Musings on Station Names

You would think that the naming of a train station would be a rather simple and straightforward process… alas this seems to be far from true. If history has shown us anything, station namings (and even renamings) can turn out to be a political or even touchy subject – just ask all the Connecticut commuters that voted for their new Metro-North station to be called Black Rock instead of Fairfield Metro, and were denied (and less than thrilled). But the more interesting thing, to me at least, is how history plays a significant part in many of these names – especially in the most clunky.


Months before even being scheduled to open, Fairfield Metro was already covered in graffiti, perhaps by citizens unhappy about the name ;) [image credit]

It isn’t too hard to find a few awkward names along Metro-North’s tracks – just note the Port Jervis Line, which has the honor of having stations with the two longest names in the system. Looking back at the history of the line, the main portion of rail which went through the busy centers of the local towns was abandoned in favor of a roundabout ride through the sticks previously used only for freight. Middletown, which previously had a station, was left without one. As to not forget the passengers it once served, a station was established on the new rail line and was called Middletown, despite it actually being in the town of Walkill. Thus the station was dubbed Middletown – Town of Wallkill. Salisbury Mills – Cornwall follows a similar convention, being located in Cornwall, but a (far older) station had once been historically located in Salisbury Mills.

Wingdale / State Hospital
State Hospital and Wingdale stations were combined to create Harlem Valley – Wingdale.

Mashup station names aren’t exclusive to the west side of the Hudson – one is located right on the Harlem Line. Harlem Valley – Wingdale is a combination of two former station names, both long closed. The Harlem Division once had two different stations in Wingdale – one for the Harlem Valley State Hospital, which went by State Hospital for short, and one just called Wingdale. In 1977 the two stations were consolidated, and given the name Harlem Valley – Wingdale to represent the two. If any station is deserving a name update, it would certainly be this one. With our increasing dependence on technology for train information, and Metro-North’s lack of naming consistency, finding information about this station can be a pain. While sales/ticketing seems to prefer Harlem Valley W’dale, Customer Service’s preferred abbreviation is Hm Valley Wingdale – causing digital havoc. For almost two entire years riders could not access mobile train information for the station unless they knew the magic “hm” abbreviation, which of course, nobody ever mentioned (after moving to the area I complained about it several times… the bug has since been quietly fixed at some point within the past few months). Despite the history attached to the name, isn’t it about time we end the difficulty and just call the station Wingdale again?

While politics likely played a role in the aforementioned naming of Fairfield Metro over the public chosen Blackrock, it was certainly the case in the renaming of a station in New York. In the early 2000s the town of Southeast petitioned Metro-North to change the name of Brewster North station. Southeast had been founded in the late 1700s, but most people knew nothing of it – only of Brewster, one of its villages, because of the train station. That station was established in 1849, when James and Walter Brewster invited the New York and Harlem Railroad to build a station on some land they had recently acquired. From then on the area became known as Brewster’s, and later just Brewster. In the late 1970’s a new station on the Harlem Line was established to provide ample commuter parking, and named Brewster North – much to the chagrin of the town. The railroad had dictated the geography of their town once, and they weren’t about to let it happen again – hence the request for Metro-North to change the name to Southeast.

Southeast, Brewster North
Brewster North was changed to Southeast at the request of the town.

The official statement will always be that the change from Brewster North to Southeast was to eliminate confusion between that station and Brewster village, but considering that ticket machines still list it (ten years after the fact) as Southeast (Brewster North) just seems to make it more confusing (and quite a mouthful). If the names are really so confusing, why don’t we also change other potentially confusing names? Maybe White Plains and North White Plains (NWP would have an obvious other name – Holland Avenue, which was formerly used as a platform for changing trains when there was no electric further north)? Or East Norwalk and South Norwalk? Maybe Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West (which historically were never problematic, as they were on two different railroads)? Explaining the true motivation rather succinctly, a town of Southeast employee stated: “I wear a name tag that indicates I am town clerk of the Town of Southeast. Nobody ever recognizes it. Perhaps, now they will.”

