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The Lost Train Station of the Bronx – 138th Street, Mott Haven

If there seems to be one constant with we humans, it is that we spend much time tearing down vestiges of our past to make room for the supposed future. We build bigger, taller, and seek the more modern, or the more profitable. Many venerable buildings have met the wrecking ball, and although some are well remembered, such as New York’s Pennsylvania Station, others are largely forgotten. One such forgotten New York City gem is the New York Central’s 138th Street station. Upon construction it was considered one of New York City’s most notable examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Featuring a beautiful clock tower, and ornate terra cotta detailing, this is one place that is definitely worth remembering.

In the northeast, Romanesque style train stations were mostly associated with the Boston and Albany Railroad, which designed most of their main line stations in the style (for example, Chatham, which was a joint Harlem Division station), and many by pioneer architect Henry Hobson Richardson. However, the New York Central did have a few – Richardson proteges Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed the Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown stations located on the Hudson Line. The railroad also hired Robert Henderson Robertson to design stations at Canandaigua (extant, but heavily modified), Schenectady (demolished), and most notably, 138th Street.

R.H. Robertson was born in Philadelphia in 1849, and graduated Rutgers College in 1869. He started his architecture career working in the office of Henry Sims in Philadelphia, later moving to New York and working in the office of George B. Post. By 1871 he established his own architecture firm in New York City, designing a wide array of buildings from libraries to churches, as well as banks, train stations and private homes. Over the years he worked in various styles, including Queen Anne and Victorian Gothic, but by 1880 became heavily influenced by Richardson’s Romanesque revival style. Robertson was, however, described as “[taking] up the style in his own way.” His prolific New York City career led him to design various buildings that are today designated landmarks, including the Lincoln Building at Union Square, and Fire Engine Company 55‘s firehouse in Little Italy.

    
138th Street Station shortly after construction. Original photos from the Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photograph Collection, Cornell University Library. Photo restoration work by HarlemLine.com

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George Henry Daniels, The Advertising “Prophet” of the New York Central

These days, it seems like social media “experts” are a dime a dozen. Tasked with promoting a service or a brand in the “social” world where sites like Facebook and Twitter reign, the social media guru uses a varied bag of tricks to get people to look their way. Though the medium has certainly changed, and the communication is now instantaneous, creative promoters are hardly a new invention. And although the term “going viral” was only recently coined, one could argue that promoters of yesterday experienced a similar phenomenon. Today’s post is about a talented man who was employed by the New York Central at the turn of the 20th century. Described by fellow advertisers as the railroad’s “prophet,” George H. Daniels was endlessly creative in attracting attention to one of the world’s greatest railroads. He was a writer, editor, travel agent, promoter, negotiator, and showman all wrapped into one package, but he went by the title of General Passenger Agent.

Much of Daniels’ promoting came down to a persistent tagline – “Send a stamp to George H. Daniels.” Any soul that would send off a letter to the man in Grand Central, and enclosing a two-cent stamp – of any country, in fact – would be returned travel-related literature pertaining to their specific interests. Perhaps a businessman would get a map of global trade lines, undoubtedly featuring the fine rails of the New York Central and its connections stretching across the United States. A science-minded fellow would find descriptions and diagrams of mighty steam locomotives in use by the railroad, or the newest technology found in use on the road. And a sportsman might find a guide to fishing in upstate New York, complete with photos of the varied fish found within each body of water. Daniels and his team created a litany of brochures for just about any interest, railroad or not. For the more philosophical, there was the reprint of Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia” – of no relation to the railroad, yet complete with a map of the line as a reference point. Certainly one of his most prolific publications, it can only be argued that after being printed by the railroad the story went “viral” – and Daniels promised to print as many copies of it as were desired, even if it took a century to do so. The story was subsequently made into two different motion pictures, sold over 40 million copies, and was translated into 37 languages, largely due to Daniels’ influence.

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The Harlem Division’s Cemeteries: The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

To me, some of the most interesting stuff about railroad history is not about the trains or the railroads themselves, but how they affected the places in which they operated. The oft-cited cliche is that the railroads built this country, and although they certainly had an effect on the movement of people westward, some of the strongest effects can be witnessed around cities. Today’s Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines played an immense part in the growth of New York City’s suburbs, and other railroads played a similar part in other major cities. Trains provided easy access to the city’s jobs, but allowed people to live increasingly further and further outside the city’s limits. Businesses were also established or relocated to spots along the rails in order to have access to the city – a primary example being the very first successful condensed milk factory in Wassaic, a spot selected by inventor Gail Borden because of the plentiful farmland, and the Harlem Railroad.

