SmartCat Sundays: The New York & Harlem’s Street Railway

When first conceived, the New York & Harlem Railroad was intended to do just what its name implied – connect lower Manhattan to Harlem. The original charter was granted by the New York State Legislature on April 25th, 1831, authorizing a single or double tracked road from 23rd Street to any point on the Harlem River between Third and Eighth Avenues (Fourth Avenue – later renamed Park – was the route ultimately chosen). Less than a year later, that mandate was expanded to allow construction as far south as 14th Street, and was expanded several more times to ultimately allow construction as far as Ann Street, just beyond City Hall. When the first mile of track opened for business in November of 1832, stretching from Prince Street to 14th Street, only 38 other miles of railroad track existed in the state.

New York and Harlem Railroad
An early horsecar on the New York and Harlem Railroad. Initial service was powered by horse, and later provided all service south of 14th Street, where locomotives were not permitted

Street Railway Lines
Map of the New York & Harlem’s street railway

At Harlem, the northernmost portion of the chartered line, the New York & Harlem would meet up with the New York & Albany Railroad, providing a much-needed year-round link to the state capital (sailing up the Hudson at that time was difficult if not impossible in the winter months). Despite groundbreakings at several points along the proposed line, the New York & Albany never succeeded in creating this link. Slowly the New York & Harlem was given permission to do what the New York & Albany could not – first into Westchester County in 1840, and was later granted full rights to build to Albany in 1846. At that time the The New York & Harlem purchased the what was left of the failed road, including the land it had secured to build its line, for $35,000. Although the New York & Harlem never reached Albany – entering into an agreement with the Boston & Albany Railroad, which it met in Chatham – this trackage became the bread-and-butter of what became the Harlem Division when it was leased to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad in 1873.

“The benefit to the City of New York, possessing as it does, the best seaport in the Union, will be incalculable.”

“Gentlemen must judge for themselves, but of one thing we are certain: the road will be built, and the most gratifying results may be anticipated.”

-Co-founder and Vice President John Mason, at the ceremonial groundbreaking of the New York & Harlem Railroad on Murray Hill in 1832.

The remainder of the New York & Harlem, which ran south of Grand Central Depot, was leased in 1897 to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company. Today’s tidbits from the archive deal with just that subject – before the lease of the street railway portion of the New York & Harlem, a letter was sent to all shareholders regarding the decision at the most recent Board of Directors meeting. Shareholders were instructed to sign and return a paper stating that they approved of the decision. Below is a scan of an original copy of this mailing, which this particular shareholder never responded to.

Envelope sent to shareholders

Letter sent to shareholders Response shareholders were supposed to send

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Happy Birthday to the New York & Harlem Railroad – 180 years!

On this day, 180 years ago, the New York and Harlem Railroad was chartered. It was the first railroad in New York City, and began operations on November 26, 1832: on a single mile of track, pulled by horses. We’ve come a long way since then, and the Harlem Line still thrives as part of one of the nation’s busiest commuter rail lines.

In celebration of 180 years, here are some facts that you probably didn’t know about the early years of the New York & Harlem Railroad…

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Historical Sources

A list of sources used by this blog for various posts, by topic:

Harlem Line History
The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, Louis V. Grogan
The definitive guide for everything about the Harlem Line. Available for purchase at the Danbury Railway Museum.

Cornelius Vanderbilt
Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Edward Renehan
Note: although a post was written about this book, an alternate biographer of Vanderbilt claims that much of the ideas put forward in this book are false. An Amazon review explains in detail:

Stiles compellingly demonstrates that two diaries Renehan claimed to use to support his most sensational claim, that the Commodore suffered from syphilitic dementia for the last decade of his life and was no more than a puppet run by his son William, are imaginary. Renehan’s tale is contradicted by everything we know about syphilis; he refuses to let anyone examine his copies of the “diaries;” he refuses to name the present owners of the diaries; and, oh yes, he is currently doing time in New York for having stolen and sold letters by Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt belonging to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, of which he had been acting director.

Railroad Art
Travel by Train: The American Railroad Poster, 1870-1950
Michael E. Zega, John E. Gruber

Grand Central
Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City
Kurt C. Schlichting

Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives
John Belle, Maxinne R. Leighton

Solari di Udine
Monocle Magazine, #13 volume 02 – May 2008
Perfect Company: Solari di Udine
Download article

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Friday’s from the historical archive: 1800’s photos from “The Road of the Century”

