Remembering the Upper Harlem Division, Part 3

As we complete our journey along the abandoned Upper Harlem Division, it is worth taking a moment to look at the timetables printed for the line. The Upper Harlem’s timetables were New York Central’s Form 112 – and its size changed drastically over the years, reflecting the railroad’s slow death.

Upper Harlem Timetables over the years
The ever changing timetable design for the Upper Harlem[1]

A 1909 timetable, which was actually a foldout booklet that contained descriptions of the stations and schedules for connecting railroads, was actually 32 pages. The tall size seen in a later 1939 timetable was standard for many years, and it featured the additional trains offered beyond Chatham to Pittsfield and North Adams. Many changes came in the 1950′s – timetables got smaller when the North Adams service was cancelled, and by 1953 the four panel foldout was reduced to three panels. By the time the Upper Harlem Division’s passenger service was cancelled in 1972, the line timetable was just a double sided card, reflecting the only two trains that operated on the line every week day.

Moving on, we continue our tour north of Hillsdale, heading towards Craryville. For much of its route, the Harlem Division follows New York State Route 22 northward, but after arriving at Hillsdale the route turns in a westward direction to follow Route 23.

Craryville

When the Harlem Railroad was established through Columbia County, the station here went by the name of Bains, for hotel owner Peter Bain. When the land was purchased by Peter Crary, the station became known by a new name – Craryville. Gail Borden, who constructed his first successful milk factory along the Harlem in Wassaic, also had a processing plant here in Craryville. This was one of many plants located along the line, and used it for freight.[2]

Craryville Today

 

Craryville is a relatively quiet area, with little reminder of the railroad beyond a barely paved Railroad Lane. The old station house still exists, but is privately owned.

Martindale
Harlem Division engineer Vic Westman was quite the talented artist, creating many drawings and even paintings of the rails he worked, sometimes just from memory. For many years he even had a small studio on the sixth floor of Grand Central Terminal in which to work during his long swing time.[3]

The name Martindale derives from John Martin, on whose land the original Martindale station was built upon. It was never an extremely prominent station, and by 1946 it was just a mere flag stop on the line. Martindale met its end years before the rest of the line, and was eliminated in 1949. The station building itself was dismantled by a railroad employee in that year.

Martindale Today

  

South of where Martindale station was lies an overpass where the railroad traversed over Route 23. Little else in the area reflects the area’s railroading past. In fact, little even bears the name Martindale besides the Martindale Chief diner, located next to the Taconic.

Philmont

About 119 miles from Grand Central is the station of Philmont. Philmont was historically one of the larger communities that that the Harlem ran through, and was rich with industry. Several mills were located in the town, and they of course used the railroad for freight.[4]

Philmont Today

 

Besides Railroad Avenue, and the former railroad hotel located upon it, it is hard to tell that a railroad once crossed Main Street here in Philmont. The Empire House, the aforementioned railroad hotel, lacks the porches it had in historical images and may be a bit beat up, but it is one reference to the railroad that ran through town.

The Arch Bridge

   

Leaving Philmont, about three miles north of the station, but in the town of Ghent, lies a street named Arch Bridge Road. The eponymous arch is a single lane underpass, with the railroad’s former ROW running above. Running along the side of the arch is a small stream where, at some point over the years, some of the railroad’s roadbed washed out. It is a nice vestige of the railroad in Ghent, and most certainly an old one.

Ghent

Just under 125 miles from Grand Central lies the second to last station on the Harlem – Ghent. The station itself was shared with a short branch of the Boston and Albany. The railroad crossed over New York State Route 66 just south of the station.

Ghent Today

 
 

Splitting off from Route 66 at the center of Ghent is Railroad Avenue, which still exists today, although with no railroad to be seen. Appearing in many historical photos of the station is the Bartlett House, which was a railroad hotel, and still stands today.

