Another building from Grand Central’s architects – the NY Railroad Branch YMCA

For most people of my generation, the letters YMCA evoke an image of the Village People – far removed from the Young Men’s Christian Association it was founded as. Just as likely, one does not picture a group long associated with railroading, and certainly not an establishment designed by the likes of vaunted architects Warren and Wetmore. In reality, all of these statements are true – the YMCA was first established in New York in 1852, and a Grand Central Branch (also known as the Railroad Branch) was formed in 1875. Meeting in the basement of the Grand Central Depot, the fledgling organization was a second home to railroad men, and Sunday bible studies were led by Cornelius Vanderbilt II himself.

The YMCA organization was founded in 1844, but first became involved in the lives of railroaders in 1872 in Cleveland, Ohio. Besides the obvious religious aspect of the organization, it became a home where railroaders could be welcomed among colleagues and friends. Sermons and Bible studies, as well as decent places for railroad men to rest, get a meal at any hour, or diversions to pass the time, could all be found within the YMCA’s doors.

  
  
Typical scenes at YMCAs of the era. The first row depicts the 23rd Street YMCA in New York from the Library of Congress. Second row shows the Railroad YMCA in Washington DC by Herbert A French.

As Grand Central Terminal’s centennial year draws to a close, there are two more buildings designed by Grand Central’s architects that I wish to mention – one of which was the home for the Grand Central YMCA for fifteen years. In case you missed the previous entries in this series, you can check them out here:

Warren & Wetmore:
The New York Central Building
Yonkers Station
White Plains and Hartsdale stations

Reed & Stem:
Glenwood Power Station

Stem & Fellheimer:
Utica station

The entire Grand Central Terminal complex, as envisioned by the New York Central Railroad’s Chief Engineer William Wilgus, was more than just a simple train station – it was a “Terminal City.” Hotels and other such amenities were built for the convenience of travelers, and the magnificent New York Central Building became the new home of the railroad’s management. One rarely mentioned feature of the Terminal City was intended to serve the basic railroad worker, and provided amenities to those that worked long hours to get people where they needed to go by train. Although the building was short lived, the Grand Central, or Railroad Branch, of the New York YMCA formed an inextricable piece of the fabric that is Grand Central, and the lives of those that toiled within.

The old and new YMCA
The old YMCA (at left), and some members outside the new YMCA (at right).

Steadily rising from the modest organization it was founded as in a train station basement, the New York Railroad Branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association found its own home at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street in 1886, whose capacity was doubled in 1893. By 1902 the Railroad Branch YMCA was celebrating its 26th anniversary as one of 170 local railroad branches in the US and Canada, all of which had a membership of more than 43,000. New York alone had 31 branches, and nearly 10,500 members. Plans for the new Terminal City, and this increasing membership, necessitated a new home again in 1912. Three Vanderbilts – William Kissam, Frederick, and Alfred Gwynne – each donated $100,000 for the establishment of a new seven-floor building at Park Avenue from 49th to 50th streets which perfectly fit with the aesthetic of the new Terminal City.


The new New York Railroad Branch YMCA

Opened in 1914, the new YMCA building was a fairly modest affair of cream colored pressed brick and Indiana limestone trim, 200 by 47 feet. Typical of the work of Warren and Wetmore, the building featured various fine detail work including the flying wheel – representative of transportation and the Roman god Mercury – an open bible marked with the symbols for Alpha and Omega, the lamp of knowledge, and a YMCA emblem. Leadership of the YMCA described the building as both dignified and attractive, and although fitting with the Terminal City, it was an easily distinguished building with its own individuality.

Members and guests of the YMCA had a wide options of amenities open to them. For those looking to socialize, the inside of the new YMCA featured a spacious lobby designed for such purpose – one could a piano and a fireplace to sit around. Warren and Wetmore detail work could equally be found inside the building, and engraved on the marble above the fireplace were the choice words “Sprit, Mind, Body,” a motto of the YMCA. Those looking to write letters home or catch up on news could find the requisite items in the Correspondence Room, while those looking for a little fun could find it on the six billiard tables also found on this floor. Finishing off the first floor was a checkroom for baggage and uniforms, lavatories, and a full service barber shop.