Strangely enough, the railroad also played a part in the establishment of various cemeteries. As the city itself grew larger, not only did some former rural cemeteries get displaced, people with money wished to be interred in an attractive rural setting. Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1863, and took in the remains of cemeteries displaced in the city proper, and grew to become a venerable place of final rest for thousands. Such growth was undoubtedly assisted by the nearby railroad, easily allowing loved ones to visit the graves of their friends and family. Further north along the Harlem Division, the Kensico Cemetery was also established as a beautiful, rural final resting place. Truly appealing to the wealthy of the city, Kensico offered a private railcar for rent for funerals which would transport people directly from Grand Central to the cemetery’s very own train station.

Though Woodlawn and Kensico may be the two most commonly known cemeteries that owe their growth to the Harlem Railroad, there is another slightly more unique cemetery that also falls into that category – the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Just like its brethren, the Hartsdale cemetery has seen gun salutes, bagpipers, and is the final resting place for thousands of friends – however the majority of them just happen to not be human. Buried within its grounds you’ll find the graves of war dogs, police dogs (including at least one MTAPD K9), a search and rescue dog that lost its life on September 11th, thousands of other cats and dogs, humans that opted for their cremains to be interred together with their beloved pets, and even a lion. It is also home to the War Dog Memorial, celebrating the animals that fought alongside their human handlers in the Great War.

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One more Warren & Wetmore station – Mount Vernon West

On the final day of 2013 – Grand Central’s centennial year – there’s one more station that I’d like to take a visit to. Several years ago, when we visited during our Tuesday Tour, we saw only part of the station, the tunnels and the platform. But beyond the current station’s doors is an edifice whose façade has remained fairly similar for over 90 years, though the inside has drastically changed. The New York Central’s station at Mount Vernon, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was at one time one of Westchester’s beautiful stations. Once it was on par with the great stations at Yonkers and White Plains – but while Yonkers survives and White Plains was razed, Mount Vernon exists in a strange limbo. As the New York Central’s financial woes became painfully obvious, the railroad began selling off the very buildings that were once symbols of their might. In 1959, Mount Vernon station was sold to local businessman who converted it to serve commercial purposes. The waiting room was dismantled and the cavernous space split into two floors, and the express room at the north end was demolished and a two-floor office building erected in its stead.

Postcard view of Mount Vernon station
Postcard view of Mount Vernon station

From the platform level one would hardly notice the history that surrounds this Metro-North station. A walk around the property at street level one discovers several exits long closed and covered in concrete. Behind masses of tall weeds is another former exit, the concrete marked with a 1916 date. The diamond in the rough, however, is the old station building, or rather its façade. A sgraffito panel bears the traditional symbols of transportation – the winged wheel and the caduceus – positioned between the text identifying the station as one of the New York Central Railroad. Besides this panel the adornments on the building are few, with the exception of a few sculpted flowers, surrounded by what could possibly be oak leaves.

  

Detail shots of the sgraffito panel on Mount Vernon West station.

Though the building is now covered in grime and graffiti, it is undeniable that at the time of completion this red brick building with limestone paneling was quite beautiful. Its sgraffito panel – an art technique which uses colored plaster applied to a moistened surface and scratched to reveal details – is unique among local train stations. While the building is not quite as embellished as the station at Yonkers, it is still a significant building reflecting the importance of Mount Vernon.

Map with locations of the old and new stations
Q&d map of Mount Vernon showing the locations of the old and new stations, and how the rail line was rerouted through town. Based on a map found in the 1914 edition of the G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of Westchester County, via the David Rumsey Map Collection. If you want to download the high res original, which shows individual tracks and sidings click here.

In the early 1900s Mount Vernon was experiencing significant development and was certainly an important stop on the Harlem Division, certainly warranting a new, larger station. However, there was yet another important reason why the town needed a new train station. If you’ve ever had the joy of being arrested by the MTAPD and taken to their station in Mount Vernon you are familiar with MacQuesten Parkway, the street on which the police station is located. MacQuesten Parkway was once known as Railroad Avenue, and the Harlem Division ran not far from where that police station is today. As the Harlem Division was electrified up to North White Plains, some adjustments were made in its route, one of which was in Mount Vernon. Just north of the border with the Bronx the line was raised and shifted about two blocks to the west. This allowed the elimination of a grade crossing in the city, and allowed the line to be four tracked.

Trolley line in Mount Vernon
Trolley line in Mount Vernon
An older face of Mount Vernon – the #7 trolley line connecting Yonkers and Mount Vernon ran right next to the station. The first photo, from the book Metropolitan New York’s Third Avenue Railway System shows an eastbound trolley just west of the station. The lower photo from SoYo Sunset shows two trolleys crossing under the New York Central’s tracks, and a northbound train departing Mount Vernon station (which is at left, out of the frame).

An array of businesses have found homes in the old station over the years, from a silversmith to a pharmacy, a photography shop, and even a karate studio in the building’s upper floor. The north wing that was demolished and rebuilt has been various banks over the years – in the ’80s the Bank of New York, today Chase. Original details on the inside are very few, but some design work can be found on the walls of an upper hallway.

