A last look at Port Jervis…


Bird’s eye view of Port Jervis, circa 1900. The railroad tracks and roundhouses are visible in the lower right. From the New York State Archives.

As promised, before moving onto the Pascack Valley Line I said we would take one more look at Port Jervis. While the Metro-North station at Port Jervis is pretty boring, there are a few more interesting railroad-related things going on in this town. When arriving by car, you’ll likely notice signs not only directing you to the train station, but also to the historical turntable. This turntable is the only existing remnant of one of the roundhouses that was here in Port Jervis. Although the building got progressively more decrepit over the years, it ultimately met its end at the hand of an arsonist in 1987.



Roundhouse at Port Jervis in 1971, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

The turntable, which was at the center of that burnt roundhouse, is in pretty good condition today, as it was renovated in 1997. In the early 90’s, though, it didn’t look too great. Though it hasn’t been put to use recently, the turntable isn’t just for show, and does actually work.

 
 
This is the turntable today. I must admit that I have a thing for the iconic simplicity of the Erie’s logo.

The gem of Port Jervis, however, is not the turntable, but the Erie depot. If you’ve taken Metro-North to Port Jervis, you’ve passed it – it is located about a quarter-mile before the current station. The depot was built by Grattan & Jennings in the Queen Anne style in 1892. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.

The contracting firm of Grattan & Jennings was formed in 1888 by William S. Grattan and Alva M. Jennings. Grattan had been a longtime railroad employee, starting as a clerk in the Scranton coal office of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western at the age of 18. Though the Erie Depot may be the most well-known building the firm had built, Grattan & Jennings did lots of contracting work for the railroad, including a trestle over the Blackwell canal.



Aerial views of Port Jervis station, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.




Photos of the Erie station at Port Jervis in 1970, photos from the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

Like so many other stations and facilities, the earlier station at Port Jervis (which was the second to be built here), opened in 1889, was completely destroyed by fire in 1890. The historical Erie depot was built as a replacement for that station, and was opened on February 2nd, 1892. The lower level of the station provided waiting areas for passengers, a ticket office, locker rooms for railroad employees, and a restaurant. The depot’s upper level was used as office space for the railroad.

It is interesting to note that the Erie depot manages to reflect not only the surge in popularity of the railroad, but also its slow demise. With increasing volume of mail and baggage, the depot was expanded in 1912. An enlarged baggage room was added to the east end of the station, and a room for the Railway Express Agency was added to the west end. Gradually fewer and fewer people used the station over the years, and the depot was permanently closed in 1974. The windows were boarded up, and the building was left to crumble. Thankfully, by the mid-80’s several groups stepped up to prevent the depot from being torn down and worked to restore it to the wonderful condition you see today.

  
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: New Rochelle

Welcome to New Rochelle, our next stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. Located about 17 miles from Grand Central, a train ride to the city takes about 35 minutes – leaving plenty of time to get to Broadway in 45. The station services both Metro-North passengers, as well as Amtrak passengers on the Northeast Regional. The station is part of New Rochelle’s “transportation center” with connections available to taxis and Bee-Line buses, and a large parking garage available for commuters.

 
 
Postcard views of New Rochelle

The very first scheduled train from New Rochelle to the city ran on December 28th, 1848. At that time there was only a single track here. A second track was later added in 1853. By 1869 there were 6 trains daily that ran to and from New Rochelle and the city.

One of the most historically significant trains to ever depart New Rochelle, however, was on the day of January 8th, 1902. The usual New Rochelle commuters boarded their 7:48 train to the city. The train was a local that originated in South Norwalk, but the rear car was called the New Rochelle car – it was kept locked and was only opened for passengers upon arrival at that station. Everything played out as normal that day, until the train reached the Park Avenue Tunnel and paused on track 2 at about 55th Street to allow a Croton local train to pass. A White Plains local, also arriving in the tunnel and on track 2, ran through a red signal at about 59th Street and plowed directly into the back of the South Norwalk local – the New Rochelle car. Fifteen residents of that city were killed on scene and many other passengers on the train were injured. Newspaper headlines ranged from the relatively gruesome: “Trapped Under Engine and Roasted by Steam” to the more sympathetic: “New Rochelle Grief-Stricken.”


