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Reflections 2011
Series 8
March 11
Early E. Hudson Rails (N/NE): NY & Harlem RR - Hudson River RR


If long-distance travel by road out of Manhattan was traditionally only possible to the N or NE, it should not surprise that that was also the case for long-distance travel by rail. If the slender nature of Manhattan island caused two colonial roads to develop, the Post Road on the East Side and Broadway on the West Side, then as night follows day, it should not surprise that the slender nature of Manhattan island caused two rail routes to form, one on the East Side, the New York & Harlem Railroad , and one on the West side, the Hudson River Railroad. And just as the early colonial roads are often hard to trace, have partially been obliterated, and aren’t always apparent today, neither is everything about these two early railroads, which followed the fate of most early railroads and were swallowed up by giants. But our catchword is “early”, so it’s the basics and beginnings that we’re looking for.


For rail review, we return to the map of the Port of New York Railroads Circa 1900 (Map by James R Irwin), at the point that water crossings were still only by ferry, and just before the early 20C tunnel-and-rail building boom, that changed everything. We recall that the West Hudson rail scene was complex, with many railroads serving multiple directions. Principal ones were the Lackawanna, which ran diagonally to the northwest, to Buffalo and beyond; the Erie, which did the same (which is why they eventually merged); and the mighty Pennsylvania (click to enlarge), which ran diagonally to the southwest to Philadelphia and beyond. There were multiple terminals requiring ferry connections, and that nothing crossed the Hudson (or East River, either) until the PATH tunnels were built under the Hudson in 1908-9 and until the Pennsylvania RR built in 1910 what I like to call its “Great Connector”, consisting of a tunnel under the Hudson to Midtown, through Penn Station, continuing crosstown to a tunnel under the East River, LIRR connections, and the Hell Gate Bridge to the Bronx and New England. But in this 1900 map we still see the Divisions by Waterway that were iconic for New York for so many years.


But the East Hudson scene is much simpler. We’ll discuss Brooklyn later but just note on the map that today’s Atlantic Terminal (ex-Flatbush Avenue Terminal) is missing from the map, and should be shown just below the large park (Fort Greene Park) in Brooklyn. Above that, the now defunct Bushwick Terminal is shown, plus the important Queens ferry connections in Hunter’s Point in Long Island City. We’ve discussed these two LIRR railheads earlier (2006/11) and will recap in the next posting.


But look how simple the Manhattan rail scene is. Just two routes, one east, one west, and both with interesting histories that are connected to each other and, to a degree, to the roads discussed earlier.


The Modern New York Rail Picture   As I am learning from Harold Pinter, it’s beneficial to tell a story backwards. If everyone knows the rail status of Today, then we’re all on the same page when discussing Yesterday. So before discussing historic Manhattan rail (and shortly, historic Long Island rail), let’s review the long-distance and local possibilities in New York today.


AMTRAK The US rail picture has shrunk both for long-distance and local service. What remains today for long-distance Amtrak service in the New York area can be seen on this corridor map, which shows current corridors, but with potential high-speed capabilities.


Long-distance directionality out of New York is three-fold: SW, NE, N. Amtrak, calling it the Northeast Corridor, took over the Pennsylvania RR route to the SW to Philadelphia, Washington, and beyond, and via the PRR route through Manhattan (the “Great Connector”), NE to Boston and beyond. Amtrak also took over the New York Central RR’s routes N to Albany and beyond, today not out of Grand Central, but instead also out of Penn Station, using the name Empire Corridor, a reference to New York as the Empire State. There is no longer any long-distance service out of NYCRR’s Grand Central Terminal (commonly called Grand Central Station). There is great irony in this, given the historic rivalry of the PRR and NYCRR for service to New York: NYCRR had had exclusive land access to Manhattan (from the N), until the PRR usurped that monopoly in 1910 via its Great Connector. (NYCRR’s Cornelius Vanderbilt must be spinning in his grave.) Note that the long-distance directionality that’s missing is NW. The Lackawanna and Erie routes to Buffalo and beyond were apparently considered redundant, given the possibility of travel via Albany, thus the lack of service beyond Port Jervis (2011/4).


LOCAL SERVICE As in most places around the world, most local service has come down to just commuter service. My visits to Port Jervis and Spring Lake were just for pleasant travel. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but that’s the exception to the norm, and today commuter travel prevails. After the world of the old rail companies imploded, service around New York ended up in the hands of three new railroads, which reflect the following directionality.


New Jersey Transit, already discussed in 2011/4, covers local routes to the NW, W, SW, S, all of which I mentioned I traveled recently. To this we can add the Staten Island Railroad for its SW travel.


The Long Island Rail Road, already discussed in 2006/11 (“Off to Boston”), and to be recapped shortly, covers local routes to the E.


Metro-North, as its name implies, is the railroad that took over local routes to the N, from the NYCRR, as well as to the NE, from the New Haven RR. Just as the New Jersey routes are consolidated, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) oversees Metro-North, the LIRR, and all subways (except the Port Authority’s PATH) and buses. These are Metro-North’s routes (click to enlarge).


