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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Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Middletown Town of Wallkill


“So, boss, where do we fit the Metro-North logo?” “I don’t know, just slap it wherever there’s some room!”

I’m sure this is the post you’ve absolutely been dying for… the moment we officially crown Metro-North’s station with the longest name. Middletown Town of Wallkill is certainly a mouthful… And it certainly fills up those station signs. Though most folks probably call the station just Middletown, the station is considered part of Wallkill. The real Middletown station, which is now a library that I featured a few weeks ago, was on the portion of the Erie main line that was abandoned when Metro-North took over in the 80’s. A new station was built, and to include everybody it inherited the name Middletown, and was also given the name Wallkill. Unfortunately, there is another Wallkill in New York – the hamlet of Wallkill, which is in Ulster county. Therefore, to differentiate the two, “town of” was tacked on in front of Wallkill. This is apparently how you create a massive station name. Only on the Port Jervis line.


A circus train arrives at the former Middletown station in 1906. The old station is about three and half miles west of the current station. [images source]

As you’ve likely surmised, Middletown Town of Wallkill station is hardly an interesting place. It does have relatively new facilities though, with a nice green canopy covering the platform, and two ticket vending machines. There is a mini low-level platform for any riders in wheelchairs, but Harriman is considered the closest station with full ADA accessibility. The station is approximately 72 miles from Hoboken, a ride that ranges from around one hour and 45 minutes to two hours. A ride to Penn Station takes around two hours as well. Beyond that, there isn’t anything super interesting about this place… though if you’re a fan of shopping, there is a mall not far from the station.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

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From train station to library, Part 2: Middletown


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.

 

Photos of Middletown in the 1970’s, from the collection of Michael Jensen.

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.

 
  
  
 
   
   
 
  
    
 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  

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