If any of my readers are insomniacs, I highly recommend the book called “The Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central.” I noticed that one of the libraries in the state owned it, and so I requested my local library to acquire it for me. The copy of the book looks remarkably ancient, though it was only published in 1947. Old enough, I suppose. Upon checking the book out, the librarian said to me, “So… You must like railroads?” I wonder if she were to work at a supermarket, and a customer was to purchase toilet paper, would she ask, “So… You must like toilet paper?” or “So… You must enjoy going to the bathroom?” …Sorry, I went off on a little tangent there. Back to the book, this dreadful, awful book. I don’t think I’ve ever held in my hand a more boring book… hence my comment about insomniacs. Get a copy, it will put you right to sleep. The New York Central has quite a rich history, but no one could have told it in a more dry fashion. In my mind I hear Ben Stein reciting the words in complete monotone…

So why exactly would I bore my readers with stories of a horrible book? Because it had one redeeming quality. Pictures. Wow, don’t I feel like a child, saying the only good part of a book was the pictures. But the pictures, they were good, and I figured I’d share with you all. Let’s “read” this book, together. And when I say read, I mean look at the pictures, and ignore all the snooze-inducing text.

Apparently the book was a donation to the library from the New York Central itself

1864, Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana conductors (or perhaps Abraham Lincoln impersonators).

1877, Train with snow plow during a snow storm.

1896, First advertisement of Red Cap service.

See more pictures from the atrocious book “The Road of the Century”

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Friday’s Harlem Line History Preview: Quick Facts

Here’s a confession: I have difficulty in my perception of the passage of time. Always in History class things felt like they were so far distant. And then when I think about it more, I say to myself, “but there are people still living today that went through those events…” so it isn’t possible that they happened as long ago as my mind thinks. When going through all the stuff I put in the Historical Archive, I decided that I wanted to make a timeline. Timelines are really good, but they generally are limited in scope. They usually deal with a particular subject. I could have easily made a “Harlem Line Timeline.” Would it have made total sense to me though? Probably not. I needed something that sort of puts these events in perspective with other things going on at the time. Knowing Cornelius Vanderbilt was born in 1794 is all dandy. But a timeline gives me more an idea of what is going on when it tells me that the man who had the original Grand Central built was alive when George Washington was alive. Washington is like this massive, legendary figure, that for some reason I imagine lived forever and a day ago. So pretty much, I thought it would be cool to do a comparison timeline, the Harlem Line, and US History. Considering that the Harlem Line was started as a part of one of the older railroads in the country, it sort of makes sense.

And if I was absolutely awesome, I would have that timeline for you right now. But because I’m not quite that awesome, I don’t have it completed. If this was in fact History class I would use this excuse… I don’t frequently talk about my roommates on the blog, but if you think I run into crazy people on the train, you should hear some of the stories of what goes on at my house. Last night I had a headache and my roommates were making a lot of noise. You see, they play in a band. This band practices in the basement. I don’t know what the name of the band is, but at one point in time they have referred to themselves as Vaginal Discharge. I kid you not. To my friends, the lead singer is known as “Stripper Girl,” due to the fact that she once worked at Flashdancers. You know, that Gentleman’s Club that frequently advertises on taxis in the city? Yeah. So with all that noise, I had some difficulties in concentrating, and I figured that my lovely readers would understand.

I figured that I’d give a little preview of what I’m working on though. I promise I’ll finish it soon, along with the historical map I’ve also been working on. Please harass me. I am awesome at starting projects, but terrible at finishing them.

Early history. It will be cooler when finished.

Only 24 states when the New York & Harlem Rail Road was chartered. “That’s like, less than half!” says my roommate. And no, I don’t have pictures of her.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: 1800’s Animated Stereoviews of Old Grand Central Depot

When it comes to 3D, most people are familiar with the type that requires you to wear a pair of glasses and things are tinted in reds and blues. This type of 3D is called Anaglyph. An alternate means of viewing 3D are stereographs, where two slightly different photographs were printed on a card side by side. You were meant to look at the two images and cross your eyes, and supposedly you could see the image in 3D.

An example of a stereographic card

I say “supposedly” because I can’t see these 3D things, so really I am not sure. All these new movies coming out in 3D? Yeah, I’m deprived. I am an amblyope, and am essentially blind in my left eye. I can see small bits of color in large blurs, but not very much. Since you need two good, working eyes to see most types of 3D, I’m out of luck.

Historically, stereographic cards seemed to be pretty popular. The New York Public Library has a collection of quite a few of them, and many were taken of the old Grand Central Depot in the 1800’s. However, in order to simulate the 3D illusion, you can quickly animate the left and right sides of a stereograph together. So I figured I’d try it out with a bunch of the old railroad stereographs I had found. And on some it works pretty well. The technique seems to work best when there is something somewhat close in the foreground of the photo, which you can focus on. That is why the indoor images look better than the exterior images, where everything is rather far away and there isn’t a lot of depth. If you focus on the part of the image that doesn’t move much, you should be able to see it better. If it doesn’t work for you… well, I guess you get to see some jumpy old photos of a long-demolished train station of New York City. Click on each image to see the effect.

