SmartCat Sundays: Milk on the Harlem Division

Milk has long been a staple of the American diet, and since the New York and Harlem Railroad was founded up until the 1950s, it was also a staple commodity carried by rail. Early in New York City’s history, dairy cows were kept and milked in the city proper near distilleries. Often sick cows were kept in cramped conditions, and fed the byproducts of whiskey making – resulting in a blue tinted “milk” that was lacking in cream content and dangerous to drink. Unscrupulous businessmen used additives – including water, sugar, molasses, egg, and even plaster of paris – to give it the appearance of fresh milk and sell it to an unwitting public. This tainted milk led to an increased infant mortality in the city, and was coined the “Swill Milk Scandal” when exposed in the periodicals of the day. The scandal eventually led to regulation of the milk industry, and a push for “pure milk” from dairies far outside the city. Stepping up to transport this milk were, of course, the railroads.

Rut Milk in the 1950s
The famous “Rut Milk” train passes through Mott Haven in the 1950s. The milk trains were eventually replaced by trucks. Photo by Victor Zollinsky.

Milk depots were established at many train depots, and local farmers could bring and sell their milk, which was then transported to the city. One of the Harlem’s most famous freights was the Rutland Milk train, which brought milk to New York City from Vermont – transferring from the Rutland Railroad to the Harlem in Chatham. Every day a swap would occur where a train full of milk changed hands at Chatham, exchanged for the previous day’s empties.

Today’s random tidbit from the archive is a letter from F.T. Hopkins to William Hooker. Hopkins was a milk dealer who operated the Harlem Railroad Milk Depot in New York City. The letter is addressed to Hooker at Wing’s Station – an earlier name for Wingdale.

Milk Depot Letter

Milk Depot Letter

 

Borden on the Harlem Line

Condensed milk promo card
New York Condensed Milk Company / Eagle Brand condensed milk promotional card.

Even if the milk transported by train to the city was considered “pure” and not of the “swill” variety, it did not last very long before spoilage in the days prior to refrigeration. Condensed milk stored in cans, however, could last for years without spoiling. Not only was condensed milk transported along the Harlem, it got its start here.

There are many ways to describe Gail Borden Jr.: a perpetual wanderer, deeply religious (anecdotal evidence suggests that he bought bibles for placement on the Harlem’s trains), eccentric inventor (he scared his friends by taking them on a ride straight into a river in a self-invented amphibious wagon – the “terraqueous machine”), an endlessly stubborn optimist that never gave up. All of those traits led him from his birthplace of Norwich, New York to Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Connecticut, and ultimately back to New York and the Harlem Railroad to launch his most successful invention – condensed milk.

For some time Borden had been interested in preventing food from spoilage. One of his first food related inventions was a meat biscuit, made from rendered meat and flour or potato and baked into a cracker, which could be eaten as is, or crushed into boiling water to make soup. He also experimented with preserving and concentrating fruit to make juices, and making coffee extract which took up far less space than regular coffee. Despite winning prizes for the meat biscuit, none of those endeavors were commercial successes. After debts forced him to give up on the meat biscuit and sell some of his property to pay creditors, Borden wholeheartedly pursued his milk preservation idea in Connecticut – starting a factory in Wolcottville. He eventually ran out of money and that factory closed, later replaced by a different factory in Burrville. Unfortunately, the Financial Panic of 1857 marked the end of that venture as well.

The first successful condensed milk factory, Wassaic, New York
The first successful condensed milk factory, Wassaic, New York

The original Borden factory in Wassaic today The original Borden factory in Wassaic today
The original Borden factory today, now occupied by the Pawling Corporation, which manufactures architectural products.

A chance encounter on a train ride, however, brought Gail Borden and financer Jeremiah Milbank together, and Milbank found promise in Borden’s idea. With Milbank’s money, Borden founded the New York Condensed Milk Company in Wassaic, New York, right next the the tracks of the Harlem Railroad. Borden’s tenacious spirit had finally paid off this time around, as his product became a commercial success. Another factory was constructed along the Harlem in Brewster to keep up with demand – and condensed milk became a staple for members of the Union Army during the Civil War.

After Borden’s successes he moved back to Texas, but upon death was returned by train to New York. He forever remains next to the Harlem Line, buried in Woodlawn Cemetery with a large monument that bears the following quote:
“I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.”

Borden's final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery
Borden’s final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery

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2014 in Photos – Your favorites from last year

As is customary around this time of year, it is always fun to look back on the previous year and what was popular. For the past few years I’ve counted down your favorite articles and social media posts, and today I bring you 2014 in Instagram. Instagram has quickly become the most popular social network that this site is on. While I’m often out photographing, the good majority of the photos I take never make it onto this site. The good ones, however, show up on Instagram. Here’s the top 10 favorites from 2014:


Two Metro-North diesels meet near the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, New York.

