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Posts Tagged ‘historical archives’

SmartCat, your guide to the Harlem Line History

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Several years ago when I really started getting interested in the history of the Harlem Line, and began collecting old timetables and artifacts, I had the grand idea that I would create a “digital museum” for the line. Although I attempted it with the “Harlem Line Historical Archives,” the archives were poorly organized, extremely clunky to find anything, and extremely time consuming to update. In an effort to create something better, I began work on SmartCat last summer. I had been hoping to launch it in the fall, but it never happened. Six months later, and long overdue, I am pleased to finally launch SmartCat.

In SmartCat you will find scans of over 300 artifacts related to the Harlem Line, ranging from 1857 to today. All items are tagged for easier browsing, and the system has a built-in search engine – an important upgrade from the old archives. The overwhelming majority of the artifacts currently available in SmartCat are timetables and postcards. Right now, only the covers of the timetables are scanned. Although it will be a massive undertaking, I hope to scan the insides of some of these timetables and make them available as well.

I’m going to quit talking about SmartCat – because you really need to be checking it out for yourself. You can use the below “guide” to the system, or click here to view everything.

SmartCat Search

Looking for something specific?

View all archived items

Early Harlem Line Timetables, and new timetable catalog Train History

Friday, August 20th, 2010

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.

1877 Newspaper Articles, The Death of Cornelius Vanderbilt Uncategorized

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Articles from various newspapers, published on the 4th and 5th of January, 1877, after the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

From the Evening Gazette, in Port Jervis, NY:

From the Titusville Morning Herald:

From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern:

An article describing the life and death of the Commodore took up several pages of the New York Times the day after his death is available for download here. (35MB File)

Friday’s From the Historical Archive: John M. Wisker Train History

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Last week I posted about the Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck in 1902. The engineer of the train involved in that wreck was named John M. Wisker.

I was curious to know the fate of this man after the events of the wreck. He was put on trial for manslaughter for the deaths in the wreck, but was ultimately acquitted. I can only imagine the emotional toll this all took on him. From the start of the whole ordeal, he was blamed for the wreck. Newspapers questioned his experience as an engineer. He was even held in jail for a short time.

This was a gruesome crash. Newspapers described some victims as boiling to death from the steam of the engine. Telescoping is a term that you don’t ever want to hear in a sentence alongside anything having to do with rails. Imagine a collapsible telescope, and how the tubes slide into one another to become smaller. Now imagine the same thing in a rail collision: the force causes the cars to collapse into one another, one car sliding inside the others, resulting in heavy casualties.

In 1903 Wisker’s trial began, and later on that week he himself testified about the unsafe conditions of his locomotive. On April 25th, Wisker was acquitted. The emotional toll on the man was clearly evident as the jury read the verdict. He was described as “on the verge of nervous collapse” and “he trembled so violently that he had to be helped to his feet by [his lawyer]“. “He is but a shadow of the big sturdy fellow who was arrested the day of the fatal collision in the Park avenue tunnel.”

It would be nice to know that this man lived a long and productive life after this ordeal. However, in 1909, a work-related accident claimed John M. Wisker’s life. He was age 40. At least he lived long enough to see the beginnings of electric service, and the start of construction on the new Grand Central, both results of the crash in 1902.

Friday’s From the Historical Archive: 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck Paves the Way for Electric Service Train History

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun poring over the history of the Harlem Line and trains in the area. I mentioned a few weeks ago a new part of the site called the Historical Archives. When it first opened the Historical Archives had a few timetables, maps and newspaper articles. Now it contains well over a hundred different entries. I must thank the folks at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum because many of the timetables in the Archive come from their collection. I figured that in addition to my normal blogging of current events and craziness, I shall from here forward designate Friday as Historical Archive day, and I will be posting an article about something interesting about this history of the Harlem Line. The navigation at the top of the site changed slightly, in order to accommodate the new category, called History.

To kick it all off, I thought it may be interesting to post about the 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel wreck. Trains today are relatively safe, however in the past there were many dangers, and many people died over the course of history…

Above are just some of the headlines of newspaper articles now in the Historical Archives. On January 8th 1902 the worst train wreck in New York City’s history occurred underground in the Park Avenue Tunnel. The tunnel had originally been built in 1876 to make Manhattan safer by removing the tracks from aboveground. However low visibility in the darkness, and especially the smoke from coal-burning locomotives, made the tunnel quite hazardous. This was not the first wreck in the tunnel: accidents had occurred in 1891, where six people were killed, and 1882, where two people lost their lives.

At first, the engineer John M. Wisker was blamed for the accident. He had missed several signals, and he was controlling the train that slammed into the train in front of it. Ultimately, Wisker was acquitted – the dangers and low visibility in the tunnel was to blame for the crash. Fifteen people died as an immediate result of the crash, and several others died in the hospital shortly after. The deaths, however, were not in vain: they provided the final push for electric service on the line, and led to the replacement of Grand Central Depot. It was reborn as the Grand Central Terminal that we know today, and opened in 1913. The first regular service on the new electrified line ran to White Plains in 1910, an article of which also appears in the archive.

If you are interested in learning more about the Park Avenue Tunnel Wreck of 1902, and the influence on Grand Central, you should certainly check out Grand Central, a part of PBS’s American Experience, which is viewable online.