The current train station, which consists of the tunnels under the tracks, is hardly noteworthy except for the old “M Central” signage and the Arts for Transit piece by Martha Jackson-Jarvis. Upstairs on the platform level one can see the back of the once great train station, now covered in graffiti. It is mildly amusing to note that the words sgraffito – the art found on the station, and graffiti – the spray marks tagged on the historical building both share the same origins. I generally appreciate the graffiti along rail lines, but it is a shame to see it mar a nearly hundred year old station… it seems to be the final, sad outcome of a once proud station, reflecting the downfall of a once great railroad, now long gone.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
   
   
  
   
 
  
  

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Musings on Station Names

You would think that the naming of a train station would be a rather simple and straightforward process… alas this seems to be far from true. If history has shown us anything, station namings (and even renamings) can turn out to be a political or even touchy subject – just ask all the Connecticut commuters that voted for their new Metro-North station to be called Black Rock instead of Fairfield Metro, and were denied (and less than thrilled). But the more interesting thing, to me at least, is how history plays a significant part in many of these names – especially in the most clunky.


Months before even being scheduled to open, Fairfield Metro was already covered in graffiti, perhaps by citizens unhappy about the name ;) [image credit]

It isn’t too hard to find a few awkward names along Metro-North’s tracks – just note the Port Jervis Line, which has the honor of having stations with the two longest names in the system. Looking back at the history of the line, the main portion of rail which went through the busy centers of the local towns was abandoned in favor of a roundabout ride through the sticks previously used only for freight. Middletown, which previously had a station, was left without one. As to not forget the passengers it once served, a station was established on the new rail line and was called Middletown, despite it actually being in the town of Walkill. Thus the station was dubbed Middletown – Town of Wallkill. Salisbury Mills – Cornwall follows a similar convention, being located in Cornwall, but a (far older) station had once been historically located in Salisbury Mills.

Wingdale / State Hospital
State Hospital and Wingdale stations were combined to create Harlem Valley – Wingdale.

Mashup station names aren’t exclusive to the west side of the Hudson – one is located right on the Harlem Line. Harlem Valley – Wingdale is a combination of two former station names, both long closed. The Harlem Division once had two different stations in Wingdale – one for the Harlem Valley State Hospital, which went by State Hospital for short, and one just called Wingdale. In 1977 the two stations were consolidated, and given the name Harlem Valley – Wingdale to represent the two. If any station is deserving a name update, it would certainly be this one. With our increasing dependence on technology for train information, and Metro-North’s lack of naming consistency, finding information about this station can be a pain. While sales/ticketing seems to prefer Harlem Valley W’dale, Customer Service’s preferred abbreviation is Hm Valley Wingdale – causing digital havoc. For almost two entire years riders could not access mobile train information for the station unless they knew the magic “hm” abbreviation, which of course, nobody ever mentioned (after moving to the area I complained about it several times… the bug has since been quietly fixed at some point within the past few months). Despite the history attached to the name, isn’t it about time we end the difficulty and just call the station Wingdale again?

While politics likely played a role in the aforementioned naming of Fairfield Metro over the public chosen Blackrock, it was certainly the case in the renaming of a station in New York. In the early 2000s the town of Southeast petitioned Metro-North to change the name of Brewster North station. Southeast had been founded in the late 1700s, but most people knew nothing of it – only of Brewster, one of its villages, because of the train station. That station was established in 1849, when James and Walter Brewster invited the New York and Harlem Railroad to build a station on some land they had recently acquired. From then on the area became known as Brewster’s, and later just Brewster. In the late 1970’s a new station on the Harlem Line was established to provide ample commuter parking, and named Brewster North – much to the chagrin of the town. The railroad had dictated the geography of their town once, and they weren’t about to let it happen again – hence the request for Metro-North to change the name to Southeast.

Southeast, Brewster North
Brewster North was changed to Southeast at the request of the town.

The official statement will always be that the change from Brewster North to Southeast was to eliminate confusion between that station and Brewster village, but considering that ticket machines still list it (ten years after the fact) as Southeast (Brewster North) just seems to make it more confusing (and quite a mouthful). If the names are really so confusing, why don’t we also change other potentially confusing names? Maybe White Plains and North White Plains (NWP would have an obvious other name – Holland Avenue, which was formerly used as a platform for changing trains when there was no electric further north)? Or East Norwalk and South Norwalk? Maybe Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West (which historically were never problematic, as they were on two different railroads)? Explaining the true motivation rather succinctly, a town of Southeast employee stated: “I wear a name tag that indicates I am town clerk of the Town of Southeast. Nobody ever recognizes it. Perhaps, now they will.”

