Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Otisville


Old Erie station at Otisville, photograph by James E. Bailey, dated 1909. This station was located closer to downtown Otisville, the current Otisville station is in a different location.

Though it feels like we’ve just begun our tour of the Port Jervis line, in reality, we’re almost complete. Of course, the Port Jervis line is not nearly as long as either the Harlem or Hudson lines which have already been featured here. The fact that the stations here are rather unremarkable, and a bit more forgettable, probably doesn’t help. Today’s station, Otisville, is another one of the line’s bland stops. We’re deep into the rural portion Orange County here – and about 82 miles from the start of the line in Hoboken. In terms of ridership, Otisville is the Port Jervis line’s least used station – something the infrastructure seems to reflect. Besides a small shelter on the low-level platform, and a few station name signs, there isn’t too much here.


Train exiting the Otisville Tunnel, 1948.

While the New York Central had its famed “Water-level Route,” following along rivers like the Hudson and providing a relatively flat journey – the Erie Railroad had to tackle more difficult terrain. The Shawangunk Ridge was one such obstacle, and although track had been built near Otisville going over the ridge, it was not the optimal solution for freight. The answer to the problem was the Otisville Tunnel, built in 1908, and likely more noteworthy than the station itself. From the station platform you can see the portal to the tunnel, and the extra track used as a siding for trains entering and exiting. The tunnel measures 5,314 feet long, is 30 feet wide, and extends 25 feet above the rails at the top of the arch. When the tunnel was first built it was used exclusively for freight – passenger trains still went over the ridge – but that was eventually abandoned and all traffic was sent through the tunnel.

  
 
 
  
 
   
 
  

Next week we’ll take a visit to the eponymous Port Jervis station, and the end of the line. After that we’ll move on to the short Pascack Valley line, followed by the one everyone has been waiting for – the Hudson Line.

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Middletown Town of Wallkill


“So, boss, where do we fit the Metro-North logo?” “I don’t know, just slap it wherever there’s some room!”

I’m sure this is the post you’ve absolutely been dying for… the moment we officially crown Metro-North’s station with the longest name. Middletown Town of Wallkill is certainly a mouthful… And it certainly fills up those station signs. Though most folks probably call the station just Middletown, the station is considered part of Wallkill. The real Middletown station, which is now a library that I featured a few weeks ago, was on the portion of the Erie main line that was abandoned when Metro-North took over in the 80’s. A new station was built, and to include everybody it inherited the name Middletown, and was also given the name Wallkill. Unfortunately, there is another Wallkill in New York – the hamlet of Wallkill, which is in Ulster county. Therefore, to differentiate the two, “town of” was tacked on in front of Wallkill. This is apparently how you create a massive station name. Only on the Port Jervis line.


A circus train arrives at the former Middletown station in 1906. The old station is about three and half miles west of the current station. [images source]

As you’ve likely surmised, Middletown Town of Wallkill station is hardly an interesting place. It does have relatively new facilities though, with a nice green canopy covering the platform, and two ticket vending machines. There is a mini low-level platform for any riders in wheelchairs, but Harriman is considered the closest station with full ADA accessibility. The station is approximately 72 miles from Hoboken, a ride that ranges from around one hour and 45 minutes to two hours. A ride to Penn Station takes around two hours as well. Beyond that, there isn’t anything super interesting about this place… though if you’re a fan of shopping, there is a mall not far from the station.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Campbell Hall

 

Early 1900’s views of the Erie’s Campbell Hall station, which was on the Montgomery Branch. The current Campbell Hall station is now located on what was the Graham Line.

As we continue our tour of the Port Jervis line, the next stop we arrive at is Campbell Hall. While the Metro-North facilities here are rather dull, there is a little bit of interesting stuff that does go on at this station. What you’ll immediately notice are the multiple tracks – since the majority of the Port Jervis line is single-tracked. Stowed on a few of the tracks are various train cars, and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll see a locomotive. Though a few of them might belong to Metro-North or New Jersey Transit, the majority probably belongs to the Middletown and New Jersey Railroad, which operates through Campbell Hall.


Postcard view of freight on the Graham Line in Campbell Hall, 1971

Though the Erie did have a station at Campbell Hall, it was not located along this line. When Metro-North took over operations in the 80’s, a small facility was established here, as there were no stations on the Graham Line previously. Like many of the other Port Jervis line facilities we’ve seen, there is not too much here. The low-level platform is partially covered by a canopy, and there is a small shelter to protect riders from the elements. Located inside the shelter are two New Jersey Transit ticket vending machines. The station has a small high-level platform section to accommodate riders in wheelchairs, but is not considered a fully ADA accessible station. Dispersed along the platform are a few planter boxes containing trees… which would probably be a nice touch anywhere else, but we are pretty much located in the wilderness already.