Lobby and Bathroom
The lobby and bathroom found on the first floor.

No matter what hours a man worked, a restaurant and kitchen was open at all hours to serve, which occupied the entire second floor of the building. It featured the most elaborate restaurant of any YMCA at the time, with three dining rooms and seating for a total of 320 people. Meals ranging from ten to fifty cents were offered here, and lunches for thirty cents were offered in the popular Club Lunch Room.

Bible study group and one of the second floor dining rooms
Those that would opt for exercise could find a 40 x 75 foot gym, two full floors in height, on the third floor, complete with a spectator gallery for 100 people. The gym could be converted for use as an auditorium which could seat 500, and a stage and dressing room was available for this purpose. Four of the most modern Brunswick bowling alleys, featuring rubber “Mineralite” bowling balls were also located on this floor. A darkroom for the camera club, and a library with three reading alcoves could also be found on the third floor. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt took on the responsibility of keeping the library stocked with the newest and most desirable books, at times donating up to a hundred new volumes per month. YMCA members could borrow two books at a time for a two week period.

Tracking the health of railroad men
Tracking the health of railroad men – the YMCA was a place to expand one’s spirit, mind, and body.

A locker room for the gym could be found on the fourth floor, as well as a lecture room with space for 125. Various classes were offered, from railroad-related Air Brake classes to First Aid, Public Speaking, and even Investing classes. For those on long swing shifts or long distance journeys that required rest, both single and double rooms were available in increments of 12 hours. These rooms occupied the fifth through seventh floors of the building. Several rooms were located on the fourth floor, but the majority took up the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors. Rooms averaged six by seventeen feet in size, and all had outside windows. At roof level one would find a canopied summer garden, seasonal courts for handball and tennis, and room for meetings during good weather.

Billiards, Bowling lanes, and a typical bunk room

Despite the featured amenities, the YMCA outgrew the building in a mere fifteen years, and the Warren and Wetmore construction was demolished. These days the Railroad Branch of the YMCA still exists, although it is referred to as the Vanderbilt Branch, in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the man that invested considerable time, effort, and money in the organization, back when it met in a lowly basement of Grand Central Depot. The exclusive male membership and religious aspects of the YMCA have been supplanted with a focus on community and opportunities for all. The organization has even distanced itself from its long standing acronym and has attempted to rebrand itself as merely “The Y.” Few ties to the railroad remain, besides the Vanderbilt name, and its proximity to Grand Central Terminal.

The Vanderbilt YMCA
The YMCA that replaced the Warren and Wetmore building, which still exists today. Construction photo at left from the Museum of the City of New York.

Some of the amenities offered to railroaders at the YMCA are still required to this day. Though definitely not as nice as the elaborate setup of the original YMCA Railroad Branch, locker rooms and bunk rooms for those with long train jobs to sleep can be found today in Grand Central. The upper floors of Grand Central hosted these for many years, though they shared one thing with the original YMCA – they were for men. Exclusive facilities for women didn’t exist all the way up through the Conrail years, but were finally established in the early ’80s. In the mid to late ’80s the bunk and locker rooms were relocated to the dark recess known as Carey’s Hole, and were relocated again to the third floor last year. In the lounge you can likely find conductors and engineers passing their free time playing cards, much as they did at the Railroad Branch.

Railroad Men
The publication Railroad Men was printed by the Railroad Branch of the YMCA in New York. Note the design at left featuring the oak and acorn motif which appears frequently in Grand Central, symbols of the Vanderbilt family.

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All Aboard For an Excursion to Madison Square Garden, and the National Horse Show!