Sometimes station renamings are subtle. I first became interested in station, and local area names several years ago when I moved to Goldens Bridge. Or is it Golden’s Bridge? At the time I had no idea investigating a mere apostrophe would open Pandora’s box. Unlike other station names like Hartsdale, Brewster, Wingdale, and Millerton – which can all be directly attributed to the name of a specific person – nobody really knows the true origin of Goldens Bridge. Old railroad maps, and even transcripts from the New York state senate have used the alternate Golding’s Bridge. Despite the sketchy details, we know it was named for a man, and a bridge he likely owned. Wherever the namesake bridge once was, the spot is likely flooded by the reservoir today. The man for which it was named remains even more of a mystery. According to Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl, his name may not have even been Golden, “the bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names.” Either way, the preferred name today is Goldens Bridge – without the apostrophe. Metro-North quietly omitted that little piece of punctuation from signage in 2003. I’m still waiting for them to come and retire the apostrophe in Purdy’s.

So why all this talk of names? I happened to catch an article this weekend regarding some folks in the Bronx already disgruntled with the name of their new Metro-North station – a station that is only in the earliest planning stages (and not even guaranteed to be built). Fortunately for us, the citizens say that they are open to compromise, “we’re okay with sharing the name, we just want to make sure it’s in there.” That can mean only one thing – get ready for a nice, long, hyphenated name. Perhaps it will even be able to compete with Middletown – Town of Wallkill!

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Monday Morning Old Photos: Scenes on the Upper Harlem

Today’s collection of historical Harlem Division photos features the Upper Harlem… including several crashes that occurred on the line. A huge thanks goes to Ron Vincent, who shared these photos from his family’s collection. Ron’s grandfather worked as an RPO clerk on the Harlem for 36 years. Many of the photos feature the long gone station of Hillsdale, where Ron grew up.

The photos capture an intriguing “slice of life” on the Harlem Division – we see Hillsdale’s station agent, Elliott Hunter, and his wife Marion. We see the occasional crash and derailment that brought gawkers from all around. And we see the softer side of the Harlem, as it hosted the “Plug the Dike Train,” collecting donations for victims of the 1953 North Sea flood. In all, this is a great little set of photos… thanks again for sharing these with us, Ron!

  
 
  
  
   
  
 
  
  

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Warren & Wetmore: Grand Central’s Architects on the Harlem Line

Postcards of White Plains

Before Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore became known for their work on Grand Central Terminal, they were already known by many of the New York Central’s commuters. A handful of the lovely stations still found on Metro-North’s lines are creations of Warren and Wetmore. Yonkers, on the Hudson Line, as well as Hartsdale and White Plains on the Harlem, were all designed by the duo. Poughkeepsie and Mount Vernon (West) were also designed by them, but after the completion of Grand Central (Scarsdale and Chappaqua were designed by the other Grand Central architecture firm – Reed and Stem).

Postcards of Hartsdale

The American Architect was a lovely periodical that featured details, photographs, and plans of various buildings designed and constructed in the United States, published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Flipping through archives of it are pretty interesting, as they feature some amazingly gorgeous buildings. Train stations were occasionally featured, and in 1915 there was an article about two of Warren and Wetmore’s stations on the Harlem Division – White Plains, and Hartsdale.

White Plains plan
White Plains 1
White Plains 2
White Plains station illustrations from The American Architect.

Of primary interest is the portion about White Plains – the Warren and Wetmore station that was torn down in the early ’80s. From the plans and photos, the station looked very much like the still standing station in Poughkeepsie. Several historical buildings in White Plains, including the station, met the wrecking ball as the city strove to update its image, and encourage urban renewal.

The current station, opened in 1987, is a rather ugly substitute for the gorgeous station that was once here. Besides the 38 by 80 foot waiting room, the old station contained various shops, and a shoe shiner. Waxman’s News, which was founded in the old station, and was reestablished in the new, has been one of the few ties between the two buildings – but even that isn’t to last. In the interest of more rent, Metro-North has decided to not renew the leases of either of the two vendors currently in the station. The 30-plus year run of Waxman’s News will come to a close at some point this summer.

 
Construction work on the new White Plains station, completed in 1987. Photos by Lou Grogan.

Hartsdale, on the other hand, is a bit more cheerful of a story. Not only is the station still around, it has been attractively restored. Although a Starbucks probably wouldn’t be my first choice tenant for an old railroad station, it does seem to work. And as long as it allows the building to be preserved, it makes me happy!

Hartsdale Photo

Hartsdale Plan 2

Hartsdale Plan 1

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Vacationing on the Railroad, yesterday and today

It is starting to be that time of the season where everyone is thinking about summer, and about taking vacations. The railroad has always been a great method of getting around, and there are plenty of places you can see by train. If you’re looking for something more local, Metro-North will be having their Staycation Showcase in Grand Central next week. Amtrak also has a wide variety of places to vacation, all accessible by rail.

