I’ve been on a little map kick recently – I signed up for Panoramio, so a bunch of the station panoramas from the site now show up in Google Earth. I also made a map on Google of all the locations photographed for the panorama project. Harlem Line stations from the Tuesday Tour have the blue placemarks, and other locations I’ve photographed have the pink placemarks.
I thought it might be fun to do something different this Friday… Tuesdays I visit train stations, but I don’t talk much about what else is around the station. The Harlem Line has plenty of intriguing spots along the route, and many for the nature lover. I do get emails every once and a while asking me questions about doing things – people wondering what is within walking distance of the stations, and what they can get away and do. And for those who, like me, do not drive, or don’t feel like driving, you can definitely take Metro-North to get to interesting spots.
As I mentioned, there are many nature-related locales on the Harlem Line. Some of the obvious ones are the Botanical Garden and the Appalachian Trail, but there are many lesser-known spots. Pawling has the Pawling Nature Reserve, which is not far from the Appalachian Trail. At the end of the line in Wassaic is the trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail which follows the old route the Harlem Line once took further north. Lower Westchester has the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is more than 13 miles long and stretches from Valhalla to Bronxville – and passes by North White Plains, White Plains, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, Crestwood and Tuckahoe stations.
One of the lesser-known spots is near and dear to my heart, situated in Goldens Bridge and not far from my house. In the evenings it is here that I make laughable attempts at running off the past nine years I spent sitting on my ass in front of a computer. In all seriousness though, it is beautiful and quiet little spot that few people other than fisherman and neighborhood residents (and some deer, swans and bullfrogs) know about. The trails are not extensive, but they surround the beautiful reservoir and provide access to various fishing spots. I went one step beyond that and purchased a boat for use on the reservoir as well (boat use is heavily regulated, this is NYC’s drinking water, after all). However, the most noteworthy part of this “Public Access” DEP area is the old railroad bridge.
I created this map based on my own explorations of the area. Maps are actually fun to make. :P
I’ve mentioned Bridge L-158a few times before. It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the branch of the Harlem Line that ran from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY, but was moved in 1904 by the New York Central Railroad to Goldens Bridge. Although the original bridge carried two tracks, the Mahopac branch was a single track line and when the bridge was reconstructed the width was shortened for a single track.
If you’re interested in visiting this part of the Harlem Line, it is within walking distance of Goldens Bridge station. Although it is rarely enforced, you do need an access permit to use the land for recreational use. But access permits are easy to get – you can register for one online and print it out immediately. If you’re interested in fishing or boating, you’ll need additional permits, so I advise checking the DEP’s site. People fish in the reservoir all year long, as the Muscoot is one of the reservoirs in which ice fishing is permitted. Although it is a lot smaller than some of the other nature spots around it is at least worth visiting to see the historic bridge. There are some times where it gets so quiet, except for the crunching leaves under the foot of a squirrel or deer, that you forget that you’re not that far from the city… only until you hear a train go by, yanking you back to reality.
When I was a lot younger if you had asked me what my favorite train station was, I’d probably say Valhalla. I had never been there, but every time I rode the train and we passed it by, I thought Valhalla was the coolest station ever. You see, I was always a fan of Norse mythology (and if you were wondering, Loki is of course my favorite Norse god). I also loved this silly old game called Castle of the Winds, which I played on my computer that had Windows 3.1 loaded on it. Castle of the Winds was roughly based on Norse mythology. And if your character was to die at any point during the game, your name would be listed on a scroll: Valhalla’s List of Legends.
Usually the quick response given to anyone wondering what exactly Valhalla was, is that it was Heaven in Norse mythology. But calling it Heaven doesn’t fully explain the subject. Valhalla was the hall of slain warriors. Warriors that died in battle congregated in Valhalla with the chief god Odin, awaiting Ragnarök (battle at the end of the world). During that battle, these warriors would fight alongside Odin. The real question that comes to mind though, is how the heck did a little hamlet in Westchester county come to be known as the Norse hall of slain warriors?
The story (whether it can be validated or not, I am unsure) is that after the village of Kensico was flooded (for building the dam) the relocated people and their post office needed a new name for their town. The postmaster’s wife, who was a fan of Wagner, chose Valhalla. One of Wagner’s operas is titled Ride of the Valkyries, the Valkyries being those who transport the deceased warriors to Valhalla. Considering the hamlet is well known today as being the resting place of many people, with all its large cemeteries, I bet that woman thought she was pretty sly.
Technically the blog has visited Valhalla already – at least the old station building, which is a restaurant, and back in February I made a snow angel on the platform there. But this time I am officially visiting the station itself (and in good weather!), and in typical Tuesday fashion, have quite a few pictures.
There is always a little part of me that considers Brewster my home station. It was from here that I took my first Metro-North train. I even ran away from home once – I managed to get to Brewster and hopped on a train. When I first started my job out of college I made the 25-mile trek from my parents’ house in Connecticut over to Brewster every morning and evening. I always loved the little station building, and remember it prior to the renovations made for the added cafe. At that time the ticket window was moved to the other side of the room, where it still is currently. Though many ticket windows have closed, the one in Brewster remains.
