Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Old Maps and Station Names

Some of the very first things that were added when I created the Historical Archives were maps I found thanks to the Library of Congress. It was interesting to see the network of railroads in the country grow in size exponentially through the 1800’s, and then later in the mid 1900’s crash and quite a few disappeared. There was one map, however, that caught my attention.

That map lists a station along the Harlem Line: Golding’s Bridge. Was it a typo? In the back of my mind I had always wondered about the apostrophe thing. Is Goldens Bridge written properly with an apostrophe, or without? And now, a new question. What is Golding’s Bridge? For whom was the town named, and does the bridge still exist? Why are other stations on this map, or other maps also listed with apostrophes? Brewster’s, Pawling’s? The map also lists quite a few stations that have different names today, such as Hart’s Corners, Whitlockville, and Bains.

In my endeavor to find the answer to at least the apostrophe question, I consulted with the town historian of Lewisboro, of which Goldens Bridge is a part of. She unfortunately told me that she could only “add to the confusion.”

I’m not exactly sure where the original bridge that gave your hamlet its name first stood, but it spanned the Croton River, which is now under the reservoir. The bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names. That bridge had to have been an important crossing to get to what is now Somers, and points west. It most certainly dates to the Revolution or before.

In 2003, Metro North dropped the apostrophe from the name of the station. Almost all official timetables and signage refer to the station as Goldens Bridge. However, old signage with the apostrophe does still exist. The station listing on M-7 trains still has the apostrophe. Most official town signage also does not have the apostrophe. However the Fire Department for the town still uses it. Google maps still uses it. It is a name still in transition.

Many towns and names along the Harlem Line went through similar transitions. Spellings were changed, apostrophes were dropped. Brewster’s and Pawling’s are both evidence of that. Some names changed completely. So let’s take a little tour through the area and see how some of these names came to be, shall we?

Bronx – Named for Jonas Bronck, who purchased the land in 1639. Originally known as The Bronck’s, in reference to the family, at some point over time the spelling evolved into the current form.
Mott Haven – Named for Jordan Mott, who had an ironworks that opened in 1828. He purchased the land from the Morris family.
Morrisania – Named for the Morris family. Lewis Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gouverneur Morris was also a prominent member of that family.
Woodlawn – Originally two words, but was condensed into one by 1870.
Mount Vernon – Named for George Washington’s home. Original name was Hunt’s Bridge.
Fleetwood – Named for the ancestral home of John Stevens.
Scarsdale – Named for the ancestral home of Caleb Heathcote.
Hartsdale – Named after Eleazar Hart, who donated the land. Was previously known as Hart’s Corners.
Bedford Hills – Originally named only Bedford, the Hills was added to the name in 1910.
Katonah – Had several previous names, first was Mechanicsville. Later changed to Whitlockville in 1830, for the Whitlock family. Later renamed Katonah from the native word Ketatonah, which translates to Great Mountain.
Purdys – Named for Daniel Pardieus, his grandson Isaac donated the land to the railroad in 1844.
Brewster – Named for brothers James and Walter Brewster, and at the time was known as Brewster’s.
Dykemans – Named for Joseph Dykeman.
Patterson – Named for Matthew Paterson, older maps list the name with only one ‘t’
Pawling – Named for the Paulding (possibly Pauling) family.
Wingdale – Named for the Wing family. Jackson Wing operated an Inn which opened in 1806. Previous names include Wing’s Station, and South Dover.
Harlem Valley – Wingdale – Harlem Valley comes from the name of the railroad (New York & Harlem). Used to be two stops, State Hospital (actual name of the hospital was Harlem Valley State Hospital) and Wingdale (mentioned above). Wingdale station was eliminated, and later Metro-North combined the two and the name.
Millerton – named for Sydney G. Miller, who was an engineer and contractor for the construction between Dover Plains and Chatham.
Craryville – Named for Peter Crary. Station was previously known as Bains, or Bains Corners for hotel owner Peter Bain.
Martindale – Named for John Martin.
Philmont – Previous name was Phillips Mountain, but was later condensed into Philmont. Named for George Phillips, who built a dam and a mill in the area.
Chatham – Named for Lord Pitts, Earl of Chatham, England.