West of the Hudson, as described in the Port Jervis posting, the former routes of the Erie RR are under Metro-North’s jurisdiction, although run by NJT. That is, however, a legal technicality; it’s Metro-North’s three primary East Hudson services that are of the essence. They are, west to east, the Hudson Line, Harlem Line, and New Haven Line. All start at Grand Central, and all stop in Harlem at 125th Street.


The Hudson Line, official MTA color code green, runs along the Bronx side of the Harlem River, where it makes several stops. Amtrak service comes from Penn Station up the Hudson shore of Manhattan and joins the Hudson Line after Spuyten Duyvil, and both continue up the Hudson, leaving the Bronx and New York City after Ludlow. With Amtrak making only express stops, they continue as far as Poughkeepsie (po.KIP.si), where the Hudson Line ends, but Amtrak service continues on to Albany, Canada, and Chicago. (Turn back to the mid-20C and earlier and all this, local and long-distance, was all still NYCRR.)


The Harlem Line, color code blue, is so called because it was the first one to stop in Harlem, the other two lines being later add-ons. It makes stops in the Bronx through Wakefield, sharing Fordham with the New Haven Line, leaves New York, and serves White Plains on the way to its terminus in Wassaic (wa.SAY.ik). Nothing goes beyond today, although at its height under the NYCRR, the line continued to Chatham NY, where there used to be east-west connections to Albany, Boston, Vermont, and Canada.


The New Haven Line, color code red, leaves the Bronx and New York City after Fordham. Amtrak service, coming from Penn Station via the Great Connector to Queens and over the Hell Gate Bridge to the Bronx, joins the New Haven Line just before New Rochelle (Amtrak stations marked with an “A”). Both routes enter Connecticut before Greenwich, with the New Haven line being operated by the MTA in cooperation with the State of Connecticut. The New Haven Line (with three branches) continues to New Haven, but Amtrak goes on to Boston. We can now refer to this Amtrak connection from Washington via New York to Boston, which is also used by the Acela Express, by its more contemporary name, the Northeast Corridor (Amtrak’s Hudson route to Albany is part of its Empire [State] Corridor). Historically, while Amtrak’s service was part of the PRR, New Haven Line service was a remnant of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railway (the “New Haven”), which was all part of the rail implosion in the mid-20C.


[There is talk of running some Hudson Line and New Haven Line trains down the corresponding Amtrak routes described and into Penn Station, with new local stops along the way, but first the LIRR connection into Grand Central has to be completed, thereby rerouting some LIRR trains out of Penn Station, and making room for them.]


Now that we’re all on the same page about current service, let’s “do a Pinter” and go back in time. We are aware from the above map dated about 1900 of the two early lines we know started it all, but find both have already been truncated by that date, one much more than the other. So let’s visualize the situation earlier by a half century and more. The first railroads that can be considered common carriers in North America date from 1826, and the railroads we’ll be discussing date from the 1830’s and 1840’s, so they are all among the oldest railroads in the US.


We will be dealing first with the ancestor of the Harlem Line, the New York & Harlem Railroad, chartered 1831, opened 1832, and the ancestor of the Hudson Line, the Hudson River Railroad, chartered 1846, opened 1851. These are the two routes on the 1900 map, and both went due N.


The ancestor of the New Haven Line that goes NE does date from the same time period, 1848, but it never had its own route into Manhattan. It always joined the ancestor of the Harlem Line in the Bronx, as it still does today, and then had trackage rights into Grand Central. Therefore, it has to be considered the first “branch” off the Harlem Line (the Hudson Line later became the second, and both branch off outside Manhattan, in the Bronx). This will account for our seeing on the map two rail lines within Manhattan becoming three lines across the Harlem River serving the N and NE.


[To keep all our East Hudson rail founding dates visible on the same page, we can add here the additional information that the Brooklyn & Jamaica Railroad was chartered in 1832 and opened in 1836, but the Long Island Rail Road immediately leased it during that period, in 1834, and it has been running continuously under the LIRR name since then, making the LIRR the oldest railroad operating under its original name in the US.]


New York & Harlem Railroad   Railroads developed as a travel alternative to roads (literally “roads with rails on them”) because of mud and dust. People wanted a way to avoid muddy and dusty roads, and a pair of tracks, with a vehicle to ride them, was the solution. Some of the earliest rail travel involved horsecars (here one in Manchester NH), which were literally horse-drawn coaches on rails. The rails gave a smoother and more efficient all-weather ride than the earlier omnibus routes dating from the 1820’s, which were essentially modified stagecoaches still combating mud or dust. Horsecars are to be viewed as the ancestor of both light-rail streetcars, which were later electrified, and heavy-rail railroads, which later used steam engines (and later still, electricity). This is the origin of the Victorian term for steam locomotives, the Iron Horse, used admiringly in comparison to horsecars because of the greater speed and power.


