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One more Warren & Wetmore station – Mount Vernon West History Photos

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

On the final day of 2013 – Grand Central’s centennial year – there’s one more station that I’d like to take a visit to. Several years ago, when we visited during our Tuesday Tour, we saw only part of the station, the tunnels and the platform. But beyond the current station’s doors is an edifice whose façade has remained fairly similar for over 90 years, though the inside has drastically changed. The New York Central’s station at Mount Vernon, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was at one time one of Westchester’s beautiful stations. Once it was on par with the great stations at Yonkers and White Plains – but while Yonkers survives and White Plains was razed, Mount Vernon exists in a strange limbo. As the New York Central’s financial woes became painfully obvious, the railroad began selling off the very buildings that were once symbols of their might. In 1959, Mount Vernon station was sold to local businessman who converted it to serve commercial purposes. The waiting room was dismantled and the cavernous space split into two floors, and the express room at the north end was demolished and a two-floor office building erected in its stead.

Postcard view of Mount Vernon station
Postcard view of Mount Vernon station

From the platform level one would hardly notice the history that surrounds this Metro-North station. A walk around the property at street level one discovers several exits long closed and covered in concrete. Behind masses of tall weeds is another former exit, the concrete marked with a 1916 date. The diamond in the rough, however, is the old station building, or rather its façade. A sgraffito panel bears the traditional symbols of transportation – the winged wheel and the caduceus – positioned between the text identifying the station as one of the New York Central Railroad. Besides this panel the adornments on the building are few, with the exception of a few sculpted flowers, surrounded by what could possibly be oak leaves.

  

Detail shots of the sgraffito panel on Mount Vernon West station.

Though the building is now covered in grime and graffiti, it is undeniable that at the time of completion this red brick building with limestone paneling was quite beautiful. Its sgraffito panel – an art technique which uses colored plaster applied to a moistened surface and scratched to reveal details – is unique among local train stations. While the building is not quite as embellished as the station at Yonkers, it is still a significant building reflecting the importance of Mount Vernon.

Map with locations of the old and new stations
Q&d map of Mount Vernon showing the locations of the old and new stations, and how the rail line was rerouted through town. Based on a map found in the 1914 edition of the G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of Westchester County, via the David Rumsey Map Collection. If you want to download the high res original, which shows individual tracks and sidings click here.

In the early 1900s Mount Vernon was experiencing significant development and was certainly an important stop on the Harlem Division, certainly warranting a new, larger station. However, there was yet another important reason why the town needed a new train station. If you’ve ever had the joy of being arrested by the MTAPD and taken to their station in Mount Vernon you are familiar with MacQuesten Parkway, the street on which the police station is located. MacQuesten Parkway was once known as Railroad Avenue, and the Harlem Division ran not far from where that police station is today. As the Harlem Division was electrified up to North White Plains, some adjustments were made in its route, one of which was in Mount Vernon. Just north of the border with the Bronx the line was raised and shifted about two blocks to the west. This allowed the elimination of a grade crossing in the city, and allowed the line to be four tracked.

Trolley line in Mount Vernon
Trolley line in Mount Vernon
An older face of Mount Vernon – the #7 trolley line connecting Yonkers and Mount Vernon ran right next to the station. The first photo, from the book Metropolitan New York’s Third Avenue Railway System shows an eastbound trolley just west of the station. The lower photo from SoYo Sunset shows two trolleys crossing under the New York Central’s tracks, and a northbound train departing Mount Vernon station (which is at left, out of the frame).

An array of businesses have found homes in the old station over the years, from a silversmith to a pharmacy, a photography shop, and even a karate studio in the building’s upper floor. The north wing that was demolished and rebuilt has been various banks over the years – in the ’80s the Bank of New York, today Chase. Original details on the inside are very few, but some design work can be found on the walls of an upper hallway.

The current train station, which consists of the tunnels under the tracks, is hardly noteworthy except for the old “M Central” signage and the Arts for Transit piece by Martha Jackson-Jarvis. Upstairs on the platform level one can see the back of the once great train station, now covered in graffiti. It is mildly amusing to note that the words sgraffito – the art found on the station, and graffiti – the spray marks tagged on the historical building both share the same origins. I generally appreciate the graffiti along rail lines, but it is a shame to see it mar a nearly hundred year old station… it seems to be the final, sad outcome of a once proud station, reflecting the downfall of a once great railroad, now long gone.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
   
   
  
   
 
  
  

Decay and Rebirth: the Glenwood Power Station Train History Photos Videos

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Anyone familiar with the history of Grand Central Terminal (and hopefully all of you that regularly read this blog) likely recall a 1902 train crash that led to significant changes in how New Yorkers viewed trains. Nobody really liked steam trains operating through the city, and attempts to hide them in cuts and tunnels proved to be unsafe. That particularly serious crash in the Park Avenue Tunnel led to steam trains being banned in Manhattan. The idea of electric trains had been pondered for a while, but this proved the necessary impetus for innovation. The New York Central’s Chief Engineer William Wilgus, and inventor Frank Sprague came up with the bottom contact third rail to power trains into the city, allowing a bold new Grand Central that could never have been accomplished with the previous technology. The often overlooked question, however, is where did that electricity come from? Let’s rewind back a few years to the beginning of the Grand Central project…