Quick Info: Grand Central Depot was built in 1871. It was replaced in 1913 by Grand Central Terminal, which is what we’re familiar with today.
Animated Stereoview Page in the Historical Archives

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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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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt

This week I figured I would talk about a rather important railroad figure, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He significantly shaped the early history of what are now known as the Hudson and Harlem lines. You may recognize the name, bordering Grand Central Terminal is Vanderbilt Avenue, and even inside the terminal, there is a Vanderbilt Hall. Many Vanderbilts that came after him was known only because of the fortune that Cornelius amassed in first steam boats, and then later, railroads. He wasn’t much of a philanthropist, but in his final years he donated money to what is now known as Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Apparently many students there have little clue for which Vanderbilt the school was named. This hardly surprises me, as supposedly some children nowadays think that it was Buzz Lightyear, that was the first person to walk on the moon.

Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was nicknamed the Commodore, certainly was an interesting character. In fact, if tabloids as they are now existed when Vanderbilt was alive, they would have loved him. Tiger Woods is absolutely nothing in comparison to Vanderbilt. Cornelius certainly enjoyed his prostitutes. It would be tabloid front page news!

His married life wasn’t much better. Both of his wives were in fact related to him, they were cousins. And even more strange, his first wife, Sophia Johnson, was a cousin on both his mother and his father’s side of the family. It was from one of his prostitutes that Vanderbilt acquired syphilis, which he spread to his wife. Though all of this occurred before penicilin existed. The preferred treatment for syphilis at the time was mercury.

Dementia brought on by late stages of syphilis marked the final years of Vanderbilt’s life. He had built his fortune with small ships, and later steam ships, but it nearly doubled when he got into the railroad business. However it is uncertain how much of this was of his own doing, or the work of his son, Billy. Vanderbilt had eight daughters and three sons. William, known as Billy, was designated as Vanderbilt’s heir. Cornelius hated the idea of his fortune getting split, so upon his death the majority of it was left to Billy. Billy was not his favorite son, however, and was Cornelius’ second choice as heir. George Washington Vanderbilt, Cornelius’ favorite son, died before he was twenty-five from tuberculosis after serving for a time in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was only after his death that Billy became the chosen heir. Vanderbilt’s other son, Cornelius Jeremiah, was essentially disowned. He was explicitly barred from ever referring to himself as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. He was an epileptic, which didn’t win him any favors from his harsh father. But it was his dealings in fraud that truly formed a wedge between himself and his father, who had little desire to pay for his fraudulent son’s debts.

After the death of George Washington Vanderbilt, Cornelius began to groom Billy in his role as heir to the Vanderbilt fortune. He was installed on the boards of various railroads that his father owned or influenced. In his later years Vanderbilt was not completely there due to syphilis’ effect on his brain. However the name Cornelius Vanderbilt instilled confidence to people involved in the industry. So he served much as a figurehead in his later years, with his son Billy making all the decisions. The building of Grand Central Depot was one of such actions.

In his later years, Cornelius married a far younger woman: Frank Crawford. The marriage, however, was mostly one of convenience. Frank was a distant cousin from Alabama who had very little money and ran the risk of becoming completely destitute. Billy on the other hand did not approve of some of the prostitutes that frequently ended up in his father’s bed, and thus desired his father to be married. In fact when Frank arrived as a guest of the Vanderbilts, her mother accompanied her. Vanderbilt’s family didn’t care which of the two he married, the mother or the daughter, but they did want him to marry one. Upon Cornelius’ death his wife received little of the man’s fortune, as Billy had arranged a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage.

After Cornelius’ death the majority of his fortune was given to Billy, however several of his daughters, and his son Cornelius Jeremiah, contested the will. Their desire to have the fortune split more fairly amongst the Vanderbilt children failed, and not long after Cornelius Jeremiah committed suicide by putting a bullet in his brain.

Although Cornelius is long gone, he is forever in the history books because of the large fortune he amassed, first through ships, and later associated with various railroads such as the New York and Harlem (today’s Harlem Line), the Hudson River Rail Road (today’s Hudson Line) and the entity to which he leased both, the New York Central. In the Historical Archives there are several items regarding Vanderbilt, including several obituaries, and a piece about his life that took up several pages of the New York Times the day after he died.

Vanderbilt’s ego was so immense, he figured that many young ladies, so enamored with him, went to purchase railroad bonds because on each bore his own likeness. The archive also has several railroad bonds on display.

Cornelius still looks out on the city of New York every day. His statue is located under the main facade of Grand Central Terminal.