The very first streetcar in the United States started operation in New York on November 26, 1832 under the name of the New York & Harlem Railroad. It connected, as the name says, New York, still just in Lower Manhattan, with suburban Harlem in Upper Manhattan (and later beyond). Inasmuch as part of it developed into a full-fledged railroad, it was also one of the first railroads in the US.


At this point a map, earlier than the one above from 1900, would be most helpful. This marvelous specimen shows New York in 1847 (click to enlarge).


[AN ASIDE ON THE 1847 MAP I can’t believe our luck in finding this outstanding map, and I want to review other gems before getting back to the NY&H. Start with New Jersey, and note the name Pavonia, which we discussed. It also shows Paulus Hook in its original shape as a point of land (hoek), although here it’s labeled in the variant Powles Hook. Note the Morris Canal with its basin, plus the names of rail depots and wharves. Notice all the water along the shore from here to Hoboken, which is now all land fill. Hoboken shows plenty of ferries, but no rail depot! The railroad has not yet arrived here. Finally, I now spot something in Hoboken I’d heard about, but never saw on a map before, Elysian Fields. This is the venue that give Hoboken the claim to being the birthplace of baseball. It was convenient to Manhattan, and what is believed to be the first organized baseball game was played here in 1846. This historical marker describes the location, which is illustrated in this Currier & Ives lithograph.


[At the southern tip of Manhattan, notice the Staten Island ferry as well as the authentic South Ferry, mentioned earlier and to be further discussed in the Brooklyn posting, as will be everything here dealing with the East River and Brooklyn.


[Note that the built-up area (dotted) only goes to about 14th Street. (Brooklyn is similar.) Let’s follow our two roads. Find Bowling Green (BG) near Battery Park and follow Broadway up, past Wall Street, to City Hall Park (ex-The Common). By this time it already continues north to Union Square (US). Just before that, note Astor Place, continuing across the Bowery as Stuyvesant Street (not named here), the former route to Peter Stuyvesant’s estate near the East River, and running east-west at an angle to the other so-called east-west streets. When Broadway leaves Union Square--surprise of surprises--it still has the name Bloomingdale Road, so the name change hasn’t taken place yet at this point. The future theater district in Midtown named “Broadway” wouldn’t be called that if the name of Bloomingdale Road hadn’t been changed to appear to be the extension of the original Broadway (Heerestraat) downtown. (Can you imagine George M. Cohan writing “Give my Regards to Bloomingdale Road”?)


[As we follow the former Boston Post Road, we’ll get closer to topic. Go back down to City Hall Park and follow on its right Park Row (here unnamed) through Chatham Square (today’s Chinatown) and up the Bowery, which properly keeps its name on this map to Union Square. Today the name “Bowery” ends at Third Avenue, and the stretch of the Bowery from there to Union Square is already given the name Fourth Avenue. Perversely, beyond Union Square what is here Fourth Avenue is now Park Avenue South up to Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street, after which it’s Park Avenue. (Again remember that north of Union Square, the route of the old Boston Post Road is obliterated until Harlem.)]


Now directly back on topic, note the route of the New York & Harlem RR, shown here, and note how surprisingly it follows so much of the Boston Post Road. Even allowing for the obliteration of so much of the BPR’s route, the concept of road becoming rail-road should not be lost here. The NY&H was first laid out in 1832 on the Bowery starting at Prince Street (one block S of Houston) and worked its way N, reaching Harlem (125th Street) in 1837. It was then extended S along the Bowery, but varied from the old BPR route, leaving the Bowery and turning W onto Broome Street and then S onto Centre Street to reach Park Row and City Hall, as we see on our map.


Then the N end again was extended to Williamsbridge, White Plains, and finally in 1852 up to Chatham upstate, with its long-distance connections. The final extension was S, and took place in 1852, so is not shown on this 1847 map. It was short, and went from the E side of City Hall (a momentous location that later became the entry to the Brooklyn Bridge) physically down Park Row (back to the BPS route) to the intersection of Broadway, where the original forking of roads had been. This extension was done to serve the 1836 Astor House on the W side of Broadway between Vesey and Barclay. The Astor House was at that time the most famous hotel in America, built by real estate magnate John Jacob Astor (2008/20). (It was demolished starting in 1913). This picture, taken at a later date, shows, on Broadway, Saint Paul’s Chapel, which over a century later would have the World Trade Center on its far side, Vesey Street, the Astor House on Broadway, the old Post Office that used to be on the southern end of City Hall Park and which is now gone, and Park Row.


Now that we have the entire geography of the installation, we can look more deeply into this horsecar system that constituted both the oldest light-rail/streetcar system in the US and one of the oldest heavy-rail/railroad systems in the US. The split between the two happened this way. Horses had been used exclusively at first, but at one point, north of 23rd Street, steam engines were substituted. There was a depot on 26th Street where southbound railroad passengers could connect to the horsecars going the rest of the way. This was the initial division of the horsecar system. At another point, steam locomotives were limited to 32nd Street, and then finally, the NYC Common Council passed an ordinance in 1854 barring the NY&H from using any steam power south of 42nd Street. This ever-shortening of the closeness steam engines could come to the built-up area of New York was because of the smoke, soot, and grime caused by the engines, as well as the noise.


