The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 2: Hyde Park

Quite a while ago I shared with you the story of Newport’s Marble House, one of the many mansions constructed by the Vanderbilt family with their wealth earned from the railroads. Today we’re going a little bit closer to home, and checking out the mansion of Frederick Vanderbilt in Hyde Park. Frederick was one of four sons born to William Henry Vanderbilt, and was the grandson of family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Postcard and brochures from the Vanderbilt Mansion Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Brochures and postcards from the Hyde Park Vanderbilt mansion. Although considered modest by the standards of the “Gilded Age,” a mansion is still a mansion, and far more than a regular person could afford.

I always joke that both Cornelius and William Henry Vanderbilt were experts at making money, while all the further generations were just experts at spending it. This is for the most part true – William Henry’s two eldest sons Cornelius II and William Kissam inherited $75 million and $50 million, respectively. With that money they constructed mansions in New York City, Newport, Long Island, and other locales, and threw extravagant parties within. Frederick, on the other hand, was lucky to inherit only $10 million (apparently eloping with your cousin’s ex-wife, over 10 years your senior, is generally frowned upon). Despite that, Frederick was the only grandson to wisely invest that inheritance and actually earn, rather than spend, all the money.

Frederick’s Hyde Park mansion was designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White, and completed in 1899. The Beaux Arts mansion was one of several that Frederick owned, and was usually occupied during the winter.

Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Postcards from the inside of the mansion.

Today the mansion is owned by the National Park Service, and is operated as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The place is worth visiting, not only for the mansion, but the grounds also provide a lovely view of the Hudson. I must admit I was quite impressed with the guides – I am aware that I know far more than most about the Vanderbilts, and generally the architecture folks aren’t quite as versed in the history of the railroads. While I was waiting for some sort of factual slip up, our guide Mike actually gave a wonderfully detailed introduction to the Vanderbilts that was not only historically accurate, but both humorous and interesting.

If you’re interested in checking out the mansion, Hyde Park is located just a few miles north of Poughkeepsie. The National Park Service offers shuttles from Poughkeepsie station seasonally (May to October) to the historical sites in Hyde Park, so it is completely possible to do a trip by public transportation alone. Unfortunately Metro-North does not offer any package deals with train fare to these historical sites, so you’ll have to purchase them separately.

Anyways, that is about all I have for you today – enjoy some photos of the mansion below! Note that in the past photography was not permitted inside the mansion, however that has been rescinded this season. Photography is permitted inside, provided you do not use a flash.

 
  
 
 
  
 
  
  
 
   
 

Oh, and before I forget, if you’re interested in playing the acorn game, it is possible to find a few around the mansion…
 
The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, were frequently found in the mansions and other buildings that the family commissioned. Unlike some of the other mansions, the motif is far less prominent here. The few acorns you’ll find at Hyde Park are mostly on the second floor – incorporated into the banisters and other minor detail work.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Poughkeepsie


1890 photo of the previous Poughkeepsie station. Note that this station was on the west side of the tracks, while today’s station was constructed on the east side of the tracks.


1960 photo of Poughkeepsie station, not obstructed by Route 9 which now runs above the station’s front parking area.

Today we’ve arrived at the end of the line – both literally and figuratively. Today’s station tour is of Poughkeepsie, the northern terminus of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, and the final station on our Hudson Line tour. In fact, it is the final Metro-North station to be featured here. Over the past three years I’ve taken you to all one hundred and twenty three Metro-North stations, on both sides of the Hudson River. I saved Poughkeepsie for the end, as it is truly a gem, and a worthy send off for our Panorama Project.

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A wide variety of timetables from Pougkeepsie, including two of Amtrak’s trains that stop here.


Tickets and things from Poughkeepsie. My favorite is the Metro-North ticket listing the station as “Pokipse.”

Located on the east bank of the Hudson River, Pougkeepsie is roughly equidistant between New York City and Albany, and the station is about 75 miles from Grand Central. Both the access to the river, and later the railroad, played a significant part in Poughkeepsie’s growth. Over the years Poughkeepsie has been home to a various array of industries, including a glass factory, dye factory, brewery, carpet mill, shoe factory, and a chair manufacturer, among many others.

 

At Poughkeepsie station, 1971. Photos by Steve Baldwin.

