Toledo – the busy, half-abandoned station

Just about twelve years ago I hopped on a plane bound for Brazil to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. I lived in smaller city named Toledo – in the south-west of the country, not too far from the borders of Argentina and Paraguay, and the famed Iguaçu Falls. It was a nice place – think quaint Appalachian mining town with a little of White Plains mixed in – but hardly a city that would get significant numbers of tourists. While I lived there I had a host brother that was some years older than me, and he recounted his first visit to the United States. As is customary in many South American cultures, the 15th birthday is a big deal, and a lot of upper middle class folks reward their children with a big trip. Most tend to choose interesting places like Disney World, or New York. My host brother had a different idea – he wanted to go to another city called Toledo.

Toledo, Ohio is likewise a city I can’t imagine gets immense amounts of tourists (though apparently there are some modern rail hobos), but it certainly is a nice enough place. I’m not too sure what my host brother actually did here when he was fifteen – perhaps took a trip to the zoo – but it really doesn’t have the allure of say, Disney. Once upon a time, however, Toledo did get quite a few visitors, and many of them by train. The state of Toledo’s rail station today is really a visual reminder of not just the fall of passenger rail travel, but of the steady 40+ year decline of Toledo’s population.

Toledo's former station
In embracing modernity, the above 1800s Toledo station was replaced with the current brick and glass box. People hated this building so much that they cheered when it caught fire and burnt down. I think they’re crazy.

Toledo
The replacement – Central Union Terminal postcard, and tickets from Toledo from 1950.

Central Union Terminal, opened in 1950, is claimed by Wikipedia editors to be the last “great” railroad station built by the New York Central. A modern structure made of brick and glass, it certainly doesn’t have the same charm as many of the Central’s older stations. When opened, the station had about 55 daily departures – compare that with today’s paltry 4 departures. The island platforms that connected to the main station, once filled with people, are relatively dormant today. The passageways leading from these platforms to the station proper have long been shuttered, and are fastened shut with rusted chain for good measure. Some lonely platform canopies protect ripped out platforms, and others just stand over rusted rails. Toledo may be Ohio’s busiest railroad station, but from some angles it looks quite abandoned.

Event space in the old terminal
The old passageway to the platforms can now hold quite a few chairs… note the doors on either side that led to the island train platforms below. More photos of the event space in the station can be found here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, as it is called now, is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, and Capitol Limited. With trains arriving at the station during hours many are asleep (11:39 PM, 2:50 AM, 5:22 AM and 6:15 AM), the station functions on opposite schedule – the waiting room is open most night hours, and closed during the day. Though the waiting rooms for the trains were once in a more attractive spot on the third floor, during renovations the waiting area was relegated to the bottom floor. The former waiting area on the third floor is now an event space able to hold 650 people… so in reality, this station is pretty cool – if you’re looking to host a wedding reception.

 
  
  
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
 
   
 

If half-abandoned rail platforms aren’t your thing, there’s at least a bunch of freight traffic through Toledo that you can check out. I even caught my first Norfolk Southern heritage unit… awww. In case you’re curious, the folks watching the train in the first photo were the aforementioned “hobos.”

 
 
  
 

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James P. Carey, Grand Central’s Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

When Grand Central Terminal opened, some of its most touted amenities included the special waiting rooms for men and women located right next to the general waiting room. Included within were a barbershop, dressing rooms, and a manicure parlor, and all were operated by a rather ingenious entrepreneur by the name of James P. Carey. Not only did Carey have a gift for making and creating businesses, he recognized Grand Central as a prime opportunity, and the perfect place to launch those businesses.


Left: Photograph of James P. Carey with his dog Kerney, Right: Advertisement for Williams’ Shaving Soap, with testimonial by Carey and citing his barber shop in Grand Central Station.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut around 1869, James P. Carey was a trained barber that just happened to have a knack for business. After moving to New York City in his youth, he eventually started a chain of 25 barber shops, which he ultimately sold to focus on business ventures in Grand Central. His first established Grand Central endeavor was a barbershop in 1905 – several years before today’s Terminal was constructed. Like several other businesses in the old station, Carey reestablished his barbershop in the Terminal when it was completed, though it was much expanded.


