Smartcat Sundays: All Aboard for the Westchester County Fair

These days if you want to get to a county fair on Metro-North you head up to Dutchess County, are conveniently met by a bus at Poughkeepsie station, and are whisked away to the long-running Dutchess County Fair. Westchester County used to have a fair too, although it wasn’t quite as constant – stopping and starting numerous times over the years, and is now defunct (folks from the ’80s may recall this catchy tune when the fair was revived and held at Yonkers Raceway).

Today’s artifact is from 1889 – a special Harlem Division brochure advertising railroad specials for the fair, including fare and admission. Held in White Plains at that time, eventually the land on which the fair was held was sold and led to several years of dormancy.

Brochure Inside

Brochure Outside

While the horse racing is, of course, to be expected, don’t forget the big event – the BABY SHOW! All the handsome babies of Westchester county are competing, after all!

Dog show and sale at the Westchester County Fair
The fair also featured a dog show and sale…

Horse racing at the fair
The main event – horse racing at the fair.

The midway at the Westchester County Fair
Midway at the Westchester County Fair, circa 1900. Photos from the Library of Congress.

After several years of dormancy, the fair was revived in the ’40s before going defunct again, only to be revived in the ’80s, and again later cancelled.

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Bridges of Metro-North: The Norwalk River Bridge, Part 1

Continuing into the new year with our visits to some of Metro-North’s movable bridges, today’s feature is the Norwalk River Bridge. This bridge, owned by the state of Connecticut, is commonly known as WALK, and is the bane of the New Haven Line. Built in 1896, the bridge is one of many pieces of practically ancient infrastructure you’ll find along the line. Prone to getting stuck open and preventing trains from crossing – which happened several times last year – the historical bridge is badly in need of a replacement or serious upgrade. For the interim, attempts have been made to open the bridge less frequently, and to have crews standing by when the bridge does open to hopefully prevent any issues. While I had been under the impression that the bridge would be staying shut while repairs were under way starting in June, I was lucky enough to capture an opening of the bridge on November 8th, much to my surprise.

Constructed for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, the Norwalk River Bridge is a 562-foot long rim bearing swing bridge. Sitting about 16 feet above the water, the bridge’s 202 foot long center deck rotates along a center point to allow marine traffic to pass. When opening, rail locks are released, the rail ends are lifted, catenary wire is separated, wedge locks are withdrawn, and bridge locks are released. Only then can the machinery located at the center pier under the tracks can do its work to swing the bridge open. All of these delicate maneuvers need to happen in concert, which is difficult considering the age of the machinery involved. Also complicating matters for repairs is the fact that the old movable bridges on the Northeast Corridor are all unique – there was no standard for construction, and each bridge has unique mechanical components.

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H.H. Richardson’s Last Station – New London Union Station

When it comes to great American architects, one must certainly mention the name Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson’s name may not be as widely mentioned as some others – likely because he unfortunately passed in his prime at the age of 47 – but his influence in American architecture is obvious. The architectural style he popularized bears his name – Richardsonian Romanesque – and is certainly one of my favorite architectural styles. The style features attractive arches and rusticated stonework – and is familiar to fans of the Boston and Albany Railroad, the style in which many of that railroad’s main line stations were designed.

Most of the Richardsonian Romanesque stations we’ve featured on the site – Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Hartford, Irvington, and Tarrytown – were designed by the firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, Richardson’s three assistants who continued the business after his death. The station we’re visiting today, however, was Richardson’s final station design. New London’s Union Station was conceived in 1885 – one year before Richardson’s death. Construction was not completed until one year after his death in 1887.

1885 Sketch of New London
1885 elevation sketch showing the detailing for New London’s Union Station. Image courtesy Shepley Bulfinch.