Reflecting Poughkeepsie’s important status along the New York Central’s famed Water Level Route, a grand station was constructed in 1918. The four story concrete and brick building was designed by the notorious Beaux Arts architects Warren and Wetmore. No strangers to the New York Central, Whitney Warren was a cousin of the Vanderbilts, and designed Grand Central with duo Reed and Stem. Poughkeepsie station is not nearly as extravagant as Grand Central, but along with the station in Yonkers, it is certainly one of the Hudson Line’s real gems.

  

Poughkeepsie in the 1970′s. Top left photo in 1975, right and below, 1979. Top right photo by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian.

  

Top left photo in 1979 by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian. Top right photo in 1981 by Bob Coolidge. Amtrak photo by Ed Linde.

Fitting with the typical design of a Beaux Arts building, Poughkeepsie station offers a main, and large, focal point – in this case, the waiting room. Featuring five massive windows that stretch from almost floor to ceiling, during the day the station is well lit just from sunlight alone. To supplement that light, three chandeliers also hang from the ceiling, and similar to Grand Central’s chandeliers, boast their modern use of electricity with naked light bulbs. Interspersed throughout the waiting room are fourteen wooden chestnut benches, also similar to the benches that were once in Grand Central’s main waiting room. Historically, the north wing of the station was reserved for a railway express agency, and the south end with a kitchen and dining room. Today, the waiting room contains a Metro-North ticket window, some Quik-Trak machines from Amtrak customers, restrooms, a snack shop on the south side, and an MTAPD station on the north end.

 
Photos of the former Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, now the Walkway Over the Hudson. Photo on the right by Flickr user miningcamper.

Arriving at Poughkeepsie by train, likely the first thing you’d notice is the large bridge running overhead, and not the station building itself, which is less visible on the track side. Constructed in 1888, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge stretches from Poughkeepsie on the east side of the Hudson River, to Highland on the west. Today this bridge makes Poughkeepsie an even more attractive destination. After serving railroad traffic for more than 75 years, the bridge was heavily damaged by fire and was for the most part abandoned until the early 2000′s when it was converted to pedestrian use as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.

 
CSX at Poughkeepsie. Photos by Mike Foley.


Poughkeepsie station in 2011, while undergoing renovations. Photo by Mike Groll.

Today Poughkeepsie station is quite attractive, with Metro-North having spent more than $22 million dollars to restore and improve it. This included an ample parking garage on the west side of the tracks, and a walkway and pavilion for people heading to the waterfront. Renovations to the area continue, including an elevator to make accessing the Walkway over the Hudson from the station easier.

Though a bit bigger than most Metro-North stations, the setup is relatively similar. Pretty much every station has ticket machines, wire benches, and blue trash bins, as does Poughkeepsie. Unlike most other stations, Poughkeepsie has one island platform, and two side platforms, although the one side platform is lower level and not used by passengers. All of the tracks are accessible to the main station by an overpass, which also connects to the parking garage. The overpass, covered in attractive wood paneling, is far nicer than the relatively utilitarian overpasses you see at most Metro-North stations.

In all, Poughkeepsie is a lovely station, and definitely worth visiting, if only for the lovely historic station, with the New York Central sign on the front. But a wide variety of restaurants and attractions in the area, most especially the Walkway Over the Hudson, make Poughkeepsie one of the nicest places we’ve seen on our now complete Metro-North tour.

 
   
 
 
  
 
 
  
   
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

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A Journey from New York to Poughkeepsie – 1907

It seems that everyone today has a GPS navigator in their car. They’re wonderful little devices (in the hands of someone that isn’t an idiot), but they really make you wonder how in the heck anyone got around in the olden days, before GPSes. In fact, even the days before the GPS, where you’d type in your destination in MapQuest and you could print out instructions, seems dreadfully archaic. And even more so, on the road yesterday I saw a woman pulled over to the side consulting a map!

Back in 1907, as is quite obvious, there were no GPSes, thus people had to rely on maps and booklets, like the one I am about to post, to find their way around. But Emily, you say, a historic guide on how to navigate by car from New York City to Poughkeepsie has absolutely nothing to do with trains! Albeit true, the guide is nonetheless has a cursory relation to trains, in that it offers you a glimpse into the mindset of travel in the early 1900′s. Roads, quite frankly, are something we all take for granted (you didn’t build that!). Prior to World War Two, the roads in this country (especially for long distance and intercity) were hardly spectacular. That was certainly a factor in the popularity of railroads at the time. It wasn’t until cars became more common, and roads became far better, that trains lost their status as our preferred mode of transportation.