In terms of historic preservation in the city of New York, Pennsylvania Station is a a sore spot for many. It was the gorgeous building that we didn’t save, that we couldn’t save. The Beaux-Arts station was a beautiful monument that was torn down, and for what? To be covered over with an arena. For this, Madison Square Garden has drawn the ire of many railfans and history buffs, but in reality the Garden has a longer history than even the original Pennsylvania Station, and is coincidentally linked to the New York and Harlem Railroad.

Ring for the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden
The ring at the second Madison Square Garden is being readied for the National Horse Show.

Originally established in 1879 at East 26th Street and Madison Avenue, the first Madison Square Garden was a roofless arena that sat 10,000 spectators. With the completion of Grand Central Depot in 1871, the New York and Harlem Railroad moved their operations, no longer needing their depot near Madison Avenue. While the land was first used by P.T. Barnum as the “Barnum Hippodrome,” William Kissam Vanderbilt took control of the space two years after his grandfather’s death and renamed it Madison Square Garden. The Garden hosted various sporting events, including the National Horse Show, which would become a yearly tradition at the venue.

Parade of winners
Parade of winners at the 1896 National Horse Show, held annually at Madison Square Garden.

The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden
The National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, 1913.

The first Madison Square Garden lasted until 1889, when Vanderbilt sold the property to a group of wealthy investors including J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. They tore down the first Garden to build the second, designed by prominent architect Stanford White. The second Madison Square Garden opened in 1890 and lasted until 1925. The venue hosted a wide array of events, from boxing matches to plays, circuses, concerts and even the Democratic National Convention. Unlike its predecessor, the second Garden was fully enclosed, allowing events all year long, and in any weather.

Judging at the National Horse Show
Judging at the National Horse Show.

Scenes from the National Horse Show
British officers on their mounts at the 1910 National Horse Show, and horses outside Madison Square Garden. Alfred Vanderbilt, serving as the president of the National Horse Show, first invited the British cavalry to compete in the show in 1909.

The National Horse Show was one of Madison Square Garden’s major events, and was hosted at all four venues to bear the name, up until 1989. First established in 1883 by a collection of affluent members of society, the show was regularly held in November. While the spectators certainly included the rich and powerful, many regular people came to see the show, and some came by train. The New York Central offered special excursion tickets for those looking to go to the 1898 show, and printed an attractive brochure advertising it.

New York Central excursion brochure
A New York Central excursion brochure featuring the National Horse Show.

The brochure advertises that November is, “the best time of the year to visit New York…” which may strike some today as a bit odd. A warm locale like Florida sounds great for a winter vacation, but in the 1880′s anyone who was anyone headed to New York City. Fitting an event established by the affluent, the National Horse Show became a part of the New York social calendar, just as much as the opening of the opera season, or Mrs. Astor’s annual January ball. By summertime the socialites would move on to Newport, Rhode Island and their “cottages”, before returning to the city in November, and beginning the cycle anew.

Catalog for the 1898 National Horse Show
Catalog for the 1898 National Horse Show

Program for the 1898 National Horse Show
Program for the 1898 National Horse Show

The second Madison Square Garden was ultimately demolished, and in its place the New York Life Building was constructed. In 1925 the third arena to bear the name was opened, although it was located on Eighth Avenue between 49th, and not near Madison Square. Coincidentally, the place on which the third Garden was constructed was once a storage barn for trolleys. The third Garden lasted until 1968 when the fourth and current Madison Square Garden opened atop what was once the great Pennsylvania Station.

As for the National Horse Show, the competition is still held, although it now calls the Kentucky Horse Park home.

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James P. Carey, Grand Central’s Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

When Grand Central Terminal opened, some of its most touted amenities included the special waiting rooms for men and women located right next to the general waiting room. Included within were a barbershop, dressing rooms, and a manicure parlor, and all were operated by a rather ingenious entrepreneur by the name of James P. Carey. Not only did Carey have a gift for making and creating businesses, he recognized Grand Central as a prime opportunity, and the perfect place to launch those businesses.


