Smartcat Sundays: All Aboard for the Westchester County Fair

These days if you want to get to a county fair on Metro-North you head up to Dutchess County, are conveniently met by a bus at Poughkeepsie station, and are whisked away to the long-running Dutchess County Fair. Westchester County used to have a fair too, although it wasn’t quite as constant – stopping and starting numerous times over the years, and is now defunct (folks from the ’80s may recall this catchy tune when the fair was revived and held at Yonkers Raceway).

Today’s artifact is from 1889 – a special Harlem Division brochure advertising railroad specials for the fair, including fare and admission. Held in White Plains at that time, eventually the land on which the fair was held was sold and led to several years of dormancy.

Brochure Inside

Brochure Outside

While the horse racing is, of course, to be expected, don’t forget the big event – the BABY SHOW! All the handsome babies of Westchester county are competing, after all!

Dog show and sale at the Westchester County Fair
The fair also featured a dog show and sale…

Horse racing at the fair
The main event – horse racing at the fair.

The midway at the Westchester County Fair
Midway at the Westchester County Fair, circa 1900. Photos from the Library of Congress.

After several years of dormancy, the fair was revived in the ’40s before going defunct again, only to be revived in the ’80s, and again later cancelled.

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Cass Gilbert’s Griffins

After visiting enough historical railroad stations (or by reading this blog) it doesn’t take too long to get accustomed to the decorative symbols enmeshed within the architecture. A set of symbols, like the caduceus and the winged wheel, are all associated with transportation, and can be found on stations near and far – especially those designed in the Beaux Arts style. Many of these stem from the Roman deity Mercury – the swift messenger god that became associated with transportation, always depicted wearing a winged cap and a with caduceus in hand. Also common is the winged wheel, representative of both Mercury and speed, which has represented transportation beyond railroads. The auto industry has made use of the symbol, and it can even be found in use today as the logo of the Detroit Red Wings. Other symbols, like the eagle, are representations of American patriotism. And for all those New York Central fans, the acorns and oak leaves symbolic of the Vanderbilt clan can be found within the railroad’s most notable stations.

   
  
A – Winged cap and caduceus, both symbols of Mercury, god of transportation, New York Central station, Bronxville
B – Winged wheel, transportation and speed, New York Central building
C – Caduceus and horn of plenty, symbol of Mercury, and of prosperity, Michigan Central Station, Detroit
D – Eagle, representing American patriotism, Utica Union Station
E – Acorns, adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, New York Central station, Yonkers
F – Mercury, Roman god of transportation, Grand Central Terminal

On one Metro-North station, however, you’ll find a particular symbol that isn’t quite common in rail stations – the griffin. Griffins are the mythological hybrid of the lion and the eagle, depicted with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head. Besides being the venerable king of beasts, as the lion was generally regarded as the king of animals and the eagle as the king of birds, the griffin guarded treasure and wealth. Architect Cass Gilbert incorporated the symbol into several of his designs, including New Haven Union Station, and the West Street Building in Manhattan, which was used as an office building by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Many men amassed fortunes in the railroading business, and these griffins became the symbolic guardians of this wealth.

The West Street Building, circa 1912
The West Street Building, now usually called 90 West Street, once towered over lower Manhattan, circa 1912

Though Cass Gilbert is usually remembered as the designer of New York City’s first skyscrapers, his elaborate portfolio consisted of museums, state capitol buildings, courts, libraries, and even train stations. Gilbert’s most notable station is New Haven’s Union station, which opened in 1920 and replaced an earlier station destroyed by fire. For a Beaux Arts design, the station’s exterior is really rather plain, but the inner waiting room and ticket windows are undoubtedly beautiful. Over-exaggerated embellishments are few, though observant viewers can spot griffins on the wall in the office section of the station.

 
  
   
  
 
   
  
 
  

Through a twist of fate, Gilbert’s most notable griffins would be those found on the West Street Building. Completed in 1907, the 23 story building was one of the tallest in lower Manhattan. Over time it became dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers, and eventually the World Trade Center. Though it was always a gorgeous historical part of New York, the West Street building gained much notoriety after the attacks in September 11th, 2001. The building took major damage – fires lasted for days, and debris rained down on it from the collapsing towers. Two people died in the building’s elevator, and portions of one of the hijacked planes were found on the building’s roof. Ultimately, solid construction won the day – although the damage was immense, the building survived.

