Nature along the Harlem Line: The Muscoot Reservoir & Bridge L-158

I thought it might be fun to do something different this Friday… Tuesdays I visit train stations, but I don’t talk much about what else is around the station. The Harlem Line has plenty of intriguing spots along the route, and many for the nature lover. I do get emails every once and a while asking me questions about doing things – people wondering what is within walking distance of the stations, and what they can get away and do. And for those who, like me, do not drive, or don’t feel like driving, you can definitely take Metro-North to get to interesting spots.

As I mentioned, there are many nature-related locales on the Harlem Line. Some of the obvious ones are the Botanical Garden and the Appalachian Trail, but there are many lesser-known spots. Pawling has the Pawling Nature Reserve, which is not far from the Appalachian Trail. At the end of the line in Wassaic is the trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail which follows the old route the Harlem Line once took further north. Lower Westchester has the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is more than 13 miles long and stretches from Valhalla to Bronxville – and passes by North White Plains, White Plains, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, Crestwood and Tuckahoe stations.

One of the lesser-known spots is near and dear to my heart, situated in Goldens Bridge and not far from my house. In the evenings it is here that I make laughable attempts at running off the past nine years I spent sitting on my ass in front of a computer. In all seriousness though, it is beautiful and quiet little spot that few people other than fisherman and neighborhood residents (and some deer, swans and bullfrogs) know about. The trails are not extensive, but they surround the beautiful reservoir and provide access to various fishing spots. I went one step beyond that and purchased a boat for use on the reservoir as well (boat use is heavily regulated, this is NYC’s drinking water, after all). However, the most noteworthy part of this “Public Access” DEP area is the old railroad bridge.

I created this map based on my own explorations of the area. Maps are actually fun to make. :P

I’ve mentioned Bridge L-158 a few times before. It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the branch of the Harlem Line that ran from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY, but was moved in 1904 by the New York Central Railroad to Goldens Bridge. Although the original bridge carried two tracks, the Mahopac branch was a single track line and when the bridge was reconstructed the width was shortened for a single track.

If you’re interested in visiting this part of the Harlem Line, it is within walking distance of Goldens Bridge station. Although it is rarely enforced, you do need an access permit to use the land for recreational use. But access permits are easy to get – you can register for one online and print it out immediately. If you’re interested in fishing or boating, you’ll need additional permits, so I advise checking the DEP’s site. People fish in the reservoir all year long, as the Muscoot is one of the reservoirs in which ice fishing is permitted. Although it is a lot smaller than some of the other nature spots around it is at least worth visiting to see the historic bridge. There are some times where it gets so quiet, except for the crunching leaves under the foot of a squirrel or deer, that you forget that you’re not that far from the city… only until you hear a train go by, yanking you back to reality.

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Lots of photos from Danbury Railway Day

Saturday’s Danbury Railway Day was a great event, and had perfect weather… hopefully you were all able to make it! I know I saw a few people I knew there :D I spent the day taking far too many pictures (and possibly getting in the way of Eric’s photos), and hanging out at the members picnic that was held afterward (for which I made railroad cupcakes).

I’m a member of both the Danbury museum, and the Transit Museum in the city… and spending a day at the museum in Danbury you get to see how different these two places are. Unlike the Transit Museum, where employees are on the MTA’s payroll, everyone at the museum in Danbury is a volunteer. They don’t have nearly the funds of what the Transit Museum has, but they make up for it with their tenacity and sheer devotion. Some of those volunteers spend their every weekend, if not more, working there – restoring the old trains in the railyard, or even giving talks on Wednesday evenings.

I know I am so bad at processing photos (which is why I still have Japan and Canada photos I haven’t posted yet), and I am so anal about it. It takes me just about forever. But I worked hard Sunday to get all of these ready. Out of the hundreds of photos I took on Saturday, I narrowed it down to around 40 of the best… I did take some video as well, but that will have to be for another day! If you didn’t get the chance to make it to Danbury Railway Day, the museum is still open during normal hours, and is a great place to visit.