Left: Photograph of James P. Carey with his dog Kerney, Right: Advertisement for Williams’ Shaving Soap, with testimonial by Carey and citing his barber shop in Grand Central Station.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut around 1869, James P. Carey was a trained barber that just happened to have a knack for business. After moving to New York City in his youth, he eventually started a chain of 25 barber shops, which he ultimately sold to focus on business ventures in Grand Central. His first established Grand Central endeavor was a barbershop in 1905 – several years before today’s Terminal was constructed. Like several other businesses in the old station, Carey reestablished his barbershop in the Terminal when it was completed, though it was much expanded.


Postcards showing Carey’s barber shop in Grand Central Terminal. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Carey’s barbershop in the new Terminal was truly a spectacle, and was claimed to be the largest barbershop in the world. Measuring 10,000 square feet and part of GCT’s mens’ waiting room, it was filled with plate glass mirrors, high polished Carrara glass, cream tiling, and marble basins. Only the best-trained barbers stood at the ready in white uniforms, waiting for patrons. In addition to walk-ins, you could also reserve an appointment by phone, or by telegraph from your train. The shop operated from 6 AM to midnight, and in addition to the barbers employed 2 cashiers, 3 coat and hat attendants, 3 shoe polishers, and 2 podiatrists (or as they were then called, chiropodists). The shop also contained a Russian steam bath, offered at a cost of 50 cents, and large enough to accommodate 33 men. For the women, Carey operated the manicure parlor and hairdresser as part of the women’s waiting room, which employed 6 manicurists and 2 hairdressers.


1913 ads for Carey’s businesses in Grand Central Terminal, shortly after opening.

Not only did Carey have a keen business sense, he had quite a talent for sensing what patrons of the Terminal needed. When I posted about the Grand Central Theatre, I tried to make the point that Grand Central morphed along with changing demographic of people that used it, and constantly reinvented itself to remain current and relevant. In that respect, Carey’s inventiveness perfectly reflected that spirit of Grand Central. At first the barber shop tailored to the high profile guests of the Terminal – people that relished their privacy, and could wire the barbershop from their train to reserve a private appointment. Soon after, Carey opened yet another barbershop – a no frills affair geared to the more everyday folks using Grand Central. Not long after that Carey noted that not just passengers were interested in getting their hair cut, thus he opened smaller shop in Grand Central’s office building for employees and train workers.


Carey also operated a men’s clothing shop, or as the folks wishing to ooze class would say, a haberdashery. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

At most, Carey is said to have operated twelve different businesses in the Terminal, including a clothing shop, laundry, luggage check, and car service. While some people were at first skeptical of the commercial space in the Terminal, calling it “barnlike” and having “storerooms [that were] too scattered,” Carey realized the opportunity, and created new businesses to fill the void. One such business was a haberdashery, or men’s clothing shop, which survived for many years in the Terminal.

Believing that Grand Central represented amazing opportunity, Carey focused on acquiring as much commercial space in the Terminal as possible. In 1920 Carey managed to oust fellow longtime tenant Mendel’s check room and luggage when their lease ran out, acquiring the space for himself. Like Carey, the proprietor of Mendel’s first established his shop in the previous Grand Central, though much earlier than Carey, in the 1870′s. When their lease came up for renewal, the owner, unaware they even had any competition for the space, put in a bid matching what he had been paying previously. Unbeknownst to him, Carey entered a higher bid, and by the time Mendel’s tried to up their bid, it was too late. Knowing that the check room and luggage shop was a necessity for the station, Carey opened his own version in the newly acquired location.


Advertisement and postcard for Carey’s transportation business. Below, right: photo of a Carey bus at JFK airport.

