Yes, it is that month again, Happy April everyone. Although I certainly had every intention of somehow tricking you all today, I decided I’d pass on that this year. I mean, last year not only did I fabricate quotes and attributing them to Dan Brucker (sorry, Dan!), I infuriated gullible New Haven Line riders! My fake post last year is still one of the top posts on this blog, and it apparently comes up when people search for items about the new M8’s.

Instead, this month I had another thought. Like a Hallmark store declaring a holiday where you send all your friends greeting cards, I’ve decided that April shall be known from this day forth as Harlem Railroad Month. And why should this month deserve that honor? Because it was in April that New York City’s first railroad, The New York & Harlem Railroad, today’s Harlem Line, was chartered. The year was 1831, and New York was quite a different place…

When we think about trains now, we think about massive machines, powered by electric, diesel, and maybe even steam… but that is getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. The omnibus, a method of transportation consisting of a wagon drawn by horses, had existed in the late 1820’s, but the New York and Harlem Railroad was the first transport method in the city to use rails. The first vehicles on the line were closer to those omnibuses than to today’s trains – as the cars were pulled by horses! Later on, as the railroad continued to extend north, passengers would switch to steam powered “proper” trains. By the time Grand Central Terminal was completed, the rail south of 42nd Street had been split off into an alternate entity than the New York Central Railroad. The horsecars, and their successor streetcars, did not last much longer… but that is fairly obvious to any visitor of the city, as our trains have moved off the street and are predominantly underground.

Although I do have a fascination with old things, especially photos, I don’t think I’ve posted a nice collection of really old photos like these before. The majority of these were taken in the 1800’s, and although some depict the horsecars of the New York and Harlem Railroad, it is mostly just a collection of early rail travel in New York City on the many lines that had popped up. Enjoy the photos and see if you can recognize any of the places… the last photo is a treat, it is of Grand Central Depot, the predecessor to our Grand Central Terminal.


Want to see more photos of horsecars and streetcars? I’ll be posting another collection of them next week, and other random Harlem Railroad-related things, as we celebrate Harlem Railroad Month. Hopefully you haven’t minded all the picture posts, I’ve been doing a lot more of them recently as I’ve been a bit busy to do all that much writing!

4 Responses

  1. Al Cyone says:

    The second picture shows St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway and the ninth picture shows Cooper Union’s Foundation Building.

    Thanks for the great photos.

  2. Keith says:

    Streetcars did stay on Manhattan streets until 1948, The El’s with the exception of the 3rd ave closed in 1955 were all down by 1940. 11th Avenue in NYC had street running until the 1930’s when the now a park “High Line” was built. NYC had a very good rail based public transportation system. Too bad it couldn’t survive Robert Moses and Mayor LaGuardia.

    • Al Cyone says:

      “NYC had a very good rail based public transportation system”

      So what’s the most extensive subway system in the world, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Chopped liver?

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