That list does not mention every station on the current Harlem Line, or the rail line in the past. I am specifically mentioning stations that were named after people, or had a name change of some sort. Apostrophes in names often originated because the land was named after, or originally belonged, to a specific family or person.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: An Adventure to the Former Kensico Cemetery Station

On a chilly and gray Friday, my friend and I got lost in a cemetery. Kensico Cemetery. Kensico Cemetery was a stop on the New York Central’s Harlem Division, but was finally closed in 1983 when Metro North electrified the line north of White Plains. The original station building was completed in 1890, but was expanded and partially rebuilt in 1936.

A 1902 article from the New York Tribune showing pictures of the new station buildings at Pleasantville, Kensico, and Scarsdale.

The Cemetery is located down the street from where I work, and I convinced my friend to accompany me on a lunch break adventure. After driving up and down the winding streets of the cemetery, we finally found the former train station house, the current cemetery administration building. We headed inside to get warm, and to find a map. The lady inside was cheerful to help us on our quest to find some famous dead people, but inside I’m certain she thought we were nuts. She handed my friend and I a stapled packet labeled Kensico Cemetery Historical and Scenic Tour.

An old photograph of the Kensico Station building, from an 1895 Book, Health and pleasure on “America’s greatest railroad.”

What the station building looks like today.

Buried in the cemetery are quite a few famous people, including Alfred Holland Smith, who was the president of the New York Central. He died in 1924 in a freak accident in Central Park. Ayn Rand is another person buried in Kensico. Although she is not directly related to the railroad, she did research into the New York Central railroad while writing her book, Atlas Shrugged. Not only was she allowed to ride in the locomotive of the 20th Century Limited train, they allowed her to drive it. The character from the book, Nat Taggart, is supposed to be modeled on Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Final resting place of Alfred Holland Smith

Additional pictures from our adventure:

If you’re interested in going to the cemetery yourself, I’ve scanned the map that I was given at the administration office. The entire packet is a nice read though, with historical information on the people and explanations on how to find each of the memorials. I suggest stopping in to the office to grab a copy, since the people are quite nice. If you’d rather skip it though, this map should assist.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt

This week I figured I would talk about a rather important railroad figure, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He significantly shaped the early history of what are now known as the Hudson and Harlem lines. You may recognize the name, bordering Grand Central Terminal is Vanderbilt Avenue, and even inside the terminal, there is a Vanderbilt Hall. Many Vanderbilts that came after him was known only because of the fortune that Cornelius amassed in first steam boats, and then later, railroads. He wasn’t much of a philanthropist, but in his final years he donated money to what is now known as Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Apparently many students there have little clue for which Vanderbilt the school was named. This hardly surprises me, as supposedly some children nowadays think that it was Buzz Lightyear, that was the first person to walk on the moon.

Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was nicknamed the Commodore, certainly was an interesting character. In fact, if tabloids as they are now existed when Vanderbilt was alive, they would have loved him. Tiger Woods is absolutely nothing in comparison to Vanderbilt. Cornelius certainly enjoyed his prostitutes. It would be tabloid front page news!

His married life wasn’t much better. Both of his wives were in fact related to him, they were cousins. And even more strange, his first wife, Sophia Johnson, was a cousin on both his mother and his father’s side of the family. It was from one of his prostitutes that Vanderbilt acquired syphilis, which he spread to his wife. Though all of this occurred before penicilin existed. The preferred treatment for syphilis at the time was mercury.