 
Left: An Alaska Railroad train bound for Fairbanks rounds the bend north of Nenana at sunset. Right: A Genesis pushes southbound on the Danbury Branch, kicking up leaves after departing Cannondale.


The only non-railroad photo to make the top 10, New York’s skyline as seen from the opposite side of the river in New Jersey.

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Spring Flowers and Harlem Line Track Work

After a very long and cold winter, it is finally starting to feel like spring. Hopefully you all had an enjoyable weekend, perhaps even watching or riding some trains. Alas down by the railroad tracks of the Hudson Line, the greenery has yet to bloom – so I decided to take spring to the trains.

 
Springtime on Metro North 
  
   
 

Meanwhile, Metro-North crews were hard at work this weekend in numerous places around the system. On the upper Harlem Line, busing was in effect as crews worked at the Pleasant Ridge Road and Chippawalla Road crossings in Wingdale. The Pleasant Ridge crossing has been a difficulty for well over a month now, requiring trains to stop and warn before entering the crossing, and proceeding at reduced speed through it. Hopefully after this work, everything will be getting back to normal. Crews started work on the crossing Friday evening, and worked almost nonstop through the weekend to get it back in order for regular service at about 4 AM this morning.
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Musings on Station Names

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!

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Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 7)

Admit it, readers – somewhere in the back of your head you were wondering when I’d get around to showing you more railroad-themed postcards. My postcard collecting addiction has been well documented, and roughly every other month I do a new post full of my newly acquired cards. Today’s lineup includes Amenia, one of the abandoned Upper Harlem stations, and Towners, another abandoned station. There are also a few cards of station buildings still around today, like Katonah, Bedford Hills, and Scarsdale.

Again, I must sincerely thank Steve Swirsky for his wonderful contributions to our extensive collection of postcards. The Dover Plains, Towners, and White Plains cards are all from his collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Have you missed any of our installments of “Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line?” Check out all of the old posts here:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 5
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 6
You can also view and search the whole collection of postcards through SmartCat.

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An interesting Harlem Division promotion…

Over the many years the New York Central was in existence they published countless advertisements and promotions to attract business and passengers. Some of them were fairly interesting – like the private
women’s room in Grand Central, which catered to the high-end ladies of the day. After all, you wouldn’t want your dress to get dirty on a long steam train journey, would you?

The New York Central even promoted venues that weren’t at all possible to visit by train – like China! A 1904 advertisement suggested all Americans should become familiar with the Chinese Empire:

Comparatively few people are familiar with the Chinese Empire as it exists to-day. In view of the constantly growing Oriental commerce of the United States, every one should become familiar with the Chinese Empire. The New York Central’s “Four-Track Series” No. 28 gives valuable statistics and information regarding the Flowery Kingdom…

Another advertisement that I recently acquired is a little bit closer to home. Published in 1937, this New York Central ad offered discounted tickets from New York to Wingdale or Wassaic. Now think about this for a second, if you are familiar with the area, what was particularly noteworthy about those two towns in that era? If you said that they both had facilities for the insane and mentally handicapped, you win a prize. The Harlem Valley State Hospital is obvious to anyone who has taken the Harlem Line up to Wingdale. Several of the State Hospital’s buildings loom over the current train platform. The location of today’s train station is not the same as it was in 1937 – it was further south and actually called “State Hospital.” Wassaic’s facility was called the Wassaic State Hospital, and it was located closer to today’s Tenmile River station.


The original State Hospital station, before this station and Wingdale were converted into today’s Harlem Valley-Wingdale.

The New York Central is remembered for things more noteworthy, like the “Water Level Route” – the first four-tracked route in the world, and the train that rolled out the red carpet for you – the 20th Century Limited. But in addition to doing those things, you could also take the New York Central to visit your institutionalized relatives… and for the low price of two dollars a round trip.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Harlem Valley-Wingdale

Another Tuesday, and another visit to a Harlem Line station… this time I’ve got photos from Harlem Valley-Wingdale. Remember how I said Mount Pleasant was a bit of a creepy station? It is, after all, in the middle of a bunch of cemeteries. Lots of buried dead people. Harlem Valley-Wingdale is a little creepy too… the platform is shadowed a large building, part of the former Harlem Valley State Hospital. According to my coworker (yep, the one that says crazy stuff I always tweet about), the building closest to the platform handled all the laundry for the hospital. This delightful psychiatric hospital was open from 1924 until 1994. Although much of the complex is abandoned, apparently portions are still in use as a juvenile detention center, with housing available for employees. I don’t live in the area, but my assumption would be that the local teens find the former hospital grounds an amusing spot to visit on late nights.