90 West Street and the World Trade Center
90 West Street eventually became dwarfed by the World Trade Center, seen in 1970 during construction and in 1988. Photos by Camilo J. Vergara.

Nearly a hundred years apart - 1907 and 2001
Nearly a hundred years apart – 1907 and 2001

September 21, 2001
FEMA photo showing the damage and debris pile below 90 West Street on September 21st. Photo by Michael Rieger.

90 West Street was eventually restored, and reopened as a residential building. It now contains 410 separate apartments, ranging from studios to three bedroom units. Countless embellishments inside and out were destroyed, though many were recreated using old photographs. Many of the gargoyles on the outside are modern creations in the style of the originals. One of the original surviving griffins, however, can be found in the lobby of the building. He’s no longer guarding the wealth of railroads, though I suppose one could say he is now guarding the wealth of the well-to-do tenants of the building – studios start at about $2250 a month.

  
 
  
 
  
 
  

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A summer of derailments, and a revisit to Yonkers station

This summer has hardly been the best for railroads all around the world. Several high-profile, and unfortunately deadly, derailments and accidents have occurred in an array of cities. In June a commuter train hit another stopped train in Argentina, claiming three lives and injuring over three hundred. July brought an exceptionally destructive derailment, where a runaway freight train carrying crude oil exploded in the small town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. More than thirty of the town’s buildings were destroyed, and forty-two were killed, with five others missing and presumed dead. Not long after that, six people lost their lives when a train in France derailed and crashed into a station platform. Most recently, a serious derailment in Spain – which appears to be due to the engineer speeding – took the lives of at least seventy-eight.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5NyBO75YYc]
The serious train derailment in Spain, where at least 78 people died.

At the start of it all in May was Metro-North’s most serious accident in many years, when an M8 derailed and collided with another M8 on the opposite track in May. Proving the mettle of the newest of Metro-North’s rolling stock, no lives were lost in the derailment. Though not an oft mentioned thought related to the crash, had the train been comprised of the New Haven’s ancient M2s, it is fairly likely that there would have been casualties.

Most recently, a CSX derailment fouled up the Hudson Line south of Spuyten Duyvil. There were no serious injuries, and since it was a freight had no passengers aboard, but it did cause damage to the tracks and block the regular commute for Hudson Line riders two Fridays ago. Metro-North raced to get at least one track working for the Monday commute, and succeeded, but opted for alternate service this weekend in order to complete the work. Train service between Yonkers and Grand Central was suspended, and passengers were required to transfer to the subway to get into the city. A fleet of buses shuttled southbound passengers from Yonkers to the Woodlawn subway station, and northbound passengers from the subway to Yonkers station. I checked out the busing at Yonkers yesterday and snapped a few photos of the operation. Though I doubt none of the passengers were thrilled to have to transfer to buses and then the subway, Metro-North has really done a good job of bounding back quickly from incidents like these.

  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  

While we’re at Yonkers, it is worth checking out the station itself, and the lovely detailing found within. When we did our station tours, we visited Yonkers, but really didn’t get into some of the littler things you’d find at the station. Designed in the Beaux Arts style by two of Grand Central’s architects, Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the station has the classic hidden symbol found throughout. Just as you can play the “acorn game” in Grand Central, you can do so at Yonkers. The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted family crest of the Vanderbilts, can be found in many of the buildings designed for the family, including some of their railroad stations. Besides the acorns hidden in the outside and inside detailing, you’ll notice the stylized “NYC” for their railroad, the New York Central.

 
  
   
  
   
  

Yonkers, of course, fits into my recent goal of looking at some other buildings designed by Grand Central’s architects. A few weeks ago we looked at Hartsdale station, as well as the former White Plains station, which Warren and Wetmore also designed. Between them and Reed and Stem, there’s a nice list of local places I’d like to talk about in the near future, including Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Poughkeepsie, the Glenwood power station, and the Helmsley building. I’m also planning a nice feature on one of their more distant stations – Michigan Central Station in Detroit – which is arguably an often forgotten fraternal twin sister of Grand Central Terminal.

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