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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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Mount Vernon East

When it comes to communities with connections to Metro North, you can’t get more connected than the city of Mount Vernon. Two of Mount Vernon’s stations have been featured here before – Fleetwood, and Mount Vernon West, both on the Harlem Line. The city is unique in that it is intersected by both the Harlem and New Haven Lines, and that it has stations on both. Mount Vernon East is the city’s third station, and its connection on the New Haven Line – and in my own humble opinion, probably the nicer of the three.


Mount Vernon East claim to fame: being the true filmed location for the train station in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Mount Vernon East is a relatively short jaunt from Grand Central: approximately 14 miles. It is the first station after the New Haven Line splits from the Harlem Line, and the last station before the switch from third rail power to catenary. It is one of the dwindling number of Metro-North stations that still has a manned ticket window, open on weekday mornings. Located next to the ticket window is a dedication plaque, a memorial to Fred Wilkinson, a longtime member of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council.

 
   
   
 
    
 
   
 
  

Also included at the Mount Vernon East station is one of my favorite Metro-North Arts for Transit pieces. As I work my way through the entire Metro-North system, I definitely enjoy discovering the permanent art placed at quite a few stations by the Arts for Transit program. I’ve already gone on record stating that the pieces at Wassaic and Pleasantville rank pretty high on my list of favorites – though that had been before I visited Mount Vernon East. I’ve always adored stained glass, and glasswork in general, and I have an immense amount of admiration for those who work in the medium, as it is far from easy. But when glasswork is done right, it can be a pretty breathtaking sight. I could probably stare at this piece all day long, and not get bored. It is aptly titled Tranquility – a little oasis of calm hidden in a bustling network of express trains and rushing commuters.

   
 
   
 
   

That pretty much takes care of Mount Vernon East, which for those keeping score, is the 70th Metro-North station that I’ve photographed thus far. It just so happens that it is also the first New York state station I’ve featured on the New Haven Line. And besides New Haven’s Union Station, it may be one of my favorite New Haven Line station… though I do have quite a few more stations left to discover.

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My date with an M8…

To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.

On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.

Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…

 
  
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
   
 
  
 
   
 

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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: Fleetwood

Oh Fleetwood, to me you will always be synonymous with chicken teriyaki. Let me explain. I have the beginnings of a problem – a hoarding problem (Cat Girl now, Cat Lady tomorrow!). I feel just about terrible throwing anything away, even if I don’t really want it. I hate wasting. So when I didn’t finish my chicken teriyaki lunch, I got it packed up and put it in my backpack – I figured the dog would get a nice dinner. Sitting on the train, with my backpack in my lap, that chicken had other ideas. Backpack explosion ideas. As I stood up to depart at Fleetwood, I happened find teriyaki sauce all over my lap. I did manage to take some acceptable photos of Fleetwood, but I was somewhat more concerned about looking like an idiot, and smelling like a Japanese restaurant. And go figure, on the way home a person recognized me. “Hey, you’re the girl with that train site…” never came at a worse time. Now I have readers think that I never washed my clothes after returning from Japan.

In more on-topic seriousness though, Fleetwood is one of the Harlem Line’s train stations in the north side of the city of Mount Vernon. Along with the stations of Crestwood and Tuckahoe, Fleetwood has an Arts for Transit piece by California-born artist Arthur Gonzalez. All three are bronze figures, and in Fleetwood’s case, it is located in the overpass between the platforms. Titled Time Catcher, the piece was installed in 1990, and is a “a tribute to those who built the railroad.”







Thankfully, my chicken teriyaki nightmare is not the most horrible food-related Metro-North horror story I’ve heard. Besides the crazy folks that I’ve actually seen bringing buckets of fried chicken (with ziploc bags for the bones) on the train that I frequently jest about, the prize thus far goes to a Snickers bar. While eating the candy, a piece fell… somewhere. Unable to find it, and ultimately forgotten about, the candy piece happened to be on the seat – which someone then sat upon. When arriving at Grand Central, a friend took it upon themself to inform the unfortunate someone (who I will not name) that they may have had a little “accident” on the train. I guess smelling like food isn’t as bad as crapping your pants.

Perhaps this is a lesson to us all? Leave the food at home? And enjoy these old photos of Fleetwood, taken in the 80’s?