Although New London Union Station strays a bit from the typical Richardsonian Romanesque style as it is constructed primarily of brick, the characteristic arches, detailing, and occasional swaths of rusticated stone can be found. Bricks radiate outwards from the arches, creating a sunburst effect, and alternating exposed bricks create detailed borders around the top. Completing the detailing of the station is a wide band above the entrance, labeling the building “Union Railroad Station.” The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was the station’s primary occupant (having leased the Shore Line Railway in 1870), though the station was built in conjunction with the Central Vermont Railroad (which had leased the New London Northern Railroad) making it a Union Station.

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The Railroad Photos of Jack Delano

These days almost everyone has a camera – whether it be a point and shoot, an SLR, or just the stock camera that came with your cell phone. Despite all the criticism of people these days and what they’re photographing, part of me thinks that the people of the future who consume all their nutrients in pill form might find today’s photos of food taken by hipsters rather quaint. The fact remains that what is commonplace today may be noteworthy and historic tomorrow. Time has only proven this true – Boris Klapwald’s snapshots of Grand Central Terminal were boxed up and forgotten for nearly fifty years, until discovered by his daughter. She brought them to the MTA, and they were exhibited in the Terminal through Arts for Transit. Street photographer Vivian Maier was practically unknown until her largely undeveloped film was put up for auction after her death. Her discovered photos have since been exhibited around the world, and is the subject of a documentary. Although the good majority of the photos captured these days aren’t much to write home about, it is undeniable that we are well-documenting our world, and the things future generations will most likely interpret as just plain weird.

Though cameras were far less common in the past, there were many photographers that froze glimpses of what was then normal life. I’ve posted about the Depression-era photographers of the Farm Security Administration before – despite the name, the project yielded thousands of photos that had nothing to do with farms, but instead featured normal Americans living life – including two of the most iconic photographs of Grand Central Terminal. A similarly iconic photo of Chicago’s Union Station also came out of the project, captured by photographer Jack Delano. Delano’s railroad-specific work in the Chicago area is currently on display at the Chicago History Museum, which I recently got the chance to check out.

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A last look at Port Jervis…


Bird’s eye view of Port Jervis, circa 1900. The railroad tracks and roundhouses are visible in the lower right. From the New York State Archives.

As promised, before moving onto the Pascack Valley Line I said we would take one more look at Port Jervis. While the Metro-North station at Port Jervis is pretty boring, there are a few more interesting railroad-related things going on in this town. When arriving by car, you’ll likely notice signs not only directing you to the train station, but also to the historical turntable. This turntable is the only existing remnant of one of the roundhouses that was here in Port Jervis. Although the building got progressively more decrepit over the years, it ultimately met its end at the hand of an arsonist in 1987.



Roundhouse at Port Jervis in 1971, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

The turntable, which was at the center of that burnt roundhouse, is in pretty good condition today, as it was renovated in 1997. In the early 90’s, though, it didn’t look too great. Though it hasn’t been put to use recently, the turntable isn’t just for show, and does actually work.

 
 
This is the turntable today. I must admit that I have a thing for the iconic simplicity of the Erie’s logo.

The gem of Port Jervis, however, is not the turntable, but the Erie depot. If you’ve taken Metro-North to Port Jervis, you’ve passed it – it is located about a quarter-mile before the current station. The depot was built by Grattan & Jennings in the Queen Anne style in 1892. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.

The contracting firm of Grattan & Jennings was formed in 1888 by William S. Grattan and Alva M. Jennings. Grattan had been a longtime railroad employee, starting as a clerk in the Scranton coal office of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western at the age of 18. Though the Erie Depot may be the most well-known building the firm had built, Grattan & Jennings did lots of contracting work for the railroad, including a trestle over the Blackwell canal.



Aerial views of Port Jervis station, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.




Photos of the Erie station at Port Jervis in 1970, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

Like so many other stations and facilities, the earlier station at Port Jervis (which was the second to be built here), opened in 1889, was completely destroyed by fire in 1890. The historical Erie depot was built as a replacement for that station, and was opened on February 2nd, 1892. The lower level of the station provided waiting areas for passengers, a ticket office, locker rooms for railroad employees, and a restaurant. The depot’s upper level was used as office space for the railroad.

