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Reflections 2011
Series 4
February 24
West Hudson Rail & Sail: Port Jervis - Atlantic City - Spring Lake


We’ve just discussed in 2011/3 early trails, sails, and rails in the West Hudson area. Before we move on to the East Hudson area, we really should see what practical use can be made from such traditional connections. Nowadays, when it comes to going somewhere, so many people immediately think of their car as the first possibility. I disdain overreliance on a car, even though in today’s suburban lifestyle, people have allowed it to become a necessity. But in an urban lifestyle, I’ve gotten rid of my car, and even have less need to rely on a Zipcar (2008/8) than I thought I would, even though I remain a Zipcar member (“Zipster”). I walk to the corner to buy a loaf of bread, and make all other personal connections by subway, bus, or railroad--and ferry, where appropriate.


Keeping that urban lifestyle in mind, my goal in the spring and summer of 2010 (and beyond) before the Australia trip was to fully utilize rail ‘n’ sail possibilities in the New York area to reach travel destinations. I did not totally avoid the “trail” possibility. While I didn’t want to start out from home by car, but rather by ferry and/or train, on reaching a travel destination, if it was practical to tour the area by car, I rented one for a couple of days, which happened in Spring Lake NJ and East Hampton LI. I was pleased to find that relying on rail ‘n’ sail, with just a bit of added trail when really useful, made for quite a number of very enjoyable short trips from Manhattan, some day trips, some for a few days.


In preparation for these trips, I reviewed a selection of ferry connections I’d never made but that seemed interesting, and included them in my plans. I checked which LIRR, NJT (both out of Penn Station), and Metro-North (out of Grand Central Terminal) routes I’d never traveled, selected a few of interest, and included them in my itineraries. I’d used PATH before a bit, but this time rode the entire system end-to-end.


And I rode the subway. I’d ridden over the years most routes of the New York Subway on a regular basis, but there were a number I’d never traveled. I did not travel all 27 lines, but rather routes that may include more than one line. In outlying areas I included all lines when they diverged. There were some 5-6 routes that were new to me, and a lot of southbound routes to the ocean were missing, so I took the A train in blue to all three last stops, including the two on the Rockaway Peninsula, and ALL the lines out to Coney Island (also Bay Ridge). The Coney Island lines had ALL been private railroads in the late 19C rushing people through what was then countryside from built-up Brooklyn to the resorts at Coney Island. These later became subway lines.


Finally, I took the Staten Island Railroad, described below, which is technically not a subway line but serves like one. I have NOT ridden every last bit of the 337 km (209 mi) of the New York Subway, but I now feel I can speak from personal experience about just where it goes.


These West Hudson excursions involved, in addition to the one car rental in Spring Lake, ferries, including a catamaran, PATH, and New Jersey Transit (click to enlarge; below references are to this map).


There used to be so many more routes, but we should be glad these, at least, have been salvaged. For instance, look once again at the museum that replaced the terminal where the Jersey Central used to operate out of, and at this signboard we saw earlier. The stops of the former Hunterdon Commuter between Bound Brook and Highbridge still exist on NJT’s Raritan Valley Line in gold on the map above, although the train now comes out of Hoboken and Newark Penn. But then consider again the former, famous Blue Comet, making stops between Red Bank and Atlantic City. It no longer exists. You can check on the map where Red Bank is still serviced on the blue North Jersey Coast Line, but the inland service to Atlantic City is gone. When I recently drove around the Red Bank station, I could see the split in lines as they left the station, one line still very healthy, the other set of tracks going off into the weeds. Most of the red and black routes on this older map are now gone, although NJT has some interesting suggestions for restoration and expansion of its current system. But let’s see what else is still actually around today that I’ve been able to make use of.


NEWARK AIRPORT I regularly use the service out of NY Penn to the Newark Airport Station, which then connects to the AirTrain Newark people mover to reach the terminals. The availability of Newark Airport in New Jersey (“West Hudson”) as one of three airports available to New York City is reminiscent of the several railroads formerly having their New York City terminals in Jersey City, and airport accessibility by rail from either NY Penn or Hoboken is another tie-in to those times.


PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE Last year I took the ferry from Battery Park City diagonally across to Hoboken Terminal, where I took the green Morristown Line out to Milburn. I then walked about ten minutes to the well-known regional Paper Mill Playhouse to see The Full Monty with Elaine Stritch. Afterwards at Hoboken Terminal, the ferries had stopped running, so I simply took PATH. It’s always nice to have a choice.


DINNER WITH FRIENDS Shortly after that, I was able to take the ferry round trip when I went from Hoboken on the yellow Main & Bergen County Lines to Ridgewood for dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant next to the station with friends Yefim and Galina.


PAULUS HOOK-(WALL STREET-FULTON LANDING) On a chilly, but sunny and pleasant wintery day recently, I decided I had left out some fundamental historic ferry crossings, to Paulus Hook plus to Fulton Landing in Brooklyn. I did both in one afternoon, but will just discuss Paulus Hook here and the rest later.


Right after Nine Eleven, the Downtown Alliance was formed to manage a BID (Business Improvement District) for the area south of City Hall. An obvious manifestation of that is the free daily shuttle service, whose route surrounds Lower Manhattan in a U-shape. I am located immediately above South Cove on the Hudson, and use the eastbound service regularly to go to the Seaport Museum, the SI Ferry, and the post office, and the westbound service to the library, the movies, and my doctor. (The three islands to the south are not to scale).


In any case, I took the shuttle up to just above North Cove to the ferry terminal (as indicated). Coming back at the end of the day from the Wall Street ferry terminal (also indicated), I again took the shuttle. In a pinch, these routes are also walkable (remember: this is New Amsterdam, which was laid out to be walkable). They are also a pleasant convenience.


The Battery Park City Ferry Terminal is on a floating dock just north of North Cove (shown). It is served by New York Waterway, one of whose front-loading ferries is here shown approaching Paulus Hook.


[In 2001 NY Waterway also rushed survivors across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan to Jersey during Nine Eleven, and you will recognize the NY Waterway ferry in Midtown Manhattan as one of several ferries providing rescue after the Hudson landing of US Airways flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. I was away sailing on the Queen Victoria (2009/1) then, but for the record, here’s the flight path and the wreck tied up along the Esplanade of Battery Park City.]


The crossing from BPC to Paulus Hook takes seven minutes. Welcome to Wall Street West, with the commercial area extending to the right up to the Newport Mall area. The large dock on the right is a hotel. The L-shaped dock is a pleasant park ending in a bandshell pavilion (click to enlarge), and is the extension of Exchange Place itself. The low building between these two docks is the PATH station. Just three blocks south, right before the GS Tower, is the ferry terminal for NY Waterway. The Paulus Hook neighborhood of Jersey City extends several blocks inland from the waterfront and consists largely of newer structures, many styled to look like early 20C townhouses. The inlet to the left is the mouth of the former Morris Canal, shown in 1827 and in use from the 1820’s to 1920’s, which once connected the Hudson to the Delaware River (click to enlarge, especially around Paulus Hook, which here still looks like a point of land). Note the old colonial road from Paulus Hook to Newark, by this time supplemented by other (dirt) roads, all shown in dotted lines. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Back in the photo, note Liberty State Park on the other side of the Morris Canal. You can only see the train shed of the Museum that was the Jersey Central Terminal. Beyond that is the slender service walkway out to Ellis Island, and the Statue is just out of the picture range. In the right-hand background is Newark Bay, delineating Bergen Neck, with Newark beyond.


I then took a NY Waterway ferry for eight minutes from Paulus Hook to Pier 11/Wall Street on the East River, to connect to Fulton Landing in Brooklyn, which will be a later story.


PORT JERVIS The longest day trip I took in this area was to Port Jervis NY, which requires another look at the NJT map. Look again at the yellow Main & Bergen County lines, which, after Mahway, enter New York State (as does the adjacent purple Pascack Valley line for its last three stops) on their way to Port Jervis NY. Officially the segments in NYS are part of the Metro North RR, but operated by NJT. Metro North calls the Main Line on its territory the Port Jervis Line.


