The Street Railway of the New York and Harlem Railroad

Alfred Stieglitz, The Car Horses
Arguably one of the most famous photos of a horsecar in New York City, by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Want to irk a railfan or a history buff in only a matter of seconds? Just tell them that you’re in Grand Central Station. Grand Central is, of course, a Terminal – and as Danny Brucker would explain, “because trains terminate here.” The previous incarnation of Grand Central was, however, a station, and had tracks that did continue further south.

Grand Central Station
This is Grand Central Station, circa 1905. This, on the other hand, is not Grand Central Station.

If you’re up on your Harlem Railroad history, you’ll remember that the New York and Harlem Railroad began operating in 1832. Starting with a mile of track from Prince Street to 14th Street, the first trains were pulled by horses. As the line grew, first to Harlem, then beyond to Westchester, and ultimately to Columbia County, passengers would have to transfer to steam locomotives for the rest of their journey. Thus the New York and Harlem Railroad was a combination of two distinct parts – a street railway line (which eventually lost the horses) about ten miles long, and the railroad line, north of 42nd Street, about 137 miles long at its peak.

New York and Harlem Railroad
An early horsecar on the New York and Harlem Railroad in New York City. As a random aside, it was these railroad horses, often worked extremely hard, that were a significant reason for the founding of the ASPCA in 1866. The ASPCA actually operated the first “horse ambulance” and made sure these rail workhorses had fresh drinking water daily.

Eventually the rail line was leased to the New York Central, and the street railway line to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company (and later the New York Railways Company). When Grand Central Terminal was completed, the divorce of the two was quite obvious, but before that, where exactly did the street railway operate? For the most part, on Fourth Avenue, and extending as south as Ann Street, about a mile from the southern tip of Manhattan island. To get a better picture of the line and where it operated, we of course have a lovely map!

Street Railway Lines

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The New York & Harlem Railroad in the 1860’s – Tryon Row


Early photograph of a New York and Harlem Railroad horsecar. New York & Harlem transfer tokens from the American Numismatic Society.

I’m not sure how many of you frequent twitter, but I think it seems to be a running joke that every day there is some sort of “national holiday” that is trending. I’m not exactly sure how things like “National Fried Chicken Day” (July 6th) or “Walk on Stilts Day” (July 27) get declared, but people on twitter totally love this crap. Manhattan, not wanting to miss out on the action of remarkably stupid “holidays,” even declared a “Justin Bieber Appreciation Day” (June 19). In all seriousness, why don’t we declare national holidays (or at least New York holidays) for stuff that is actually interesting, or even historical? I’d do just fine declaring April 25th “Harlem Railroad Day,” for the day that the New York and Harlem Railroad was chartered in 1831. You know… New York City’s first railroad? It’s kind of a big deal…


New York & Harlem’s railroad station at Tryon Row


View of the neighborhood surrounding Tryon Row. 41 Park Row, which still exists today, is visible in the background – along with several horsecars. On a little bit of a tangent, the ASPCA was formed in 1866, with a primary focus on protecting the rights of horses – many of which pulled the earliest “railcars.”

One of the New York & Harlem’s earliest stations in Manhattan was at Tryon Row, a street that no longer exists. At the time the “trains” were being pulled by horses, and there were short cars – pulled by two horses, and longer cars – pulled by four or more horses. Downtown service used the shorter cars, and Tryon Row served as a point of change for people heading north in the longer cars. The station also housed a place called Pullen’s Express, from where you could send packages or money to be carried over the Harlem. I happened to find a rather interesting artifact recently – an example of the form a customer would fill out to use the service in the 1860’s.

While the front of the form lists the office at Tryon Row, which is pretty cool on its own considering it is a very early Manhattan station, I happen to be a big fan of the back. The back lists all the various places in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire that one could send money or goods. Many of the named places are Harlem stations, but others happen to be random places that they could connect to – either by a different railroad, or by other means.

I always love looking at old station lists for the Harlem though, as over the years the places and names have changed. Hart’s Corners became Hartsdale, Unionville became Hawthorne, Newcastle became Mount Kisco, Whitlockville became Katonah, South Dover became Wingdale, and Bains became Craryville. Chappaqua is listed as “Chapequa,” a spelling I had never seen before, but appears in various railroad printed material in the 1860’s and 70’s (and by modern-day idiots that can’t spell and have not yet discovered google). Bedford hadn’t yet added Hills, and Brewster and Pawling went by Brewsters and Pawlings.

Anyways, this is the stuff that makes me enjoy my job. Oh wait, did I say job? I may not be good enough to write for Metro-North, but writing about the railroad seems to be some honorary job I’ve picked up along the way. And I suppose it is better than me publicly admitting that I’m married to an inanimate object (like a website)… hmm…

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