Middletown station, circa 1900. From the collection of the Historical Society of Middletown
Last December I posted some photos from Briarcliff Manor, a station that was along the now-defunct Putnam Division, and how it has since been converted into a library. I’ve always thought it seems appropriate for an old train station to live a second life as a home to history and literature in the form of a library. There are several such places in New York state alone, but one of my favorites is in Middletown, NY. Since we’ve now turned our attention to Metro-North’s west-of-Hudson service and will spend the next few Tuesdays visiting the stations of the Port Jervis line, I thought it would be appropriate to also check out some of the former stations. Middletown is likely one of the most beautiful of the extant stations to fall under that category.
Roosevelt arrives in Middletown via train, 1898. [image source]
As I mentioned earlier this week, the current Port Jervis line follows a slightly different route than the original passenger line operated by the Erie railroad. A portion of the Erie main line was abandoned, and trains were rerouted along the freight Graham Line in the 80’s. The tracks that ran through the center of Middletown, and past this Erie depot, were part of the section that was abandoned. When the old tracks were removed, Middletown’s historic Erie depot became just an old building surrounded by asphalt and automobiles. Its life as a venue for rail travel had come to an end.
(top) A circus train arrives in Middletown in 1906. (bottom) Celebrating Erie Day in 1943. [images source]
Built in 1896, the beautiful Romanesque-style Erie depot was designed by architect George Archer. Archer was a native of Maryland and a graduate of Princeton University. He designed several churches, banks, and other buildings in the mid-Atlantic area of the US, and in varying styles. As I’ve mentioned before, the Romanesque style is definitely my favorite, and was popular in the US in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Chatham and Mamaroneck are other examples of stations designed in similar style which I’ve featured before.
1971 photos from the Historic American Buildings Survey, and an undated postcard view of the station
Though the name “Erie Railroad” is prominently emblazoned on the outside of the building, the station did in fact outlive that railroad. In 1960 the cash-strapped Erie, and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroads combined to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. Similar to the fate of the Penn Central, the Erie Lackawanna eventually declared bankruptcy and was ultimately merged into Conrail. The station survived all of these changes, and stood watch as the final passenger train arrived at Middletown at 6 PM on April 16th, 1983.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. By the 1980’s, the Middletown Thrall Library began to run into a difficult, yet obvious problem – the building in which they were housed was too small. By 1991 a solution had been found – expanding and moving into the old Erie depot. Construction began in October of 1993, and the library finally opened in its new home on February 13, 1995. The new library cost a total of $5.3 million, and was now 30,000 square feet – much larger than its previous building. The library’s reading room is in what was the original station, and the director’s office was the original ticket booth. The rest of the building is modern, but made to mimic the style of the original station.
In several weeks we will visit Middletown’s replacement station on the Port Jervis Line on our Tuesday Tour, but suffice it to say, it pales in comparison to this beautiful building. But I don’t think anyone can really complain – the former Erie depot makes a fine library.