Wilderness case-in-point. You can photograph both trains and wildlife at Campbell Hall. I’ve named this little fellow Paulo coelho.

 

Photos of the Metro-North station at Campbell Hall in the late 80’s. The station has been renovated since, and there is a far nicer shelter for riders. [photo credit]

Campbell Hall was certainly a lot more interesting in the past, with several railroads passing through the small hamlet – but today it is just serviced by Metro-North’s commuter trains, and some occasional freight. On the commuter side of things, a ride from Campbell Hall to Penn Station in the city will take you slightly less than two hours, and to Hoboken about an hour and a half.

Though my stormy-day photographs of Campbell Hall are hardly spectacular, thankfully they are not the worst photos ever taken here – I bestow that honor upon Metro-North itself. One of these days they are totally going to update their site, so it doesn’t say that Campbell Hall is “65.6 miles to Grand Central Terminal” – but that day probably isn’t today.

 
  
   
 
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

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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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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Harriman

 
The two above photos were on a single postcard, showing the old and new stations at Harriman. The station at left was known as Turners, and was replaced with the station on the right in 1911. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

As we continue north on our tour of the Port Jervis Line, the next station we encounter is Harriman. When the railroad first arrived here in the 1800’s, the station was known as Turners, after original landowner Peter Turner. The first station built by Turner burned down in 1873, and was replaced with a smaller wood structure (above left). By 1911, that station was falling into disrepair and was again replaced with a brick and stucco structure with a tin roof (above right). The land for this new station was donated by Edward Harriman, and after he passed away in 1909, the name of the station was changed to Harriman in his honor.

 
Postcard of Harriman station, built in 1911. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.


Erie railroad photograph of Harriman station, taken shortly after construction was completed.

The location of today’s Harriman station, however, is in a totally different place than those shown above. Harriman was originally on the Erie railroad’s main line, which was abandoned in the 1980’s when Metro-North took over passenger service. A simple station, which retained the name Harriman, was built by Metro-North on the railroad’s new route, which was formerly known as the Graham Line. The new station is basic, consisting of a platform, canopy, small shelter, and two ticket vending machines.


Edward Harriman’s “special train.” Photo from the GG Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.

Besides being known for his badass moustache, and the namesake of this station, Edward Harriman was a wealthy railroad executive that owned a large estate which he named Arden (some of that land was donated upon his death, and is now Harriman State Park). Although he was associated with the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, he did influence the Erie Railroad as well – and two stations were named for him. In addition to Harriman, the station of Arden was named after his large estate. Reflecting his status as a wealthy executive, Harriman, of course, had his own private train – which is in the photo above.


The years were not particularly kind to the old Harriman station. The dilapidated structure was torn down in 2006.

Although the tracks running past the old Harriman station were torn out, the station building did survive for at least a few more years. Unfortunately, the run-down building was deemed unsafe, and in lieu of renovating it, the station was torn down in 2006.

Though these stations built by Metro-North aren’t very spectacular, the canopy on a few of them depicts a small sketch of the railroad in bygone years. Harriman’s sketch features a steam train, passing in front of what appears to be the old Harriman station. This is probably the only remotely interesting thing going on at Harriman, other than the weekend bus that will take you over to Woodbury Common. Well, at least you can get to the city in about an hour and fifteen minutes.

I’ll just wrap things up with a few of the terrible photos I took during my visit to Harriman. Have I mentioned that I really want to reshoot the entire Port Jervis line on a day that actually has nice weather? Perhaps someday…

 
   
  
 
   
   
  
 
   
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Tuxedo

 

Postcard views of Tuxedo, from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

While taking a ride on the Port Jervis Line, you will travel through Metro-North’s most rural territory. Although the trees and greenery along the route can be quite scenic, the stations along the line are rather rudimentary, bare-bones facilities. The only exception to that is Tuxedo – today’s stop on our tour of the Port Jervis Line. Tuxedo is the only station on the line that has its historical station building still standing, and at the same site of the current station (Metro-North’s Port Jervis station was relocated, about two-tenths of a mile past the original station). For this reason, you could probably say that Tuxedo is the nicest station on the Port Jervis Line. Though the building is owned by the town and is no longer used for any railroad-related purpose, it is a gorgeous old station that certainly gives the place a little character – something that is really absent at other Port Jervis stations.