Historically Brewster was always an important part of the Harlem Valley. The New York and Putnam Railroad (later, the Putnam Division) met with the Harlem at Brewster (Putnam Junction). There was once a turntable and roundhouse where steam engines could be serviced, but was removed when that technology became obsolete. The Brewster Standard, a local newspaper, even called Brewster “the hub of the Harlem Valley.” The name of the station derives from Walter Brewster, who owned the farmland the original station was built on, and many early maps refer to the stop as “Brewster’s.” Gail Borden had a condensed milk factory in the town (in addition to the one also on the Harlem in Wassaic) and on your way to the station you’ll probably pass over the Borden Bridge, where his condensed milk crossed and headed out to the Union troops in the Civil War.
Today Brewster is still an important station, and gets many passengers from across the state lines. Despite the usage it remains a small station and the platform can only accommodate four train cars. The old station building houses a small cafe called “The Dining Car” and a ticket window. Despite having been to Brewster a million times, I had never photographed it until July. I visited on a scorching-hot Saturday in July when the sky was a beautiful blue…
Reading all about the history of the Harlem Line intrigues me. It was New York City’s first railroad, chartered in 1831, and an early example of a rail horsecar in the United States. As in every story, there are always intriguing characters. People like Cornelius Vanderbilt certainly stand out. But for me I think one rarely mentioned woman stands out the most. Her name is Lettie Carson, and she fought to prevent the closure of the Upper Harlem, a David against Penn Central’s Goliath. As we all know that the Harlem does not extend to Chatham anymore, unfortunately her plight failed, but her story still captivates me.
Lettie Gay was born in Pike County, Illinois in 1901, the youngest of nine children. On the family farm she helped raised livestock of every variety. It may be this upbringing that gave Carson her independent attitude. At age eight she would drive a horse and buggy fifteen miles to the train station to pick up her brother. In the early 1920’s she moved east to the New York area, and in 1924 married Gerald Carson. She held various jobs, including as food editor of Parents’ Magazine. She and her husband had a weekend home in Millerton, along the Harlem Line, which they retired to and became permanent residents in 1951.
If you’re on the north end of the Harlem Line you may be aware of Lettie Carson’s work without knowing it. In 1958 she helped create the Mid-Hudson Library System, which today has more than 80 member libraries across five counties. Brewster, Dover Plains, Mahopac, Patterson, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, and Chatham are a few of the towns whose libraries are members. Carson served as president of the Mid-Hudson for two years, and was on the board for eight.
Lettie Gay Carson later became associated with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association, as vice president, and then as president. The organization was formed in the early 60’s when the New York Central threatened to abandon passenger service on the Upper Harlem. When Penn Central took over they too wanted to end passenger service north of Brewster. The HVTA fought them for many years through demonstrations, public hearings, and in the courts. Ultimately the passenger service was abandoned north of Dover Plains in March of 1972, though the HVTA continued to fight for freight on the line. Eventually that too was abandoned, and the track was ripped out.
Through my research I managed to unearth some of the HVTA’s old documents: papers, posters, surveys and more. I’ve digitally restored some of them for posterity. Below are four of the HVTA’s early posters, as well as their logo and letterhead.
Later in life Carson moved to Pennsylvania, where she too attempted to protect rail service in and around Philadelphia. She died in March of 1992, at age 91.
If you really want to argue it, you could say that Harlem-125th Street really isn’t a Harlem Line station. Sure, almost every Harlem Line train stops here, but the same goes for Hudson and New Haven Line trains. Thus it is technically a stop on each of those lines. Because of that Harlem-125th is a great train watching locale. Approximately ten minutes from Grand Central, you can watch every Metro-North train heading into and out of the city.
The first station at this site was built in 1874, but was later replaced by a new station elevated on a viaduct in 1897. The station was designed by Morgan O’Brien, architect for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. Throughout the years the station deteriorated from leaking water and heavy use. In 1993 renovations began, and were finally completed in 1999, six years later.
Although I photographed one of the Arts for Transit pieces, there are actually two at Harlem-125th Street. Visible from the street is a piece by Terry Adkins, titled Harlem Encore. More visible from the platforms is a work by Alison Saar, titled Hear the Lone Whistle Moan. Saar is a California-based artist and has done public art in various cities, including New York, Sacramento and Chicago. The piece consists of three separate figures, each made of bronze. On the southbound platform is a young woman, heading to the city for work, and on the northbound platform is an older man, leaving the city and heading back to his hometown. Near the stairs there is also a smaller bronze figure of a train conductor. The artist describes the title of the piece as follows:
The title, Hear the Lone Whistle Moan, is from a spiritual that uses the train as a metaphor for the passage to heaven. Trains have often been associated by African Americans with escape and the Underground Railroad in particular.
As I’ve said before, I don’t really know what to expect when heading out to a lot of these stations. My enjoyment is to explore and photograph, and Harlem-125th Street was really great in that respect. With all the trains going by there are great pictures to be had, and I really enjoyed Saar’s artwork. Now having seen all the Arts for Transit works on the Harlem Line, Wassaic, Pleasantville and Harlem-125th are my top favorites. I’ll admit I was a little bit afraid going to the station though, as every time I’ve ever gone by on the train I’ve seen many police on the platform. Usually train photography and lots of cops doesn’t turn out too well, but thankfully I wasn’t approached by any of the police. Someday I’ll have to go back to get some photos of the other Arts for Transit piece, but those will be photos for another day…
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.