[There is a remnant of the streetcar section of the NY&H called the Murray Hill Tunnel, which is still very visible, although put to another use. In 1834 during the extension N, on what was then Fourth Avenue, now Park Avenue, from 33rd to 40th Streets, an open rock cut was necessary to lay tracks because of Murray Hill. In the 1850’s it was roofed over using granite stringers taken from the original railway bed south of 14th Street. Today it’s used for auto traffic, once two-way, now just one lane northbound, and has 2.71 m (8 ft 11 in) vertical clearance. It also has the Lexington Avenue subway running beneath it, whose two center express tracks are noticeably lower than the local tracks to either side because of the tunnel overhead.]


NORTH OF 42ND STREET Given this southbound limitation of steam engines, the old Grand Central Depot was constructed on the north side of 42nd Street and opened in 1871. This view looks out of the north end of the Murray Hill Tunnel in 1880. Note the posted names of the NY & Harlem RR and the NY & New Haven RR (with trackage rights). On the left is the Hudson River RR (acquired later, see below), so even at this early point, we have the ancestors of today’s Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Lines all in one place, as they are today. The two larger portals on the right allowed some horse-drawn trains to continue further downtown on the streetcar tracks.


Staten Islander and steamship and railroad entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt (Staten Island Ferry, Staten Island Railway [2011/6]) bought the NY&H in 1863 and it eventually became part of his New York Central RR. Henceforth, all intercity passenger trains ended here, but still had the horsecar connection further south. The depot was replaced in the same location by today’s Grand Central Terminal in 1913. In time, steam was replaced by electricity, the tracks north of Grand Central were lowered into a tunnel, allowing Park Avenue to flourish as a desirable address. Between 97th and 99th Street the tunnel emerges to a viaduct on its way north (here the 97th Street Portal looking south, with leafy Park Avenue in the background).


[We certainly need an aside here about Grand Central Terminal of 1913 (here its main façade on 42nd Street), especially given that Pennsylvania Station of 1910 was destroyed in 1963, save for its basement-level access to tracks. Grand Central was built by, and named after, the New York Central RR and is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower level. When the LIRR's new station, below the existing levels, opens, Grand Central will offer a total of 75 tracks and 48 platforms.


[The Main Concourse is prodigious (click to enlarge; the 42nd Street entrance is to the right, track entrances to the left; note platform entrance to tracks 27 & 28). People often meet at the four-faced clock on top of the information booth in the center. Each face is made of opal, and both Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated its value at $10-20 million. Since the recent restoration, the Lower Concourse serves as a dining area, but more historic than that is the famous, restored Oyster Bar, known for its arches of Guastavino terra-cotta tiles. Also restored was the astronomical ceiling, famous for being painted backwards by mistake. The embarrassed Vanderbilt family explained it away as not being seen from the Earth, but from above.


[The clock outside facing 42nd Street, with a circumference of 4 m (13 ft), contains the world's largest example of Tiffany glass. It’s surrounded by sculptures of Minerva, Hercules, and, above, Mercury with a height of 14.6 m (48 ft).


[Still, in 1968, just five years after Penn Station succumbed, there appeared plans for a reconstruction of Grand Central, opposed by many, most notably Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to whom there is a plaque today in the station. The nascent Landmarks Commission declared Grand Central to be a landmark, which was contested, yet upheld by the Supreme Court, the first time it ruled on a matter of historic preservation, making it a “landmark” decision (pun intended). The loss of one station ended in a victory for the other.]


SOUTH OF 42ND STREET The horse car line south of Grand Central remained separate as a streetcar line under the NY&H name until 1896. Under later owners it became a bus line, which brings us to the status of the 1900 map, which shows no rail apparent on the East Side below Grand Central. But that’s not really the end of the story, at least, as I see it. You see, there was another railroad built precisely in the area in question, between Grand Central and City Hall. And it’s still there: the original IRT subway.


The first subway in New York was built by the City in 1904, but leased to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), which later became one of three early subway divisions. We can best see this on this map we saw last on 2011/3 to illustrate early PATH lines on the West Side, including the link to the IRT at Astor Place that was never built. Note the route of the first ever subway line: it came from 145th Street down Broadway to Times Square, turned down 42nd Street to Grand Central, then proceeded downtown first to Brooklyn Bridge, to the E of City Hall, then to the City Hall station on the loop that is shown.


[Before discussing this, note that the map shows that, in 1908, the extension was completed from City Hall down Lower Broadway (with three familiarly named stations at Fulton Street, Wall Street, and Bowling Green) under the East River to Brooklyn Borough Hall and the LIRR station, showing the importance of this subway line in connecting two rail stations. Later, in 1918, the “H” system of the IRT was set up, in which the original system was reconfigured to look like an H. An extension was run south from Times Square (7th Avenue Line), resulting in a West Side Line, and an extension was run north up Lexington Avenue, resulting in an East Side Line, with the “bar” of the H becoming the 42nd Street Shuttle. (While the lower part of the East Side IRT Line is under Park Avenue, north of Grand Central the railroad used Park Avenue, so the northern extension of the subway was shifted east one block to Lexington. This explains why the subway under the Murray Hill Tunnel on Park Avenue is the “Lexington Avenue Line”.)]