It is interesting to note that the Erie depot manages to reflect not only the surge in popularity of the railroad, but also its slow demise. With increasing volume of mail and baggage, the depot was expanded in 1912. An enlarged baggage room was added to the east end of the station, and a room for the Railway Express Agency was added to the west end. Gradually fewer and fewer people used the station over the years, and the depot was permanently closed in 1974. The windows were boarded up, and the building was left to crumble. Thankfully, by the mid-80’s several groups stepped up to prevent the depot from being torn down and worked to restore it to the wonderful condition you see today.

  
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Harriman

 
The two above photos were on a single postcard, showing the old and new stations at Harriman. The station at left was known as Turners, and was replaced with the station on the right in 1911. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

As we continue north on our tour of the Port Jervis Line, the next station we encounter is Harriman. When the railroad first arrived here in the 1800’s, the station was known as Turners, after original landowner Peter Turner. The first station built by Turner burned down in 1873, and was replaced with a smaller wood structure (above left). By 1911, that station was falling into disrepair and was again replaced with a brick and stucco structure with a tin roof (above right). The land for this new station was donated by Edward Harriman, and after he passed away in 1909, the name of the station was changed to Harriman in his honor.

 
Postcard of Harriman station, built in 1911. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.


Erie railroad photograph of Harriman station, taken shortly after construction was completed.

The location of today’s Harriman station, however, is in a totally different place than those shown above. Harriman was originally on the Erie railroad’s main line, which was abandoned in the 1980’s when Metro-North took over passenger service. A simple station, which retained the name Harriman, was built by Metro-North on the railroad’s new route, which was formerly known as the Graham Line. The new station is basic, consisting of a platform, canopy, small shelter, and two ticket vending machines.


Edward Harriman’s “special train.” Photo from the GG Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.

Besides being known for his badass moustache, and the namesake of this station, Edward Harriman was a wealthy railroad executive that owned a large estate which he named Arden (some of that land was donated upon his death, and is now Harriman State Park). Although he was associated with the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, he did influence the Erie Railroad as well – and two stations were named for him. In addition to Harriman, the station of Arden was named after his large estate. Reflecting his status as a wealthy executive, Harriman, of course, had his own private train – which is in the photo above.


The years were not particularly kind to the old Harriman station. The dilapidated structure was torn down in 2006.

Although the tracks running past the old Harriman station were torn out, the station building did survive for at least a few more years. Unfortunately, the run-down building was deemed unsafe, and in lieu of renovating it, the station was torn down in 2006.

Though these stations built by Metro-North aren’t very spectacular, the canopy on a few of them depicts a small sketch of the railroad in bygone years. Harriman’s sketch features a steam train, passing in front of what appears to be the old Harriman station. This is probably the only remotely interesting thing going on at Harriman, other than the weekend bus that will take you over to Woodbury Common. Well, at least you can get to the city in about an hour and fifteen minutes.

I’ll just wrap things up with a few of the terrible photos I took during my visit to Harriman. Have I mentioned that I really want to reshoot the entire Port Jervis line on a day that actually has nice weather? Perhaps someday…

 
   
  
 
   
   
  
 
   
  

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The Picturesque Moodna Viaduct


Early 20th century image of the Moodna Viaduct, from the Library of Congress

Quick, name one of the most picturesque locales on all of Metro-North. Most likely something along the Hudson Line pops into your mind. Sure, the Hudson River is gorgeous… but there just might be a lesser-known place that is definitely a beautiful sight, and certainly a contender for the aforementioned superlative. Most East of Hudson riders completely forget that Metro-North has two lines on the west side of the river – the Pascack Valley Line, and the Port Jervis Line. Neither of the two terminate at Grand Central, and although Metro-North owns the stations and subsidizes the line’s operations, the service is provided by New Jersey Transit. Along the Port Jervis line, you’ll find gorgeous rural countryside, even more so than the Upper Harlem. Heading towards Port Jervis, about 54.8 miles from Hoboken and 24.3 miles from Suffern, trains cross the picturesque Moodna Viaduct, which is undoubtedly one of the most attractive places in the Metro-North system. It was definitely one of my favorite places I’ve photographed for this blog thus far.


