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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An interesting Harlem Division promotion…

Over the many years the New York Central was in existence they published countless advertisements and promotions to attract business and passengers. Some of them were fairly interesting – like the private
women’s room in Grand Central, which catered to the high-end ladies of the day. After all, you wouldn’t want your dress to get dirty on a long steam train journey, would you?

The New York Central even promoted venues that weren’t at all possible to visit by train – like China! A 1904 advertisement suggested all Americans should become familiar with the Chinese Empire:

Comparatively few people are familiar with the Chinese Empire as it exists to-day. In view of the constantly growing Oriental commerce of the United States, every one should become familiar with the Chinese Empire. The New York Central’s “Four-Track Series” No. 28 gives valuable statistics and information regarding the Flowery Kingdom…

Another advertisement that I recently acquired is a little bit closer to home. Published in 1937, this New York Central ad offered discounted tickets from New York to Wingdale or Wassaic. Now think about this for a second, if you are familiar with the area, what was particularly noteworthy about those two towns in that era? If you said that they both had facilities for the insane and mentally handicapped, you win a prize. The Harlem Valley State Hospital is obvious to anyone who has taken the Harlem Line up to Wingdale. Several of the State Hospital’s buildings loom over the current train platform. The location of today’s train station is not the same as it was in 1937 – it was further south and actually called “State Hospital.” Wassaic’s facility was called the Wassaic State Hospital, and it was located closer to today’s Tenmile River station.


The original State Hospital station, before this station and Wingdale were converted into today’s Harlem Valley-Wingdale.

The New York Central is remembered for things more noteworthy, like the “Water Level Route” – the first four-tracked route in the world, and the train that rolled out the red carpet for you – the 20th Century Limited. But in addition to doing those things, you could also take the New York Central to visit your institutionalized relatives… and for the low price of two dollars a round trip.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Harlem Valley-Wingdale

Another Tuesday, and another visit to a Harlem Line station… this time I’ve got photos from Harlem Valley-Wingdale. Remember how I said Mount Pleasant was a bit of a creepy station? It is, after all, in the middle of a bunch of cemeteries. Lots of buried dead people. Harlem Valley-Wingdale is a little creepy too… the platform is shadowed a large building, part of the former Harlem Valley State Hospital. According to my coworker (yep, the one that says crazy stuff I always tweet about), the building closest to the platform handled all the laundry for the hospital. This delightful psychiatric hospital was open from 1924 until 1994. Although much of the complex is abandoned, apparently portions are still in use as a juvenile detention center, with housing available for employees. I don’t live in the area, but my assumption would be that the local teens find the former hospital grounds an amusing spot to visit on late nights.

Originally there were two stops here for the New York Central: State Hospital and Wingdale, a half mile north. The two stops were later combined to form the current Harlem Valley-Wingdale. The station is situated in diesel territory of the upper Harlem Line, in between Appalachian Trail and Dover Plains, 69 miles from Grand Central.





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