I chose the Main Line because of its history, since this had been the Main Line of the Erie railroad, which once connected Pavonia Terminal in Jersey City via Buffalo on Lake Erie to Chicago, although today trains leave from Hoboken Terminal. As informational signs in Port Jervis told me, the 1880’s saw the opening of 93,000 miles (150,000 km) (!!!) of track across the US. In 1922, 20 (!!!) passenger trains passed through Port Jervis daily. But the mid-20C decline in rail usage caused the closing of all rail service beyond Port Jervis in 1970, and today, only the stretch from Hoboken to Port Jervis is left, running 151 km (95 mi).


While it’s good that the line still exists, it becomes hard to schedule a day trip, since it’s just a commuter line today with most service during rush hours. (I considered staying overnight, but the deck is stacked against such plans, since today, hotels and motels are at the edge of town, set to service cars.) The one-way trip takes 2 ½ hours in each direction, and careful review of the schedule showed me I could go up in the morning and then have 1 ¼ hours of walk-around time before taking the 2 ½-hour trip back. That was fine with me.


I left the Battery Park Ferry Terminal to cross the Hudson to the Hoboken Terminal (and later returned the same way). In the station I picked up what’s now become a habit with me, a banana-nut muffin and small cappuccino, to enjoy on the train, and off I went on my merry way towards Port Jervis.


Shortly after crossing from NJ to NY, near the town of Salisbury Mills (see NJT map) the train crosses the 1909 Moodna Viaduct. It’s the highest (59 m / 193 ft) and longest (975 m / 3200 ft) railroad trestle east of the Mississippi, and is located in some of the most rural and undeveloped countryside in the New York area.


Port Jervis was settled by Europeans in 1690 and named after John Jervis, an incredibly prolific railroad and canal engineer, who was chief engineer on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. You’ll note the distance of its location from NYC, and also from Binghamton NY, which once was the next major city on the Erie Main Line. But particularly unusual is its location at the tripoint, where New York State, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey come together. NY and PA are face-to-face to each other at downtown Port Jervis, and New Jersey is just a bit downriver. This monument denotes the tripoint, and also the northernmost point of NJ. It being in the river, I did not see it (nor was it winter, but spring).


Pulling into town, the train passes the former Erie Depot of 1892. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but today is disused and merely houses a few shops. The train goes a few hundred more meters/yards to stop at an open-air minimalist station, consisting of a parking lot, small shelter (like for a bus stop) and concrete platform. Actually it’s quite adequate for current commuter needs, but consider what has been lost. (The mountain in the background is High Point NJ, the highest point in that state [550 m / 1803 ft].)


My 1h15 was actually quite adequate for what I wanted to do. Near the station I looked at the remnants of an old roundtable and roundhouse, destroyed by fire, and I walked back into town to the Erie Depot. But I was really looking forward to walking into Pennsylvania. Here’s an excellent view of Port Jervis. If you click, you can find on the right the parking lot at the current station and on the left, you’ll spot the towers of Erie Depot a few blocks into town. But only about two blocks away is the bridge over the Delaware River, with NJ somewhere to the left. It was so pleasant, given the spring weather, walking across the bridge into Matamoras PA and back.


[This requires a side comment. I mentioned the oddity of walking across international lines when I crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez (2007/1). I’ve done it a few times, some mentioned there and also later between South Africa and Botswana, when the bus dropped us off for passport checks and to walk across the border, then picked us up to return to the train. But it’s also not common to walk across state or provincial lines within a country. I’m racking my brains, and I can only think of the obvious side trip to the Four Corners Monument to stand in four states at once (2007/14). Other than that, I don’t recall ever walking across state lines until Port Jervis.]


ATLANTIC CITY We saw that lines previously served Atlantic City from the New York area, but they are gone. Checking the NJT map above, you’ll see NJT does have an Atlantic City Line, but it doesn’t connect with any other service, including anything near New York. As a matter of fact, it serves Philadelphia and NJ communities along the route.


However, some of the casinos in Atlantic City have financed a line right from NY Penn, called ACES, the Atlantic City Express Service, run on weekends only, and serviced by NJT. This odd situation further illustrates the woeful situation of rail service in the US.