At the heart of the Grand Central Project was not just a station, but an entire set of buildings – A Terminal City. Minnesota architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem won the New York Central’s commission for designing the new Grand Central Terminal, with the assistance of Reed’s brother-in-law, William Wilgus. Later added to the project by the Vanderbilt family were cousin Whitney Warren and his partner Charles Wetmore. The four collaborated on the Terminal itself, as well as the redesigned Grand Central Palace. Other buildings associated with the project were divided between the two firms – the hotels and New York Central Building went to Warren and Wetmore. Though not the most important architecturally, the two most important buildings of all were designed by Reed & Stem – the power stations that powered these new electric trains.

1905 sketches of the New York power stations
1905 sketches of the Yonkers (Glenwood) Power station (left) and Port Morris power station (right).

Two power stations were constructed by the New York Central in 1906 – one on the Harlem Division at Port Morris (the Harlem had a short branch to Port Morris at the time), and another in the Glenwood section of Yonkers on the Hudson Division. The architecture of both, as designed by Reed and Stem, was relatively simple with brick and terra cotta on the outside. Long, arched windows provided natural light during the day, and an attractive glow along the water at night. Under that simple exterior lay an extensive framework of steel (2800 tons of steel in total), with concrete flooring, brick and tile walls, and concrete roofing slabs covered with copper. Each plant consisted of two buildings – a main building that enclosed a boiler room, coal bunker, and generating room which was 167′ wide, 237′ long, and 105′ high, and a separate swich house located about 40′ away from the main building.

Port Morris Power Station Typical substation
The Glenwood Power Station
1905 plans for the Yonkers and Port Morris power stations, as well as a typical substation.

Both power stations were cross-connected, and each had an ultimate capacity of 30,000 kw. Just as Grand Central was designed to handle more traffic than the railroad was currently operating, the power stations were designed to carry train service much greater than what was being operated at the time with steam locomotives. Powered by coal, the plants were both designed to receive coal by rail or by boat, which was then delivered by conveyors to a crusher. After the coal was crushed to the necessary size, it was delivered by another conveyor to a coal bunker with a 3500 ton capacity at the top of the building. Each plant had 24 Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers, and was designed to accommodate 6 5000kw Curtis vertical turbo-generators. The high voltage AC electricity provided by these power plants was delivered to various substations along the Harlem and Hudson Divisions through insulated cables, where it was then converted to lower voltage DC power for the third rail to power trains.

 
 
  
   
  
   
    
  
   
  
   
 
  
The power station today, after being abandoned for decades.

Though integral to the initial operations of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Central eventually realized that it would be cheaper to purchase energy as opposed to generating its own, and the Glenwood plant was sold to Con Edison in 1936. By the late ’60s the obsolete plant was shuttered and remained abandoned for decades… until fairly recently. A bold plan to restore and repurpose the old power station has been on the table for a few years, but seems to be moving forward thanks to the assistance of New York politicians.

Rendering of the redeveloped power station
Rendering of how the redeveloped power station would look.

“The Plant” project looks to turn the crumbling power station into a hotel and a convention center, with a capacity of 1600 and 3500 people, respectively. The space is separated into four distinct parts – the Smokestack Building, the Great Turbine Hall, a courtyard, and the Switch House Building – all of which will be connected internally with a new corridor. The smokestack building would contain a reception area, and cafe on the ground floor, and a hotel on the upper floors. Not only will the smokestacks be preserved, plans call for meeting rooms to be constructed inside the 15’6″-diameter stacks.

Plan for restoration
Compare the original plans above with the plans for the future…

A large convention center and exhibition space is planned for the Great Turbine Hall, upper floors may contain retail shops, and the building may also include a spa. The last building to be converted, the Switch House Building, will be converted into a corporate retreat with a hotel, ballroom, restaurant and cafe. This building would see the most changes from the original, as two stories would be added to the building for additional hotel space. The last section of the project would be the Courtyard, currently an open space between the buildings. This open air area would be enclosed with a glass roof and would contain a restaurant or cafe, and a seasonal garden.

All of the aforementioned buildings would be connected to the Metro-North station at Glenwood via a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.

Plan for development
Plans for development around the old Glenwood power station

While there will always be people opposed to development in their neighborhood, the plans for restoring and repurposing the old power station were generally well received. Unfortunately, the area surrounding the site contains no space for parking, and project planners had their eyes on portions of nearby Trevor Park to fit that need, which was not well received by locals. Original plans called for a partially underground parking structure under the current Trevor Park, with artificial turf ball fields to be constructed above. After comments from the public, alternate possibilities have been suggested.