Sometimes station renamings are subtle. I first became interested in station, and local area names several years ago when I moved to Goldens Bridge. Or is it Golden’s Bridge? At the time I had no idea investigating a mere apostrophe would open Pandora’s box. Unlike other station names like Hartsdale, Brewster, Wingdale, and Millerton – which can all be directly attributed to the name of a specific person – nobody really knows the true origin of Goldens Bridge. Old railroad maps, and even transcripts from the New York state senate have used the alternate Golding’s Bridge. Despite the sketchy details, we know it was named for a man, and a bridge he likely owned. Wherever the namesake bridge once was, the spot is likely flooded by the reservoir today. The man for which it was named remains even more of a mystery. According to Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl, his name may not have even been Golden, “the bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names.” Either way, the preferred name today is Goldens Bridge – without the apostrophe. Metro-North quietly omitted that little piece of punctuation from signage in 2003. I’m still waiting for them to come and retire the apostrophe in Purdy’s.

So why all this talk of names? I happened to catch an article this weekend regarding some folks in the Bronx already disgruntled with the name of their new Metro-North station – a station that is only in the earliest planning stages (and not even guaranteed to be built). Fortunately for us, the citizens say that they are open to compromise, “we’re okay with sharing the name, we just want to make sure it’s in there.” That can mean only one thing – get ready for a nice, long, hyphenated name. Perhaps it will even be able to compete with Middletown – Town of Wallkill!

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Salisbury Mills – Cornwall

Continuing our Port Jervis Line tour where we left off last week, we depart Harriman station, bound for the next station on the line, Salisbury Mills – Cornwall. We’re still moving along what was once known as the Graham Line (named after Chief Engineer Joseph M. Graham), which was created to better accomodate freight. Really, the most noteworthy part of the then-Graham Line, today’s Port Jervis Line, is the Moodna Viaduct. Many months ago I did post a bit about the viaduct, so I wont really rehash any of that here, but in order to finally arrive at Salisbury Mills – Cornwall station, you cross over the viaduct. Although I am sure the valley looks quite beautiful from the train, I don’t think the viaduct can fully be appreciated until you view it from afar.


Train crossing the Moodna Viaduct. The Salisbury Mills – Cornwall station is located right at the end of the viaduct.

The facility at Salisbury Mills – Cornwall is relatively underwhelming – at least in comparison to the lovely viaduct we just crossed. The first thing one notices upon arrival are how long the station name signs are – long enough to contain two rows of text. If Metro-North’s goal was to come up with some of the longest station names possible, they certainly succeeded on the Port Jervis Line. Sadly, Salisbury Mills – Cornwall just misses out to Middletown – Town of Walkill for the honor of Metro-North’s longest station name.

Back at Harriman, I mentioned that a few of the stations on the Port Jervis line feature a little historical sketch on the canopy. Unfortunately, the one at Salisbury Mills – Cornwall is left blank… which is really too bad, since it would give this relatively plain facility a (very small) bit of character.



Old views of the depot at Salisbury Mills. Upper image is a postcard view from the early 1900’s, lower image is from 1971. The original Salisbury Mills station was on the Erie’s Newburgh Branch.

Salisbury Mills – Cornwall is one of a few Port Jervis line stations that is ADA accessible, and the south end of the platform has a small high-level platform for passengers requiring wheelchairs. From this end of the platform you can also see the end portion of the viaduct, although it looks far shorter from this vantage point. Though the station has two shelters for patrons to use, the one here on the platform’s south side is a bit nicer than the one on the other end (this portion of the platform is also covered by a canopy). Next to the shelter are two lovely parking pay machines (doesn’t everyone love to pay for parking?!), and more towards the middle of the platform you can find two NJTransit ticket vending machines.


View of Storm King Art Center, showing works by Mark di Suvero. [Photo Credit]

As an art lover, I’d certainly be remiss if I did not mention that the Salisbury Mills – Cornwall station is not far from the wonderful Storm King Art Center. If you haven’t heard of it before, Storm King is a sculpture park situated on over 500 acres of land. Many noteworthy artists have works on display, such as Isamu Noguchi and one of my personal favorites, Alexander Calder. Back when I featured Greenwich, I mentioned artist Mark di Suvero, as a sculpture of his is located right next to the station. That sculpture’s companion piece is located here at Storm King. Unfortunately there is no public transportation that will carry you from the station to the art center, so you’d have to get a taxi to take you the place – though it is only three miles away from the station.

That is about it for Salisbury Mills – Cornwall. Next week we will continue with Campbell Hall station. Everything seems to be going by so fast… we’re already half-way through the Port Jervis Line!

  
   
 
  
 
   
 
  
   
 

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