I’d been to Atlantic City twice before, never to gamble, just to see how the popular Victorian seaside resort, famous for its resort hotels, had slid into decline, but was attempting to regain life as a casino destination. In 1853 the first commercial hotel was built. The following year, 1854, the city was incorporated and the first railroad arrived, well before the first road arrived in 1870. By 1874 almost a half million passengers arrived annually by rail. The first boardwalk was built in 1870, not elevated, but on ground level as it still is today. It was originally intended to keep sand out of the lobbies of seaside hotels, and proved not only effective, but popular for promenading.


The city was so popular that the one railroad couldn’t keep up with demand, and two others arrived. It’s well-known that Atlantic City was the model for the American version of Monopoly (there really is a Baltic Avenue and Park Place), and do keep in mind that a total of four railroads appear on the Monopoly board, which is ironic when compared to what was, and also the current rail situation in NJ and elsewhere.


But the resort hotels are gone (Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, 1905/6-1979), as are the multiple railroads, the worst of the decline has been weathered, and the casinos are reestablishing visitors arriving in town, although the casino atmosphere is not exactly uplifting and fosters nothing like the former resort cachet. Reasons for the post-WWII decline are several. People had been coming by train and staying several weeks, but the spread of the automobile altered that, with people being able to come and go for short periods. Swimming pools and air conditioning became more common, and a beach visit was no longer as important. And jet travel allowed distant resorts to be reached even faster than local ones.


I would have preferred not to travel on a weekend, nor in the heat of summer, but that was the only time ACES made this connection. We left NY Penn with a single stop at Newark Penn, and had a full train for the almost three-hour run. Oddly, given current rail configurations (see NJT map), we went first to North Philadelphia, where we left the electric locomotive, and where we reversed direction as a dormant diesel locomotive then took over to complete the run. Atlantic City has a beautiful new modern rail station, with an adjacent convention hall. I’d booked the Sheraton across the street free on points for two nights, and was all set.


The Friday evening of arrival in late July I took a shuttle bus (“jitney”) to the newer Marina area away from the sea (!!!), and chose to stop at the famous Borgata Hotel (2003). It’s the top-grossing hotel in AC and is a lot of glitz, but must please a lot of people. Since my return was to be on Sunday, I only had one full day, Saturday, to walk down to the casinos on the more historic boardwalk area, to again see the oldest boardwalk in the world, where nine of the eleven casinos are located. It was so hot on the 4-5 block walk that I had to keep on popping in to air-conditioned shops on the way. The boardwalk is 60 ft (18 m) wide, and although not as long as it once was because of storm damage, is presently 4.12 mi (6.6 km) long.


I was satisfied enough to visit only Caesar’s Atlantic City (a casino is a casino is a casino) on the boardwalk, since that had an enclosed extension onto one of the piers out over the water. At the end of the pier was a fountain display, still all enclosed from the heat, but with nice views along the coastline and down to the beach. This pier is the furthest to the left in this southward view. (The bay in the background indicates that AC is on a barrier island [2010/26].) This is the boardwalk from the overpass from Caesar’s to Caesar’s pier (the beach is to the right of the grass), and this is the boardwalk in 1917.


I had one surprise, but maybe I should have expected it. I knew there was a Monopoly Monument, right off the boardwalk on Park Place, no less, to remind people that AC was the model for the American version of the game. I couldn’t find it, but was told at an information booth that it had been removed, since it continued to reflect a former image of the city, not the casino image that was now the mode.


I did not gamble a penny, since I do not gamble. The heat was uncomfortable, but the rail trip was enjoyable, as was seeing the boardwalk again and seeing how the commercial center of AC that I had walked along down to the boardwalk was now thriving. But two nights and one full day were really quite enough.


SPRING LAKE Take a final view of the NJT routes and follow the blue North Jersey Coast Line to Spring Lake. It no longer goes beyond Bay Head, presently the last stop, which I inspected later by car. Like ACES, a change between electric and diesel power is necessary, but here, it’s a matter instead of actually changing trains at Long Branch from an electric one to a diesel one. The ride from NY Penn was just over two hours to the Spring Lake Station. This shows the southbound platform I arrived on; the station building on the northbound side is today used for community affairs.


