Bridges of Metro-North: The Harlem River Lift Bridge

Throughout the entire Metro-North system there are an array of movable bridges – bridges which as of recently seem to be a thorn in the rail system’s side. Much of the infrastructure on these bridges are old and prone to issues. Thankfully, updates are going on to get these bridges in better working order, and we’ll be taking visits to some of the more prominent bridges in the system in the next few weeks.

Today we feature the busiest bridge on the entire system, the Harlem River Lift Bridge. At sixty years old the bridge is not nearly as old as the issue-plagued WALK bridge, but it by far sees the most action, carrying nearly 700 trains per day for all three East of Hudson Metro-North lines. Over the past few months work has been moving along on the bridge – installing new cables that lift the tracks over the river for passing boats, and putting in new wiring, power supplies, and electrical control systems. Below the bridge a circuit breaker room that flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is experienced corrosion will be replaced. Gone will be an old crank control, updated to today’s standards with modern computers. In total, the overhaul has a $47.2 million price tag.

Previous railroad bridge over the Harlem River
The 1867 bridge over the Harlem River, note the construction of a temporary bridge to allow a new 1891 span to be constructed on the main line. Image from the December 1892 Scientific American.

Historically, several previous movable bridges stood at this very spot, carrying the New York Central over the Harlem River. The first bridge over the river was completed in 1841, and stood a mere eight feet over the water at high tide. Made of wood, that bridge was later updated with iron spans in 1867. Later, a four track swing bridge was built in 1891. This bridge connected with the new Park Avenue viaduct, raising the tracks above Harlem and allowing a higher crossing over the river.

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Another Great New York Station: Utica

Though begrudging partners, the architectural firms of Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore collaborated magnificently on the great Grand Central Terminal. Unfortunately, in mid-project Charles Reed died. Seeing this as an opportunity, Warren & Wetmore secretly approached the railroad’s directors the day after Reed’s funeral and convinced them to void the original contract – after all, there was no more Reed & Stem. The new contract named Warren & Wetmore the sole architects for Grand Central and the further projects associated with the Terminal (like the Biltmore Hotel). Ultimately, Stem sued Warren & Wetmore and was awarded a hefty sum in 1920, and Whitney Warren was expelled from the American Institute for Architects for unprofessional conduct ((An article discussing Reed & Stem and the Biltmore Hotel they were supposed to collaborate on, before the contract was changed, with Warren & Wetmore can be found here.)).

Despite all this, there seemed to be no bad blood between Stem and the New York Central Railroad. Forming a new firm with junior partner Alfred Fellheimer, Stem & Fellheimer designed the railroad station in Utica for the New York Central.

Workers at Utica
Workers stand atop the the clock on the station’s façade. ((Photo from the Oneida County Historical Society))

The construction of the new station at Utica was no easy task. The previous station, besides being inadequate for the traffic it was receiving, was plagued with problems in the spring when floods would cover the tracks with water. To combat this problem, and make additional room for platforms and a rail yard, the Mohawk River was moved about half a mile north. Construction on the station itself began in 1912, and it was opened in May of 1914.

Postcards from Utica
Postcards showing the front of Utica station.

Utica station features a 47 foot high waiting room, with 34 decorative marble pillars, and some of the marble was said to have come from the old Grand Central Station ((According to popular lore, 8 of the columns were brought from Grand Central Station. Though often stated, according to the Oneida County Historical Society there is no evidence to prove that this actually happened.)). Originally intended to be a station for the New York Central, the station eventually became a Union Station in 1915 when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and the New York, Ontario and Western moved their operations to the building.

While the interior of the station is quite lavish, the exterior is a little bit more conservative. There are no great statues of Mercury, Minerva and Hercules atop the station, like Grand Central Terminal, but the caduceus “herald’s staff” often carried by Mercury is visible on the station’s façade. Several carved eagles, as well as a clock also grace the front of the station.

Tickets and postcards from Utica
Tickets and another postcard from Utica

Like most old stations, Utica’s eventually fell into disrepair and considered for demolition. Thankfully, the station avoided the wrecking ball and restoration was begun in 1978. Now owned by Oneida county, the station is served by Amtrak, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, as well as by Greyhound and other local bus companies. Some of the old waiting room is apportioned off and used by the Oneida County Department of Motor Vehicles. Since 2003, the building’s official name has been The Boehlert Center at Union Station, named for Sherwood Boehlert, a Utica native who served twelve terms in the US House of Representatives.

Let’s enjoy a quick little tour of Utica station, part of my ongoing endeavor to write about some of the other buildings and stations linked to the four architects of Grand Central Terminal…

  
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
   
   
   

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A look at the Grand Central centennial postmark

Sending a message to the postmaster
Sending a message to the postmaster

Remember how I mentioned the little debacle that was the stamp event at the Grand Central Centennial? Apparently someone was smarter than I was… Joe just wrote a message to the postmaster asking for the Grand Central postmark on a postcard from the Transit Museum. It might not be a Grand Central stamp (which at $19.95 is a steep price for just a stamp) but it is pretty darn cool. The only thing I want to know is why didn’t I think of this!

Stamped postcard

Be sure to check out Joe’s blog for more funky postmarks and a bunch of railroad photos!

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