Chatham

The end of the Harlem Division, just a bit more than 127 miles from Grand Central Terminal, is in Chatham, New York. The Harlem met with the Boston and Albany and the Rutland Railroad here, and the former two shared a quite beautiful Union Station. Stylistically, the station’s Richardsonian Romanesque aesthetic matches more to the Boston and Albany than it does to the Harlem, but it is attractive nonetheless. Built in 1887, Chatham station was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

The New York and Harlem Railroad always seemed to be a modest affair. Some railroads chose grandiose names for themselves, dreaming of the locations that they would one day reach (and often fell short of – the New York, Boston and Montreal Railway comes to mind), but when it was chartered in 1831, the Harlem only planned to be a link from the core of New York City to Harlem just a bit further north. The original plan was to connect with the New York and Albany Railroad at Harlem – except that railroad was never completed. In their absence, the Harlem was granted the right by the state legislature to build into Westchester in 1840, and all the way to Albany in 1846. Despite that right, the Harlem gradually extended north, and instead chose Chatham to be its terminus. From there, riders could easily continue to Albany on the B&A, and some of the earliest timetables show the trains on this additional route.

Chatham Today

  

For over a hundred years the railroad has been an important part of Chatham’s identity. Though both the Rutland and the Harlem are gone, the Boston and Albany’s former line still runs through Chatham, owned by CSX. The trains may run through, but they don’t really stop here – though the town seems to firmly hold onto their railroad identity. A fence has been put up to separate the former Union Station from the remaining tracks, which somewhat mars the attractive vista of yesteryear. The building had significantly fallen into disrepair by the ’60s, but it has been restored to glory and is the home to a branch of the Kinderhook Bank.

The very end of the Harlem’s tracks still exists, and extends around a half mile south, where they abruptly end in front of a gas station. The mile marker for mile 127 – the end of the Harlem – has been saved and transplanted to a garden in front of the Chatham firehouse.

Then and Now

As we’ve seen on our tour of the former stations of the Upper Harlem Division, many of the locales have changed drastically over the 41 years that passenger service has been absent. But two towns along the route provide an interesting look back and allow us to compare today and yesterday. Both Philmont and Ghent had railroad hotels that were established close to the tracks. Because of that proximity to the rails, the buildings appear in many old photos – which makes a comparison especially moving. The two hotels may have come to town because of the trains, but they managed to outlive the demise of the Harlem itself.

Philmont then and now

Philmont’s Empire House was built sometime in the 1880′s, and also included an Opera House. After the hotel was long gone, the building was converted to serve as a textile manufacturing facility. At some point in the ’60s Philmont’s American Legion purchased the building. They added a 30 foot by 70 foot section to the building, which included a kitchen. Due to the post’s declining membership, the members voted to put the building on the market in 2009.

Though the main structure of the building is similar to the above historical view, the original porches are gone from the building. The addition made by the American Legion is also apparent to the left of the building. The building itself gives us a point in which to gather our bearings, and highlights the absence of the railroad, and the old rail depot.

Ghent then and now

Ghent’s Bartlett House was likewise a railroad hotel, built in the 1870′s, and recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel hosted teachers, traveling salesmen, and plenty of other rail passengers – it was even captured by the lens of famed photographer Walker Evans. Besides the hotel, the building contained a dining room and a ballroom, occasionally the site for brawling politicians. Though part of the building is blocked by the train in our historical photo, the Bartlett House looks very much as it did when first built – in 2011 the front porch was redone based upon historical photos.

That pretty much wraps up our tour of the Upper Harlem Division’s stations. Many of the physical stations may be gone, but there is surprisingly quite a bit that can be found that reminds us that there was a real railroad that once ran through here. In fact, much of the former route can be seen visually from satellite maps – there is an obvious swath of barren land that marked where the rails once were. That, of course, may one day fade. But if the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association has their way, the entire route of the former Upper Harlem Division will at least be preserved as a trail, which I suppose is better than being forgotten entirely.

