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Musings on Station Names Train History

Monday, June 10th, 2013

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!

Warren & Wetmore: Grand Central’s Architects on the Harlem Line Train History Photos

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Postcards of White Plains

Before Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore became known for their work on Grand Central Terminal, they were already known by many of the New York Central’s commuters. A handful of the lovely stations still found on Metro-North’s lines are creations of Warren and Wetmore. Yonkers, on the Hudson Line, as well as Hartsdale and White Plains on the Harlem, were all designed by the duo. Poughkeepsie and Mount Vernon (West) were also designed by them, but after the completion of Grand Central (Scarsdale and Chappaqua were designed by the other Grand Central architecture firm – Reed and Stem).

Postcards of Hartsdale

The American Architect was a lovely periodical that featured details, photographs, and plans of various buildings designed and constructed in the United States, published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Flipping through archives of it are pretty interesting, as they feature some amazingly gorgeous buildings. Train stations were occasionally featured, and in 1915 there was an article about two of Warren and Wetmore’s stations on the Harlem Division – White Plains, and Hartsdale.

White Plains plan
White Plains 1
White Plains 2
White Plains station illustrations from The American Architect.

Of primary interest is the portion about White Plains – the Warren and Wetmore station that was torn down in the early ’80s. From the plans and photos, the station looked very much like the still standing station in Poughkeepsie. Several historical buildings in White Plains, including the station, met the wrecking ball as the city strove to update its image, and encourage urban renewal.

The current station, opened in 1987, is a rather ugly substitute for the gorgeous station that was once here. Besides the 38 by 80 foot waiting room, the old station contained various shops, and a shoe shiner. Waxman’s News, which was founded in the old station, and was reestablished in the new, has been one of the few ties between the two buildings – but even that isn’t to last. In the interest of more rent, Metro-North has decided to not renew the leases of either of the two vendors currently in the station. The 30-plus year run of Waxman’s News will come to a close at some point this summer.

 
Construction work on the new White Plains station, completed in 1987. Photos by Lou Grogan.

Hartsdale, on the other hand, is a bit more cheerful of a story. Not only is the station still around, it has been attractively restored. Although a Starbucks probably wouldn’t be my first choice tenant for an old railroad station, it does seem to work. And as long as it allows the building to be preserved, it makes me happy!

Hartsdale Photo

Hartsdale Plan 2

Hartsdale Plan 1

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Cold Spring Train Photos

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012


Postcards and tickets from Cold Spring


Views of the tracks and the Hudson Highlands near Cold Spring.

While beautiful views can be found along the entire Hudson Line, there’s something about the upper, un-electrified portion of the line that I find especially attractive. Nestled amongst the Hudson Highlands, many of the stations we’ve featured, like Breakneck Ridge and Manitou, offer hikes with wonderful views of both the mountains and the river. Today’s Tuesday Tour takes us to Cold Spring, just less than 53 miles from Grand Central. Unlike the aforementioned stations, Cold Spring is unique in that it offers both a charming downtown area with shops and restaurants, as well as hikes with beautiful views. The trail to hike up Mount Taurus (visible in one of the postcards above) is less than a mile walk from the train station. And if you’re not into the whole hiking thing, you could probably spend the day at the various Main Street shops, or the local Putnam History Museum. In other words, if you’re looking for a cool place accessible by Metro-North, Cold Spring would certainly be a nice pick.


Civil war era station at Cold Spring, and the brick station it was replaced with in 1884.

As one would expect from such a charming downtown area, the original Cold Spring station still stands, though it is not in use for any railroad purposes. Instead the station is home to the aptly named Cold Spring Depot restaurant. Built in 1884, the historic brick station replaced an earlier wooden one built at that site. The station used by Metro-North is south of the historic station and village area, though the two are connected via pathways.


Some interesting shots near Cold Spring… When we featured Garrison, I failed to mention that both that station and the tracks around Cold Spring were used in the filming of the movie Hello Dolly.

   

A little non-Metro-North action near Cold Spring. First three photos by Mike Foley, fourth by Chris Southwell.

