One more Warren & Wetmore station – Mount Vernon West

On the final day of 2013 – Grand Central’s centennial year – there’s one more station that I’d like to take a visit to. Several years ago, when we visited during our Tuesday Tour, we saw only part of the station, the tunnels and the platform. But beyond the current station’s doors is an edifice whose façade has remained fairly similar for over 90 years, though the inside has drastically changed. The New York Central’s station at Mount Vernon, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was at one time one of Westchester’s beautiful stations. Once it was on par with the great stations at Yonkers and White Plains – but while Yonkers survives and White Plains was razed, Mount Vernon exists in a strange limbo. As the New York Central’s financial woes became painfully obvious, the railroad began selling off the very buildings that were once symbols of their might. In 1959, Mount Vernon station was sold to local businessman who converted it to serve commercial purposes. The waiting room was dismantled and the cavernous space split into two floors, and the express room at the north end was demolished and a two-floor office building erected in its stead.

Postcard view of Mount Vernon station
Postcard view of Mount Vernon station

From the platform level one would hardly notice the history that surrounds this Metro-North station. A walk around the property at street level one discovers several exits long closed and covered in concrete. Behind masses of tall weeds is another former exit, the concrete marked with a 1916 date. The diamond in the rough, however, is the old station building, or rather its façade. A sgraffito panel bears the traditional symbols of transportation – the winged wheel and the caduceus – positioned between the text identifying the station as one of the New York Central Railroad. Besides this panel the adornments on the building are few, with the exception of a few sculpted flowers, surrounded by what could possibly be oak leaves.

  

Detail shots of the sgraffito panel on Mount Vernon West station.

Though the building is now covered in grime and graffiti, it is undeniable that at the time of completion this red brick building with limestone paneling was quite beautiful. Its sgraffito panel – an art technique which uses colored plaster applied to a moistened surface and scratched to reveal details – is unique among local train stations. While the building is not quite as embellished as the station at Yonkers, it is still a significant building reflecting the importance of Mount Vernon.

Map with locations of the old and new stations
Q&d map of Mount Vernon showing the locations of the old and new stations, and how the rail line was rerouted through town. Based on a map found in the 1914 edition of the G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of Westchester County, via the David Rumsey Map Collection. If you want to download the high res original, which shows individual tracks and sidings click here.

In the early 1900s Mount Vernon was experiencing significant development and was certainly an important stop on the Harlem Division, certainly warranting a new, larger station. However, there was yet another important reason why the town needed a new train station. If you’ve ever had the joy of being arrested by the MTAPD and taken to their station in Mount Vernon you are familiar with MacQuesten Parkway, the street on which the police station is located. MacQuesten Parkway was once known as Railroad Avenue, and the Harlem Division ran not far from where that police station is today. As the Harlem Division was electrified up to North White Plains, some adjustments were made in its route, one of which was in Mount Vernon. Just north of the border with the Bronx the line was raised and shifted about two blocks to the west. This allowed the elimination of a grade crossing in the city, and allowed the line to be four tracked.

Trolley line in Mount Vernon
Trolley line in Mount Vernon
An older face of Mount Vernon – the #7 trolley line connecting Yonkers and Mount Vernon ran right next to the station. The first photo, from the book Metropolitan New York’s Third Avenue Railway System shows an eastbound trolley just west of the station. The lower photo from SoYo Sunset shows two trolleys crossing under the New York Central’s tracks, and a northbound train departing Mount Vernon station (which is at left, out of the frame).

An array of businesses have found homes in the old station over the years, from a silversmith to a pharmacy, a photography shop, and even a karate studio in the building’s upper floor. The north wing that was demolished and rebuilt has been various banks over the years – in the ’80s the Bank of New York, today Chase. Original details on the inside are very few, but some design work can be found on the walls of an upper hallway.

The current train station, which consists of the tunnels under the tracks, is hardly noteworthy except for the old “M Central” signage and the Arts for Transit piece by Martha Jackson-Jarvis. Upstairs on the platform level one can see the back of the once great train station, now covered in graffiti. It is mildly amusing to note that the words sgraffito – the art found on the station, and graffiti – the spray marks tagged on the historical building both share the same origins. I generally appreciate the graffiti along rail lines, but it is a shame to see it mar a nearly hundred year old station… it seems to be the final, sad outcome of a once proud station, reflecting the downfall of a once great railroad, now long gone.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
   
   
  
   
 
  
  

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A new local timetable – Mount Vernon, 1906

A few weeks ago, I posted about local timetables on the Harlem Line, and focused on some of the “unofficial” timetables that were also printed by neighborhood businesses. Today I’m posting a short addendum to that, as I’ve recently acquired another little timecard. Printed by the Mount Vernon Trust Company, the timecard features fire alarm signals for the city on the front and back, and train schedules on the inside. Schedules for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford station (today’s Mount Vernon East) are on the left side, and the Harlem Railroad’s station (today’s Mount Vernon West) on the right.

Local Timetable

Similar to many companies featured on local timetables, the Mount Vernon Trust Company no longer exists today, at least in name. Arguably, one could say that it does still exist today, after a long string of mergers over the years. In 1952 the Mount Vernon Trust Company was merged into the County Trust Company, which itself was later merged with into the State Bank of New York. That entity was merged into the Irving Trust Company, which then became the Bank of New York in 1989. In 2007 that bank merged with the Mellon Financial Corporation, becoming BNY Mellon. Don’t you just love banks?