In planning this return trip to Spring Lake I’d come across a common problem when one tries to travel by rail ‘n’ sail in today’s world: amenities are now set up for an automobile world. Just as there were no longer hotels in the center of Port Jervis, but rather motels on the car-friendly outskirts, the Avis dealership in Spring Lake was located, not in the center of town but further inland, at a major highway intersection, which Google Maps had told me was a 28-minute walk away. There was no pickup service (although when I returned the car, she found someone to give me a ride back to the station) so I enjoyed a pleasant springtime walk through a park-like area wheeling my bag behind me.


Spring Lake is a charming village that developed as a coastal resort for New York and Philadelphia high society in the late 19C Gilded Age, when the wealthy built mansions in Newport RI and spacious Victorian homes in places like Bar Harbor ME and Spring Lake. The term Gilded Age is now standardly--and quite seriously--applied to this period of rapid economic growth and expansion, but was originally meant as a joke. Mark Twain himself coined the phrase in 1873 as a spoof on the term Golden Age, implying that the ostentatious display of the period was not genuinely “golden”, but just a superficial layer of gilt.


Before settling in, I drove around town. Because of what I assume is strict regulation, although the towns along the entire Jersey blend into one another with no space in between, which is a sign of our times, you can tell when you’re entering or leaving Spring Lake. Adjacent towns may be very nice, but just don’t look like Spring Lake, which has only one commercial area, an intersection around the Town Clock in the center of town, with small shops, and conducive to walking. Just south of this is a park surrounding the long, narrow lake from which the town gets its name, with inviting pedestrian bridges across it. I can only assume from the name that the lake is spring-fed. The rest of the town is totally residential and still highly Victorian, with large trees overhanging the streets. It’s very easy to tell, even without looking at the signs, when you’re entering or leaving Spring Lake.


Notably running along the full length of the town is the strip of beach, boardwalk, and sand dunes (Photo by Rmccold), followed by the homes along broad Ocean Avenue behind the dunes. I had always visited Spring Lake preseason, and I was here for three nights at the end of April 2010, so I’ve only seen the area without in-season crowds, like this file picture shows.


The nicest bed-and-breakfasts to me are located in converted Victorian houses. I’ve enjoyed them in Fernandina Beach FL, Asheville NC, as well as the James House in Port Townsend WA (2008/21), and elsewhere. But a favorite one, close to New York, is one that Beverly and I visited twice in the ‘80’s. It’s one of two homes in Spring Lake on the National Register of Historic Places, known officially as the Audenried Cottage, but that functions more familiarly as the B&B called the Normandy Inn (Photo by Dmadeo) on Tuttle Avenue. It was originally an early experience for us with Victoriana, and I remember clearly one thing I learned there: the indulgence of the Victorians in deep, dark colors, and many of them, cheek-by-jowl. We live today in a world of largely white houses, white outside, white inside. If we use color, it’s most likely light shades, and not many colors at a time. It is a travesty to look at a Victorian house painted white (such as to the right in the picture--click for details). In this cloudy-day file picture, the colors don’t show up well. The typically Victorian wrap-around porch is deep green, as is the tower above, which includes the circular window in my bathroom (I got a pre-season room upgrade). To the left of that window is my room, in a part of the building that is deep gold. Interior colors are similar.


The building had been built several blocks away prior to 1889 by the Audenried family of Philadelphia, as a fully-furnished summer rental cottage. It had many rooms, including eight (!!!) bedrooms. In 1909 a new owner had the building moved to its present site, which means it spent only two decades on its original site, but just over a century on Tuttle Avenue. An extension was added in the rear at the time of the move, but it was well-done and is imperceptible.


I came preseason for the low rates, but also for the solitude, since there were very few guests. I missed chatting with other guests, but got a lot of talk-time with the staff. They still serve an excellent full “country” breakfast, with afternoon tea. Another plus is the free bicycle usage. I rode every day (not too long, since I’ve never had a lot of bicycle stamina), but it was only 1 ½ blocks down Tuttle Avenue to Ocean Avenue and the seaside, and even bicycling along the boardwalk was also possible.


I’ve found this YouTube video of the Normandy Inn. It seems to have been done for some TV program, and the style of the video is too “cutesy” for my taste, but it does show off the Inn very nicely. Note my circular window at 1:35, followed by my room, and also the sea view down Tuttle Avenue from the upper levels at 1:50.

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