Originally there were two stops here for the New York Central: State Hospital and Wingdale, a half mile north. The two stops were later combined to form the current Harlem Valley-Wingdale. The station is situated in diesel territory of the upper Harlem Line, in between Appalachian Trail and Dover Plains, 69 miles from Grand Central.





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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Old Maps and Station Names

Some of the very first things that were added when I created the Historical Archives were maps I found thanks to the Library of Congress. It was interesting to see the network of railroads in the country grow in size exponentially through the 1800’s, and then later in the mid 1900’s crash and quite a few disappeared. There was one map, however, that caught my attention.

That map lists a station along the Harlem Line: Golding’s Bridge. Was it a typo? In the back of my mind I had always wondered about the apostrophe thing. Is Goldens Bridge written properly with an apostrophe, or without? And now, a new question. What is Golding’s Bridge? For whom was the town named, and does the bridge still exist? Why are other stations on this map, or other maps also listed with apostrophes? Brewster’s, Pawling’s? The map also lists quite a few stations that have different names today, such as Hart’s Corners, Whitlockville, and Bains.

In my endeavor to find the answer to at least the apostrophe question, I consulted with the town historian of Lewisboro, of which Goldens Bridge is a part of. She unfortunately told me that she could only “add to the confusion.”

I’m not exactly sure where the original bridge that gave your hamlet its name first stood, but it spanned the Croton River, which is now under the reservoir. The bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names. That bridge had to have been an important crossing to get to what is now Somers, and points west. It most certainly dates to the Revolution or before.

In 2003, Metro North dropped the apostrophe from the name of the station. Almost all official timetables and signage refer to the station as Goldens Bridge. However, old signage with the apostrophe does still exist. The station listing on M-7 trains still has the apostrophe. Most official town signage also does not have the apostrophe. However the Fire Department for the town still uses it. Google maps still uses it. It is a name still in transition.

Many towns and names along the Harlem Line went through similar transitions. Spellings were changed, apostrophes were dropped. Brewster’s and Pawling’s are both evidence of that. Some names changed completely. So let’s take a little tour through the area and see how some of these names came to be, shall we?

Bronx – Named for Jonas Bronck, who purchased the land in 1639. Originally known as The Bronck’s, in reference to the family, at some point over time the spelling evolved into the current form.
Mott Haven – Named for Jordan Mott, who had an ironworks that opened in 1828. He purchased the land from the Morris family.
Morrisania – Named for the Morris family. Lewis Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gouverneur Morris was also a prominent member of that family.
Woodlawn – Originally two words, but was condensed into one by 1870.
Mount Vernon – Named for George Washington’s home. Original name was Hunt’s Bridge.
Fleetwood – Named for the ancestral home of John Stevens.
Scarsdale – Named for the ancestral home of Caleb Heathcote.
Hartsdale – Named after Eleazar Hart, who donated the land. Was previously known as Hart’s Corners.
Bedford Hills – Originally named only Bedford, the Hills was added to the name in 1910.
Katonah – Had several previous names, first was Mechanicsville. Later changed to Whitlockville in 1830, for the Whitlock family. Later renamed Katonah from the native word Ketatonah, which translates to Great Mountain.
Purdys – Named for Daniel Pardieus, his grandson Isaac donated the land to the railroad in 1844.
Brewster – Named for brothers James and Walter Brewster, and at the time was known as Brewster’s.
Dykemans – Named for Joseph Dykeman.
Patterson – Named for Matthew Paterson, older maps list the name with only one ‘t’
Pawling – Named for the Paulding (possibly Pauling) family.
Wingdale – Named for the Wing family. Jackson Wing operated an Inn which opened in 1806. Previous names include Wing’s Station, and South Dover.
Harlem Valley – Wingdale – Harlem Valley comes from the name of the railroad (New York & Harlem). Used to be two stops, State Hospital (actual name of the hospital was Harlem Valley State Hospital) and Wingdale (mentioned above). Wingdale station was eliminated, and later Metro-North combined the two and the name.
Millerton – named for Sydney G. Miller, who was an engineer and contractor for the construction between Dover Plains and Chatham.
Craryville – Named for Peter Crary. Station was previously known as Bains, or Bains Corners for hotel owner Peter Bain.
Martindale – Named for John Martin.
Philmont – Previous name was Phillips Mountain, but was later condensed into Philmont. Named for George Phillips, who built a dam and a mill in the area.
Chatham – Named for Lord Pitts, Earl of Chatham, England.

That list does not mention every station on the current Harlem Line, or the rail line in the past. I am specifically mentioning stations that were named after people, or had a name change of some sort. Apostrophes in names often originated because the land was named after, or originally belonged, to a specific family or person.

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