The Mansions that the Railroad Built, Part 2: Hyde Park

Quite a while ago I shared with you the story of Newport’s Marble House, one of the many mansions constructed by the Vanderbilt family with their wealth earned from the railroads. Today we’re going a little bit closer to home, and checking out the mansion of Frederick Vanderbilt in Hyde Park. Frederick was one of four sons born to William Henry Vanderbilt, and was the grandson of family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Postcard and brochures from the Vanderbilt Mansion Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Brochures and postcards from the Hyde Park Vanderbilt mansion. Although considered modest by the standards of the “Gilded Age,” a mansion is still a mansion, and far more than a regular person could afford.

I always joke that both Cornelius and William Henry Vanderbilt were experts at making money, while all the further generations were just experts at spending it. This is for the most part true – William Henry’s two eldest sons Cornelius II and William Kissam inherited $75 million and $50 million, respectively. With that money they constructed mansions in New York City, Newport, Long Island, and other locales, and threw extravagant parties within. Frederick, on the other hand, was lucky to inherit only $10 million (apparently eloping with your cousin’s ex-wife, over 10 years your senior, is generally frowned upon). Despite that, Frederick was the only grandson to wisely invest that inheritance and actually earn, rather than spend, all the money.

Frederick’s Hyde Park mansion was designed by architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White, and completed in 1899. The Beaux Arts mansion was one of several that Frederick owned, and was usually occupied during the winter.

Postcards from the Vanderbilt Mansion
Postcards from the inside of the mansion.

Today the mansion is owned by the National Park Service, and is operated as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The place is worth visiting, not only for the mansion, but the grounds also provide a lovely view of the Hudson. I must admit I was quite impressed with the guides – I am aware that I know far more than most about the Vanderbilts, and generally the architecture folks aren’t quite as versed in the history of the railroads. While I was waiting for some sort of factual slip up, our guide Mike actually gave a wonderfully detailed introduction to the Vanderbilts that was not only historically accurate, but both humorous and interesting.

If you’re interested in checking out the mansion, Hyde Park is located just a few miles north of Poughkeepsie. The National Park Service offers shuttles from Poughkeepsie station seasonally (May to October) to the historical sites in Hyde Park, so it is completely possible to do a trip by public transportation alone. Unfortunately Metro-North does not offer any package deals with train fare to these historical sites, so you’ll have to purchase them separately.

Anyways, that is about all I have for you today – enjoy some photos of the mansion below! Note that in the past photography was not permitted inside the mansion, however that has been rescinded this season. Photography is permitted inside, provided you do not use a flash.

 
  
 
 
  
 
  
  
 
   
 

Oh, and before I forget, if you’re interested in playing the acorn game, it is possible to find a few around the mansion…
 
The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, were frequently found in the mansions and other buildings that the family commissioned. Unlike some of the other mansions, the motif is far less prominent here. The few acorns you’ll find at Hyde Park are mostly on the second floor – incorporated into the banisters and other minor detail work.

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Poughkeepsie


1890 photo of the previous Poughkeepsie station. Note that this station was on the west side of the tracks, while today’s station was constructed on the east side of the tracks.


1960 photo of Poughkeepsie station, not obstructed by Route 9 which now runs above the station’s front parking area.

Today we’ve arrived at the end of the line – both literally and figuratively. Today’s station tour is of Poughkeepsie, the northern terminus of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, and the final station on our Hudson Line tour. In fact, it is the final Metro-North station to be featured here. Over the past three years I’ve taken you to all one hundred and twenty three Metro-North stations, on both sides of the Hudson River. I saved Poughkeepsie for the end, as it is truly a gem, and a worthy send off for our Panorama Project.

tts
A wide variety of timetables from Pougkeepsie, including two of Amtrak’s trains that stop here.


Tickets and things from Poughkeepsie. My favorite is the Metro-North ticket listing the station as “Pokipse.”

Located on the east bank of the Hudson River, Pougkeepsie is roughly equidistant between New York City and Albany, and the station is about 75 miles from Grand Central. Both the access to the river, and later the railroad, played a significant part in Poughkeepsie’s growth. Over the years Poughkeepsie has been home to a various array of industries, including a glass factory, dye factory, brewery, carpet mill, shoe factory, and a chair manufacturer, among many others.

 

At Poughkeepsie station, 1971. Photos by Steve Baldwin.

Reflecting Poughkeepsie’s important status along the New York Central’s famed Water Level Route, a grand station was constructed in 1918. The four story concrete and brick building was designed by the notorious Beaux Arts architects Warren and Wetmore. No strangers to the New York Central, Whitney Warren was a cousin of the Vanderbilts, and designed Grand Central with duo Reed and Stem. Poughkeepsie station is not nearly as extravagant as Grand Central, but along with the station in Yonkers, it is certainly one of the Hudson Line’s real gems.