Please note: This post was written based off of the information in the biography Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt written by Edward J. Renehan Jr. Some of the statements made in the book (including the syphilis and prostitutes) have been questioned by other authors for authenticity.

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New York & Harlem Railroad’s Pigeon-handling strategies

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve become pretty engrossed in this whole researching and finding old railroad related stuff. I’ve apparently been referred to as a “closeted railfan” (and the “mascot of the Harlem Line”, but that is a different story). Honestly I have never thought of myself as a railfan. Railfans seem to have all this information tucked away in their brains about types of trains and how they function, and could probably tell you the model of whatever locomotive they’re looking at and a good portion of information about it too. I don’t know much about trains other than what I’ve visually observed. In fact sometimes I am a bit shy to post some of my train photography online, because all the railfans always identify their pictures with all that info they know. I am just sort of like, here is a picture. It is a train. The train says Metro-North on it, and I saw it at White Plains station. And thus ends my description of said train. I will admit that I like riding on trains, though I think for the most part it is more that I like watching people on trains. Or getting to know people on trains. I’ve met a lot of nice people on trains. And a lot of crazy ones too. But if you’ve been here before, you don’t need me to tell you that.

However, all this digging in the history books I’m doing may be enough to warrant the title of “railfan”. I assure you, I was not this way before I started writing this blog (nor did I take anything I said seriously at that point, but that too is another story). So I suppose this is my confession to the world. This is me coming out of the closet, if you will. I guess… well… I guess I am a railfan. Okay, I said it.

One thing that I did feel like sharing though, were some interesting postcard images that I encountered in my research. It is interesting to note that pigeons are such a nuisance today, and they certainly were a nuisance back in the late 1800’s for the New York and Harlem Railroad. Some things never change. Here is a postcard from Copake, which back in the day was part of the “Upper Harlem Line”. The Harlem Line no longer extends that far up.

I imagine the photographer there was attempting to get a picture of the station, when all of a sudden that one pigeon jumped up in the foreground. I do believe that is a historic example of what is known today as a photobomb.

One of the things you may not have known, however, is that when it started, the New York and Harlem Railroad operated streetcars in Manhattan. And some of these were in fact pulled by horses. A failed, not often talked about, alternate method was also tried, using specially-bred larger pigeons (of which were plentiful in the city). Here is a never before seen photograph of prototype streetcar #00, being pulled by one of the aforementioned large pigeons.

Pigeon-cars, as they were called never really seemed to “take off” in the city. I think the whole oversized bird thing turned off quite a few people. Plus the temperament of horses was a bit better than the birds. The pigeons’ downfall was an early outbreak of the Avian Flu, which led the city into a complete panic, and many helpless pigeons were “purged” for the sake of humanity. The year after an early version of the Swine Flu struck, leading New Yorkers to endeavor to purge another species, but the pigeons never came back into favor. It does seem that the larger variety of pigeon was driven to extinction, as we are familiar today only with their smaller brethren.

Well, I suppose that is it for today’s history lesson. It is at this time I must admit to you all that back in the day when I was a struggling graphic designer, I always figured that if I failed at design, I could always work in the photography department at the Weekly World News. I was quite heartbroken when they ceased print production in 2007, which led me to seek out “a regular job”.

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Snow Over Railroad Bridge L-158

A thick blanket of snow has covered New York today, a snow some media dramaqueens have called a “snowpocalypse”. I must admit I laugh every time I hear that term. While some folks were collectively crapping their pants due to snow, I instead decided to take a walk (after sleeping late of course, work was cancelled after all). Not far from my house (and from Goldens Bridge station) is an old railroad bridge with a lonely numerical designation: L-158. With the area covered in snow, it looked even more lonely.

2 3 4

L-158 was once a railroad bridge, though the tracks are long gone. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY. In 1904 it was dismantled and reconstructed in Goldens Bridge to cover the expanding reservoir. The tracks were part of the Lake Mahopac Branch, which opened in 1872, and went from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac. The Lake Mahopac Branch ended service in 1959, and the tracks were removed soon after. In 1978 L-158 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

All historical information and photographs come from Louis Grogan’s book The Coming of the New York and Harlem Railroad. Years for the photos above are as follows: 1951, 1948 and 1946

Ever since I moved to Goldens Bridge, I’ve always been fascinated by this bridge. It is situated on land owned by the DEP, and thus you must have a Watershed Access Pass in order to visit. I have a rowboat on the Muscoot Reservoir, and many summer days I went out on the water rowing underneath the bridge. And as witnessed by the photo gallery, took way too many pictures of the bridge. I’m really longing for the return of the spring and summer so I can go out and row again, and to see L-158 surrounded by greenery, as opposed to today’s snowfall.

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