Back to topic: observe again on the 1847 map the area that later had Grand Central and the City Hall loop at either end. While the Boston Post Road had used the Bowery, the NY & Harlem had shifted over down Centre Street to Park Row. Then the IRT line shifted over to straighten the route even further. It comes down Park (ex-Fourth), just like the NY&H, but only to Astor Place, at which time it turns down Lafayette Street directly into Centre Street to Park Row. Then, just as the NH&H had been extended to the bottom of City Hall Park, the IRT had its loop under City Hall Park.


Although the streetcar version of NY&H is referred to as its successor, no one can convince me that the IRT line is not the de facto successor of rail service between Grand Central and City Hall, with the only variation of its route being the direct Lafayette Street run. It is also worth pondering transportation similarities in this region between the Boston Post Road, the NY & Harlem, and the original IRT subway.


[AN ASIDE ON THE OLD CITY HALL STATION: The main station on the Lexington Avenue Line in the City Hall area is Brooklyn Bridge, to the E of City Hall, and since the closing of the old City Hall Station on the nearby loop because of low patronage on New Year’s Eve 1945, is now referred to as Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. First: why did the IRT build a station at Brooklyn Bridge, anyway? At one point, this was the southern end of the NY&H, but the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) hadn’t been built yet, so that was not of importance. The answer is that although today, the Brooklyn Bridge is used, other than by pedestrians, exclusively by cars (no trucks), right after it was built, it carried, aside from horse carriages, a cable car line, a horse-drawn streetcar line, later a Brooklyn elevated line reaching this far into Manhattan. Therefore, this end of Brooklyn Bridge was a major transit hub in its day, accounting for its former importance. Still, the IRT wanted to build what has been considered The Jewel in the Crown at what was at first the southern terminus of its line, and so it built nearby the City Hall Station, not as a dead end, but as a loop. North is to the right here, and the line comes down Centre Street to the Brooklyn Bridge Station. The pedestrian approach to the Bridge is indicated at the bottom. The 1908 extension bringing express trains down Broadway to Brooklyn is shown going down Park Row. The Astor House, which wasn’t demolished until 1913, would have been across Broadway between Vesey and Barclay. The unloved Post Office, demolished in 1939, is still shown where City Hall Park has since been extended to cover the same ground as the Common once had. And finally, we see the loop under City Hall, and how very close it is to the Brooklyn Bridge Station, a mere 600 ft (183 m).


[The loop was from the beginning a mere one-track turn-around for downtown local trains going back uptown to Brooklyn Bridge, and the City Hall Station seems almost as an afterthought, except that it was meant to be the showpiece of the line, its flagship, and was unlike any other subway station in the city. Trains still use the station loop to reverse direction, and the screeching on the curve is quite evident. Its 400 ft (122 m) platform is situated right on the curve of the loop, and was designed for 5-6 shorter cars, instead of today’s 10 longer cars. Some steps led to a small mezzanine, shown on the map, which had two staircases up to street level, as shown on this 1913 postcard. It has been designated an interior landmark by NYC, and is also a National Landmark.


[Old City Hall Station in Romanesque Revival style, is unusually elegant, and is quite petite, since this picture shows just over half its length (the stairs to the mezzanine are in the middle). The station was designed by Rafael Guastavino himself, and so the platform and mezzanine feature his signature Guastavino tile (see the Oyster Bar in Grand Central above). Although the Romanesque style is known for its curves, here there is no straight line in sight; it has been described as “an apotheosis of curves”. Fifteen vaulted Guastavino arches, with their elegant curves, are the glory of the station; three have leaded glass skylights of cut amethyst glass that allowed sunshine to reach the platform, and twelve have ornate brass electric chandeliers hanging from the center of the vaults. It reflected the City Beautiful architectural movement of the late 19C-early 20C (discussed in Australia, and to be discussed shortly about Coral Gables FL), which contended that graceful, uplifting urban settings reflected the civility of a society and strengthened its cultural environment. Yet it is today a ghost station, one that lived for just 41 years, 1904-1945.


[Although there had been talk of opening it as a museum, after Nine Eleven, security concerns cancelled that. The only way to visit it is to join the NY Transit Museum and purchase one of their quarterly guided tours, which I did last December. The tour group boards a regular (empty) train at Brooklyn Bridge, and, exceptionally, it stops at City Hall Station for the visit, and leaves the group there, to be picked up by another regular train reversing position. I will once again link to another website here for readers to view some very nice color pictures.]