Dementia brought on by late stages of syphilis marked the final years of Vanderbilt’s life. He had built his fortune with small ships, and later steam ships, but it nearly doubled when he got into the railroad business. However it is uncertain how much of this was of his own doing, or the work of his son, Billy. Vanderbilt had eight daughters and three sons. William, known as Billy, was designated as Vanderbilt’s heir. Cornelius hated the idea of his fortune getting split, so upon his death the majority of it was left to Billy. Billy was not his favorite son, however, and was Cornelius’ second choice as heir. George Washington Vanderbilt, Cornelius’ favorite son, died before he was twenty-five from tuberculosis after serving for a time in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was only after his death that Billy became the chosen heir. Vanderbilt’s other son, Cornelius Jeremiah, was essentially disowned. He was explicitly barred from ever referring to himself as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. He was an epileptic, which didn’t win him any favors from his harsh father. But it was his dealings in fraud that truly formed a wedge between himself and his father, who had little desire to pay for his fraudulent son’s debts.

After the death of George Washington Vanderbilt, Cornelius began to groom Billy in his role as heir to the Vanderbilt fortune. He was installed on the boards of various railroads that his father owned or influenced. In his later years Vanderbilt was not completely there due to syphilis’ effect on his brain. However the name Cornelius Vanderbilt instilled confidence to people involved in the industry. So he served much as a figurehead in his later years, with his son Billy making all the decisions. The building of Grand Central Depot was one of such actions.

In his later years, Cornelius married a far younger woman: Frank Crawford. The marriage, however, was mostly one of convenience. Frank was a distant cousin from Alabama who had very little money and ran the risk of becoming completely destitute. Billy on the other hand did not approve of some of the prostitutes that frequently ended up in his father’s bed, and thus desired his father to be married. In fact when Frank arrived as a guest of the Vanderbilts, her mother accompanied her. Vanderbilt’s family didn’t care which of the two he married, the mother or the daughter, but they did want him to marry one. Upon Cornelius’ death his wife received little of the man’s fortune, as Billy had arranged a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage.

After Cornelius’ death the majority of his fortune was given to Billy, however several of his daughters, and his son Cornelius Jeremiah, contested the will. Their desire to have the fortune split more fairly amongst the Vanderbilt children failed, and not long after Cornelius Jeremiah committed suicide by putting a bullet in his brain.

Although Cornelius is long gone, he is forever in the history books because of the large fortune he amassed, first through ships, and later associated with various railroads such as the New York and Harlem (today’s Harlem Line), the Hudson River Rail Road (today’s Hudson Line) and the entity to which he leased both, the New York Central. In the Historical Archives there are several items regarding Vanderbilt, including several obituaries, and a piece about his life that took up several pages of the New York Times the day after he died.

Vanderbilt’s ego was so immense, he figured that many young ladies, so enamored with him, went to purchase railroad bonds because on each bore his own likeness. The archive also has several railroad bonds on display.

Cornelius still looks out on the city of New York every day. His statue is located under the main facade of Grand Central Terminal.

Please note: This post was written based off of the information in the biography Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt written by Edward J. Renehan Jr. Some of the statements made in the book (including the syphilis and prostitutes) have been questioned by other authors for authenticity.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Advertisements for the New Grand Central

Two weeks ago I mentioned the wreck in the Park Avenue Tunnel in 1902, and how it led to electric service on the rails. Another thing the accident achieved was the replacement of the old Grand Central Depot. The old Depot at the time was serving a lot more trains than it could really handle. Trains often had to wait in order to enter the train shed. The one train involved in the wreck was waiting in the tunnel, when the train behind missed several signals and ended up crashing into it. The new Grand Central Terminal, with its two levels, was able to accommodate a lot more trains than its predecessor.

Construction on the Terminal was finished in 1913. And what does one want to do after spending $180,000,000 on a gorgeous new train station? Show it off to the world, of course! Recently I’ve had a lot of enjoyment looking at old newspapers. Although photography existed at the time, many newspapers still used engraved illustrations. And I really do love looking at these old illustrations of Grand Central.