  1. All timetables from the author’s collection []
  2. Postcards from Craryville from the author’s collection []
  3. Sketch of Martindale by Vic Westman for Lou Grogan’s book. []
  4. Postcard of Philmont at left from the collection of Steve Swirsky. Postcard at right from the author’s collection []

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Riverdale

Welcome to Riverdale, the site of today’s Tuesday Tour, and a lovely example of a Hudson Line station. Though Riverdale is in the Bronx, the area around the station looks more like the suburbs than the city. Beautiful views of the Hudson River and the Palisades surround you here – and not to offend anyone from the Bronx, the view here at Riverdale is probably not what comes to your mind when you think of “the Bronx.”

Metro-North’s station at Riverdale is located 13 miles from Grand Central. The facilities consist of an overpass with a few ticket vending machines, and two side platforms. Today, Riverdale is the northernmost station in the Bronx on the Hudson Line (Mount St. Vincent station was located north of Riverdale, but was closed many years ago). Although the station has some parking, a good amount of people use the Hudson Rail Link to get to the station.

According to architects Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge’s archives, they designed a station for the Hudson River Railroad here in 1889, though I can’t seem to find any photos or mentions of it later on.


Passing through Riverdale, 1971. [image source]

Right alongside Riverdale station is a small park that parallels both the tracks and the Hudson River. Although dedicated by Michael Bloomberg in 2005, and featured in the New York Times a year after, the park seems largely forgotten. The official name of the place is the “Riverdale Waterfront Promenade and Fishing Access Site”, but you might as well call it a big stinky mess. Access to the small park is gained on the southbound platform, where you descend a set of stairs and cross over a rail siding to reach the riverfront. It would likely be a nice place, if not for the stinky fish guts strewn about the sidewalk, and the overfilled trash bins that probably hadn’t been emptied in weeks. Without the trash, the park really would be a nice place to just sit and watch the river.


Arts for Transit at Riverdale – when it wasn’t covered up with weeds. [image source]

Also at Riverdale station is one of the most unphotogenic Arts for Transit pieces – and it’s certainly not the fault of the artwork. Rising and Setting, by Dennis Oppenheim is a colorful steel sculpture, unfortunately overtaken with weeds. Metro-North desperately needs to send someone over there with a weedwhacker. As much as I love the Arts for Transit program, I wonder at times if everybody fully thinks these things through. Putting art in locked stations is pointless, and although pretty horrible, North White Plains‘ art has been desperate for a paint job for years. All of these wonderful installations certainly need to be maintained – and at places like Riverdale (and Wassaic, where the art is also being obscured by growth) sending somebody to trim some plants seems like a pretty easy fix!

Though the area doesn’t get any bonus points for the stinky park, and few for the art, I really don’t mean to be insulting to Riverdale. The station is quite nice, and from the overpass, the view of the river and the Palisades is quite wonderful. Even from the platforms you can see large ships and tiny pleasure-crafts moving up and down the river. Wave Hill, the 28-acre public garden, is a worthwhile attraction not far from the station. They even operate a free shuttle to public transit riders, so it is definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.

 
   
  
 
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
   
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Dobbs Ferry


A postcard of Dobbs Ferry station, and a portion of a Hudson River Railroad timetable from 1851, listing Dobbs Ferry station

Welcome to Dobbs Ferry, one of the lovely Hudson Line stations with a great view of the mighty Hudson River. On the fourth of July, I spent the day exploring the Hudson Line, but ended up spending most of my time here. The waterfront view is quite lovely, and adjacent to the station is the aptly named Waterfront Park – reason enough for you to come and visit this place. Though the station used by Metro-North particularly noteworthy (besides the nice Arts for Transit piece), the old station building still stands and is a lovely piece of railroad architecture. Though I didn’t get to see the inside, the station has two floors, the first of which has a waiting room, ticket window, bathrooms and a boiler room. It was designed by architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1889. Last year the town was looking for proposals for businesses interested in leasing the station, but apparently all of those proposals were later rejected.