If you happen to make the journey all the way up to Cold Spring, the Metro-North station probably is the least interesting thing you’ll see along the way. Typical of many Hudson Line stations, Cold Spring is composed of two side platforms, connected by an overpass. As previously mentioned, each platform is connected via a pathway to the old station and village area. Besides the usual ticket vending machines, blue trash bins, and wire benches found at most Metro-North stations, there isn’t much else noteworthy here at Cold Spring. It is, however, the gateway to a pretty interesting place, certainly worth visiting, and under an hour and a half from Manhattan.

 
   
  
 
   
 
  
 
   
  

Grand Central’s Biltmore Room – the “Kissing Gallery” Train History

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Just a few months ago, Metro-North released plans for changes in Grand Central Terminal’s Biltmore Room – a room that has an amusing nickname – the Kissing Gallery. Of course the media couldn’t resist reporting on what they called the “kissing room,” and thus it found its way into most people’s awareness for the first time. As times have changed significantly over the past one hundred years, the room’s original purpose, and even the social niceties warranting the room in the first place, are rather different. Nonetheless, I think the story of the Kissing Gallery is an interesting bit of Grand Central history, and highlights one of the original concepts that made the Terminal great.

In March of 1912, just less than a year the before the opening of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Central’s chief engineer George W. Kittredge announced that the Terminal would have a designated “Kissing Gallery.” There was likely much jest in the dialogue, as Kittredge also called the entrance to the room the “perfunctory peck spot” – though he was said to prefer the term “greeting gallery.” Other folks named it the “Romeo and Juliet room” – no matter what it was called, the room (rumored to be built with soundproof walls and roof) had an important purpose in the Terminal.


The Biltmore Room in the 1950′s. Photo by Boris Klapwald.

Nowadays, heading through Grand Central Terminal is a bit chaotic. People run through the main concourse en route to the subways, the passageways, or any of the various exits. Grand Central was not always like this, however. One of the wonderful things about the Terminal when it was first built was that everything was highly organized. It was acknowledged that a variety of people would be using the station – commuters, long-distance riders, arriving passengers, and even those who were not going to take a train. The goal was to keep each audience separate – if they never mixed, there would never be a “traffic jam.”

Commuters dwelled in Grand Central’s lower concourse, and as they made their way out to either the subway or the street, they traveled up the ramps, never having to enter the main concourse. Long distance departures left from the gates in the main concourse, where a passenger could see all of the tracks in one glance, and quickly find their train. Incoming long-distance trains arrived in the Biltmore Room – and it was here where the Kissing Gallery was found.

The Biltmore Room was named for the Biltmore Hotel, located above and accessible via this room. The idea was that arriving passengers could ascend directly to their hotel without ever having to step outside, and as an added amenity bags would be taken directly from your train right up to your room. As the designated greeting room, kissing was permitted here – as long as it abided by several rules…

Rules on Kissing – Grand Central Terminal

Rules regarding kissing will be enforced by GCT staff

No kiss shall last longer than 5 seconds

Keep your tongue in your own mouth

The attendants will have orders to stop all osculation and send the particpants to the Romeo and Juliet room. No soul kisses… only straight ‘goodby’ and ‘how-are-you’ greetings of less than five seconds duration.

No kissing in any part of the Terminal other than the Kissing Gallery

Those who meet by chance in other parts of the station than the “kissing gallery” will be under the watchful eye of attendants who at the first sign of an affectionate embrace will politely request that the kiss parlors are the proper place for that sort of thing.

Please abide by the above rules

The purpose of the [room] is to do away with this promiscuous kissing around the station, and centralize it.

In all seriousness, the one main reason that these rules were in place was to deal with the aforementioned “traffic jams” that Grand Central was designed to avoid. In the main concourse passengers were supposed to have the ability to see every gate from anywhere in the room and know from exactly which spot their train would leave. Groups of stationary couples showing public displays of affection would not only hinder movement, but block the line of sight. Not to mention that this was 1913, and people were certainly more reserved. I suppose in a place where every single detail was well thought out, having a designated kissing area doesn’t sound too abnormal.


Left: Me about 10 years ago with my friend’s uncle in front of a DC Metro Kiss and Ride sign. Right: A Kiss and Fly sign at San Francisco International Airport. Photo from JPG Magazine.