In all honesty, I never knew that booklets like this – showing turn by turn photographic instructions on where to drive – actually existed until I had discovered this. Since we’ve been covering the Hudson Line the past few months, I figured it was somewhat relevant, as this journey by car parallels both the Hudson River and the railroad, traveling from New York to Poughkeepsie. In some of the turn by turn photographs you can even see what are likely trolley tracks, something you definitely won’t see today. At minimum, it is an interesting look into the past!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What a quaint little drive you just enjoyed! Of course, the fun part is trying to find what each of those places looks like today. Here’s one comparison:

A lot has changed in the past 100 years, huh?

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Welcome to the Hudson Line

As riders of Metro-North, we are quite familiar with the Hudson River. It serves as an important dividing line of the system – west-of-Hudson service, operated by New Jersey Transit, and the more familiar east-of-Hudson service which is comprised of the Harlem, New Haven and Hudson Lines. For those that still use Metro-North’s website for scheduling, acknowledging on which side of the river you fall is still a necessity. Besides providing a dividing line for Metro-North, the river has always been an important part of the landscape of New York. Boats on the river have been commonplace for hundreds of years, and although we hardly think of boats as a significant method of transportation today (beyond short jaunts or luxury cruises), sloops and steamboats were once a staple on the river for moving both people and freight.


Construction photographs of one of the tunnels on the Hudson Line

The river has also played a significant role in shaping the railroads of our area. When plans were made for a railroad from New York City to Albany, an inland route was chosen as to not compete with the already existing shipping lanes on the river. This inland route was, of course, The New York and Harlem Railroad, or today’s Harlem Line. But besides the ships, the idea of building a railroad along the Hudson was avoided because of the immense challenge and expense of cutting through the Hudson Highlands. When the railroad was ultimately built, large amounts of rock had to be excavated – on the sixteen mile portion from Peekskill to Fishkill alone, over 425 thousand cubic yards of rock had to be removed. Winters on the Hudson proved to be the major factor in finally building the Hudson River Railroad, as although ships were well established, there were many times that the river was unpassable due to ice. Trains were a perfect solution – not only could they operate in weather that boats could not, they were also much quicker.



1851 woodcuts of spots along the Hudson River Railroad – New Hamburg, Ossining, and Peekskill

When the railroad opened on on September 29th, 1849 it stretched from New York to Peekskill – a distance of forty miles. By the end of 1849 the railroad had reached all the way to Poughkeepsie. Over that span of track, eight tunnels bored through solid rock were required, totaling 3595 feet. The cost of the railroad was around nine million dollars, or roughly 233 million in today’s dollars. It is interesting to note that the weather played a part in determining the fares in the railroad’s early years. According to the railroad’s charter, fares from New York to Albany were not to exceed three dollars. When there was no other competition in the winter, tickets would be full price. In the summer months the fares likely fluctuated due to competition with steamships – even though the trip by train shaved several hours off the journey.

By 1864 the Hudson River Railroad had come under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and he merged it with the New York Central to form the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. The line was an important part of the famed “Water Level Route” which, expectedly, followed various bodies of water and was relatively flat.


Timetables along the Hudson Line, from 1901, 1912, 1972, and 1983.

Despite the railroad’s difficulties over the years, transitioning from New York Central to Penn Central, Conrail, and later Metro-North, this portion of rail has always been an important link to Albany and beyond. Besides Metro-North’s commuter trains, Amtrak also operates here, making stops at Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, and Poughkeepsie.


Cash fare receipts and tickets from the Hudson Line. From the collection of Otto Vondrak.

It is the Hudson Line that we now turn our attention to, as our highly-anticipated Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line begins tomorrow. The Hudson Line is the last Metro-North line to be featured here, and is sure to be a treat. Like our previous tours of the Harlem and New Haven Lines, stations will be presented in no particular order, as I am still exploring and photographing.

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Weekly news roundup

While I was looped up on cold medicine today, I somehow came up with the idea that I should do a “news roundup” every week for the site. I’m a voracious reader – of both books and blogs. Many times I encounter articles that I think my readers would likely find interesting, but are not a big enough deal to warrant their own post. Many of the articles I do tweet about, but I also have a lot of readers that don’t have a presence on twitter. Plus, a few of the blogs I read do news roundups similar to this, and I’ve always thought it a cool idea – so I figured I’d try it out. Below you’ll find some of the more noteworthy things that have happened this week in terms of trains.