THE HERITAGE OF THE DIVISION AT 42ND STREET We cannot leave the topic of the NY & Harlem RR without discussing the result of the division at 42nd Street. It wholly changed the city. It was just meant to keep smoke and soot from the built-up area downtown, but the end result was that requiring trains to stop at a point as far north as Grand Central caused passengers to alight there, and also stay there, and thereby spurred the growth of Midtown Manhattan as a rival to Downtown Manhattan.


When the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to tunnel into Manhattan, note that it didn’t do so from its traditional base in Paulus Hook (PATH did so, instead). The PRR chose to enter Midtown for its “Great Connector”, and on to Long Island City in Queens, even though it had, to some extent, considered entering Downtown, and crossing over to Brooklyn, before swinging north. Of course the straighter route for the Northeast Corridor goes though Midtown, which might have been part of what they had in mind.


Today the Midtown Central Business District is larger than the Downtown CBD in Manhattan, and is where visitors first think of staying. However, there is a revolution in Downtown neighborhoods, and hotels are appearing Downtown where there hadn’t been any in years.


Hudson River Railroad   But there was another rail line in Manhattan, on the West Side, called the Hudson River Railroad, chartered in 1846 and completed between Albany and New York in 1851. First let’s look again at our 1847 map, which unfortunately doesn’t yet show the HRRR, but we can plot it. From City Hall Park, follow Chambers Street two blocks W to Hudson Street. This is the intersection where the city terminus of the HRRR was, quite close to that of the NY&H. (I will refer to this original terminus as #1.) The track was laid along Hudson Street (note the location of Saint John’s Park [STJ], which, after a foreshortening of the route, later became terminus #2), Canal Street, West Street (note Spring Street, later terminus #3) and up Tenth Avenue (note Gansevoort Street, the last named street before numbered streets begin, today’s terminus #4) to its upper city station at 34th Street. (This station was used by Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration, and in 1865, his funeral train also passed this way.) We shall see that this station divided the HRRR north and south just as Grand Central divided the NY&H. In this south section, the rails were laid at grade along the street (a “street run”), and horsecars were the norm, since steam wasn’t allowed below 30th Street, but later, trains were pulled by a modified steam engine called a steam dummy, that supposedly emitted less smoke. It was also along this stretch that we find what must have been one of the most colorful figures in railroad history. To prevent accidents, trains were preceded by a man on horseback, known as a Tenth Avenue Cowboy, who warned of the train’s approach by waving a red flag.


As for the upper part of the line, after the station a regular locomotive took over, and the route went one block along 34th Street and curved into Eleventh Avenue up to 60th Street, where it ended its street run and entered its own right-of-way. At the northern end of Manhattan, the HRRR crossed at Spuyten Duyvil on a drawbridge to the Bronx and beyond.


[The western end of the Harlem River, where it joins the Hudson, also goes under the name of Spuyten Duyvil, and that’s also the name of the Bronx neighborhood that abuts it. It is perhaps the most spectacularly Dutch name in New York. To pronounce it in local fashion, think of the words “spite” and “dive”, and say spite[N] dive[L]. It is a shortening by one syllable of the actual Dutch name, which was Spuytende Duyvil, in modern spelling Spuitende Duivil (Dutch pronunciation something like SPÖÜ.ten.da DÖÜ.fel). The waters were traditionally turbulent here, but translations you get vary in quality. The second word means “devil”, and one nonsensical translation I once heard was “in spite of the devil”. A closer one--still inaccurate--I found online was “the devil’s spout”. Since the -D in the extended first word in Dutch (and German) corresponds to -ING, the name most accurately means Spouting Devil.


[This is an excellent view of the rail drawbridge crossing Spuyten Duyvil, just above the level of the water (Photo by Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia). The view is from the Bronx S toward Manhattan. That’s the Henry Hudson (auto) Bridge high on the left, with the tracks coming up the north shore of the Harlem River under it. That’s the Hudson on the right, with the George Washington (auto) Bridge in the distance. The tracks on the right going into Manhattan do so over the Spuyten Duyvil (rail) drawbridge over the Harlem River, here also known as Spuyten Duyvil (Creek). This following view is to the N into the Bronx over the opened drawbridge (Photo by Jim henderson).]


However, in 1867-9 Cornelius Vanderbilt bought and merged the HRRR into the NYCRR, acquired the Saint John’s Park property and built a depot there, removing the tracks south of that point to Chambers Street, and making Saint John’s Park terminus #2 of the route, now about eight blocks shorter. We now return to the status that still appears on the 1900 map. From this depot you can see the crossing over on Canal to West Street, the turn up Tenth to the dividing point of the 34th Street Station, the cutover to Eleventh, and the start of the dedicated right-of-way in the parkland along the Hudson. Actually, ALL the HRRR hugs the Hudson, here and all the way to the Albany bridge. Note that both lines are now called NY Central, with this one differentiated by being called at that point the West Side Line.


[Saint John’s Park is a sad real-estate venture gone awry. It had been laid out as a luxury park surrounded by town houses, but the neighborhood never took off, and declined. We see where the park became a rail depot. That eventually departed, but things did not get better. When the Holland Tunnel was built in 1927, it was set up so that its entrance lanes leading to NJ draws traffic from city streets, but its exit lane coming from NJ deploys into the center of Saint John’s Park, where a traffic circle distributes traffic in three directions. At least there’s some grass there.]


