H.H. Richardson’s Last Station – New London Union Station

When it comes to great American architects, one must certainly mention the name Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson’s name may not be as widely mentioned as some others – likely because he unfortunately passed in his prime at the age of 47 – but his influence in American architecture is obvious. The architectural style he popularized bears his name – Richardsonian Romanesque – and is certainly one of my favorite architectural styles. The style features attractive arches and rusticated stonework – and is familiar to fans of the Boston and Albany Railroad, the style in which many of that railroad’s main line stations were designed.

Most of the Richardsonian Romanesque stations we’ve featured on the site – Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Hartford, Irvington, and Tarrytown – were designed by the firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, Richardson’s three assistants who continued the business after his death. The station we’re visiting today, however, was Richardson’s final station design. New London’s Union Station was conceived in 1885 – one year before Richardson’s death. Construction was not completed until one year after his death in 1887.

1885 Sketch of New London
1885 elevation sketch showing the detailing for New London’s Union Station. Image courtesy Shepley Bulfinch.

Although New London Union Station strays a bit from the typical Richardsonian Romanesque style as it is constructed primarily of brick, the characteristic arches, detailing, and occasional swaths of rusticated stone can be found. Bricks radiate outwards from the arches, creating a sunburst effect, and alternating exposed bricks create detailed borders around the top. Completing the detailing of the station is a wide band above the entrance, labeling the building “Union Railroad Station.” The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was the station’s primary occupant (having leased the Shore Line Railway in 1870), though the station was built in conjunction with the Central Vermont Railroad (which had leased the New London Northern Railroad) making it a Union Station.

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The Half-Abandoned Clinton Union Station

Any longtime visitor of this site is well aware of my fascination with abandoned infrastructure – whether it be remains of Chernobyl’s “Radioactive Railroad,” or the inner depths of the long-shuttered Union Station in Gary, Indiana. On a recent visit to Massachusetts, I happened to encounter the old railroad depot in Clinton, and was instantly attracted. Though the abandoned rail tunnel also located in Clinton seems to get more attention than the depot, this old shell of a building that was once undoubtedly beautiful is definitely worth a look.

1888 Boston and Maine Map, highlighting Clinton
Edited and cropped 1888 Boston and Maine Map, highlighting Clinton. Original map from the David Rumsey Collection.

Once straddling the Boston and Maine and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroads, these days the half-abandoned depot watches the occasional Pan Am or CSX train go by. I say half-abandoned, because despite the outer look of abandonment – complete with boarded up windows and graffiti – part of the building is in fact occupied. Because one of the rail lines was elevated, the station was dual level – and it seems that it is this upper level that is in fact abandoned. Below, however, a laundromat and a used clothing shop occupy the space. While the laundromat is quite austere, mixed in among the racks of old clothing in the shop next to it, one can observe the original details of the station – including a door labeled “Baggage”.

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Remembering the Upper Harlem Division, Part 3

As we complete our journey along the abandoned Upper Harlem Division, it is worth taking a moment to look at the timetables printed for the line. The Upper Harlem’s timetables were New York Central’s Form 112 – and its size changed drastically over the years, reflecting the railroad’s slow death.

Upper Harlem Timetables over the years
The ever changing timetable design for the Upper Harlem ((All timetables from the author’s collection))

A 1909 timetable, which was actually a foldout booklet that contained descriptions of the stations and schedules for connecting railroads, was actually 32 pages. The tall size seen in a later 1939 timetable was standard for many years, and it featured the additional trains offered beyond Chatham to Pittsfield and North Adams. Many changes came in the 1950’s – timetables got smaller when the North Adams service was cancelled, and by 1953 the four panel foldout was reduced to three panels. By the time the Upper Harlem Division’s passenger service was cancelled in 1972, the line timetable was just a double sided card, reflecting the only two trains that operated on the line every week day.

Moving on, we continue our tour north of Hillsdale, heading towards Craryville. For much of its route, the Harlem Division follows New York State Route 22 northward, but after arriving at Hillsdale the route turns in a westward direction to follow Route 23.

Craryville

When the Harlem Railroad was established through Columbia County, the station here went by the name of Bains, for hotel owner Peter Bain. When the land was purchased by Peter Crary, the station became known by a new name – Craryville. Gail Borden, who constructed his first successful milk factory along the Harlem in Wassaic, also had a processing plant here in Craryville. This was one of many plants located along the line, and used it for freight. ((Postcards from Craryville from the author’s collection))

Craryville Today

 

Craryville is a relatively quiet area, with little reminder of the railroad beyond a barely paved Railroad Lane. The old station house still exists, but is privately owned.

Martindale
Harlem Division engineer Vic Westman was quite the talented artist, creating many drawings and even paintings of the rails he worked, sometimes just from memory. For many years he even had a small studio on the sixth floor of Grand Central Terminal in which to work during his long swing time. ((Sketch of Martindale by Vic Westman for Lou Grogan’s book.))

The name Martindale derives from John Martin, on whose land the original Martindale station was built upon. It was never an extremely prominent station, and by 1946 it was just a mere flag stop on the line. Martindale met its end years before the rest of the line, and was eliminated in 1949. The station building itself was dismantled by a railroad employee in that year.

Martindale Today

  

South of where Martindale station was lies an overpass where the railroad traversed over Route 23. Little else in the area reflects the area’s railroading past. In fact, little even bears the name Martindale besides the Martindale Chief diner, located next to the Taconic.