Rescue operations after the Park Avenue Tunnel crash in 1902. All of those killed boarded at New Rochelle.

At the time of the crash, steam trains were allowed in the tunnel, which made visibility very poor. The incident significantly swayed public opinion against steam in the city, and ultimately led to their banning in Manhattan. The railroads were left to find an alternate method of powering their trains into the city. Frank Sprague and William Wilgus invented the “third rail” method of powering new electric trains – technology that is still in use today on the Harlem and Hudson Lines. The most important change the crash brought about was the new Grand Central Terminal – a station built to accommodate these new electric trains.

   

Photos of various trains at New Rochelle in the 1970’s

New Rochelle has come a long way since the railroad first came to town in 1848. Back then the city had only about 2,000 inhabitants. By the 1900’s, however, that number had grown to 15,000, as New Rochelle became a desirable suburb for commuters (today the population is around 77,000). While the original roundhouse for steam engines and a yard for freight are no longer in existence, the historic station building remains and has been restored. Like many old stations, the 1887 building had fallen into disrepair, it was also burned by fire in 1988. Commuters had described the station as dank, dirty, and derelict.

Thankfully, instead of tearing down the station, it went through a process of restoration starting in 1990. The city of New Rochelle, which had purchased the station property in 1982, agreed to share the cost of the restoration with Amtrak. The fully restored station was reopened on March 1st, 1990. The one-and-a-half story building is again beautiful – the brick exterior was cleaned, and the inner plaster walls and wood ceiling were repaired. The terrazzo tile flooring was in poor condition and had to be completely replaced. Additional changes made during the renovations included new lighting, bathrooms, and windows. The station was nominated, and is now a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

 
  
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
   
 
  
   

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The Brewery in the Roundhouse: Steam Whistle Brewing

Beer-loving railfans, rejoice! I’ve found the perfect place for you to visit… It has been quite a few months since I’ve come back from Canada (I went in June), and I have such a backlog of photos that I had intended on posting, but never got around to. Some of my Toronto photos managed to get up here a bit ago, but so far I’ve left out one of the nicer places I visited there, including the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre.

The Toronto Railway Heritage Centre is a relatively young organization, and the first part of their museum proper, in Roundhouse Park, opened in May of this year. I got a chance to visit the place at the start of their opening season, and took a ride on their mini railway. I’ll be posting up some pictures of the actual Heritage Centre a bit later, and today focusing on another resident in Roundhouse Park: Steam Whistle Brewing.

The John Street Roundhouse in Toronto was completed in 1931, and used by the Canadian Pacific Railway up until 1986. The 32-bay roundhouse was later donated by the railroad to the city of Toronto. The grounds around the roundhouse building became known as Roundhouse Park, and it is just adjacent to the Rogers Centre, and practically underneath the enormous CN Tower. Underneath the park and roundhouse is a parking garage, and part of the Convention Centre – when these were constructed, a portion of the roundhouse had to be dismantled. It was later put back together, and has been nicely restored.

Steam Whistle Brewing has taken up residence in bays 1 through 14 in the old roundhouse. Although the name of the beer sounds perfect for a business in an old steam engine roundhouse, it isn’t related to trains. The steam whistle it refers to is the 5 o’clock whistle – marking the end of the work day.

If you ever get the chance to visit Toronto, you can take a tour of the factory, see where the beer is made, and see the old restored roundhouse. And of course, get some free samples of beer (my brother thoroughly enjoyed this – being 20 he can legally drink in Canada, but not here in the States).

 
  
   
 
   
   
   
   

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