In 1871 the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad opened along the north bank of the Harlem River, and most passenger trains were rerouted away from the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge into Manhattan and down instead along the Harlem River into the new Grand Central Depot. Thus, all three lines were united into one station, as we noted on that picture of the Depot earlier. The West Side Line was then used for some years for minimal passenger service, and for freight, especially given the number of docks still along the Hudson, and the number of warehouses on the waterfront to serve them, as well as industrial areas such as the Meatpacking District around Gansevoort Street. It was the only rail freight line entering Manhattan. By 1916 passenger service ended entirely and the West Side Line was used purely for freight along its entire length.


This is the point where the story of the upper part of the West Side Line divides from that of the lower part below 34th Street (it’s a coincidence that the former HRRR Depot was in the same area as Penn Station), similar to what happened with the NY&H on the East Side at 42nd Street. Essentially, in the long run, the upper parts of BOTH routes remained railroads serving Midtown exclusively, while the lower parts had different fates, such as the NY&H route de facto becoming the IRT subway on the East Side. I’ll use today’s terminology for what happened to the former West Side Line: its upper part became today’s Empire Corridor (see Amtrak above) and its lower part became today’s High Line, as follows.


NORTH OF 34TH STREET Given the traffic congestion between the railroad and city streets, as well as the fact that the railroad had cut off the West Side’s access to the Hudson, in 1934, the West Side Improvement program was initiated to remove trains from city streets and eliminate 105 street-level grade crossings on the 21 km (13 mi) route. North of where the route crossed the Penn Station area at 34th Street, the tracks were displaced from Eleventh Avenue into a new depressed open cut below street grade between Tenth and Eleventh up to 60th Street, where it continued to enter its own right-of-way. Then urban planner Robert Moses covered the line from 72nd Street north to beyond 123rd Street. His project was twice as expensive as the Hoover Dam, but it created a major expansion of Riverside Park as well as created the Henry Hudson Parkway. Beyond 123rd Street the line is either elevated or on the surface to Spuyten Duyvil. This upper part of the route was used for freight until 1980, and was then essentially abandoned until 1991, when it was turned into Amtrak’s Empire Corridor.


Before this route's reconstruction as the Empire Corridor, long-distance trains from the north (Albany, Montreal, even Chicago to the west) went into Grand Central, as in the Vanderbilt days. Passengers wanting to connect to the Northeast Corridor at Penn Station had to transfer between stations, as always. But in the 1980’s there was construction to connect the old N-S West Side Line right-of-way via a tunnel to the E-W lines into Penn Station, allowing access for the first time. In 1991, all Amtrak Empire Service trains started using the new Empire Corridor into Penn Station, at a great convenience to passengers, and for the first time in New York, long-distance travel in all three directions was unified in one station.


SOUTH OF 34TH STREET In 1934, at the time of the West Side Improvement, the route south of 34th Street was handled in an entirely different way. This was the area where servicing freight customers was important, and a rather unique solution was implemented. The route was separated from city streets by putting it on a new viaduct, called the High Line, on a slightly modified route that went through buildings, occasionally with side tracks (Photo by Jim henderson) entering adjacent industrial buildings to the side of the viaduct. The High Line at its lower end went through a number of buildings in a row, something like William Tell shooting an arrow through a half-dozen apples at once. Some of the buildings along the High Line were purpose-built to allow this rail access. These side tracks or piercings of buildings were one or two stories above street level.


The southern terminus (#2) at Saint John’s Park and route up Hudson and Canal were eliminated, foreshortening the route again by about eight blocks, and a new terminus was built at Spring Street (#3). It was still called the Saint John’s Park Freight Terminal, since people expected to hear that name at the southern end of the route. While the street route had run uptown on West Street, at this point the displaced route was one block east (inland) to Washington Street. In other words, the new viaduct started at Spring Street and ran up Washington. This would have been the visually most interesting part of the viaduct, although it’s sadly gone now. The two-track viaduct ran some 19 blocks up the west side of Washington, not in the street but through all the buildings, William Tell style, one level above the street. It must have been quite a sight.


Beyond this “arrowful of buildings”, it crossed Gansevoort Street and ran midblock through buildings for a few blocks to and along the east side of Tenth Avenue (the original street rail route), then crossed it and ran through buildings on its west side up to the Midtown rail yards near Penn Station. It circled the rail yard in a C to lose altitude, the viaduct slowly disappearing, in order to go down below street level and join the open cut continuing north.


But the growth of interstate trucking in the 1950’s led to a decline in rail use nationally. Starting in the 1960’s, the southernmost portion of the viaduct was demolished, which consisted of the interesting 19 “William Tell” blocks between Spring Street (terminus #3) and Gansevoort Street, the present terminus #4. The last train rain in 1980, with three carloads of frozen turkeys, and the High Line was abandoned (Photo by Jim henderson). Thus, the rail freight life of the High Line lasted 46 years, from 1934 to 1980.


