It has been a few months since I last posted a collection of old photos, and I figured I would rectify that. I’m always purchasing things on eBay, and although it is nice to have a collection of things, it is just no fun if I don’t share. Plus, I’m away on vacation right now – getting a post full of pictures ready beforehand is easy! I wouldn’t want you all to miss me too much when I’m not in town… so without further ado, here are some photos ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s!
Dear readers, I am certain you are all acquainted with my terrible eBay habit. Lots of the old timetables, photos, and postcards find their way onto this site at some point in time. I must admit though, I love old things. Specifically, old paper things. Maybe it is because I am a graphic designer, and I love looking at old printed art, especially on pre-1900’s timetables and books. Though it is also possible that I’m just a nutjob destined to be one day featured on the show Hoarders. Either way, today I do want to share with you all my most recent acquisition, which is a little bit different than most things I come across on eBay.
If you’ve ever taken the Harlem Line north of White Plains, and past Valhalla, you are most likely familiar with the large cemetery that dominates the view in between stations. Kensico Cemetery shares a nearly mile-long border with the railroad, and astute observers can glimpse the main cemetery office, which once served as a railroad station, on the west side of the tracks. The choice of location of the cemetery isn’t hard to figure out – it offered both a beautifully rural final resting place, and was easily accessible from the city by the railroad. In fact, on the cemetery’s Board of Directors was Chauncey Mitchell Depew, whose name might be familiar, as I posted about him in April. He got his start as the legal counsel for the New York and Harlem Railroad under Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and eventually worked his way up to the presidency of the New York Central – conveniently the railroad running right alongside the cemetery. Not only did the cemetery have its own private railroad station, it also had a private railcar named Kensico which could be rented for funerals. In 1910, the rental price for a locomotive with the railcar Kensico attached was $60.00, which today seems like a paltry sum.
All of these things I’ve discovered about the Kensico Cemetery were gleaned from a little hand-bound booklet printed in 1910, titled “Views in the Kensico Cemetery.” I bought the thing just for the single photo of Kensico station, and after flipping through it, I’m glad I did. I love it for the silliest reason, too – at the time of printing, the United States used three-digit phone numbers. There are plenty of things that I don’t really think about, and anything but seven-digit phone numbers are one of them (despite the fact that I know Brazil uses eight digits for cellular numbers, and don’t even get me started about their downright bizarre method of placing long distance calls). The book is chock-full of photos of the cemetery with plenty of open land, a much different view than today’s cemetery with over 130,000 “residents.” Below you’ll find a few of my favorite parts of the booklet, including the photo of Kensico Station.
Although it is the Hudson Line more often cited for its scenery, you do pass by quite a few interesting locales taking a train down the Harlem Line. From the farmlands of Dutchess county, to the reservoirs that serve the city’s need for water, there is much to see on the Harlem Line – and I hope that I’ve been able to show some of this on my weekly tour of the various stations. Although it certainly isn’t the most noteworthy, the line does also pass by quite a few cemeteries. In the case of Kensico Cemetery, the railroad probably played a part in its growth. Kensico may no longer have a station dedicated to it, but at one time the cemetery even had its own rail car to serve the more affluent of folk heading to bury their loved ones.
Resting place of Gail Borden, at the Woodlawn Cemetery
Another cemetery I haven’t yet mentioned on here, however, is the Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn station itself is located in the Bronx, a bit shy of 12 miles from Grand Central. It is just north of Woodlawn that the New Haven Line diverges from the Harlem. Although the station isn’t expressly for the cemetery, as Kensico was, it is very close to it. For those interested in seeing the final resting place of quite a few historical figures, Woodlawn would definitely be an interesting place to check out. Not to mention the wide array of different styles of memorial (someone please erect a statue of me riding a liger upon my death?). Some of the memorials were designed by renowned architects, such as Cass Gilbert (who designed New Haven’s Union Station), and McKim, Mead, and White (who designed the original Pennsylvania Station). Noteworthy musicians WC Handy, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington are all buried at Woodlawn, as well as businessmen whose names most people recognize: RH Macy, JC Penney, and Frank Woolworth. And many of us would also recognize the names of Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Simon Guggenheim, and Augustus Juilliard, also buried in the cemetery. Of course my favorite “resident” is Gail Borden, the eccentric inventor of condensed milk, who was also a Harlem Division rider (a post about him on here is quite overdue, but will be coming soon, I swear!)
Anyways, here are some shots of the Harlem Line station at Woodlawn:
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.
The next time you find yourself on a Metro-North train going past Valhalla Station, be sure to take a look out your window, facing eastward. You’ll be able to catch a quick glimpse of the Kensico Dam as the train goes by. The dam holds back the waters of the Kensico Reservoir, the primary source of water for the city of New York. The 98-acre grounds around the dam are a county park called the Kensico Dam Plaza. While the weather was warm last week, I took the opportunity to have lunch at the park, and of course I took lots of pictures. Kensico Dam Plaza is one of the many interesting places to visit in the area within walking distance of Harlem Line stations (In this case, Valhalla). In addition to the dam, the grounds also contains a September 11th Memorial, called The Rising, designed by architect Frederic Schwartz. The memorial lists the names of all one hundred and eleven Westchester County residents that died in the attacks.
