Chatham: Revisited

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have a strange affinity for the village of Chatham. Although it is an adorable place, rather quaint, I wonder what exactly it was like when the railroads ran through here. You might see a freight train, or a passing Lake Shore Limited, but none of them stop. Chatham once serviced the New York & Harlem Railroad, the Boston & Albany, and the Rutland – all of which are long gone. And thus the place is a little bit of a curiosity to me. The many suburbs along the Harlem – Bronxville, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, and even the ones further north, Katonah, Brewster – they were all influenced by the rail. They grew and morphed into the places we know now, and though the rail does not entirely define those places now, the rail still is there, playing a part in the futures of those areas. But Chatham, it is a special case. The single most defining factor of the village has disappeared. It is no longer the terminus of any railroads. The once busy Union Station no longer serves train riders, it is a bank. Chatham has reverted to a quieter version of itself, representing a little portion of historical Columbia County.

Many places across the country have seen transformations, with the things they were built upon playing a part in their downfall. Detroit was built on the auto industry, but as the industry migrated and moved overseas, parts of the city have become abandoned – a true example of urban decay. The small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was built upon anthracite coal, literally and figuratively. Ironically, it was the coal brought the death sentence of the little town, as it caught fire in the 1960’s and has been burning ever since. There is something about these changed places that intrigues me (high on my list of places to visit is also Pripyat, an abandoned town brought down by the failings of humans). All of these, of course, are radical examples. Chatham lives, it does not decay. Perhaps the once-fundamental core of its being is gone, but it still thrives. But just as one can compare the photos of Detroit’s urban decay with the historical photos of yesteryear, one can bear witness to the radical changes made in just a few scant years (or slightly longer than the years I’ve been on this Earth). There are no more signal towers, water towers, or turntables. The children of Chatham will never board a passenger train in their village to head the one hundred and twenty seven miles to Grand Central. And of course, the Harlem division will never again run this far north.

The time for Chatham as a railroad town has passed. As the time has ticked by it has reinvented itself, and is still reinventing itself. It is not the decline as a railroad hub that has intrigued me about Chatham, but that reinvention. It is a charming and beautiful little village, with a gazebo, clock tower, shops, and restaurants – plus a whole lot of history. The photos below were taken back in October upon my second visit to Chatham, a visit where I actually had time to shop and eat, and enjoy the surrounding history. Perhaps if you too find Chatham to be interesting you will take the time to visit some day…

 
  
 
 
 
  
 
   
 
 

The photos below were sent in by reader John. They were taken in the late 1960’s at Chatham.

 
 
 

For an even further back look, the Library of Congress has an illustrated map view of the village of Chatham from 1886. At this time the “Union Station” had not been built, and the Boston & Albany, and the New York & Harlem each had their own rail stations. For easier viewing I’ve given the B&A station a slight red tint, and the Harlem a blue tint.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Woodlawn

Although it is the Hudson Line more often cited for its scenery, you do pass by quite a few interesting locales taking a train down the Harlem Line. From the farmlands of Dutchess county, to the reservoirs that serve the city’s need for water, there is much to see on the Harlem Line – and I hope that I’ve been able to show some of this on my weekly tour of the various stations. Although it certainly isn’t the most noteworthy, the line does also pass by quite a few cemeteries. In the case of Kensico Cemetery, the railroad probably played a part in its growth. Kensico may no longer have a station dedicated to it, but at one time the cemetery even had its own rail car to serve the more affluent of folk heading to bury their loved ones.


Resting place of Gail Borden, at the Woodlawn Cemetery

Another cemetery I haven’t yet mentioned on here, however, is the Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn station itself is located in the Bronx, a bit shy of 12 miles from Grand Central. It is just north of Woodlawn that the New Haven Line diverges from the Harlem. Although the station isn’t expressly for the cemetery, as Kensico was, it is very close to it. For those interested in seeing the final resting place of quite a few historical figures, Woodlawn would definitely be an interesting place to check out. Not to mention the wide array of different styles of memorial (someone please erect a statue of me riding a liger upon my death?). Some of the memorials were designed by renowned architects, such as Cass Gilbert (who designed New Haven’s Union Station), and McKim, Mead, and White (who designed the original Pennsylvania Station). Noteworthy musicians WC Handy, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington are all buried at Woodlawn, as well as businessmen whose names most people recognize: RH Macy, JC Penney, and Frank Woolworth. And many of us would also recognize the names of Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Simon Guggenheim, and Augustus Juilliard, also buried in the cemetery. Of course my favorite “resident” is Gail Borden, the eccentric inventor of condensed milk, who was also a Harlem Division rider (a post about him on here is quite overdue, but will be coming soon, I swear!)