Despite all of these offerings, rail travel really isn’t the primary method that most people go on vacation these days. After getting patted down by your friendly neighborhood TSA, airlines can whisk you away to the other side of the country in a matter of hours, not days. And America’s love affair, the automobile, offers a more individualized and customizable trip across our nation’s Interstate system. However, neither of these options were available to folks living in the early 1900s. Rail was the way to go, and the best way to take a vacation.

New York Central vacation brochures
Vacation brochures printed by the New York Central in 1908 and 1903.

Vacation packages, including rail tickets, were offered by the New York Central, and they printed many varieties of brochures advertising all the places one could visit. Summer resorts included in-state locations, like Niagara Falls and the Adirondacks, and some faraway places like Canada, Michigan, and even Yellowstone National Park – an 82 and a half hour trip from Grand Central Terminal, at a round trip fare of $97.80.

The winter resorts booklet might prove to be the most interesting – it offered long distance vacations to warm locales around the world – places that one would reach after long journeys via train and steamship. Setting out for “one of ‘Uncle Sam’s’ new possessions” – “Porto Rico” – would be a 20 day affair in total. The most fascinating part printed is certainly the map of the Pacific Ocean found at the back of the brochure, labeled as places “reached by the New York Central Lines and their connections.” If you had the time, and the money, you could certainly reach the Empire of Japan, and beyond. Straying not too far from home, a traveler could reach Honolulu by steamship from San Francisco in a total of seven days.

Map of the Pacific
Map of the Pacific Ocean, printed by the New York Central in their 1903 America’s Winter Resorts brochure.

Interested in staying closer to home, or taking a shorter vacation? The New York Central also had a brochure of journeys taking two to fifteen days. Two days could get you to the Adirondacks or Lake George, four a nice trip to Montreal, eight a meandering journey to and from Quebec, and fifteen a wonderful itinerary stopping at several different resorts in many of the aforementioned spots.

Two to fifteen day journeys
Brochure of two to fifteen day journeys from 1912, and the Harlem Division map within.

If you’re really looking to stay in your own backyard, there were plenty of vacationing spots along the Harlem Division. The Harlem’s long-gone Lake Mahopac branch was established especially for that purpose. But as you can see from the map above, one could get more places via the Harlem than you can today – transfers were available in Chatham for the Boston and Albany Railroad to Massachusetts, and to the Rutland Railroad for Vermont.

Resorts on the Harlem
Close to home – summer resorts along the Harlem.

Anybody out there planning on taking a vacation (or a “staycation,” even) by train this summer? Drop a note in the comments about where you’re planning on going!

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Remembering the Upper Harlem Division, Part 3

As we complete our journey along the abandoned Upper Harlem Division, it is worth taking a moment to look at the timetables printed for the line. The Upper Harlem’s timetables were New York Central’s Form 112 – and its size changed drastically over the years, reflecting the railroad’s slow death.

Upper Harlem Timetables over the years
The ever changing timetable design for the Upper Harlem[1]

A 1909 timetable, which was actually a foldout booklet that contained descriptions of the stations and schedules for connecting railroads, was actually 32 pages. The tall size seen in a later 1939 timetable was standard for many years, and it featured the additional trains offered beyond Chatham to Pittsfield and North Adams. Many changes came in the 1950’s – timetables got smaller when the North Adams service was cancelled, and by 1953 the four panel foldout was reduced to three panels. By the time the Upper Harlem Division’s passenger service was cancelled in 1972, the line timetable was just a double sided card, reflecting the only two trains that operated on the line every week day.

Moving on, we continue our tour north of Hillsdale, heading towards Craryville. For much of its route, the Harlem Division follows New York State Route 22 northward, but after arriving at Hillsdale the route turns in a westward direction to follow Route 23.

Craryville

When the Harlem Railroad was established through Columbia County, the station here went by the name of Bains, for hotel owner Peter Bain. When the land was purchased by Peter Crary, the station became known by a new name – Craryville. Gail Borden, who constructed his first successful milk factory along the Harlem in Wassaic, also had a processing plant here in Craryville. This was one of many plants located along the line, and used it for freight.[2]

Craryville Today

 

Craryville is a relatively quiet area, with little reminder of the railroad beyond a barely paved Railroad Lane. The old station house still exists, but is privately owned.

Martindale
Harlem Division engineer Vic Westman was quite the talented artist, creating many drawings and even paintings of the rails he worked, sometimes just from memory. For many years he even had a small studio on the sixth floor of Grand Central Terminal in which to work during his long swing time.[3]

The name Martindale derives from John Martin, on whose land the original Martindale station was built upon. It was never an extremely prominent station, and by 1946 it was just a mere flag stop on the line. Martindale met its end years before the rest of the line, and was eliminated in 1949. The station building itself was dismantled by a railroad employee in that year.

Martindale Today

  

South of where Martindale station was lies an overpass where the railroad traversed over Route 23. Little else in the area reflects the area’s railroading past. In fact, little even bears the name Martindale besides the Martindale Chief diner, located next to the Taconic.