 
(left) Early 1900’s view of Tuxedo, (right) Tuxedo in 1968

Tuxedo Park – the village where the station is located – is a nice little area with a bit of history behind it. Originally founded as a resort community for the rich, Tuxedo Park was conceived by Pierre Lorillard IV and designed by architect Bruce Price. Work commenced on this planned village in 1885 and took eight months, with the labor of 1800 men. As we’ve seen in many of the places we’ve visited, the placement of Tuxedo was deliberate and influenced by the railroad. Founder Lorillard hoped to create an exclusive community, attracting the well-to-do businessmen and socialites of New York City. The fact that Tuxedo was linked by the Erie Railroad to the city, in about an hour’s time, was certainly an important factor.

Though certainly known today for its charm as a beautiful community, Tuxedo does have a few claims-to-fame. One could consider it the “birthplace” for American etiquette, as author, socialite, and Tuxedo resident Emily Post (daughter of architect Bruce Price) wrote several bestselling books on proper etiquette. And although the origins of the term are not entirely agreed upon, the word tuxedo (as in men’s formal attire) perhaps originated here, a name that derived from the clothing men would wear to the Tuxedo Club.


Early 1900’s view of Tuxedo station. Photo from the collection of the Tuxedo Park Library.

Although the architect for the station in Tuxedo is not definitively known, it is assumed to be designed by Tuxedo’s architect Bruce Price. The Tuxedo Club, as well as twenty-six residences in the village were all designed by Price. In order to lend an air of exclusivity, the community was gated, and included a large stone entrance-way, also designed by Price. Although Tuxedo is certainly one of Price’s notable works, his most well-known achievement was the American Surety Building, one of Manhattan’s earliest skyscrapers. Price also did work for various railroads, including the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Boston and Albany Railroad, and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

   

Photographs of a train crash at Tuxedo in 1951. According to one Tuxedo Park resident, one of the freight cars was filled with oranges that spilled all over – many young children at the time collected these oranges and brought them home. Photo from the collection of the Tuxedo Park Library.

When I visited Tuxedo, I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of the inside, as a fairly raucous party was going on (and getting rid of the tipsy party goers on the outside was a chore as well). Although it made photo-taking difficult, in a way I have to think it is pretty wonderful. In 2009, at the cost of about a million dollars, the town restored the 1885 Tuxedo station. The building truly belongs to the community, as it is available for use by scout groups, or even to rent out for parties (and who wouldn’t want to get tipsy at Tuxedo?). Over the years the station sported various color schemes – for a time it was even white with brown trim – but during the restoration the goal was to make the station look as it did when it was first built. Some of the details, like the stained glass, are historians’ best guesses – either way, they look great. Not only is the station on the National Register of Historic Places, the village of Tuxedo Park is as well.


Timetable and ticket for Tuxedo. From the collection of Otto Vondrak.

The Metro-North portion of Tuxedo station is not much compared to the grandeur of the historical building, but it includes a low-level platform, a small shelter, and a canopy covering a portion of the platform. Some of the benches on the platform have likely been there for quite a while, as they are still labeled “Erie.”

Tuxedo is 37 miles from Hoboken, which takes about an hour or more by train. A commute to Penn Station (with a transfer at Secaucus) takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

 
  
 
   
 
   
 
 
   
 

After Tuxedo we head further north, towards Harriman. It is just ahead where the rail line diverged – branching off from the Erie main line was the Graham Line. As mentioned before, that original route was abandoned in favor of the Graham Line. Harriman had a station on the main line, but after that abandonment Metro-North built a new station on the other – it is there we will visit next week.


Train just north of Tuxedo station, 1988

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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Sloatsburg


Original Erie station at Sloatsburg, which no longer exists. Photograph from the Sloatsburg Historical Society.

As we head further along the Port Jervis Line, the next station we come to after Suffern is Sloatsburg. The station is about 35 miles from Hoboken, and is relatively bare-bones. We could certainly compare it to some other stations on the east of the Hudson, like Ansonia, but it does have one difference – you will find a ticket vending machine here. The low-level platform and the very small shelter are actually quite similar, however. Although there had been talk about upgrading the infrastructure at the station years ago, including making it handicap-accessible, not much has been done. It is one of the least-used stations on the line (only Otisville gets fewer riders), which likely plays a part in that decision.