Left: Construction photograph of the Moodna Viaduct; Right: Library of Congress photograph of the Moodna Viaduct, 1971

The Moodna Viaduct (also known as the Moodna Creek Viaduct) was constructed by the Erie and Jersey Railroad and opened in 1909. The viaduct spans 3,200 feet, and is 196 feet above the ground at the highest point. The viaduct is the longest and tallest trestle east of the Mississippi River. The open design of the trestle, which minimizes wind resistance, has certainly stood the test of time – though Metro-North has made repairs to the viaduct in both 2007 and 2009. At the northern end of the trestle lies the Salisbury Mills-Cornwall station, and is approximately 32 miles before the end of the line at Port Jervis.

 
  
 
  
   
 
  
 
   
 

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Happy (early) Birthday, Chauncey Mitchell Depew

Every day when I ride the train down to White Plains, a crowd of folks hovers on the platform, waiting for the train to slow and then stop. They crowd around every door, masses of them, and a fight ensues. A fight of currents. The current of those disembarking clashes against those pushing themselves through and onto the train. If you don’t hold fast and push, you will be swept away before you can even place a foot on the yellow tactile stripping of the platform. And this, this is a daily ritual that I loathe. There is only one thing I hate even more than those that crowd around the doors attempting to get on the train: the people that hover in front of the doors, not to get on the train, but to accost each of the people disembarking with papers – usually some sort of politician’s propaganda. And while we’re being pretty honest here, I am not much of a fan of politicians, especially the ones that swarm train stations whenever an election looms. Some of you may remember back in the “olden days” when I first started this blog, every time a politician would forcibly hand me a piece of propaganda at a train station, I photoshopped it in some odd way and posted it. It was my own little way of rebelling. Though I may have stopped my photoshopping of politicians, the fact still remains: I don’t like politicians.

Politicians today are pretty weak. They don’t even write their own stuff, they get other people to do that. You think if they didn’t spend time writing it, the least they could do is memorize it. But no, they have to stoop to writing on their hands, using teleprompters, or just spewing complete bullshit that makes the rest of the world laugh at us – but hey, we elected them! It makes me want to go back to a time where politicians were badass… where they had duels to settle differences, and despite getting shot in the chest, still delivering their speeches. A time where the politicians could actually speak, a wonderful and eloquent stream of words – not any of this crap that dribbles like a man foaming at the mouth. Politics then would be a heck of a lot more interesting, and elections wouldn’t be a battle between the lesser of two evils.

I’m not sure if anyone really has a “favorite” historical politician. And if anyone does, it is probably a former president. I’m sure Abraham Lincoln’s name would probably come up. Maybe it is just a consequence of us looking back at history in retrospect. We learned his speeches in school, and heck, maybe even the fact that he was assassinated makes us look back and think, damn he was a good politician. But there was another man, not nearly as popular and most people today probably don’t even know his name, but I always seemed to think he was pretty cool. At minimum, he was a brilliant orator, the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of speeches today. But I must admit, perhaps I am a little biased about this fellow, as he was not only a politician, but he was also a railroad man.


Photographs of Chauncey Depew over the years

“Don’t be a damned fool!”
Usually when you’re looking to hire someone for a job, those are not the words you utter to the person you may potentially hire. But then again, most people aren’t the brusque Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt approached a Peekskill-born lawyer by the name of Chauncey Mitchell Depew, offering him a position as the attorney for the New York & Harlem Railroad – a position he was about ready to turn down. Depew had been offered a position as the US Minister to Japan. At that time the journey to Japan took a full six months, and thus the sending of any message took a full year. However, the monetary compensation was far higher than the railroad job – and Depew said as much to the Commodore. It was then that the Commodore fired back with the following: “Railroads are the career for a young man; there is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.” Depew took the railroad job.