I still think that these little timecards were really an ingenious idea for businesses back in the day, and this one really exemplifies the concept. The previously posted Pawling timecard featured so many ads that it was almost unwieldy. But this card, just a few inches long, was perfect to always carry around. Not only did you have easy access to the train times for both railroads running through town, you certainly wouldn’t forget that the bank was open from 8 AM to 4 PM.

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The Harlem Line, in panoramas

I’ve spent many months posting various panoramas of the Harlem Line stations. I’m now excited to be able to post the entire Harlem Line, viewed in panoramas. You can watch as the farmland and rural greenery morphs into the suburbs, before changing into the concrete jungle of New York City. If you want to see more photos from each of the stations, just click on the picture. Anybody have a favorite panorama? I think my two favorites are Tenmile River and Harlem-125th Street – the two of them are polar opposites in terms of the scenery visible while taking a ride down New York City’s oldest railroad.

For those who like maps, I place all of my panoramas on a Google map, which you can see below. I also add photos to Panoramio, which provides the photos for Google Earth.
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=201855341830642549339.000490912cdb96bd7414e&ll=41.58258,-73.418884&spn=1.756506,2.622986&t=h&z=9 width=553 height=740 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Mount Vernon West

As a city, Mount Vernon is well connected to New York through the Metro-North system. There are three train stations in the city: Mount Vernon East on the New Haven Line, and Fleetwood and Mount Vernon West on the Harlem Line. The city is at the south end of Westchester County and borders the Bronx. In fact, from the south end of the platform at Mount Vernon West, you can see the Wakefield station, the first Harlem Line station after crossing into the Bronx. Wakefield and Mount Vernon are also historically linked – both of their names come from plantations associated with George Washington: Wakefield where he was born, and Mount Vernon, where he died.

Mount Vernon West’s current station building was built in 1915 and was designed by Warren & Wetmore. The New York Central later sold the station building in 1959, but retained ownership of the passageway to the platforms, and the platforms themselves. Today the passageway contains automated ticket machines, and hung on the ceiling has an Arts for Transit piece. The glass and ceramic mosaic sculptures were done by artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis, and installed in 1991. When I was there I think I was so caught up looking at the ceiling I never even went out to see the front of the station – so whenever I happen to stop by Mount Vernon West I’ll have to do just that.

 
  
 
  
 
 
 
   
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Hartsdale

When it comes to beautiful stations located on the Harlem Line, Hartsdale is definitely high on my list. Scarsdale’s station was built in 1902, and designed by Reed and Stem, in a neo-Tudor style. When Hartsdale’s station was built in 1912, architecture firm Warren & Wetmore modeled the style previously used in Scarsdale. Both station buildings still exist, and in the case of Hartsdale no longer has a ticket window. Instead, Hartsdale’s station building houses a Starbucks. Warren & Wetmore are most noted for their work on Grand Central, though they designed several other stations and buildings for the New York Central, including Yonkers, Mount Vernon West, and the New York Central building (now called the Helmsley Building). The small station formerly had a waiting and ticket room, a baggage room, and restrooms. Above the main door is a balcony with intricately carved wood, though it is fake- there is no way to access this balcony.

Just as Hartsdale and Scarsdale are a pair in architectural style, the Arts for Transit pieces that are at both stations are also a pair. Philadelphia-born artist Tom Nussbaum designed the figures at both stations, made of Cor-Ten steel and installed in 1991. Although the photo of the plaque I snapped at the station lists the name as Untitled, the Arts for Transit website refers to the piece Workers. There are twenty-one life size figures in between the station’s two tracks.













A few of the old station buildings on the Harlem have been converted to Starbucks, and I must admit I felt like a dork taking pictures of people attempting to drink their coffee. I did happen to dig up some nice pictures of the building in the eighties- pre-Starbucks, and when the ticket booth still existed.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Wakefield

This week Wakefield has the honor of being the first Harlem Line station south of White Plains I’ve featured. Before starting the Harlem Line Panorama Project, I had never ventured to any of these stations. After this weekend though, I’ve been to most of them. On the current schedule of a station a week, the tour will finally be over at the end of January. And once that is over I think I’ll do a full tour guide for whoever might be interested in seeing the Harlem Line as well… I’m planning to include info about good food, history, art (including Arts For Transit works) and nature along the way, and which stations aren’t to be missed. Anyways, back to the tour…

Traveling south, Wakefield is the first Metro-North station in the Bronx, and is the northernmost neighborhood of the city. It borders Westchester county, specifically the city of Mount Vernon. The two are both linked to the first president of the United States: George Washington. Wakefield was the name of the place where he was born, and Mount Vernon the name of the place he died. The two stations of Wakefield and Mount Vernon West are in fact very close – so close that you can see the station from the platform of the other.

At Wakefield you can make a connection to the subway, Wakefield – 241st Street is located six blocks from the station. The platform is rather small, and can only accommodate four cars. Just south of the station the New Haven Line diverges, and from the station you can see the M2s going by on the other side of the tree line. Historically Wakefield had been a place where passengers changed trains. Electric trains served south into the city, and riders going north transferred to steam trains.







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