In 1921, right outside the walls of the Terminal, Carey embarked on his most significant and profitable venture – car transportation. Using the fanciest cars available at the time, Carey’s drivers chauffeured wealthy patrons arriving and departing Grand Central Terminal – rumored to include Babe Ruth, John F. Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover. Eventually the car service was expanded to include New York’s airports, and buses were added to the fleet. Though the company has gone through many changes and transitions over the years, Carey International is the current form of the company started so many years ago outside Grand Central.


In a move that would likely be frowned upon today, Carey fashioned himself a logo modeled after the New York Central’s. Below is the logo in use by Carey International, the current form of the company that J.P. Carey started many years ago.

Carey operated all of his businesses in the Terminal until 1940, when he retired due to illness (he died not too long after, in 1942). Many of the businesses he set up in the station, like the men’s clothing store, lasted for at least 50 years. The baggage check service was ultimately rendered obsolete when the New York Central installed lockers for travelers. As mentioned above, a successor firm to the transportation service Carey started still exists under the name of Carey International.

One final vestige of the Carey name still exists in the Terminal – a spot called Carey’s Hole (visible in this Metro-North floor plan). Until recently, Carey’s Hole was a locker facility used by Metro-North’s conductors and engineers (these locker facilities have now been relocated to the third floor). Located below the spot where Carey’s barbershop once was, this basement area was likely used for storage many years ago. For a man who spent much of his life on endeavors in Grand Central Terminal, it seems appropriate that at least one spot in the Terminal bears his name – even if it is just a basement.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Philipse Manor


Aerial view of Philipse Manor station, the Hudson Line, and the Hudson River. [image credit]

Our next stop on the Hudson Line is the kind of station that makes me glad I started this exploratory tour two years ago. While there are certainly some very boring, or at least run-of-the-mill, Metro-North stations (many of which I’ve shown you), this is certainly not one of them. Comprised of a lovely combination of history, art, and of course, trains, Philipse Manor is definitely one of the nicer stations I’ve visited.

Similar to many other stations on the line, Philipse Manor overlooks the picturesque Hudson River. Besides the old New York Central-built station building (now occupied by the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center), the platform is guarded over by a large cast-iron eagle. Astute commuters may notice it bears a strong resemblance to the eagle perched over Grand Central Terminal, and rightly so, for these brothers were two of many stationed over the original Grand Central Depot.

  

1988 photographs of Philipse Manor. In one of the images you can see the platform sign listing the station as “Philipse Manor, North Tarrytown.”

Located 26.5 miles north of Grand Central, Philipse Manor station is situated in the middle of Westchester county, in the village of Sleepy Hollow – formerly known as North Tarrytown. That name change was fairly recent, even in the early Metro-North days there was a platform sign that listed the station as Philipse Manor, North Tarrytown. The station consists of two side platforms surrounding four tracks. The original station building, which overlooks the platforms, is no longer used by the railroad.

 

Though the Philipse Manor station may now be home to the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, artists of all variety seem to frequent the place. The above watercolor of the old station is by Karl Tanner. The lower station sketch by Linda Hejduk is regularly featured in Writers’ Center newsletters.

Over the years so many old depots have been demolished that whenever I hear about a restored historical station, I have to admit, I get a little bit excited. While it is lovely that there are three stations on the Harlem Line that have survived and now house Starbucks, there are a few uses for old train stations that I think fit a bit better – like a library. The old station at Philipse Manor might not be a library, but it is home to the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. Besides the area being the stomping grounds of the headless horseman of American literary folklore, a historical station seems like a fitting place for artists and writers.


Architectural sketch of Philipse Manor station, created while the station was being restored.

Built circa 1910, Philipse Manor station was constructed into a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. Although one could once enter the station, descend some stairs and exit out of the basement to reach the platform, the lower portion of the station has now been closed off. The arches that provided ingress and egress are still visible on the platform, however. The majority of the station, built in the Tudor revival style, is constructed of rusticated granite, though there is some stucco and wooden trim visible.