1895 Harlem Division pass, signed by Chauncey Depew

Chauncey Mitchell Depew was born in Peekskill, New York on April 23, 1834. In his youth he spent significant amounts of time reading – his uncle was a postmaster, and at the time there was no mail delivery. Mail often sat a long while until the recipient came to pick it up, and in the interim a young Depew would peruse any newspaper or magazine that would arrive. As a young man Depew would attend Yale, and graduated from there in 1856. At that time there were no law schools in the country, and one would have to “read law” – a sort of apprenticeship – to become a lawyer. Depew “read law” with a lawyer in Peekskill and was accepted to the bar in 1858. Before being called by Vanderbilt, Depew worked as a lawyer in New York City, and served a brief stint as a member of the New York Assembly, and the Secretary of State for New York.


Photograph of Chauncey Depew, from the Library of Congress

All of that probably sounds just as boring as the pedigree of any politician, but there was something about Depew that intrigues me. He was quite the orator, and rubbed elbows with quite a few influential people that maybe you’ve heard of: Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, and Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few. Depew was described as having a “personal charm and a lovable disposition” – but for the most part he was remembered in his day as a brilliant speaker. You can in fact read many of his speeches, as well as his as his autobiography, for free online – and if you ever get a spare moment, I do find them rather interesting.

Most people today, however, will remember Depew as a railroad man (even though he served as a senator later in life as well). He accepted Vanderbilt’s offer of a position in 1866, a time when Vanderbilt’s roads consisted of a little over two-hundred-and-fifty miles. In the early 1900’s, that number had ballooned to over twenty-thousand miles in the system. By 1874 Depew had ascended to the position of Director of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and by 1882 was the Vice-President for the New York Central. In 1885 he was elected to the presidency, and in 1898 chairman of the board. He served as chairman until his death in 1928, working for the railroad for a total of 62 years.


The cover of New York Central Lines magazine, after the death of Chauncey Depew

Upon his death, Grand Central was draped in mourning. If one questioned the influence of Depew, one needs only look to the list of pallbearers for his funeral, consisting of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. His wife received condolences from American presidents and European royalty. Though the man is long gone and many have forgotten him, you will still occasionally see references to him: Depew Park in Peekskill, various Depew Streets located around train stations, and the village of Depew, New York, located upstate. And then, of course, there are the words he left behind…

If your construction of success was honestly analyzed, it would probably mean to most minds the getting of money. The desire to acquire property is the most potent force in the activities of our people. It is the mainspring of of our marvelous development, and the incentive and reward of intelligent industry. It is alike the cause of the noblest efforts and the most revolting crimes.

We are at present sailing upon tranquil seas, with no clouds above the horizon and no warnings from the barometer. It is at such times that the prudent and experienced navigator hopes for the best and prepares for the worst.

Keep the roads paved and free from obstructions by which the industrious, the honest, and the capable, with no additional capital but character, can rise from any condition to the highest honors of the Republic, and the largest rewards of business.

Give to all men and women their full opportunities to work on their own destinies, and provide the incentives to efforts and ambitions which promote the enterprises and develop the resources of the country, and enrich and invigorate its intellectual life.

The indestructible union of liberty and law has given character and perpetuity in American institutions. It produced those perfect conditions, of freedom, protection, and equality, which peoples have sought for ages through bloody revolutions, and never before found. It has attracted to our shores fourteen millions of emigrants, against the superior advantages of soil and climate in Mexico and South America, or equal material opportunities in Canada. Most of this vast population have fled from the oppression of laws made for classes and working injustice and wrong to the masses. They have been of incalculable benefit to the country, and without them onr development and resources would be fifty years behind their present state. They have brought with them industry, integrity, and an intense desire to better their lives and improve the condition of their children.

