A very happy 184th birthday to the New York & Harlem Railroad, New York City’s very first railroad, chartered on this day in 1831. Started as a humble street railroad using horses for motive power, it eventually grew to reach Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, and Columbia counties, and is the origin of today’s Harlem Line.
We’ve posted many things about the history of the Harlem Railroad over the years, so if you’re interested in taking a walk down memory lane, be sure to check some of these old favorites out:
Although Grand Central Terminal may be the obvious gem of the Metro-North system, interspersed along all three of the main lines are many other beautiful stations. On the New Haven Line, I can’t help but think of New Haven Union Station, and of course Mamaroneck. On the Harlem, I’ve always loved both Brewster and Chappaqua. By now I’ve explored much of the Hudson Line, and it seems that the standout stations there are definitely Poughkeepsie and Yonkers. Both are well-restored examples of brick stations built by the New York Central in the early 1900’s. Though smaller than Poughkeepsie, Yonkers makes up for that with beautiful detailing on the outside, and a gorgeous entranceway and waiting room on the inside. On today’s tour we may have discovered the most beautiful station on the Hudson Line.
Postcard and ticket from Yonkers. The card lists various facts about Yonkers – like Yonkers having nineteen railroad stations.
The city of Yonkers is the fourth most populous in New York state, and the most populous city in Westchester county. Reflecting that population, Yonkers was historically well-connected to the city and beyond via multiple methods of transportation. Right near the station were steamboats and ferries, various streetcars, and the Getty Square branch of Putnam Division was not far away. At one time, Yonkers had nineteen railroad stations. Today there are far fewer than nineteen stations, the streetcars are long gone, and the Putnam Division is just a memory. However, Yonkers still has quite a few connections to the city via Metro-North – Ludlow, Glenwood, and Greystone are all in Yonkers. And the primary Yonkers station, which we are visiting today, is serviced by both Metro-North and Amtrak.
Some of the now defunct methods of transportation in Yonkers – including trolleys and a few Putnam Division stations. Postcards from the collection of the awesome postcard master, Steve Swirsky.
Other than being beautiful stations, Grand Central Terminal, Poughkeepsie, and Yonkers do have one thing in common – all were worked on by architects Warren and Wetmore. Built in their signature Beaux Arts style, the station was completed in 1911. The Gustavino tiling on the ceiling of Yonkers significantly resembles the portion of Grand Central adjacent to the Oyster Bar. One of my favorite portions of the station is the sculpted detail work containing NYC – for the New York Central. The station still has the original ticket windows, which are quite attractive, but they are no longer in use. All ticketing at Yonkers is through Ticket Vending Machines.
Postcards of Yonkers station, from the collection of Steve Swirsky
Expectedly, Yonkers station fell into disrepair over many years. It was ultimately restored by Metro-North in 2001. $45 million was alloted for the work at Yonkers, $4.5 million of which was for restoring the building itself. The sculpted terra cotta on the façade of the building was restored, or in some instances, replaced by a company from California. The rest of the money was used for track work, reconstruction of steel bridges, and refurbishment of the viaduct. Platforms were also redone, the lighting improved, and accommodations made for the disabled. In 2006 an Arts for Transit piece was added at Yonkers, but I happened to miss it on my visit.
Occurring simultaneously were other initiatives to renew the waterfront area surrounding the train station in Yonkers. One such effort was the Hudson Park luxury apartments, which you can spot in the background of several of my photographs of the station. Its proximity to the train station no doubt makes it an attractive place to live, and you’ll notice many developments similar to this up and down the line.
Compared to the beautiful station, the platform area of Yonkers station is relatively underwhelming. But it is, of course, from the platform that one accesses the frequent trains heading south to the city, or north to Poughkeepsie and beyond. Yonkers is just over 14 miles from Grand Central, a ride that takes on average 30 minutes. 26 daily Amtrak trains make stops at Yonkers, and there are Metro-North trains every half hour, if not more frequently.
That is about all I have for Yonkers today. Next week we will visit another Hudson Line station, but I can’t promise it will be quite as beautiful as this one. ;)
Across the country there were once many streetcar systems, even in New York. Many of those have over the years been removed, in a few cases because the streetcars added to the difficult traffic conditions in the cities. Though Manhattan’s trains were moved underground, the streetcar systems in San Francisco and New Orleans have still survived. New Orleans’ system has been forever written into the public consciousness by Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, and is one of the two North American streetcar systems that has operated with little changes in route. The other is Toronto Transit Commission’s streetcar system, which is the largest in North America.
I’ve gotten the chance to ride on all three of the mentioned streetcar systems, though most recently Toronto’s system. The TTC operates 11 streetcar lines, and has an averages 285,600 riders daily. Although mostly operating above ground, there are several underground connections, like the one I photographed below, at Union Station.
I didn’t really travel very far on the streetcar. I pretty much wanted to be able to say I rode it, and get some photos :D
While I was in Toronto I had the chance to visit the busiest train station in Canada, Union Station. It is a great example of the Beaux-arts style (like Grand Central) in Canada. Via Rail, Amtrak, Ontario Northland, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) all operate trains out of the station (and in the case of the TTC, Streetcars as well). Construction on Union Station was completed in 1920. It was designed by Ross and Macdonald, HG Jones and JM Lyle, and opened in 1927.
The central area of the station is called the Great Hall, and is quite beautiful. I must admit, though, I am biased… it pales in comparison to Grand Central. I would have loved to take more photos of the station, but with the G20 Summit approaching security was being heightened, and I was asked to not photograph any more. The first photo is the one that I got in trouble for. Though I think it turned out pretty nicely, so it was worth it. In hindsight, I was rather dense to start taking photos right in front of the security office.
Stretching above the streets from Union Station is a Skywalk, which extends to the convention center, and close to the CN Tower and Toronto Railway Heritage Center (which I’ll be posting pictures of soon). Other than being a pretty cool looking walk way, the Skywalk also extends over the railroad tracks, so it is a nice vantage point for photography. All in all I really enjoyed Toronto, and I’d highly recommend visiting Union Station and the Railway Heritage Center for anyone in the area. And once the Summit is over, I’m sure the cops will not be quite as strict regarding photography.
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”.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.