Alternate development site plan
Alternate plan for development around the old Glenwood power station

Either way, the city council unanimously decided at the end of April to request the New York State Legislature to authorize construction on former park lands for the project to move forward. The one caveat being that all parkland being used by the project must be replaced and improved in equal or greater acreage in alternate spots. This alternate parkland would be closer to the waterfront, and the development plans calls for sand volleyball courts, a bocce court, and a picnic and grilling area. This area would be in addition to the previously mentioned park above the parking garage, which is planned to have three ball fields and a playground.


Video highlighting the restoration and repurposing of the Glenwood Power Station.

I, for one, am very eager to see this beautiful old structure again restored to greatness. Though frequently overlooked, the old power plant played an integral role not only in local rail history, but also in the growth of New York City and its suburbs in Westchester and beyond. It will certainly be interesting watch how this project progresses!

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Glenwood Train Photos

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I have a secret confession to make… the Hudson Line sure is attractive, but in my opinion, one of the most beautiful spots is probably not on most people’s list. I absolutely adore Glenwood. I do have a bizarre infatuation with abandoned buildings, though – and the old Glenwood power station is quite gorgeous to me. While we’re technically checking out Glenwood’s train station today, the abandoned power station is impossible to miss. It also has a shared history with the railroad, at least in the distant past, which does make it a relevant part of today’s tour.


Inside the power station. Despite my professed love for the abandoned Glenwood power station, I’m too much of a law-abiding chicken to try and enter the place. Thankfully, many other people have, and it is pretty easy to find photos online. Photo by Chris M. Howard.

As you may remember, in 1902 there was a serious train crash in the Park Avenue Tunnel, which was one of the catalysts for third-rail electrification heading into New York City. The railroad, of course, needed somewhere to get the electricity from – and built two power generating stations – here in Glenwood, and another one in Port Morris.

Completed in 1906, the Glenwood power station provided high voltage electricity to various substations located along the Harlem and Hudson divisions. These substations converted the electricity to what was needed to power the third rail for the trains. The New York Central used the power station for 30 years, before selling it to Con Edison in 1936. It was ultimately shut down in the 1960′s, and for many years sat vacant.


Glenwood Power Station – reimagined.

Over the many years that the the power station has sat idle, there have been various proposals to convert it to other uses. Some of those proposals are downright strange – like the one above. Designed by architect Will Alsop, he reimagined the power station as a new home to a contemporary art museum, with residential apartments located above. As you will see from my photos below, work is currently being done on the old building, thankfully not using the design above. According to The New York Times, $200 million has been set aside for the restoration and redevelopment, “to be used for conventions, exhibitions and public events, among other things.”



CSX at Glenwood in 2009 – the former power station visible in both. Photos by Michael Foley.

As for the Metro-North station itself, Glenwood is about 16 miles north of Grand Central, situated in the city of Yonkers. The station consists of two side platforms, connected by an overpass. Above the platforms and on the same level as the overpass there is an old brick station building which is fairly attractive – minus the chain and padlock on the doors.

All of the platform station signs mention the Hudson River Museum, which is within walking distance of the station, and worth checking out. Perhaps not too far in the future, with the redevelopment at the old power station, there will be more attractions at Glenwood. If residential apartments were a part of that plan, it would be the perfect home for a commuter – within walking distance of Glenwood station, all with lovely views of the Hudson River.

 
  
  
   
  
  
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Ludlow Train Photos

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012


Monthly pass from Ludlow, and a Domino Sugar postcard. Yonkers, just north of Ludlow station, has been the home to a sugar refinery for over 100 years.

Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us to another of Yonkers’ railroad stations. Our visit to Ludlow will be relatively short, as there isn’t too much to mention here. The station is located just less than 14 miles from Grand Central, and is the southernmost Hudson Line station in Westchester county. Riverdale station is just south of here, and the main Yonkers station is north. Like many places along the line, the station consists of two outside platforms with four tracks running through the center. While most stations also have a platform overpass, here the elevated Ludlow Street serves as a method to access the other platform. Ticket machines are also located on this road.


CSX at the sugar refinery, just north of Ludlow station, in 2003. They are no longer a customer of CSX. Photo by Michael Foley.

As we’ve seen at other stations on the Hudson Line, the combination of the river and the railroad provided an optimal location for industry to thrive. Over the years many of these industries and factories have slowly disappeared. For over 100 years Yonkers – just north of Ludlow station – has been the home to a sugar refinery, still in operation today. The Yonkers location also serves as the headquarters of American Sugar Refining, Inc. This is one of the few sugar refineries still operating in the northeast, and Brian O’Malley, president of Domino Sugar, considers the railroad an important factor in the longevity of the Yonkers refinery.

That pretty much sums it up for Ludlow, which is one of the few Hudson Line stations not graced by an attractive view of the Hudson River. Next week we’ll be heading further north on the Hudson Line to a station that just might have a nicer view.

 
   
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
 

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Yonkers Train Photos

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

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. ;)