Steam and electricity have made us one people, and for commercial pnrposes unified the world.

Trust and confidence are the foundation of success. Without them it is useless to begin and impossible to advance.

While we’re continuing our celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I figured profiling a man who got his start on the New York & Harlem Railroad would be appropriate. Conveniently, Depew’s birthday would be tomorrow – so we’ll wish the two of them Happy Birthday on this day!

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Crestwood


Norman Rockwell’s version of Crestwood

Not many train stations can claim the honor of having been featured on the front of the Saturday Evening Post… or for that matter, having been painted by iconic American painter Norman Rockwell (Rockwell had a long association with doing covers for the Post, stretching from the 1920’s to 1970. He also lived in the area for a time). One such station that can claim that, however, is Crestwood. Crestwood can also claim that it has been featured in video, from television commercials (Tuscan milk, Optimum Online), and even a movie or two (Remember Me, 13). Yes, Twilight lovers, that means that even Robert Pattinson has been to Crestwood.


Optimum commercial filmed at Crestwood

The train station we know now as Crestwood started out under the name of Yonkers Park in the mid 1800’s. Unlike many of the other areas along the Harlem Line, the area surrounding Crestwood was not immediately built as residential. Although the Tuckahoe area, and the discovery of Tuckahoe marble, led the community to grow rapidly, the area around Crestwood was mostly occupied by quarries. It did not develop into a residential area for commuters until the first half of the 1900’s. The growth in population did get the railroad to make Crestwood a regular stop on the Harlem, and an updated station built.

The current station at Crestwood was built at some point between 1901 and 1911, the actual date unknown, as the original plans have been lost. There are, however, records of changes made to the station later on, like when the tunnels under the tracks were built in 1911. In 1928 more significant changes were made, resurfacing the outside, removing the original chimney and installing a new one, and replacing the slate roof with shingles. The original baggage room was also removed in order to enlarge the ticket office.

Crestwood is the last station that I will feature that was part of the Mid-Harlem Station Improvement project. The project consisted of updating eight train stations on the Harlem Line in the late 1980’s. Before the changes were made, each station was documented with a history and photographs, all of which are available online thanks to the Library of Congress. One of the major changes that occurred at Crestwood was the creation of a ticket window above the tracks, and the phasing out of the original station building as a ticket office. As of 1993, nothing had been done with the station, and upon my visit the station building still looked pretty dead. The newer ticket window was also quiet – it was permanently shuttered last year.

 
  
  
 
  
  
 
  
 
 

Here are a few of the historical shots of Crestwood, taken in 1988, which include a view of the inside of the old station building. All of these are from the Mid-Harlem Station Improvement project page at the Library of Congress.

   
  
   
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Tremont

The next time you’re riding a train out of Grand Central, give a little wave goodbye when you pass Tremont station, at mile post 7.9. For Tremont is a lonely station – it may have four tracks, and it may see every Harlem and New Haven line train pass by, but only a handful of them stop. Like Melrose, Tremont is a Bronx station with somewhat more limited service than most other Harlem Line stations. During non-rush hours, that means a train about every two hours. Tremont is also small – the platform can accommodate only two train cars.

Enjoy this quick look at Tremont station through various panoramas… This pretty much wraps up our tour to the Harlem Line’s more limited service stations. Melrose and Tremont are like the big brothers of the bunch, as their limited service is much more often than the once or twice per day Mount Pleasant and weekend-only Appalachian Trail. These are the final weeks of my Tour of the Harlem Line, as I’ve featured most of the stations so far. Next week we’ll go and visit Crestwood, the last station to be featured that was part of the Mid-Harlem Station Improvement project (all of which have photos preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress).

 
   
 
  
 
 
  
 
 

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