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Former Terminus of the Harlem Line: Chatham, Then and Now

Several months ago I was amused when I saw a blog linking to my own, and they referred to me as a “closeted rail fan.” Despite “coming out” and accepting the title I still wonder if it is really an appropriate term to call me. I certainly like riding on trains, but I know very little about the physical machine that is a train. I think my primary interest is the history, and most specifically, how technology affected places and people. And I think it is undeniable that the railroads played a big part in how New York evolved. Back when Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the land for the original Grand Central Depot, the location was considered “the boonies,” as City Hall was thought of as the northern end of the city. And what would Westchester County be like without the rail? The rail encouraged the people of the area to move north and spread out, turning the rural areas into the suburbs we know today.

I think another thing that interests me about the rail is the abandonment. I really don’t know why, but I have a fascination with abandoned places – and the rail has plenty of them. The railroad was once the primary way mail and freight was delivered, and how people got around. But cars became increasingly more popular, and with the advent of the interstate system, cars took the place of trains in getting around. And so stations were closed, rail lines cut, and railroad companies went bankrupt. I do mention it frequently on here, but the Harlem Line is no stranger to abandonment. In 1972 passenger service north of Dover Plains ceased, and around 50 miles worth of track, all the way to Chatham, was abandoned.

Old photos and postcards of Chatham, NY

In the grand scheme of things, Chatham was luckier than most. It was once a thriving area for transportation: the Harlem Division, Rutland Railway, and the Boston and Albany all made stops. Though the Harlem and Rutland’s track has been ripped out, CSX and Amtrak still use the Boston and Albany track, running through the quiet village without stopping. Quite a few of the former stations on the Harlem Division have really nothing to see… station buildings long gone and mostly forgotten. But as I said before, Chatham was luckier than most, the historical Union Station still stands, restored and used as a bank. And in 1974 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Henry Hobson Richardson was an influential architect in the 19th century, popularizing a style of architecture that was named for him: Richardsonian Romanesque. The revival style incorporated 11th and 12th century European Romaneque traits. Although Trinity Church in Boston was his most notable work, he designed several railroad stations for the Boston and Albany. Several architects trained with Richardson, including Charles McKim and Stanford White, who designed the original Pennsylvania Station, though in the Beaux-Arts style. Following Richardson’s style, however, were two others that worked for him: George Shepley and Charles Coolidge. Their firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, based in Boston, completed Richardson’s partially completed and pending projects, one of which was Chatham’s Union Station. In total, the firm completed 23 of B&A’s stations, including Boston’s South Station, still in use by the MBTA.

Chatham’s Union Station opened on August 31, 1887. The ticket office in the station was closed in 1960, and pieces of the inside, including the waiting benches, were sold off. Passengers used the station up until it’s final closure in March of 1972, ending the many years it served as the terminus of the Harlem Division. The station has been restored, and reopened in 1999. It is now the office for the Chatham branch of the Bank of Kinderhook. And it is still quite beautiful… one of the few remaining vestiges of the Upper Harlem Line that I can actually see.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Chappaqua

Several train stations currently operated by Metro-North are on the National Register of Historic Places, and Chappaqua is one example on the Harlem Line. The station building was built for the New York Central in 1902, and was designed by Charles Reed… a name you might be familiar with. Reed formed an architecture firm with Allen Stem, called (surprise!) Reed & Stem. That firm won the competition for the design of Grand Central Terminal. The station was restored in 2005 by Wank Adams Slavin Associates. It contains the original ticket booth, though Metro-North no longer uses it, a waiting room, and a small cafe.

Historical images of Chappaqua Station

When I started visiting stations I will admit that there were quite a few of them I was unfamiliar with, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Chappaqua, and the gorgeously restored wood in the station was quite a pleasant find. Enjoy the photos: and if you get a moment, be sure to visit this gem of a station, rich with history.

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