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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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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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 1)

Hi, my name is Emily, and I have a problem. An addiction, really. And no, I am not referring to my frequent use of hats with ears. I have an addiction to eBay, and buying crazy things there. I’m not quite to the stage where one ought to worry that I am going to end up on that TV show Hoarders. Nor am I to the point where I’ve collected a hundred cats and you can change my nickname from Cat Girl to Cat Lady. But I am somewhat interested in acquiring old things. Like train timetables from 1883, or postcards from the early 1900’s. I began scanning some of the postcards I’ve managed to get… I hope that one day I’ll have one for every station, but I know that is quite a lofty goal. Someday, perhaps…

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 

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Edna St. Vincent Millay – Poet & Harlem Division Rider

As riders of the train, every day we share our commute with advertisements – there are ads on the platforms, and ads in the train cars themselves. Some of the ads are interesting and well designed, and others may be lacking in that department. Over the summer I recall seeing one specific ad for Columbia County tourism. It had a picture of a young boy looking through a paper towel tube, and it urged you to visit Columbia county. No offense to the designer, but I don’t exactly know how that would lure me to visiting you – my (hypothetical) kid can look through paper towel tubes all he wants at home, thank you very much.

Columbia County is a nice rural portion of New York, and a delightful change of pace from the city life – and there is more to do than look through paper towel tubes. The Harlem Line, and several other rail lines once ran through here, but that has disappeared. Copake Lake and the Taconic State Park are both interesting nature related venues, and the county has a rich history worth exploring. The home of the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, is located in Columbia county, and is open to visitors. Though probably less known than the former president, Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay also made her home in Columbia county, and portions of it are open to the public. Last weekend, on the way home from Vermont, I made a stop at her former home, which is called Steepletop.


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in 1892 in Rockland, Maine. From a young age she was exposed to classic literature by her mother, and began to write on her own. By the time she had entered Vassar College at 21, she had already won several awards for her poetry. After graduation from Vassar, Millay moved to New York City and lived in Greenwich Village. Her book of poetry titled Second April was published in 1921, and includes one of my favorite poems of hers:

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

As much as I’d love to say that Millay wrote this poem about the Harlem Division, it was only in 1925, and after Second April was published, that she and her husband moved to Austerlitz, NY. Her home was not far from the Harlem Division’s Hillsdale Station, and she did actually ride the trains from there: a famous Harlem Division rider. Millay spent the later years of her life in Austerlitz until her death in 1950. She, along with her mother, husband, sister, and brother-in-law are buried on the property. Although the home is occasionally open for tours (and is designated a National Historic Landmark), the poetry trail which leads to her grave, is always open to the public, and where all photos below are from.

 
   
  
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
   

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