Toledo – the busy, half-abandoned station

Just about twelve years ago I hopped on a plane bound for Brazil to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. I lived in smaller city named Toledo – in the south-west of the country, not too far from the borders of Argentina and Paraguay, and the famed Iguaçu Falls. It was a nice place – think quaint Appalachian mining town with a little of White Plains mixed in – but hardly a city that would get significant numbers of tourists. While I lived there I had a host brother that was some years older than me, and he recounted his first visit to the United States. As is customary in many South American cultures, the 15th birthday is a big deal, and a lot of upper middle class folks reward their children with a big trip. Most tend to choose interesting places like Disney World, or New York. My host brother had a different idea – he wanted to go to another city called Toledo.

Toledo, Ohio is likewise a city I can’t imagine gets immense amounts of tourists (though apparently there are some modern rail hobos), but it certainly is a nice enough place. I’m not too sure what my host brother actually did here when he was fifteen – perhaps took a trip to the zoo – but it really doesn’t have the allure of say, Disney. Once upon a time, however, Toledo did get quite a few visitors, and many of them by train. The state of Toledo’s rail station today is really a visual reminder of not just the fall of passenger rail travel, but of the steady 40+ year decline of Toledo’s population.

Toledo's former station
In embracing modernity, the above 1800s Toledo station was replaced with the current brick and glass box. People hated this building so much that they cheered when it caught fire and burnt down. I think they’re crazy.

Toledo
The replacement – Central Union Terminal postcard, and tickets from Toledo from 1950.

Central Union Terminal, opened in 1950, is claimed by Wikipedia editors to be the last “great” railroad station built by the New York Central. A modern structure made of brick and glass, it certainly doesn’t have the same charm as many of the Central’s older stations. When opened, the station had about 55 daily departures – compare that with today’s paltry 4 departures. The island platforms that connected to the main station, once filled with people, are relatively dormant today. The passageways leading from these platforms to the station proper have long been shuttered, and are fastened shut with rusted chain for good measure. Some lonely platform canopies protect ripped out platforms, and others just stand over rusted rails. Toledo may be Ohio’s busiest railroad station, but from some angles it looks quite abandoned.

Event space in the old terminal
The old passageway to the platforms can now hold quite a few chairs… note the doors on either side that led to the island train platforms below. More photos of the event space in the station can be found here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, as it is called now, is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, and Capitol Limited. With trains arriving at the station during hours many are asleep (11:39 PM, 2:50 AM, 5:22 AM and 6:15 AM), the station functions on opposite schedule – the waiting room is open most night hours, and closed during the day. Though the waiting rooms for the trains were once in a more attractive spot on the third floor, during renovations the waiting area was relegated to the bottom floor. The former waiting area on the third floor is now an event space able to hold 650 people… so in reality, this station is pretty cool – if you’re looking to host a wedding reception.

 
  
  
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
 
   
 

If half-abandoned rail platforms aren’t your thing, there’s at least a bunch of freight traffic through Toledo that you can check out. I even caught my first Norfolk Southern heritage unit… awww. In case you’re curious, the folks watching the train in the first photo were the aforementioned “hobos.”

 
 
  
 

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Taking a break from the Hudson… see ya next month!


Photo of the Hudson Line, with Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle in the background. Taken from the Breakneck Ridge station. Taken last weekend, as I’ve been touring the Hudson Line.

Hey everyone… I’m taking a little break from touring the Hudson line and heading out west… I’ll be visiting Minneapolis and Chicago, and riding part of the Empire Builder and the Lake Shore Limited. Most likely, you won’t even know I’m gone – there are several posts in the queue that will be posting themselves, including the Tuesday Tour. If you comment or email, however, I may not be able to respond right away.

Most likely I’ll be tweeting photos from my train adventures, so if you don’t already, make sure you’re following the blog on twitter!

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Chatham: Revisited

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a strange affinity for the village of Chatham. Although it is an adorable place, rather quaint, I wonder what exactly it was like when the railroads ran through here. You might see a freight train, or a passing Lake Shore Limited, but none of them stop. Chatham once serviced the New York & Harlem Railroad, the Boston & Albany, and the Rutland – all of which are long gone. And thus the place is a little bit of a curiosity to me. The many suburbs along the Harlem – Bronxville, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, and even the ones further north, Katonah, Brewster – they were all influenced by the rail. They grew and morphed into the places we know now, and though the rail does not entirely define those places now, the rail still is there, playing a part in the futures of those areas. But Chatham, it is a special case. The single most defining factor of the village has disappeared. It is no longer the terminus of any railroads. The once busy Union Station no longer serves train riders, it is a bank. Chatham has reverted to a quieter version of itself, representing a little portion of historical Columbia County.

Many places across the country have seen transformations, with the things they were built upon playing a part in their downfall. Detroit was built on the auto industry, but as the industry migrated and moved overseas, parts of the city have become abandoned – a true example of urban decay. The small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was built upon anthracite coal, literally and figuratively. Ironically, it was the coal brought the death sentence of the little town, as it caught fire in the 1960’s and has been burning ever since. There is something about these changed places that intrigues me (high on my list of places to visit is also Pripyat, an abandoned town brought down by the failings of humans). All of these, of course, are radical examples. Chatham lives, it does not decay. Perhaps the once-fundamental core of its being is gone, but it still thrives. But just as one can compare the photos of Detroit’s urban decay with the historical photos of yesteryear, one can bear witness to the radical changes made in just a few scant years (or slightly longer than the years I’ve been on this Earth). There are no more signal towers, water towers, or turntables. The children of Chatham will never board a passenger train in their village to head the one hundred and twenty seven miles to Grand Central. And of course, the Harlem division will never again run this far north.

The time for Chatham as a railroad town has passed. As the time has ticked by it has reinvented itself, and is still reinventing itself. It is not the decline as a railroad hub that has intrigued me about Chatham, but that reinvention. It is a charming and beautiful little village, with a gazebo, clock tower, shops, and restaurants – plus a whole lot of history. The photos below were taken back in October upon my second visit to Chatham, a visit where I actually had time to shop and eat, and enjoy the surrounding history. Perhaps if you too find Chatham to be interesting you will take the time to visit some day…

 
  
 
 
 
  
 
   
 
 

The photos below were sent in by reader John. They were taken in the late 1960’s at Chatham.

 
 
 

For an even further back look, the Library of Congress has an illustrated map view of the village of Chatham from 1886. At this time the “Union Station” had not been built, and the Boston & Albany, and the New York & Harlem each had their own rail stations. For easier viewing I’ve given the B&A station a slight red tint, and the Harlem a blue tint.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Wartime Magazine Advertisements

I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.

But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.

That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.



It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!

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