Pictures. Wow, don’t I feel like a child, saying the only good part of a book was the pictures. But the pictures, they were good, and I figured I’d share with you all. Let’s “read” this book, together. And when I say read, I mean look at the pictures, and ignore all the snooze-inducing text.

Apparently the book was a donation to the library from the New York Central itself

1864, Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana conductors (or perhaps Abraham Lincoln impersonators).

1877, Train with snow plow during a snow storm.

1896, First advertisement of Red Cap service.

See more pictures from the atrocious book “The Road of the Century”

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Leslie Ragan, Artist of the New York Central

Back in February I spent a good majority of a Saturday hanging out at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum. I was interested in seeing what they had in their collection regarding the Harlem Line, especially timetables. I wasn’t intentionally looking for the entire system-wide timetables published by the New York Central, but when I saw them, I really fell in love. These system timetables were really where Central showed off, with some really gorgeous art. It wasn’t later on after researching that I found out that many of these timetables were based off of art previously commissioned for a poster marketing campaign.

New York Central’s poster campaign began in 1925, after experimenting first with calendars. The marketing campaign was planned along with Central’s centennial celebration. The general theme of the campaign was to display the routes of the rail line: the natural landscapes, as well as the cities. A range of commercial artists were commissioned to design posters, one of which was Leslie Ragan. Ragan’s first New York Central poster, a Chicago cityscape, was published in 1930.

Ragan was born in 1897 and grew up in Iowa. From an early age he knew he wanted to be an artist, and often made drawings of buildings and bridges. Ragan was mostly self-taught, although he did attend the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines. He served in the Air Force in World War One, and upon returning studied for a single semester at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the early 1920’s, he went on to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts, also in Chicago. By 1930 he had relocated to New York and had begun painting for the New York Central.

I’ve gathered quite a collection of examples of Ragan’s art for the New York Central. I must admit that I love the way he painted clouds – whether they were clouds in the sky, or steam from a locomotive. His depictions of trains were very streamlined and smooth, accentuating the shape of the upper portion in which a person rides, and hiding the moving parts below. His art certainly has influenced some people today… if you’ve seen the movie poster for The Polar Express, you will note it bears quite a resemblance to the winter poster at the very bottom.


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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Friday’s Harlem Line History Preview: Quick Facts

Here’s a confession: I have difficulty in my perception of the passage of time. Always in History class things felt like they were so far distant. And then when I think about it more, I say to myself, “but there are people still living today that went through those events…” so it isn’t possible that they happened as long ago as my mind thinks. When going through all the stuff I put in the Historical Archive, I decided that I wanted to make a timeline. Timelines are really good, but they generally are limited in scope. They usually deal with a particular subject. I could have easily made a “Harlem Line Timeline.” Would it have made total sense to me though? Probably not. I needed something that sort of puts these events in perspective with other things going on at the time. Knowing Cornelius Vanderbilt was born in 1794 is all dandy. But a timeline gives me more an idea of what is going on when it tells me that the man who had the original Grand Central built was alive when George Washington was alive. Washington is like this massive, legendary figure, that for some reason I imagine lived forever and a day ago. So pretty much, I thought it would be cool to do a comparison timeline, the Harlem Line, and US History. Considering that the Harlem Line was started as a part of one of the older railroads in the country, it sort of makes sense.

And if I was absolutely awesome, I would have that timeline for you right now. But because I’m not quite that awesome, I don’t have it completed. If this was in fact History class I would use this excuse… I don’t frequently talk about my roommates on the blog, but if you think I run into crazy people on the train, you should hear some of the stories of what goes on at my house. Last night I had a headache and my roommates were making a lot of noise. You see, they play in a band. This band practices in the basement. I don’t know what the name of the band is, but at one point in time they have referred to themselves as Vaginal Discharge. I kid you not. To my friends, the lead singer is known as “Stripper Girl,” due to the fact that she once worked at Flashdancers. You know, that Gentleman’s Club that frequently advertises on taxis in the city? Yeah. So with all that noise, I had some difficulties in concentrating, and I figured that my lovely readers would understand.

I figured that I’d give a little preview of what I’m working on though. I promise I’ll finish it soon, along with the historical map I’ve also been working on. Please harass me. I am awesome at starting projects, but terrible at finishing them.

Early history. It will be cooler when finished.

Only 24 states when the New York & Harlem Rail Road was chartered. “That’s like, less than half!” says my roommate. And no, I don’t have pictures of her.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: 1800’s Animated Stereoviews of Old Grand Central Depot

When it comes to 3D, most people are familiar with the type that requires you to wear a pair of glasses and things are tinted in reds and blues. This type of 3D is called Anaglyph. An alternate means of viewing 3D are stereographs, where two slightly different photographs were printed on a card side by side. You were meant to look at the two images and cross your eyes, and supposedly you could see the image in 3D.

An example of a stereographic card

I say “supposedly” because I can’t see these 3D things, so really I am not sure. All these new movies coming out in 3D? Yeah, I’m deprived. I am an amblyope, and am essentially blind in my left eye. I can see small bits of color in large blurs, but not very much. Since you need two good, working eyes to see most types of 3D, I’m out of luck.

Historically, stereographic cards seemed to be pretty popular. The New York Public Library has a collection of quite a few of them, and many were taken of the old Grand Central Depot in the 1800’s. However, in order to simulate the 3D illusion, you can quickly animate the left and right sides of a stereograph together. So I figured I’d try it out with a bunch of the old railroad stereographs I had found. And on some it works pretty well. The technique seems to work best when there is something somewhat close in the foreground of the photo, which you can focus on. That is why the indoor images look better than the exterior images, where everything is rather far away and there isn’t a lot of depth. If you focus on the part of the image that doesn’t move much, you should be able to see it better. If it doesn’t work for you… well, I guess you get to see some jumpy old photos of a long-demolished train station of New York City. Click on each image to see the effect.

Quick Info: Grand Central Depot was built in 1871. It was replaced in 1913 by Grand Central Terminal, which is what we’re familiar with today.
Animated Stereoview Page in the Historical Archives

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