Early Harlem Line Timetables, and new timetable catalog

Quite a while ago I started up a minor project, what I called the Historical Archives. My goal was to collect as much old paper history of the Harlem Line and assemble a museum of sorts – timetables, maps, tickets, photos, and news articles – digitize it, and put it online for everyone to view, completely for free. (There are folks in the city that have better collections than I, such as the Transit Museum and the NYPL, but these are kept under lock and key, and you can’t have them unless you shell out the dollars.) Anyways, the more I added to the archives, the clunkier the directory page that listed all the entries got. I wanted to arrange it in a better way – especially the timetables. I’ve been working on just that for the past week or so, putting all the timetables in a special catalog that you can view with a short description and thumbnails. If you see something you like, you can click on it and go to the main entry for that item with a larger image. I think this is much easier.

In honor of the new catalog I thought it would be fun to show some of the earliest timetables that I have in the collection. The first is from 1871, when Cornelius Vanderbilt was still president of what was known as the New York and Harlem Railroad, with his son William Henry as vice president.


Note the first station is 26th Street, the first Grand Central Depot was only opened later in the year. At the time of publication Hartsdale was still known as Hart’s Corners, Hawthorne as Unionville, and Craryville as Bain’s. Bedford did not have the “Hills” added yet, and Purdey’s was the spelling used, as opposed to today’s Purdy’s.

The timetables below are from 1890, 1909 and 1914. The center timetable, from 1909, is important historically because at this time Grand Central Terminal was being constructed, as the older Depot was being demolished. Despite that, train service still needed to go on interrupted, and a temporary platform at Lexington Avenue was used. The timetable makes note of this on the front, directing riders to the temporary terminal.


Name evolution: After the New York and Harlem Railroad was leased to the New York Central, it was listed as the Harlem Division of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Later the name was shortened to just the New York Central.

The timetables above are from 1922, 1931 and 1940 and list service to Lake Mahopac, a branch of the Harlem that diverged at Golden’s Bridge. Below are timetables from 1958 and 1964. Service on the Mahopac branch was discontinued in 1959, and so the timetable from 1958 is one of the last to list that service.

Not long after that 1964 timetable the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central. Although the service was not the best, in my opinion the Penn Central had some of the nicer timetables in the collection. But that is a post for another Friday. Enjoy the day, and the weekend everyone!

As an additional note, I thank the Danbury Railway Museum’s library for giving me access to their collection of timetables to digitize. If anyone out there has some timetables that I don’t have listed, I would love it if you could contact me and send me a scan so I can add it into the catalog.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Art of Jules Coutan, Grand Central Sculptor

Growing up, I probably passed throuigh Grand Central at least a hundred times. Each of those times were through either the Lexington Avenue portal, or the one on Vanderbilt Avenue. Unfortunately, that means I missed the grand front façade of the building on 42nd Street. About a year ago, I figured I would change that. Looking up at the sculpture high on the building, I was amazed. But from my low vantage point on the street, it was pretty hard to imagine quite how large it was.

As a building, Grand Central was heavily influenced by the French. The architect Whitney Warren trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France. Paul Helleu, who designed the night sky on the ceiling of the main concourse, was a French artist. The two sculptors who worked on the project, Jules Alexis Coutan and Sylvain Salieres, were also French. Salieres sculpted the things inside the station, like the oak leaves and acorns which Cornelius Vanderbilt had decided upon as a crest for the family. The sculpture on the 42nd Street façade was designed by sculptor Jules Alexis Coutan, and is called Transportation. Standing tall in the center of the group is the Roman god Mercury. With his winged cap, he represents speed, which for a railroad is a pretty good trait to aspire to. Seated to his left is Hercules, a character with many are familiar with, who is representative of strength. At the right of the group is Minerva, representative of wisdom. Along with these mythological Roman gods is an eagle, representative of the United States.


The meaning behind the sculpture was described by architect Whitney Warren as follows:

…the glory of commerce, as typified by Mercury, supported by moral and mental energy – Hercules and Minerva. All to attest that this great enterprise has grown and exists not merely from the wealth expended, nor by the revenue derived, but by the brain and brawn constantly concentrated upon its development for nearly a century.

Coutan was born in Paris on September 22, 1848. References to him and his work at Grand Central are common, but real biographical information is few and far between. Most books about Grand Central refer to him as Jules Alexis, but other art sources use the name Jules Felix. It is known that he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and was a student of Jules Cavelier. As a student, he was awarded the Prix de Rome, a prestigious award given to a promising art student after completing a difficult elimination contest. It was awarded from 1663 all the way until 1968 – Coutan won it in 1872. Later in life he returned to the school as a Professor, and mentored artists including Louis Leygue and Hippolyte Lefebvre.



Photo credit: 1, 2.

Some of his other work includes decorations on the Pont Alexandre II, the ornate bridge over the river Seine in Paris, and decorations on the Paris Opera house. He is known in Argentina for designing the mausoleum for diplomat and journalist Jose Clemente Paz, who is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. But in the United States, he will always be known for his work on Grand Central. Although it was his design, Coutan didn’t actually carve the final piece himself. In fact Wikipedia claims that he had never even been to the United States, though I can’t seem to verify this little factoid in any other source.

Using the quarter-size model done by Coutan, the full-size final sculpture was constructed by Donnelly and Ricci, and William Bradley and Sons. It was constructed in pieces, which were later assembled on top of Grand Central. In the center is a clock made of Tiffany glass, which measures 13 feet around. In totality, the sculpture is sixty feet wide, fifty feet high, and weighs 1500 tons, and is made of Bedford limestone from Indiana. Visualizing those numbers is just as difficult as perceiving exactly how large that sculpture is on top of the building when looking up from the street. I have a small collection of photographs from 1914 that really give you an idea of the size of the piece. Note the person in each picture, and how small they look compared to the sculpture. It is massive. When completed, it was the largest sculptural group in the world.




Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for Toronto… unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write anything for next Friday, so after going for 17 weeks straight Friday’s history will take a little break. I do promise some good stuff will be coming though!

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Wartime Magazine Advertisements

I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.

But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.

That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.



It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!

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