I think the interesting thing to note is that there are still train stations in the United States and beyond that have similar concepts. I was rather amused by the “Kiss and Rides” found at many DC Metro stations when I first rode the rails there. Some airports also have “Kiss and Fly” versions. Since Grand Central’s Kissing Gallery was located in the arrivals hall, there was more of a focus on people greeting someone special arriving by train. These Kiss and Ride, or Kiss and Fly areas seem more focused on passengers departing – giving them a kiss and letting them go on their way.

Today there are no long distance trains that leave Grand Central – service is strictly commuters – but in its heyday Grand Central carried many different groups of people. The train was really the only way anyone traveled long distance in the early 1900′s, and the railroad was integral for moving troops during the world wars. Thus I wonder how many “thank god you’re still alive after the war” kisses happened in the Biltmore Room. Another thought to ponder about the Terminal we all know and love.

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Ardsley-on-Hudson Train Photos

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


Two early Metro-North Hudson Line timetables, and a local New York Central timetable listing the station as Ardsley – just to confuse you.

Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us just about 22 miles north of Grand Central to Ardsley-on-Hudson station, a place of a bit of confusion. Ardsley-on-Hudson, located in Irvington, should not be confused with actual village of Ardsley, which is located a few miles east and had its own station on the long-gone Putnam Division. As you can see above, many Ardsley-on-Hudson timetables were printed with just “Ardsley” which doesn’t really help much with the confusion. Thankfully, Metro-North has been fairly consistent with printing the full “Ardsley-on-Hudson” on station signs and in timetables for the past few years.


Above: 1896 drawing of the Ardsley Casino clubhouse. Below: 1899 photo of the clubhouse grounds, and a postcard showing the yacht landing, train station, and clubhouse. The aesthetic of the train station matches the buildings for the Casino. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

In regards to the train station, the name Ardsley derives from the Ardsley Casino, which opened at this location in 1896. The “on-Hudson” portion was tacked on because of its geographic location on the river, and to differentiate it from the village of Ardsley. To confuse you more, the Casino wasn’t a casino, but more of a club for the rich to play golf. While the Casino built a dock for their rich members to sail up to in their yachts, not all of the membership was quite as fortunate to own one – thus a train station was constructed. The train station building mirrored the Tudor revival architecture style of the Casino’s nearby clubhouse. The two buildings stood in close proximity until 1936 when the clubhouse was torn down. As the only surviving remnant of the club that once stood here, the station building does look a little bit out of place aesthetically, and has a unique look compared to other Hudson Line stations.

Though the Ardsley Casino no longer exists, the more informal Ardsley Country Club, can be named as its sucessor. The Casino merged with the nearby Racquet and Swimming Club in 1935, shortly before the old clubhouse was torn down and took that name.


Pedestrian bridge that connected the Hudson House apartments to the train station, which was destroyed in 2010. Photo by John Reidy.
 
Aerial views of Ardsley-on-Hudson. The one on the left is from 2004, the one on the right from 2010, shortly after the pedestrian bridge was destroyed. Note the differences in the station itself – the station was upgraded in the time between both photos.

After the Casino was torn down, it was replaced with the Hudson House Apartments. At one time there was a pedestrian bridge that connected the apartments directly to the train station. Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed in 2010 when a sanitation driver crashed his dump truck into it. The historical bridge was never rebuilt.

 
Construction at Ardsley-on-Hudson station in 2005 and 2006. Photos by Henry C.

CSX at Ardsley-on-Hudson. Photo by Michael Foley.

Though the original station building still exists, it is not used for any railroad functions. It is now the home of the Ardsley-on-Hudson post office, and contains rows of post office boxes. The original fireplaces built in the station are still there, but not used. You may not be able to buy your ticket here, but there still is a small area that one could probably use to wait for a train, and some bathrooms.

Like many of Metro-North’s Hudson Line stations, Ardsley-on-Hudson underwent considerable improvements in the past few years. Ardsley-on-Hudson had its turn in 2005 and 2006, when a new overpass was built, as well as new platforms. Canopies were added to much of the platform to protect riders from the elements, which are visible in the aerial shot above. Ticket Vending Machines were installed in the new overpass.

All in all, Ardsley-on-Hudson is a pretty nice station. It has a bit of history, and being right on the Hudson River always looks nice. From the station you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge to the north, and just barely make out the George Washington Bridge in the far south on a clear day. If you ever find yourself on the Hudson Line, Ardsley-on-Hudson would always be an interesting station to check out!