Anyways, here are some shots of the Harlem Line station at Woodlawn:
  
 
  
 
 
  

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Canadian Adventures: Toronto’s Union Station & Skywalk

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.

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Construction at New Haven’s Union Station begins today: Farewell to the Solari, Happy 90th Birthday, & National Train Day

A few months ago, news hit the newspapers and internet that the Connecticut Department of Transportation was going to be removing the Solari split-flap departure board at Union Station in New Haven. There was a bit of a fight about it though: people didn’t want to see the sign go. People tried writing letters… even I wrote a letter to the CDOT, which of course, was never answered. A Facebook group, called Save Solari, even rounded up 600 fans that wanted the sign to stay. Unfortunately, it seems that all those attempts to convince the CDOT failed. Construction on New Haven’s Union Station begins today. And Metro-North has confirmed on Twitter that it will include the replacement of the split-flap display with an LED sign. The construction also includes upgrades to the sprinkler and fire protection systems, heating and a/c improvements, rehabilitation of the elevators, reconstruction of the pedestrian tunnel, and upgrades to the PA system. The construction will happen over the next twelve months, at which point of this the Solari will be removed has not been mentioned. But apparently, it’s days are numbered.

News of the impending construction led me to finally take a visit over to Union Station on Saturday. Saturday was also National Train Day, though I wasn’t aware that there were even going to be events happening at the train station. In fact, I had been there for at least an hour before I even noticed. I heard the people talking in the corner, though when I went to go investigate, politician Ned Lamont was speaking. His groupies practically tripped over their own legs to get to me and give me stickers and other political propaganda. Which I had to reject several times, at which point I just left.

Later on when I was investigating the paper hats people were wearing, I noticed that there was a cake for Union Station’s 90th Birthday. You know about me and hats, like a moth to a flame. Over by the cake though, there was an agenda for the National Train Day events at the station, which is the only way I figured out that was going on. Ned Lamont was one of the listed speakers on that agenda. Though I didn’t listen to what he had said (me and politicians have a relationship completely opposite than me and hats), I just kept thinking he somewhat hijacked this odd “National Train Day” to promote his gubernatorial campaign. I am almost as skeptical of that as I am of the whole idea of “National Train Day” – a delightful marketing event by Amtrak. Conceptually it is cool, but the real idea behind it… well, it just feels as bogus as if Hallmark declared tomorrow “Give cards to all your coworkers day.”

Alright, that is enough drivel from me, what you really came to see were the photos, right?











Departure board, we’ll miss you! And of course, Happy Birthday Union Station. For more information about the construction, be sure to check Metro North’s site.

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Rabbit Girl’s Morning Ride…

Today the “Cat Girl” morphed into “Rabbit Girl”. It has been so cold lately, that I figured I’d use the rabbit hat, since the long ears can be wrapped around and serve as a scarf. You really know it is cold though, when you get to the station and there isn’t a single soul standing on the platform. They are all hiding in the heated vestibules until the train arrives.

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When I got into work I took this photo of my rabbit attire…

A bunch of trains were delayed this morning, my friend ended up getting in late. She said that the conductor told her a woman lost her shoe on the tracks. Anyone know if this is true? If it is, it is kind of lame. Clearly she should have gone to work barefoot. Oh that would be too funny.

On my train however, I had a delightful man that apparently felt like sticking his hand down his pants. I am of the opinion that if you are in public, you should not be doing that. Ever. It is really creepy and nasty. I did actually take a picture of the guy, but after much internal debate, I have chosen to not post that image on the blog.

Anyways, the time I spent on my train (ignoring the man with his hand down his pants) was somewhat eventful, since I decided to write a note to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, regarding the Solari board’s removal next year in New Haven. Apparently a follow up article to the one I posted a few days ago was written on the New Haven Independent site a few days ago. The DOT may consider some sort of compromise, where perhaps the Solari would be saved, but moved to a different place. Or donated to a museum. And the new LCD would make the characteristic flipping noise of the Solari. This “compromise” doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, as it still means the Solari would be moved from its location in the station. If I get any sort of response to the letter I wrote, I will certainly post it here.

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