All of those come from full advertisements shown in newspapers, like the one below:

One thing I thought amusing about the new Grand Central, was that when it opened, it had a private “Women’s Room.” And I don’t mean a bathroom. For twenty-five cents a woman could use a private dressing room, staffed by maids, to change her “costume” for a “social function.” They would even deliver her trunk straight to the dressing room! How grand! And let’s not forget that there were also hair and manicuring parlors, as well as a shoe polishing room. You know what I wonder though, was the line for that “Women’s room” out the door and around the corner like the lines today? Sometimes they really make you want to shoot yourself…

If you’re interested in seeing more old drawings and advertisements of Grand Central’s opening, click here to take a look through the Historical Archives.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: John M. Wisker

Last week I posted about the Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck in 1902. The engineer of the train involved in that wreck was named John M. Wisker.

I was curious to know the fate of this man after the events of the wreck. He was put on trial for manslaughter for the deaths in the wreck, but was ultimately acquitted. I can only imagine the emotional toll this all took on him. From the start of the whole ordeal, he was blamed for the wreck. Newspapers questioned his experience as an engineer. He was even held in jail for a short time.

This was a gruesome crash. Newspapers described some victims as boiling to death from the steam of the engine. Telescoping is a term that you don’t ever want to hear in a sentence alongside anything having to do with rails. Imagine a collapsible telescope, and how the tubes slide into one another to become smaller. Now imagine the same thing in a rail collision: the force causes the cars to collapse into one another, one car sliding inside the others, resulting in heavy casualties.

In 1903 Wisker’s trial began, and later on that week he himself testified about the unsafe conditions of his locomotive. On April 25th, Wisker was acquitted. The emotional toll on the man was clearly evident as the jury read the verdict. He was described as “on the verge of nervous collapse” and “he trembled so violently that he had to be helped to his feet by [his lawyer]”. “He is but a shadow of the big sturdy fellow who was arrested the day of the fatal collision in the Park avenue tunnel.”

It would be nice to know that this man lived a long and productive life after this ordeal. However, in 1909, a work-related accident claimed John M. Wisker’s life. He was age 40. At least he lived long enough to see the beginnings of electric service, and the start of construction on the new Grand Central, both results of the crash in 1902.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck Paves the Way for Electric Service

Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun poring over the history of the Harlem Line and trains in the area. I mentioned a few weeks ago a new part of the site called the Historical Archives. When it first opened the Historical Archives had a few timetables, maps and newspaper articles. Now it contains well over a hundred different entries. I must thank the folks at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum because many of the timetables in the Archive come from their collection. I figured that in addition to my normal blogging of current events and craziness, I shall from here forward designate Friday as Historical Archive day, and I will be posting an article about something interesting about this history of the Harlem Line. The navigation at the top of the site changed slightly, in order to accommodate the new category, called History.

To kick it all off, I thought it may be interesting to post about the 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel wreck. Trains today are relatively safe, however in the past there were many dangers, and many people died over the course of history…

Above are just some of the headlines of newspaper articles now in the Historical Archives. On January 8th 1902 the worst train wreck in New York City’s history occurred underground in the Park Avenue Tunnel. The tunnel had originally been built in 1876 to make Manhattan safer by removing the tracks from aboveground. However low visibility in the darkness, and especially the smoke from coal-burning locomotives, made the tunnel quite hazardous. This was not the first wreck in the tunnel: accidents had occurred in 1891, where six people were killed, and 1882, where two people lost their lives.

At first, the engineer John M. Wisker was blamed for the accident. He had missed several signals, and he was controlling the train that slammed into the train in front of it. Ultimately, Wisker was acquitted – the dangers and low visibility in the tunnel was to blame for the crash. Fifteen people died as an immediate result of the crash, and several others died in the hospital shortly after. The deaths, however, were not in vain: they provided the final push for electric service on the line, and led to the replacement of Grand Central Depot. It was reborn as the Grand Central Terminal that we know today, and opened in 1913. The first regular service on the new electrified line ran to White Plains in 1910, an article of which also appears in the archive.

If you are interested in learning more about the Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck of 1902, and the influence on Grand Central, you should certainly check out Grand Central, a part of PBS’s American Experience, which is viewable online.

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