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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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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Old Maps and Station Names

Some of the very first things that were added when I created the Historical Archives were maps I found thanks to the Library of Congress. It was interesting to see the network of railroads in the country grow in size exponentially through the 1800’s, and then later in the mid 1900’s crash and quite a few disappeared. There was one map, however, that caught my attention.

That map lists a station along the Harlem Line: Golding’s Bridge. Was it a typo? In the back of my mind I had always wondered about the apostrophe thing. Is Goldens Bridge written properly with an apostrophe, or without? And now, a new question. What is Golding’s Bridge? For whom was the town named, and does the bridge still exist? Why are other stations on this map, or other maps also listed with apostrophes? Brewster’s, Pawling’s? The map also lists quite a few stations that have different names today, such as Hart’s Corners, Whitlockville, and Bains.

In my endeavor to find the answer to at least the apostrophe question, I consulted with the town historian of Lewisboro, of which Goldens Bridge is a part of. She unfortunately told me that she could only “add to the confusion.”

I’m not exactly sure where the original bridge that gave your hamlet its name first stood, but it spanned the Croton River, which is now under the reservoir. The bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names. That bridge had to have been an important crossing to get to what is now Somers, and points west. It most certainly dates to the Revolution or before.

In 2003, Metro North dropped the apostrophe from the name of the station. Almost all official timetables and signage refer to the station as Goldens Bridge. However, old signage with the apostrophe does still exist. The station listing on M-7 trains still has the apostrophe. Most official town signage also does not have the apostrophe. However the Fire Department for the town still uses it. Google maps still uses it. It is a name still in transition.

Many towns and names along the Harlem Line went through similar transitions. Spellings were changed, apostrophes were dropped. Brewster’s and Pawling’s are both evidence of that. Some names changed completely. So let’s take a little tour through the area and see how some of these names came to be, shall we?

Bronx – Named for Jonas Bronck, who purchased the land in 1639. Originally known as The Bronck’s, in reference to the family, at some point over time the spelling evolved into the current form.
Mott Haven – Named for Jordan Mott, who had an ironworks that opened in 1828. He purchased the land from the Morris family.
Morrisania – Named for the Morris family. Lewis Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gouverneur Morris was also a prominent member of that family.
Woodlawn – Originally two words, but was condensed into one by 1870.
Mount Vernon – Named for George Washington’s home. Original name was Hunt’s Bridge.
Fleetwood – Named for the ancestral home of John Stevens.
Scarsdale – Named for the ancestral home of Caleb Heathcote.
Hartsdale – Named after Eleazar Hart, who donated the land. Was previously known as Hart’s Corners.
Bedford Hills - Originally named only Bedford, the Hills was added to the name in 1910.
Katonah – Had several previous names, first was Mechanicsville. Later changed to Whitlockville in 1830, for the Whitlock family. Later renamed Katonah from the native word Ketatonah, which translates to Great Mountain.
Purdys – Named for Daniel Pardieus, his grandson Isaac donated the land to the railroad in 1844.
Brewster – Named for brothers James and Walter Brewster, and at the time was known as Brewster’s.
Dykemans – Named for Joseph Dykeman.
Patterson – Named for Matthew Paterson, older maps list the name with only one ‘t’
Pawling – Named for the Paulding (possibly Pauling) family.
Wingdale – Named for the Wing family. Jackson Wing operated an Inn which opened in 1806. Previous names include Wing’s Station, and South Dover.
Harlem Valley – Wingdale - Harlem Valley comes from the name of the railroad (New York & Harlem). Used to be two stops, State Hospital (actual name of the hospital was Harlem Valley State Hospital) and Wingdale (mentioned above). Wingdale station was eliminated, and later Metro-North combined the two and the name.
Millerton – named for Sydney G. Miller, who was an engineer and contractor for the construction between Dover Plains and Chatham.
Craryville – Named for Peter Crary. Station was previously known as Bains, or Bains Corners for hotel owner Peter Bain.
Martindale – Named for John Martin.
Philmont – Previous name was Phillips Mountain, but was later condensed into Philmont. Named for George Phillips, who built a dam and a mill in the area.
Chatham – Named for Lord Pitts, Earl of Chatham, England.

That list does not mention every station on the current Harlem Line, or the rail line in the past. I am specifically mentioning stations that were named after people, or had a name change of some sort. Apostrophes in names often originated because the land was named after, or originally belonged, to a specific family or person.

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