  

Poughkeepsie in the 1970’s. Top left photo in 1975, right and below, 1979. Top right photo by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian.

  

Top left photo in 1979 by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian. Top right photo in 1981 by Bob Coolidge. Amtrak photo by Ed Linde.

Fitting with the typical design of a Beaux Arts building, Poughkeepsie station offers a main, and large, focal point – in this case, the waiting room. Featuring five massive windows that stretch from almost floor to ceiling, during the day the station is well lit just from sunlight alone. To supplement that light, three chandeliers also hang from the ceiling, and similar to Grand Central’s chandeliers, boast their modern use of electricity with naked light bulbs. Interspersed throughout the waiting room are fourteen wooden chestnut benches, also similar to the benches that were once in Grand Central’s main waiting room. Historically, the north wing of the station was reserved for a railway express agency, and the south end with a kitchen and dining room. Today, the waiting room contains a Metro-North ticket window, some Quik-Trak machines from Amtrak customers, restrooms, a snack shop on the south side, and an MTAPD station on the north end.

 
Photos of the former Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, now the Walkway Over the Hudson. Photo on the right by Flickr user miningcamper.

Arriving at Poughkeepsie by train, likely the first thing you’d notice is the large bridge running overhead, and not the station building itself, which is less visible on the track side. Constructed in 1888, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge stretches from Poughkeepsie on the east side of the Hudson River, to Highland on the west. Today this bridge makes Poughkeepsie an even more attractive destination. After serving railroad traffic for more than 75 years, the bridge was heavily damaged by fire and was for the most part abandoned until the early 2000’s when it was converted to pedestrian use as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.

 
CSX at Poughkeepsie. Photos by Mike Foley.


Poughkeepsie station in 2011, while undergoing renovations. Photo by Mike Groll.

Today Poughkeepsie station is quite attractive, with Metro-North having spent more than $22 million dollars to restore and improve it. This included an ample parking garage on the west side of the tracks, and a walkway and pavilion for people heading to the waterfront. Renovations to the area continue, including an elevator to make accessing the Walkway over the Hudson from the station easier.

Though a bit bigger than most Metro-North stations, the setup is relatively similar. Pretty much every station has ticket machines, wire benches, and blue trash bins, as does Poughkeepsie. Unlike most other stations, Poughkeepsie has one island platform, and two side platforms, although the one side platform is lower level and not used by passengers. All of the tracks are accessible to the main station by an overpass, which also connects to the parking garage. The overpass, covered in attractive wood paneling, is far nicer than the relatively utilitarian overpasses you see at most Metro-North stations.

In all, Poughkeepsie is a lovely station, and definitely worth visiting, if only for the lovely historic station, with the New York Central sign on the front. But a wide variety of restaurants and attractions in the area, most especially the Walkway Over the Hudson, make Poughkeepsie one of the nicest places we’ve seen on our now complete Metro-North tour.

 
   
 
 
  
 
 
  
   
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

Read More

A Journey from New York to Poughkeepsie – 1907

It seems that everyone today has a GPS navigator in their car. They’re wonderful little devices (in the hands of someone that isn’t an idiot), but they really make you wonder how in the heck anyone got around in the olden days, before GPSes. In fact, even the days before the GPS, where you’d type in your destination in MapQuest and you could print out instructions, seems dreadfully archaic. And even more so, on the road yesterday I saw a woman pulled over to the side consulting a map!

Back in 1907, as is quite obvious, there were no GPSes, thus people had to rely on maps and booklets, like the one I am about to post, to find their way around. But Emily, you say, a historic guide on how to navigate by car from New York City to Poughkeepsie has absolutely nothing to do with trains! Albeit true, the guide is nonetheless has a cursory relation to trains, in that it offers you a glimpse into the mindset of travel in the early 1900’s. Roads, quite frankly, are something we all take for granted (you didn’t build that!). Prior to World War Two, the roads in this country (especially for long distance and intercity) were hardly spectacular. That was certainly a factor in the popularity of railroads at the time. It wasn’t until cars became more common, and roads became far better, that trains lost their status as our preferred mode of transportation.

In all honesty, I never knew that booklets like this – showing turn by turn photographic instructions on where to drive – actually existed until I had discovered this. Since we’ve been covering the Hudson Line the past few months, I figured it was somewhat relevant, as this journey by car parallels both the Hudson River and the railroad, traveling from New York to Poughkeepsie. In some of the turn by turn photographs you can even see what are likely trolley tracks, something you definitely won’t see today. At minimum, it is an interesting look into the past!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What a quaint little drive you just enjoyed! Of course, the fun part is trying to find what each of those places looks like today. Here’s one comparison:

A lot has changed in the past 100 years, huh?

Read More