Rockefeller home Kykuit at the Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show [image credit]

Metro-North Bolsters Winter Arsenal

This week Metro-North has issued a press release regarding their strategies for dealing with the upcoming winter. Added to their “snow fighting arsenal” are “three new jet turbines to blow snow, two new cold-air snow blowing trucks and 150 modern switch heaters.”

MNRCC weighs in on recent MNR accomplishments

The Metro North Railroad Commuter Council has issued a statement regarding some of Metro-North’s recent accomplishments, including the restoration of service on the Port Jervis line, and the new Quiet Car program.

Apple store Grand Central opens

Friday marked the opening of the new Apple store in Grand Central. The MTA has posted a nice video tour of the new store that is definitely worth checking out.

Free coffee at new Metro-North station

The Whole Foods truck will be on hand at Metro-North’s newest station, Fairfield Metro, throughout the month. For commuters there will be free coffee from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. throughout December. Fairfield Metro just opened this past Monday, and if you missed it we toured the station on Tuesday.


6:40 train leaves Southeast station on Monday’s foggy morning

Abbe Raven is watching you on the train

The president of the A&E Network is a Harlem Line rider, and she likes observing passengers on the train. In an interview posted this week, Raven says the train is her “laboratory” and states “I get to see what people who are not in our industry are doing, what apps they’re using, how they’re using technology, what they’re watching on their devices.” [via trainjotting]

New art in Poughkeepsie

A mural by artist Nestor Madalengoitia titled “Welcome to the Hudson Valley” has been recently installed in Poughkeepsie station.

Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Garden

The Holiday Train show is in its 20th year, and the newest historical building to be modeled is the Rockefellers’ home Kykuit. All of the to-scale models in the show have been created using natural parts. Magnolia leaves, pine bark, eucalyptus leaves, plant stems, seed pods, and pistachio shells have all been used in the creation of Kykuit.

Best Animal Photos of 2011

Buzzfeed has come up with an awesome collection of animal photos from the year. Be sure to check out photo number 14, an adorably cute dog that has recovered after being hit by a train. (The Little Red Riding Cat at number 38 is also pretty awesome)

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Millerton, Revisited & the Harlem Valley Rail Ride

You know how I said I really liked Chatham? Well, I’ve recently discovered that I like Millerton even more. Millerton is quite charming – and if the railroad still ran there I would probably consider even living there (but the commute would probably kill me). My most recent visit was only the second time I’ve been to Millerton, and of course I had my camera. This time I was able to get photos of the original train station there, built in the 1850′s, though it has been moved at least twice since then. Today the former station operates as a florist.

Millerton itself was a town created pretty much around the railroad. The New York and Harlem Railroad ran through, as well as the Central New England. In fact the name Millerton came from the civil engineer tasked with the construction of the rail, Sidney Miller. Though both of those railroads are long gone today, the town hasn’t lapsed into loneliness and disarray. The Main Street area bustles with people checking out the shops, or using the rail trail. So many towns today are filled with chain and big-box stores and are utterly devoid of character. Millerton is the complete opposite – full of family-owned shops, and old-fashioned in a charming way, yet doesn’t feel dated.

Though the rail is no longer there, the converted rail trail is an attraction that brings in locals and visitors from beyond. The other day I read an article discussing options for bikers from the city that wanted to get out, ride, and make a day of it. By Metro-North, one has two pretty good options for spots: Poughkeepsie on the Hudson Line, and Wassaic on the Harlem Line. Although the article knocks the Harlem down in terms of the view on the journey (I know, I know, the Hudson River is beautiful), it ultimately determines that the Harlem journey is probably the best choice for the biker. The Hudson option provides around 5 miles of trail on which to ride, where the Harlem extends for nearly 11 miles, terminating in the village of Millerton. If you ask me, I’d take Millerton over Poughkeepsie any day, no contest.

 
  
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

In other news, I figured that I would mention the Harlem Valley Rail Ride, which appropriately begins in Millerton and covers some of the original route of the Harlem Division (and of course is now part of the rail trail). The ride will be held this year on July 24th. For anyone that needs, there will be a bus that will pick up riders and their bikes from the city and take them to Millerton. Riders have a choice between 25, 50, 75, and 100 mile routes.