The original Kensico Dam was built in 1885 and created a small lake with water from the Bronx River, as a source of water for New York City. As the city expanded, the dam could not fulfill the city’s need for water, and was eventually expanded. This expansion required the land from the village of Kensico, and so the property of the entire town was purchased to make room for the new dam. The former town now rests underwater, covered by the now larger Kensico Reservoir. This larger reservoir receives water from other reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, through the ninety-two mile Catskill Aqueduct.
Old diagrams of the Kensico Dam and grounds, the plan of the grounds does not appear to match with what is there now. The plans were modified, or the grounds were changed later on.
Construction photo of the dam
Construction for the new Kensico Dam began in 1909, and the project employed more than 1500 workers. Workers earned an average of one dollar and twenty-five cents per day. Railroad tracks were built for the purpose of removing earth from the site, as well as moving building materials. The main building material used in the dam is concrete mixed with large stones, called Cyclopean concrete. The dam face is made of large granite stones from a quarry in nearby Cranberry Lake. Kensico Dam measures 300 feet high, and 1830 feet long. There is a road that runs over the top of the dam, though it has been closed since the September 11th attacks. The grounds that form the Dam Plaza and county park total 98 acres, and are used for picnicking, running and walking, bicycling and more. The ice cream man also makes frequent visits during the summer months, and if you’re lucky you’ll get both the Good Humor man, and the Mr. Softee man. And who doesn’t like ice cream?
Nestled in between the stations of Valhalla and Hawthorne on the Harlem Line is an active station that you might not be aware of. Most trains pass by without stopping. On weekdays, only one train in each direction makes a stop there. On weekends there are three. The station is Mount Pleasant, and it just might be the loneliest station on the Harlem Line. The only other station that could arguably take the title is Appalachian Trail, which is north of Pawling and in diesel territory. That station does not get any trains on weekdays. But then again, when at Appalachian Trail, at least you aren’t surrounded by thousands of dead people. Mount Pleasant does not serve commuters, it serves those who wish to visit their loved ones in the various area cemeteries. Last week I got a chance on a lunch break to go down to Mount Pleasant station and snap a few pictures. I didn’t want you guys to think that I forgot all about the Harlem Line as I am posting all my wonderful Japanese adventure photos. Nope, I haven’t forgotten!
You may not have noticed the station, but you probably have noticed the cemetery. Kensico, Sharon Gardens, Gate of Heaven, to name a few. Though passing through on the train, they blend into one large whole. And it is one of those delightful areas in which cell phone reception just seems to disappear. In addition to serving loved ones, the tiny one door platform also serves folks wishing to view the graves of quite a few famous people. I’ve previously mentioned that at Kensico Cemetery, Randroids can pay homage to their Objectivist leader Ayn Rand. Visitors to Heaven’s Gate can visit the resting place of Babe Ruth, which prior to 2004 had many visitors praying for the reversal of a particular curse…
The first pictures are of the south bound platform. The last two pictures above are the platform on the north bound side. Not only can you see various graves behind the station, but there are unused grave markers sitting right next to the platform! The two platforms are not exactly across from one another, they are set apart by thirty-or-so feet. But this is it, this is Mount Pleasant. There are no shelters, no ticket machines. Most of the signage still bears the old circular-M logo of the MTA, and the old Metro North Commuter Railroad name. One side of the sign, however, has the newer logo and the abbreviated name of Mt. Pleasant. There may be plenty of cars passing by, but it is still pretty lonely. And I don’t really think I’d like to be here if it were dark… too many dead people.
On a chilly and gray Friday, my friend and I got lost in a cemetery. Kensico Cemetery. Kensico Cemetery was a stop on the New York Central’s Harlem Division, but was finally closed in 1983 when Metro North electrified the line north of White Plains. The original station building was completed in 1890, but was expanded and partially rebuilt in 1936.
A 1902 article from the New York Tribune showing pictures of the new station buildings at Pleasantville, Kensico, and Scarsdale.
The Cemetery is located down the street from where I work, and I convinced my friend to accompany me on a lunch break adventure. After driving up and down the winding streets of the cemetery, we finally found the former train station house, the current cemetery administration building. We headed inside to get warm, and to find a map. The lady inside was cheerful to help us on our quest to find some famous dead people, but inside I’m certain she thought we were nuts. She handed my friend and I a stapled packet labeled Kensico Cemetery Historical and Scenic Tour.
Buried in the cemetery are quite a few famous people, including Alfred Holland Smith, who was the president of the New York Central. He died in 1924 in a freak accident in Central Park. Ayn Rand is another person buried in Kensico. Although she is not directly related to the railroad, she did research into the New York Central railroad while writing her book, Atlas Shrugged. Not only was she allowed to ride in the locomotive of the 20th Century Limited train, they allowed her to drive it. The character from the book, Nat Taggart, is supposed to be modeled on Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Final resting place of Alfred Holland Smith
Additional pictures from our adventure:
If you’re interested in going to the cemetery yourself, I’ve scanned the map that I was given at the administration office. The entire packet is a nice read though, with historical information on the people and explanations on how to find each of the memorials. I suggest stopping in to the office to grab a copy, since the people are quite nice. If you’d rather skip it though, this map should assist.
The building of railway stations is becoming a fine art in the hands of some companies
From the New York Tribune, Sunday, October 28, 1902. Accessed digitally via the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America.
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.