Philmont

About 119 miles from Grand Central is the station of Philmont. Philmont was historically one of the larger communities that that the Harlem ran through, and was rich with industry. Several mills were located in the town, and they of course used the railroad for freight.[4]

Philmont Today

 

Besides Railroad Avenue, and the former railroad hotel located upon it, it is hard to tell that a railroad once crossed Main Street here in Philmont. The Empire House, the aforementioned railroad hotel, lacks the porches it had in historical images and may be a bit beat up, but it is one reference to the railroad that ran through town.

The Arch Bridge

   

Leaving Philmont, about three miles north of the station, but in the town of Ghent, lies a street named Arch Bridge Road. The eponymous arch is a single lane underpass, with the railroad’s former ROW running above. Running along the side of the arch is a small stream where, at some point over the years, some of the railroad’s roadbed washed out. It is a nice vestige of the railroad in Ghent, and most certainly an old one.

Ghent

Just under 125 miles from Grand Central lies the second to last station on the Harlem – Ghent. The station itself was shared with a short branch of the Boston and Albany. The railroad crossed over New York State Route 66 just south of the station.

Ghent Today

 
 

Splitting off from Route 66 at the center of Ghent is Railroad Avenue, which still exists today, although with no railroad to be seen. Appearing in many historical photos of the station is the Bartlett House, which was a railroad hotel, and still stands today.

Chatham

The end of the Harlem Division, just a bit more than 127 miles from Grand Central Terminal, is in Chatham, New York. The Harlem met with the Boston and Albany and the Rutland Railroad here, and the former two shared a quite beautiful Union Station. Stylistically, the station’s Richardsonian Romanesque aesthetic matches more to the Boston and Albany than it does to the Harlem, but it is attractive nonetheless. Built in 1887, Chatham station was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

The New York and Harlem Railroad always seemed to be a modest affair. Some railroads chose grandiose names for themselves, dreaming of the locations that they would one day reach (and often fell short of – the New York, Boston and Montreal Railway comes to mind), but when it was chartered in 1831, the Harlem only planned to be a link from the core of New York City to Harlem just a bit further north. The original plan was to connect with the New York and Albany Railroad at Harlem – except that railroad was never completed. In their absence, the Harlem was granted the right by the state legislature to build into Westchester in 1840, and all the way to Albany in 1846. Despite that right, the Harlem gradually extended north, and instead chose Chatham to be its terminus. From there, riders could easily continue to Albany on the B&A, and some of the earliest timetables show the trains on this additional route.

Chatham Today

  

For over a hundred years the railroad has been an important part of Chatham’s identity. Though both the Rutland and the Harlem are gone, the Boston and Albany’s former line still runs through Chatham, owned by CSX. The trains may run through, but they don’t really stop here – though the town seems to firmly hold onto their railroad identity. A fence has been put up to separate the former Union Station from the remaining tracks, which somewhat mars the attractive vista of yesteryear. The building had significantly fallen into disrepair by the ’60s, but it has been restored to glory and is the home to a branch of the Kinderhook Bank.

The very end of the Harlem’s tracks still exists, and extends around a half mile south, where they abruptly end in front of a gas station. The mile marker for mile 127 – the end of the Harlem – has been saved and transplanted to a garden in front of the Chatham firehouse.

Then and Now

As we’ve seen on our tour of the former stations of the Upper Harlem Division, many of the locales have changed drastically over the 41 years that passenger service has been absent. But two towns along the route provide an interesting look back and allow us to compare today and yesterday. Both Philmont and Ghent had railroad hotels that were established close to the tracks. Because of that proximity to the rails, the buildings appear in many old photos – which makes a comparison especially moving. The two hotels may have come to town because of the trains, but they managed to outlive the demise of the Harlem itself.

Philmont then and now

Philmont’s Empire House was built sometime in the 1880’s, and also included an Opera House. After the hotel was long gone, the building was converted to serve as a textile manufacturing facility. At some point in the ’60s Philmont’s American Legion purchased the building. They added a 30 foot by 70 foot section to the building, which included a kitchen. Due to the post’s declining membership, the members voted to put the building on the market in 2009.

Though the main structure of the building is similar to the above historical view, the original porches are gone from the building. The addition made by the American Legion is also apparent to the left of the building. The building itself gives us a point in which to gather our bearings, and highlights the absence of the railroad, and the old rail depot.

Ghent then and now

Ghent’s Bartlett House was likewise a railroad hotel, built in the 1870’s, and recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel hosted teachers, traveling salesmen, and plenty of other rail passengers – it was even captured by the lens of famed photographer Walker Evans. Besides the hotel, the building contained a dining room and a ballroom, occasionally the site for brawling politicians. Though part of the building is blocked by the train in our historical photo, the Bartlett House looks very much as it did when first built – in 2011 the front porch was redone based upon historical photos.