A portion of the fee for entry goes to the cause of supporting and maintaining the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. For more information, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Rail Ride website.

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Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge

Fall Photos from the Walkway Over the Hudson

Several of my blog readers have been long convincing me that I needed to get over and see the Walkway Over the Hudson. At the end of October I cheated on the Harlem, and hung out over on the Hudson side of things – checking out the former station in LaGrange, Bannerman Castle, Milton-on-Hudson’s historic station (pictures yet to be posted), and the Walkway Over the Hudson. Other than the fact that I was pretty sick that day, the trip was great. The day was beautiful and warm. And considering I felt like crap and had to cough up a few hairballs (the perfect euphemism for me!) after taking these photos, I’m pretty proud that I managed to get some good ones.





Old postcard views of the bridge

Of course the Walkway has only been a walkway for a relatively short amount of time. The majority of its years were spent carrying trains over the Hudson River. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, completed in 1888, was a modern wonder – and one of the longest bridges in the world at the time. The bridge served as an important crossing, especially for troops during World War II. It is estimated that 3,500 train cars passed over the bridge every day during that period. After the 60′s the bridge’s importance declined, and it was damaged by fire in the 70′s. By the 90′s Walkway Over the Hudson proposed turning it into a pedestrian bridge, and in 1998 the bridge was deeded to them. Construction began in 2008, and was completed in 2009. The Walkway Over the Hudson State Historical Park was officially opened on October 3, 2009. It is accessible from both sides of the river in Poughkeepsie and Highland. It is also accessible from Metro-North’s Poughkeepsie station. The walkway offers gorgeous views of the Hudson River, the Mid-Hudson Bridge, and Highland and Poughkeepsie. It also connects with the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in Highland. A few of the photos below, such as the one of the caboose, is from that rail trail.

  
 
  
   
 
   
 
 
 
   
 
 

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Lettie Carson, and Old Posters from the Harlem Valley Transportation Association

Reading all about the history of the Harlem Line intrigues me. It was New York City’s first railroad, chartered in 1831, and an early example of a rail horsecar in the United States. As in every story, there are always intriguing characters. People like Cornelius Vanderbilt certainly stand out. But for me I think one rarely mentioned woman stands out the most. Her name is Lettie Carson, and she fought to prevent the closure of the Upper Harlem, a David against Penn Central’s Goliath. As we all know that the Harlem does not extend to Chatham anymore, unfortunately her plight failed, but her story still captivates me.

Lettie Gay was born in Pike County, Illinois in 1901, the youngest of nine children. On the family farm she helped raised livestock of every variety. It may be this upbringing that gave Carson her independent attitude. At age eight she would drive a horse and buggy fifteen miles to the train station to pick up her brother. In the early 1920′s she moved east to the New York area, and in 1924 married Gerald Carson. She held various jobs, including as food editor of Parents’ Magazine. She and her husband had a weekend home in Millerton, along the Harlem Line, which they retired to and became permanent residents in 1951.

If you’re on the north end of the Harlem Line you may be aware of Lettie Carson’s work without knowing it. In 1958 she helped create the Mid-Hudson Library System, which today has more than 80 member libraries across five counties. Brewster, Dover Plains, Mahopac, Patterson, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, and Chatham are a few of the towns whose libraries are members. Carson served as president of the Mid-Hudson for two years, and was on the board for eight.

Lettie Gay Carson later became associated with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association, as vice president, and then as president. The organization was formed in the early 60′s when the New York Central threatened to abandon passenger service on the Upper Harlem. When Penn Central took over they too wanted to end passenger service north of Brewster. The HVTA fought them for many years through demonstrations, public hearings, and in the courts. Ultimately the passenger service was abandoned north of Dover Plains in March of 1972, though the HVTA continued to fight for freight on the line. Eventually that too was abandoned, and the track was ripped out.

Through my research I managed to unearth some of the HVTA’s old documents: papers, posters, surveys and more. I’ve digitally restored some of them for posterity. Below are four of the HVTA’s early posters, as well as their logo and letterhead.




Later in life Carson moved to Pennsylvania, where she too attempted to protect rail service in and around Philadelphia. She died in March of 1992, at age 91.

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