Philmont

About 119 miles from Grand Central is the station of Philmont. Philmont was historically one of the larger communities that that the Harlem ran through, and was rich with industry. Several mills were located in the town, and they of course used the railroad for freight. ((Postcard of Philmont at left from the collection of Steve Swirsky. Postcard at right from the author’s collection))

Philmont Today

 

Besides Railroad Avenue, and the former railroad hotel located upon it, it is hard to tell that a railroad once crossed Main Street here in Philmont. The Empire House, the aforementioned railroad hotel, lacks the porches it had in historical images and may be a bit beat up, but it is one reference to the railroad that ran through town.

The Arch Bridge

   

Leaving Philmont, about three miles north of the station, but in the town of Ghent, lies a street named Arch Bridge Road. The eponymous arch is a single lane underpass, with the railroad’s former ROW running above. Running along the side of the arch is a small stream where, at some point over the years, some of the railroad’s roadbed washed out. It is a nice vestige of the railroad in Ghent, and most certainly an old one.

Ghent

Just under 125 miles from Grand Central lies the second to last station on the Harlem – Ghent. The station itself was shared with a short branch of the Boston and Albany. The railroad crossed over New York State Route 66 just south of the station.

Ghent Today

 
 

Splitting off from Route 66 at the center of Ghent is Railroad Avenue, which still exists today, although with no railroad to be seen. Appearing in many historical photos of the station is the Bartlett House, which was a railroad hotel, and still stands today.

Chatham

The end of the Harlem Division, just a bit more than 127 miles from Grand Central Terminal, is in Chatham, New York. The Harlem met with the Boston and Albany and the Rutland Railroad here, and the former two shared a quite beautiful Union Station. Stylistically, the station’s Richardsonian Romanesque aesthetic matches more to the Boston and Albany than it does to the Harlem, but it is attractive nonetheless. Built in 1887, Chatham station was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

The New York and Harlem Railroad always seemed to be a modest affair. Some railroads chose grandiose names for themselves, dreaming of the locations that they would one day reach (and often fell short of – the New York, Boston and Montreal Railway comes to mind), but when it was chartered in 1831, the Harlem only planned to be a link from the core of New York City to Harlem just a bit further north. The original plan was to connect with the New York and Albany Railroad at Harlem – except that railroad was never completed. In their absence, the Harlem was granted the right by the state legislature to build into Westchester in 1840, and all the way to Albany in 1846. Despite that right, the Harlem gradually extended north, and instead chose Chatham to be its terminus. From there, riders could easily continue to Albany on the B&A, and some of the earliest timetables show the trains on this additional route.

Chatham Today

  

For over a hundred years the railroad has been an important part of Chatham’s identity. Though both the Rutland and the Harlem are gone, the Boston and Albany’s former line still runs through Chatham, owned by CSX. The trains may run through, but they don’t really stop here – though the town seems to firmly hold onto their railroad identity. A fence has been put up to separate the former Union Station from the remaining tracks, which somewhat mars the attractive vista of yesteryear. The building had significantly fallen into disrepair by the ’60s, but it has been restored to glory and is the home to a branch of the Kinderhook Bank.

The very end of the Harlem’s tracks still exists, and extends around a half mile south, where they abruptly end in front of a gas station. The mile marker for mile 127 – the end of the Harlem – has been saved and transplanted to a garden in front of the Chatham firehouse.

Then and Now

As we’ve seen on our tour of the former stations of the Upper Harlem Division, many of the locales have changed drastically over the 41 years that passenger service has been absent. But two towns along the route provide an interesting look back and allow us to compare today and yesterday. Both Philmont and Ghent had railroad hotels that were established close to the tracks. Because of that proximity to the rails, the buildings appear in many old photos – which makes a comparison especially moving. The two hotels may have come to town because of the trains, but they managed to outlive the demise of the Harlem itself.

Philmont then and now

Philmont’s Empire House was built sometime in the 1880’s, and also included an Opera House. After the hotel was long gone, the building was converted to serve as a textile manufacturing facility. At some point in the ’60s Philmont’s American Legion purchased the building. They added a 30 foot by 70 foot section to the building, which included a kitchen. Due to the post’s declining membership, the members voted to put the building on the market in 2009.

Though the main structure of the building is similar to the above historical view, the original porches are gone from the building. The addition made by the American Legion is also apparent to the left of the building. The building itself gives us a point in which to gather our bearings, and highlights the absence of the railroad, and the old rail depot.

Ghent then and now

Ghent’s Bartlett House was likewise a railroad hotel, built in the 1870’s, and recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel hosted teachers, traveling salesmen, and plenty of other rail passengers – it was even captured by the lens of famed photographer Walker Evans. Besides the hotel, the building contained a dining room and a ballroom, occasionally the site for brawling politicians. Though part of the building is blocked by the train in our historical photo, the Bartlett House looks very much as it did when first built – in 2011 the front porch was redone based upon historical photos.

That pretty much wraps up our tour of the Upper Harlem Division’s stations. Many of the physical stations may be gone, but there is surprisingly quite a bit that can be found that reminds us that there was a real railroad that once ran through here. In fact, much of the former route can be seen visually from satellite maps – there is an obvious swath of barren land that marked where the rails once were. That, of course, may one day fade. But if the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association has their way, the entire route of the former Upper Harlem Division will at least be preserved as a trail, which I suppose is better than being forgotten entirely.

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