That pretty much wraps up our tour of the Upper Harlem Division’s stations. Many of the physical stations may be gone, but there is surprisingly quite a bit that can be found that reminds us that there was a real railroad that once ran through here. In fact, much of the former route can be seen visually from satellite maps – there is an obvious swath of barren land that marked where the rails once were. That, of course, may one day fade. But if the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association has their way, the entire route of the former Upper Harlem Division will at least be preserved as a trail, which I suppose is better than being forgotten entirely.

  1. All timetables from the author’s collection []
  2. Postcards from Craryville from the author’s collection []
  3. Sketch of Martindale by Vic Westman for Lou Grogan’s book. []
  4. Postcard of Philmont at left from the collection of Steve Swirsky. Postcard at right from the author’s collection []

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Remembering the Upper Harlem Division, Part 2

In Wednesday’s post regarding the Upper Harlem, we took a look at some of the first abandoned stations on the route, and remembered the Harlem Valley Transportation Association that worked diligently to prevent the abandonment of the Upper Harlem. When passenger service was eliminated north of Dover Plains, the HVTA did not roll over and die – they instead pushed for a restoration of passenger service. Although difficult, they had to reevaluate their goals – retaining passenger service all the way to Chatham was becoming less and less realistic. By the late ’70s, the HVTA’s goal was to at least get service restored up to Millerton. In 1978 the HVTA, in cooperation with the MTA, State DOT and the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission, mailed out a survey to just over 6,000 people in twenty towns in both New York and Connecticut. The survey queried residents about their transportation habits, with a focus on trains.

This wasn’t the only survey that the HVTA carried out – another survey was directed specifically to employees of the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in Wingdale, and the Wassaic Development Center. Distributed to around 4,000 employees with their paychecks, the HVTA wanted to know whether employees would take the train to work if the schedules coincided with their shifts. Both locations did have their own station stops on the line – State Hospital, and State School – so it stood to reason that many employees would take the train if they could.

Below is a copy of the general survey put out by the HVTA, and the HVTA’s October newsletter, detailing the results of the two surveys:

HVTA survey part 1

HVTA survey part 2

HVTA Newsletter with survey results

As we know today, passenger trains to Millerton were never restored. At the time the tracks were still in place, and although they needed maintenance, it was not estimated to cost more than $2 million to restore the 16 mile stretch between Dover Plains and Millerton. For reference, when Metro-North rebuilt six miles of track in 2000 from Dover Plains to Wassaic, the cost was far greater – about 1 million per mile. As we lament that missed opportunity, let’s continue our tour of the Upper Harlem’s abandoned stations, starting with the one that was never restored – Millerton.

Millerton
Named for railroad contractor Sidney Miller, Millerton station is just over 92.5 miles north of Grand Central Terminal. Much of the Upper Harlem had various industries that used the rail, and just north of the Millerton station was the Irondale Furnace, which processed the ore from a nearby mine, and shipped it along on the Harlem. An attractive downtown area popped up around the station, and more colorful local lore states that dancing women could be found just across the street from the station (though this is potentially true in many locations).

Millerton Today

 
While a few of the communities surrounding Harlem stations fell off the map in the years that the railroad has been gone, Millerton is certainly not one of them. The village is a bustling hub of activity, with a collection of cute shops, and a trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Many local towns are lucky if they have just one of their former railroad stations still standing, but Millerton has two. The older Harlem station, which was moved away from the tracks and westward is home to a florist. The more modern station is visible right at the end of the rail trail, and houses a realty company.

The village itself, formed by the railroad, has been without trains since the early ’80s when the Harlem track was removed (the Central New England, which also made its way through Millerton, was removed at least 50 years prior to that). Despite that, Millerton is a testament that not all former railroad towns die when the track disappears. The village thrives – and Budget Travel has even recognized Millerton as one of the 10 coolest small towns in New York.

Mount Riga
Unlike the Hudson Line – part of the New York Central’s famed “Water Level Route” – the Harlem Division is hardly flat, and steadily increases in elevation along its route. Mount Riga was the highest point on the line, just shy of 800 feet above sea level. The station here was technically a Union Station, as it was jointly shared with the Central New England railroad. Alongside the station was a siding that had a 53 car capacity, generally used for freight.

By 1949 the station was eliminated for passenger use, and the depot itself was one of the first Harlem Division stations to be dismantled.

Mount Riga Today

The area where the Mount Riga station once was is for the most part now farmland. A small unpaved street called Mount Riga Station Road, which contains a single house at the end of it, is the last memory of the railroad here.

Boston Corners
The first stop in Columbia County, Boston Corners was previously a part of Massachusetts. The area was once considered lawless – separated by mountains from the lawmen in Massachusetts, illegal activities were aplenty, including several boxing prizefights. After a particularly rowdy fight, which led to a riot, the hamlet was transferred to New York’s jurisdiction.