Many old stations fall into disrepair over the years, and Philipse Manor was no exception. The station was restored in the early 90′s by Bond Street Architecture, at a cost of around $800,000. Emergency repairs on the roof and stabilization of the building’s frame was completed in 1992, and a full restoration effort began in 1995. The new home of the Writers’ Center opened to the public in 1996. The efforts to restore the station earned the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center the Excellence in Preservation Award in 2005.

   
  
  

Joseph Cavalieri with his Arts for Transit piece, installed at Philipse Manor. [image credit]

A more recent addition to Philipse Manor is visible in the station overpass. Many Hudson Line stations have undergone recent repair work, including renovations to the station overpasses. When the overpass at Philipse Manor was repaired some lovely stained glass was also included, as part of the Arts for Transit program. The piece was designed by local artist Joseph Cavalieri, and is titled North, South and Home. It is comprised of six panels of faceted glass, each measuring 33 by 42 inches. As I am sure @MetroNorthHaiku would appreciate, the text written across the panels is in fact a haiku:

A gentle Hudson
whistle begins my journey
north, and south and home

The piece was fabricated by Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, which made the glass for Scarborough, and several other MTA stations. Many of the recent Arts for Transit pieces installed at Metro-North stations have been in the medium of stained glass, and I think North, South and Home is one of my favorites, along with the piece at Mount Vernon East.

Hopefully you enjoyed touring Philipse Manor as much as I have! There will, of course, be more Hudson Line touring next week. Until then, here are the remainder of the photos I took at Philipse Manor – including a panorama of the station platform and one of the original Grand Central Depot eagles.

 
  
  
 
   
   
 
  
  

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Another side of Grand Central, views during Summer Streets

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

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

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

 
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
  
 
  
 
   

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 2)

Back in November I posted a whole bunch of postcards that I had collected of stations along the Harlem. I had promised a part two, and here it is now… but why stop at just part two? I’ve sort of realized I have quite the boatload of postcards, and I keep acquiring them. One of my rather lofty goals was to be able to collect a postcard for each Harlem railroad station. But I also couldn’t help purchasing alternate designs of the same stations. So although some places I have no postcards for, there are others that I have a bunch. I have far too many of Grand Central, and three or more of stations like Pleasantville, Chappaqua, and Chatham. Needless to say, there will be a part three, and possibly a part four at some time in the future. I do have a request to any of you out there, though. If you happen to have a postcard that I don’t have in my collection here, I would love you so much if you could scan it for me. As much as I’d love to actually have it in my possession, I would love it even more to have it available in my digital gallery!

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

The last four postcards are a little different. They are not Harlem stations per se, but once upon a time you could board a Harlem Division train that went into Massachusetts, across the Boston & Albany’s tracks. Leaving from Grand Central, the train would make stops at 125th Street, White Plains, Brewster, Pawling and Chatham. After a short pause in Chatham, the train would continue to East Chatham and Canaan, before crossing into Massachusetts and making stops at State Line, Richmond, Pittsfield, Cheshire, Adams and North Adams. Most of those stations are long gone, just like the Upper Harlem stations. Amtrak trains still make stops in Pittsfield, though the two stations in the postcards were torn down, which is unfortunate. They were gorgeous in comparison to today’s Pittsfield station. I think the waiting room there looks more like a school cafeteria than part of a train station!

  
  


Timetable for Harlem Division service to Massachusetts

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Taking the Grand Tour: A Review of Grand Central’s New Audio Tour

Observant commuters may have noticed something new in Grand Central in November – a little booth by the ticket windows labeled Audio Tours. Or you might have seen it mentioned in the Mileposts, or perhaps in a poster on your train or at your station? Either way there is a new way to tour Grand Central – and I’m not talking about a giant tour group where you have to strain to hear the tour guide. Grand Central now has an official self-guided audio tour. While I was at Grand Central the other day I took the time to give the tour a shot – a review of sorts.