A 1914 map of Dobbs Ferry, depicting both the railroad and the river. Note the railroad sidings that are no longer present today.


Early 1900′s view of Dobbs Ferry station

Dobbs Ferry itself was named, as one would expect, after a ferry crossing over the Hudson River. Members of the Dobbs family arrived around the 1700′s, and operated their ferry until 1759. Other area ferries operated until the early 1900′s. It was this ferry that made the area an attractive place for an encampment of General Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.


Dobbs Ferry station in 1974

The current station at Dobbs Ferry, operated by Metro-North, is about 20 miles from Grand Central Terminal. The average train time to Grand Central Terminal is around 45 minutes. As previously mentioned, the station isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it did have a bit of a makeover in the mid-2000′s. The work at the station, part of the Hudson Line Stations Improvement Project, was completed in 2008. It included updates to the platform, overpass, and a new platform canopy. An elevator was also installed in the updated overpass, making the station ADA compliant. While this was all going on, some attractive art was also added to the station platform, as part of the Arts for Transit program.

 
  
 
 
   
 

Floating Auriculas, the lovely mosaic found at Dobbs Ferry, is probably the nicest thing you’ll find on the platform. Behind this piece is artist Nancy Blum, who has created public art for venues across the country. My love for the transit system in Minneapolis has been well documented on this site, and I was surprised to note that not only is Blum working on the art for three stations on the new Central Corridor line, she also did the art on my favorite, East Bank station. Blum has done public art in various media, but for the most part the underlying theme is nature and the natural world, and the piece at Dobbs Ferry certainly fits that theme. Blum’s lovely auricula flowers, about eight feet in diameter, adorn the side of the northbound platform, rendered in mosaic form using Italian glass and marble tile.

Thanks to Blum’s website, we get a lovely view of the progression of an Arts for Transit piece – from an original painting, all the way to the finished mosaic on the station platform. The first four photos above are from the artist’s site, the remainder (above and below) are mine.


Yes, Metro-North has plenty of awesome conductors!

  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
   
 
  
 
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Irvington


The namesake of Irvington – author Washington Irving. Also named Irvington – the first coal burner on the Hudson River Railroad.

Over the past three years, I’ve visited almost every Metro-North station in order to bring you these Tuesday Tours. While seeing stations is nice, sometimes the interesting part is exploring the towns in which these stations lie. Whenever possible, I try to take the train for my explorations, which often times leaves me extra time to explore while waiting for the next train. I try to scout out stations on Google Maps before heading out, just to see what is around and looks interesting. Places like Scarborough, Dobbs Ferry, and Irvington, with their waterfront parks, all looked like promising places to visit. Of all of the Hudson Line stops I’ve been to, I probably spent the most time in Irvington – wandering around the shops, lunching at one of the many restaurants, chatting with some of the residents, and even going to get my hair cut. Though the station itself isn’t too particularly interesting, the town is quite charming, and certainly worth the visit.


Postcards of Irvington station, from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Irvington station is located approximately 22 miles from Grand Central, with Tarrytown station to the north and Ardsley-on-Hudson to the south. There are two side platforms, with four tracks running in between. The two platforms are not directly across from one another, but there is a tunnel under the tracks that does connect them both. The old station depot, built in 1889 and designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge is still present, but not in use by the railroad. Despite all the time I spent in Irvington, I never managed to get a decent photograph of the station, as the front of it is apparently an appealing location for cars to park.

I don’t really have too much more to say Irvington station, but while we’re on the subject, has anyone out there tried any of the restaurants surrounding the station? It seems that food alone might be a good version to head to Irvington. I grabbed some takeout from Haru Hana, which was pretty good. Chutney Masala, which is right across from the station in the waterfront side, smelled delicious. I heard that Red Hat also has tasty lobster – though you better be careful what you do with that lobster. It wouldn’t be good if you dropped it on the tracks. What a waste of a good lobster!

 
  
 
   
  
   
 
  
 
   
 
  
   
 

Read More