Boston Corners was also at one point the home of three different railroads, including the Harlem. Like many nearby stations, there was a spur from Boston Corners serving a nearby iron mining company. The Harlem’s longest passing siding was also located here – with a capacity of 85 cars. The station’s importance waned over the years, and it was relegated to a flag stop before being abandoned in 1952.

Boston Corners Today

These days, Boston Corners is occasionally remembered for the historical prizefight that happened there – like this article in Sports Illustrated. Appropriately, the article makes mention of the Harlem, and how many took the train up to see the brawl. Besides the infrequent mentions in the media, Boston Corners station is but a memory – though Boston Corners Road is a reminder of what was once here.

Copake Falls
Approximately 105 miles from Grand Central Terminal is Copake Falls station, formerly known as Copake Iron Works. The Taconic State Park, and Bash Bish falls are both nearby the station. Several spurs from the Harlem led to various nearby industries, including a mine and a foundry.

Copake Falls Today

 
The former Copake Falls station is today a small convenience store called the Depot Deli. With the proximity to the Taconic State Park, the deli is an oft frequented stop by many campers. According to the owner of the Deli, when he purchased the building a requirement of the sale was that if the railroad was ever restored, he’d have to provide a place for passengers to wait. Unfortunately, that was never necessary.

Black Grocery
Above right photo shows the final Harlem Line train to ever cross the Black Grocery Bridge, photo by Art Deeks. Above left photo is the only known image of the Black Grocery. Lower right photo by Bob McCulloch.

Although not a station along the Harlem Division, Black Grocery was a hamlet that the Harlem ran through, and its existence is largely due to the railroad. In the early 1850’s the New York and Harlem Railroad made its final northward push through Columbia County, finally reaching Chatham in 1852. Many of the men that were on the construction teams were Irish immigrants that were paid 75 cents a day, as well as their board. Boarding was in several shanties that were constructed along the route, which usually housed between 25 – 50 men. A man by the name of Hezekiah Van Deusen sensed an opportunity, and opened a grocery store not far from the workers’ shanties, just north of Copake. Although the store stocked the normal staples like sugar and flour, its big sellers were “chain lightning” whiskey at 25 cents a quart, and tobacco at 3 cents a plug.

The origin of the name Black Grocery is not definitively known, but it generally references the color that the grocery had been painted. One account states that Van Deusen wished to paint the store red, but only had black paint in stock. Another account states that no paint was in stock at all, and Van Deusen asked the Irish laborers if they would paint the store. They were said to have painted the store black with the paint that was leftover from a railroad bridge they had just completed. Either way, the name caught on – not just for the store – but for the entire community that grew up around it and the railroad. The railroad bridge that crossed the Roeliff Jansen Kill (or as it was later called, Black Grocery Creek), about halfway in between Copake and Hillsdale and through Black Grocery, became known as the Black Grocery Bridge.

Black Grocery Today

 
  
  

The hamlet of Black Grocery has been lost to time – the only reference to in now is Black Grocery Road in Copake. Both the railroad and the road bridge that crossed here, which shared the name Black Grocery, are also gone. Remnants of the railroad bridge are clearly visible from Route 22, on the west side of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. The bridge was rebuilt several times over the years, but date markings from 1899 and 1905 are both visible on the ruins. Though the final train to cross over the bridge was on March 27, 1976, the bridge itself lasted at least up until the 1980s. The removal of the bridge makes continuation of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail into Hillsdale a bit more difficult – the original railroad bridge crossed over both Route 22 and the Roe Jan Kill. The HVRT is looking to go underneath Route 22, and purchase a pre-fabricated bridge to cross the Kill.

Hillsdale
Hillsdale is a quaint little area considered one of the more noteworthy places along this stretch of the Upper Harlem – at minimum its name was found on the front of Upper Harlem timetables. It was also another stop for freight on the line – besides a milk processing plant, Hillsdale also had a large cattle pen and barn used when shipping livestock was necessary.

As I once mentioned on the blog before, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was a Harlem Division rider that boarded at Hillsdale. Trains were occasionally mentioned in her poetry, and I like to think that she was writing about the Harlem Division (as opposed to the Hudson, when she studied at Vassar, or any other railroad she might have been a passenger on).

Hillsdale Today

Although Hillsdale seems to have a tiny Railroad Lane on the map, the road is barely visible in real life and has no street sign. Unfortunately, that is one of the few vestiges of the railroad here in Hillsdale – there was also a Depot Place, but that road has been completely wiped from the map.

For today, our journey ends. We’ll take a look at the remainder of the Harlem Division stations in Part 3.

As someone has taken offense to this post, I must of course remind you all that much of what we know about the Upper Harlem Division comes from Lou Grogan’s book, The Coming of the New York and Harlem Railroad, which has been cited numerous times here, and is listed in our historical sources page.

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