 
Audio tour booth, Metro North employee Patrick mans the booth during my visit

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I know a lot about Grand Central, and I figured that I wouldn’t learn anything new. But I was a tad curious to know what would be included in a tour of Grand Central, and how it would be described. There are a lot of things I know about the history of the place. And I am also aware that there are folks in the hardcore railfan community that are of the opinion that there have been some… shall we say, anecdotal embellishments added into the lore of the Terminal. But there is just so much that can be said about the history of this building, what exactly do you say to fit into an hour, and what parts do you leave out?


Handheld device for the audio tour

I must admit though, I enjoyed the tour. The technology used is great. If you don’t want to borrow the device and headset for the tour you can download it to your own mp3 player – or at least you’re supposed to. I’ve been unable to purchase it on the website, not to mention it lists the prices only in Euros, which irrelevant if the company that made the tour may be foreign, it just looks poor in a US market. The actual devices that you can borrow for the tour are not only audio devices, they have a small screen in which to show a photo of where you currently are on the tour. I love the fact that it really is a self guided tour – you enter the number of the location you currently are in to hear about it. If you don’t want to hear about it, you can always skip that location. Or you can go in whichever order you please. Plus if you want to learn more about something, you can hit the green button. You can customize the whole thing and do whatever you want to.

Plenty of important places are described on the tour – from the obvious 42nd Street façade, to the clock and sky ceiling to the somewhat lesser known whispering gallery, spiral staircase in the information booth, and the walkways in between the glass panels. I loved that there were mentions of the 20th Century Limited, as well as Jackie Kennedy and the fight to save Grand Central. There were also plenty of things that I thought the tour could mention, but didn’t. Since the tour sends you outside anyways to see the façade, why not make another outdoor stop to see the majestic eagle – older than the Terminal itself – which once stood on the original Grand Central Depot? I also don’t recall hearing anything about William Wilgus. Wilgus was the railroad’s chief engineer, and the conceptual mastermind behind Grand Central. The tour briefly mentions that the Terminal ushered in the era of electric trains, but fails to mention why – and this is important! Would the railroad have undertaken such a massive project if steam locomotives were not banned on Manhattan island? Would the massively expensive project have been considered if not for Wilgus’ concept of air rights, of covering over the formerly open-cut railroad tunnels and building on it to recoup expenses and make money?

The tour does fall more on the side of artistic/architectural than railfan. But just the fact that the purpose of the building is for servicing rail, I think more of that rail history ought to be thrown in. What makes Grand Central a great railroad station, and not just a pretty building? (and I am talking more about dual levels and loop tracks, as opposed to ramps, which were mentioned)

 
Eagle originally from Grand Central Depot

For the most part the main narration of the tour was great. It was informal, like you were listening to an actual tour guide as opposed to reading one of the many books on the subject of Grand Cental. There were amusing little anecdotes thrown in, like the person asking the person at the information booth where to rent a horse. A lot of the extra details and stories on the “secrets” were recited by Dan Brucker… and I mean no insult to Dan, but there were times where it was tiresome to listen to his voice. He spoke loud and slow, perhaps as one would speak to a non-english speaker, hoping that over-enunciating words will help them understand. “This. Is. Not. A. STA-TION. It. Is. A. TER-MI-NAL. Be-cause trains. TER-MI-NATE. Here.” Now although I’ve never formally met Dan Brucker, I’ve overheard him doing tours. He is animated and it is obvious that he loves this place. But I don’t think that gets through in the tour. (Sorry Dan, please don’t be insulted, I’d still love for you to give me a tour any day!)