Postcards showing Carey’s barber shop in Grand Central Terminal. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Carey’s barbershop in the new Terminal was truly a spectacle, and was claimed to be the largest barbershop in the world. Measuring 10,000 square feet and part of GCT’s mens’ waiting room, it was filled with plate glass mirrors, high polished Carrara glass, cream tiling, and marble basins. Only the best-trained barbers stood at the ready in white uniforms, waiting for patrons. In addition to walk-ins, you could also reserve an appointment by phone, or by telegraph from your train. The shop operated from 6 AM to midnight, and in addition to the barbers employed 2 cashiers, 3 coat and hat attendants, 3 shoe polishers, and 2 podiatrists (or as they were then called, chiropodists). The shop also contained a Russian steam bath, offered at a cost of 50 cents, and large enough to accommodate 33 men. For the women, Carey operated the manicure parlor and hairdresser as part of the women’s waiting room, which employed 6 manicurists and 2 hairdressers.


1913 ads for Carey’s businesses in Grand Central Terminal, shortly after opening.

Not only did Carey have a keen business sense, he had quite a talent for sensing what patrons of the Terminal needed. When I posted about the Grand Central Theatre, I tried to make the point that Grand Central morphed along with changing demographic of people that used it, and constantly reinvented itself to remain current and relevant. In that respect, Carey’s inventiveness perfectly reflected that spirit of Grand Central. At first the barber shop tailored to the high profile guests of the Terminal – people that relished their privacy, and could wire the barbershop from their train to reserve a private appointment. Soon after, Carey opened yet another barbershop – a no frills affair geared to the more everyday folks using Grand Central. Not long after that Carey noted that not just passengers were interested in getting their hair cut, thus he opened smaller shop in Grand Central’s office building for employees and train workers.


Carey also operated a men’s clothing shop, or as the folks wishing to ooze class would say, a haberdashery. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

At most, Carey is said to have operated twelve different businesses in the Terminal, including a clothing shop, laundry, luggage check, and car service. While some people were at first skeptical of the commercial space in the Terminal, calling it “barnlike” and having “storerooms [that were] too scattered,” Carey realized the opportunity, and created new businesses to fill the void. One such business was a haberdashery, or men’s clothing shop, which survived for many years in the Terminal.

Believing that Grand Central represented amazing opportunity, Carey focused on acquiring as much commercial space in the Terminal as possible. In 1920 Carey managed to oust fellow longtime tenant Mendel’s check room and luggage when their lease ran out, acquiring the space for himself. Like Carey, the proprietor of Mendel’s first established his shop in the previous Grand Central, though much earlier than Carey, in the 1870’s. When their lease came up for renewal, the owner, unaware they even had any competition for the space, put in a bid matching what he had been paying previously. Unbeknownst to him, Carey entered a higher bid, and by the time Mendel’s tried to up their bid, it was too late. Knowing that the check room and luggage shop was a necessity for the station, Carey opened his own version in the newly acquired location.


Advertisement and postcard for Carey’s transportation business. Below, right: photo of a Carey bus at JFK airport.

In 1921, right outside the walls of the Terminal, Carey embarked on his most significant and profitable venture – car transportation. Using the fanciest cars available at the time, Carey’s drivers chauffeured wealthy patrons arriving and departing Grand Central Terminal – rumored to include Babe Ruth, John F. Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover. Eventually the car service was expanded to include New York’s airports, and buses were added to the fleet. Though the company has gone through many changes and transitions over the years, Carey International is the current form of the company started so many years ago outside Grand Central.


In a move that would likely be frowned upon today, Carey fashioned himself a logo modeled after the New York Central’s. Below is the logo in use by Carey International, the current form of the company that J.P. Carey started many years ago.

Carey operated all of his businesses in the Terminal until 1940, when he retired due to illness (he died not too long after, in 1942). Many of the businesses he set up in the station, like the men’s clothing store, lasted for at least 50 years. The baggage check service was ultimately rendered obsolete when the New York Central installed lockers for travelers. As mentioned above, a successor firm to the transportation service Carey started still exists under the name of Carey International.

One final vestige of the Carey name still exists in the Terminal – a spot called Carey’s Hole (visible in this Metro-North floor plan). Until recently, Carey’s Hole was a locker facility used by Metro-North’s conductors and engineers (these locker facilities have now been relocated to the third floor). Located below the spot where Carey’s barbershop once was, this basement area was likely used for storage many years ago. For a man who spent much of his life on endeavors in Grand Central Terminal, it seems appropriate that at least one spot in the Terminal bears his name – even if it is just a basement.

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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.

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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.

 
   
 
 
  
 
 
  
   
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

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