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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Remembering Metro-North in 1986…

Back in February of 1986 I had not yet reached my second birthday… I’m not too familiar with the milestones of an aging child, so for all I know I could have still been wearing diapers at that time. Metro-North, founded in 1983, was a fledgling organization. Though we may be similar in age, Metro-North didn’t seem to have much of a “diaper wearing” stage. In terms of the Harlem Line, they hit the ground running – beginning major renovations to the line. The tracks were electrified from North White Plains to Brewster North (Southeast), and over 10 million was spent on upgrading Brewster yard (aka Putnam Junction) and shop. Metro-North was also trying to reach their customers – printing several guides to explain to riders what they do, and give a brief tour of the system.


I’d like to have one of these in my backyard. The loco and the castle.

Since SmartCat debuted about two weeks ago, I’ve still been working on adding plenty of new material for you all to peruse. Two of the newest things found in the catalog are two brochures Metro-North released in or around 1986. One was a guide to the Metro-North system, the other a Grand Central and Customer Service guide.

Just spotting the little things that have changed over the years is quite fun. It was a time where terrorism was not as much of a concern, and the Terminal had a room where you could temporarily store your bags. And people weren’t quite so health conscious either – Harlem and Hudson trains each had one car reserved for smokers, the New Haven Line had two. Vanderbilt Hall was still a waiting room, and many of the updates – including the other stairwell in the main concourse, and the cleanup of the sky ceiling – in Grand Central had not yet been made. Amtrak trains still stopped at the Terminal, and places like Crugers and Kent Road were still stops listed on the system map.


The old Omega departure board can be seen in one of the brochures. It was replaced by an LCD Solari board in the late 90’s.

You should definitely check out SmartCat if you haven’t already, or if you want to jump right to the aforementioned brochures, you can use these links:

1986 Guide to Metro-North
1986 Grand Central Customer Service Guide

As an addendum to this post, as I’ve gotten a few messages regarding adding things to SmartCat, I would absolutely love user submissions. If you have anything that you think would be archivable, whether it be a timetable, postcard, ticket, etc… send me a message. I’d love to add it!

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Patterson

When I first began riding Metro-North to the city I was fairly young… and at the time I had always assumed that Brewster North was the end of the Harlem Line. It was my train’s last stop, after all. It is around this time of year that there is an influx of young riders, off to see the city’s Christmas decorations, the tree that will soon be in Rockefeller Center, and perhaps a visit to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City (for which I was riding the train). You can always tell who these children are – they come back and board the trains with obnoxious little gizmos that spin around and light up, items that probably cost mere cents to produce in China but get peddled to small children for a significant markup of around twenty dollars. Not only was I the obnoxious child that insisted on having that toy – for God’s sake it actually lit up – but I was that obnoxious child on your train.

It certainly has been a lot of years since then… I’m hopefully less obnoxious on the train, and I know that beyond Southeast – what Brewster North is now called – there still is more to the Harlem Line. The first stop north of Southeast – beyond the electrified tracks, located 60 miles north of Grand Central – is the last stop in Putnam County: Patterson. There is one track here, as well as a platform that will accommodate four train cars. It is a small station, but it does have the amenities we have come to know: automated ticket machines, and a shelter for waiting in the cold (great for days like yesterday).

If the quiet nature of Patterson station is not quite your thing, and you are looking for a bit of adventure, I’d suggest visiting Texas Taco. It is also in Patterson and not far from the station. Adjectives that come to mind when describing the place are colorful, slightly creepy, and “holy crap that lady has purple hair.” But that isn’t a bad thing, is it? Before I had cat hats, I used to have blue hair – but that too was a long time ago…

 
   
  
 
  
 
  

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