One option on the tour, which I believe was called Visual Experience has not been completed yet. The device mentioned that it is being worked on and will include clips from shows filmed in Grand Central. I hope they’re talking about audio clips and not video clips, because even though the device has the capacity for video the screen is so small. And if I had a hard time seeing what was in the tiny picture, then I am certain the little old ladies that took the tour right before me would have a major difficulty. Something on the other hand that might actually work would be a small companion brochure or booklet that accompanies the tour. Right now you just get a big clunky sheet of laminated paper with a map, which you can’t keep. I’m sure tourists would love something that can actually be kept. If cost is a prohibitive issue I’m sure an extra dollar or two could be charged for the nicer booklet.

Well, this certainly turned out to be the long-winded review. Basically it comes down to this:
Do I recommend the tour? Yes. The tour is ideal for people that enjoy the architecture and might not know a lot about Grand Central. If you know a lot about the place you’re probably not going to get as much out of it, but you’ll still probably enjoy it.
Did I learn anything on the tour? Yes. Somehow I had never even noticed the mural on the ceiling of the Graybar Passage.

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The curious story of the ghost horse in Grand Central

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

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


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

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

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

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

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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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Former Terminus of the Harlem Line: Chatham, Then and Now

Several months ago I was amused when I saw a blog linking to my own, and they referred to me as a “closeted rail fan.” Despite “coming out” and accepting the title I still wonder if it is really an appropriate term to call me. I certainly like riding on trains, but I know very little about the physical machine that is a train. I think my primary interest is the history, and most specifically, how technology affected places and people. And I think it is undeniable that the railroads played a big part in how New York evolved. Back when Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the land for the original Grand Central Depot, the location was considered “the boonies,” as City Hall was thought of as the northern end of the city. And what would Westchester County be like without the rail? The rail encouraged the people of the area to move north and spread out, turning the rural areas into the suburbs we know today.

I think another thing that interests me about the rail is the abandonment. I really don’t know why, but I have a fascination with abandoned places – and the rail has plenty of them. The railroad was once the primary way mail and freight was delivered, and how people got around. But cars became increasingly more popular, and with the advent of the interstate system, cars took the place of trains in getting around. And so stations were closed, rail lines cut, and railroad companies went bankrupt. I do mention it frequently on here, but the Harlem Line is no stranger to abandonment. In 1972 passenger service north of Dover Plains ceased, and around 50 miles worth of track, all the way to Chatham, was abandoned.



Old photos and postcards of Chatham, NY

In the grand scheme of things, Chatham was luckier than most. It was once a thriving area for transportation: the Harlem Division, Rutland Railway, and the Boston and Albany all made stops. Though the Harlem and Rutland’s track has been ripped out, CSX and Amtrak still use the Boston and Albany track, running through the quiet village without stopping. Quite a few of the former stations on the Harlem Division have really nothing to see… station buildings long gone and mostly forgotten. But as I said before, Chatham was luckier than most, the historical Union Station still stands, restored and used as a bank. And in 1974 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.









Henry Hobson Richardson was an influential architect in the 19th century, popularizing a style of architecture that was named for him: Richardsonian Romanesque. The revival style incorporated 11th and 12th century European Romaneque traits. Although Trinity Church in Boston was his most notable work, he designed several railroad stations for the Boston and Albany. Several architects trained with Richardson, including Charles McKim and Stanford White, who designed the original Pennsylvania Station, though in the Beaux-Arts style. Following Richardson’s style, however, were two others that worked for him: George Shepley and Charles Coolidge. Their firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, based in Boston, completed Richardson’s partially completed and pending projects, one of which was Chatham’s Union Station. In total, the firm completed 23 of B&A’s stations, including Boston’s South Station, still in use by the MBTA.

Chatham’s Union Station opened on August 31, 1887. The ticket office in the station was closed in 1960, and pieces of the inside, including the waiting benches, were sold off. Passengers used the station up until it’s final closure in March of 1972, ending the many years it served as the terminus of the Harlem Division. The station has been restored, and reopened in 1999. It is now the office for the Chatham branch of the Bank of Kinderhook. And it is still quite beautiful… one of the few remaining vestiges of the Upper Harlem Line that I can actually see.

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