Postcard view of Sloatsburg station. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Though there isn’t much here now, Sloatsburg did have a station building in the past. The two-story brick station was built in the mid 1800’s for the Erie Railroad. Sometime after the 1940’s, however, the building was torn down – leaving the spot relatively bare.


EL train at Sloatsburg in 1968.


Train near Sloatsburg in 1983.


Train arrives at the small Sloatsburg station in 2007. [image source]

Normally I don’t include current-day photographs taken by others on the site, but I did make an exception for the one above. I think it really illustrates the small station of Sloatsburg – as it is dwarfed by the oncoming train.

Below you will find all of the photographs I took while visiting Sloatsburg. If I had the means to, I would love to go back and rephotograph the entire Port Jervis Line on a day that wasn’t so crappy looking. Alas, you will find many of the photos from here and the other stations rather dreary.

   
 
    
  
   
  

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And on, to Port Jervis

For the past two years, just about every Tuesday we’ve explored a new Metro-North station. For the most part, these have been stations that you may have heard of before, but perhaps never visited. Most regular commuters are familiar with the three main Metro-North lines that terminate in Grand Central: the Harlem Line, the New Haven Line, and the Hudson Line. However, Metro-North owns the stations and funds the operation for two other lines, on the west of the Hudson River. It is there that we will now point our attention, starting with the Port Jervis Line.


Map of the west-of-Hudson lines, including the former Erie main line that was abandoned in favor of the freight Graham Line.

Though us commuters on the east side of the Hudson don’t purposely try to forget our fellows over on the west, it is at times easy to ignore them. One pretty big reason is that their trains don’t run into Grand Central. Another reason is that the service is operated by New Jersey Transit. Although the stations are owned by Metro-North, and the railcars usually say Metro-North on the outside, the conductor you give your ticket to is a NJ Transit employee (and you probably bought that ticket from a NJ Transit TVM). The lines may end in New York state, but they begin in New Jersey.


Ridership diagram of the west-of-Hudson lines, based on the number of rides to and from each station in an average week. Larger station names designate more rides.

However, one event in the past year has unfortunately brought news of the west-of-Hudson lines to the forefront. Last August’s impending Hurricane Irene led to an unprecedented shutdown of the entire MTA system, and although this helped significantly in mitigating damages, there were some places where it was unavoidable. After the storm had passed and the damage was surveyed, Metro-North was likely the worst hit, compared with the other MTA agencies. Although there was flooding at stations along the Harlem and Hudson Lines, it was the Port Jervis that bore the brunt of the storm’s fury. Service on the line was suspended indefinitely as washouts completely destroyed the track in some places, and entire parking lots were flooded. Photos of the damage became front page news – the Port Jervis Line had our attention – but for all the wrong reasons.


Selection of photographs showing the damage on the Port Jervis Line after Hurricane Irene. All photos from the MTA.

Aside from all that, the Port Jervis Line isn’t that bad a place. It is some of the most rural country on all of Metro-North’s territory, and riding a train through it all can be quite beautiful. My favorite part of the line, the Moodna Viaduct, I featured on the site several months ago. Most of the stations really aren’t much to write home about, but there are several former stations – like Middletown, and Port Jervis – which I also plan on showing you all.


1969 Port Jervis main line timetable, which includes the line’s original passenger stations, until that part of the line was abandoned in the 80’s. From the collection of Michael Jensen.

Before we begin the tour next Tuesday with Suffern, I thought it would be good to mention a little bit of back story regarding the line. As I mentioned previously, none of the current stations (with perhaps the exception of Tuxedo) are really noteworthy – part of this is because the route the Port Jervis line now follows was not the original route for passengers. The original Erie main-line diverted west just after Harriman, and passed through Monroe, Chester, and Goshen, before meeting back up with what is the current line just after Middletown.


Aerial view of the Erie main line running through the town of Goshen. This portion of the rail line was removed in the 80’s.

The route the trains now follow was called the Graham Line, and was used mostly for freight. Instead of having to maintain two sets of tracks in roughly the same geographical area, a portion of the main line was abandoned in favor of the better-maintained Graham Line. This also meant abandoning several historical passenger stations (like the beautiful Erie depot in Middletown, now a library), and building new, relatively utilitarian, facilities on the former freight line. And instead of running right through the center of several towns, trains run on a more circuitous route outside of heavily populated areas.


Other various area timetables, including the current combined Port Jervis and Pascack Valley timetable.

Since I have all of the Port Jervis stations photographed, I thought it might be nice to actually travel the line in order, starting with Suffern (which is really more of a New Jersey Transit station, though in New York state). Look for the Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line, starting next week.

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