In the 1980’s local landowners lobbied for demolition. There was also a move to reestablish rail service on the line, perhaps a light rail passenger line (I was for this). The abandoned viaduct by this time had sprouted tough, wild grasses, plants, shrubs, and rugged trees along its length. But in 1999, the Friends of the High Line was formed, advocating pedestrian use. Finally, the southernmost part, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street (Photo by Beyond my Ken)--here looking south--opened as an elevated public park, an aerial greenway, in 2009. It is a good use of the “Rails to Trails” concept. The middle section north of 20th Street is still being refurbished, while the upper section of the 2.33 km (1.45 mi) structure, while still planned for park use, remains dependent on decisions involving development over the rail yards.


The park is not planted with flowers, but with plantings of wild grasses and shrubs inspired by, and in homage to, the self-seeded landscape that had naturally colonized the disused tracks. Part of the park design involves gravel with tracks still running through it to recall the former use, as well as concrete walkways and benches (Photo by La Citta Vita).


The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the line, causing something of a renaissance of the neighborhood, where more than 30 projects were planned or under construction nearby. In 2009 the Standard Hotel was built straddling the park at 13th Street (Photo by JessyeAnne). The Whitney Museum of American Art is developing a new main building, now under construction, which will mark the southern entrance to the High Line at Gansevoort Street, in the area known as the Meatpacking District. The High Line then runs north through the Chelsea neighborhood.


The High Line has proved extremely popular, and is the IN place for visitors to go. It took only ten months to reach the point of having received one million visitors. I walked the High Line in August 2009, two months after it opened. I avoided a weekend, because I’d heard of the crowds, when there are guards at the staircase entrances to let people in only when others leave, that’s how popular it is. In addition, visitors are asked to walk uniformly from south to north, to ease congestion. The views are most pleasant, and it’s just like walking in any park with mothers pushing baby strollers. I heard a variety of languages being spoken, attesting to numerous visitors from abroad.


Speaking of abroad, the High Line is not the first, but the world’s second elevated park, after the Promenade Plantée in Paris, which I visited a few years ago. It was also a rail viaduct running from Place de la Bastille along the Bastille Opera eastward. Promenade Plantée (Photo by Agateller) is literally “Planted Promenade”, although a better translation would be Flowered Promenade, since, in contrast to the High Line, it is literally garden-like, with flowering plants. Other cities that are considering elevated parks are Chicago (the Bloomingdale Trail on the Bloomingdale Line viaduct) and Philadelphia (the Reading Viaduct).


Here the High Line, four blocks up from Gansevoort Street, enters a building at 15th Street (Photo by Gryffindor) with a side track (and pedestrian bridge) crossing 10th Avenue. Looking north beyond the side track (click to enlarge), one can see the High Line itself crossing 10th Avenue between 16th and 17th. This is the only crossing of a major avenue, and involves a particular surprise: an amphitheater. This view (Photo by bbaunach)—click--is from the other end, at 17th Street looking south on 10th Avenue. Note through the windows the bottom of several rows of stadium seating, where events take place, or people just sit and watch traffic on Tenth Avenue. Finally, my favorite view is (click), from above (Photo by Gryffindor). We are over the Hudson (in the foreground, with the West Side Highway), looking E. Gansevoort Street is on the right, with the end of the High Line pointing to where it used to enter the building opposite. The numbered streets then start, and between Little W 12th Street and 13th, the Standard Hotel straddles the tracks/park. After 14th Street (a major thoroughfare), we see where the High Line enters that building on 15th.


Everything you’ve read is summarized here, first the old, then the new:

 East Side (N-S): NY & Harlem RR; Metro North above Grand Central; core of IRT subway below

West Side (N-S): Hudson River RR; Empire Corridor above Penn Station; High Line below

Midtown (E-W): Pennsylvania RR “Grand Connector”; Penn Station with Northeast Corridor, NJ Transit, LIRR

Poughkeepsie Bridge   In closing this topic of rail travel to the north via the Empire Corridor, but then diagonal travel SW to NE via the Northeast Corridor, and also the topic of the High Line, one other intriguing historical route really must be brought up, the Poughkeepsie Bridge.


Consider again the dilemma of all the rail routes coming from the SW and W to New York City, but ending at the Hudson, with the need to take a ferry across. It was much easier coming from the N or NE and going directly to Grand Central. But there was one more factor. What if you didn’t want to go to New York City at all? What if you were a through passenger from Philadelphia to Boston? You didn’t only have to change stations, you had to have a ferry in between, plus local transportation in Manhattan. The lack of any fixed Hudson crossing south of Albany was the cause of this until solved by PATH in 1908 and more spectacularly, the PRR in 1910.


But actually, a bridge was built across the Hudson south of Albany before the 20C, equidistant from both Albany and New York (113 km / 70 mi either way), the Poughkeepsie Bridge. Look again at the Northeast Corridor made possible after 1910. And now look at the route made possible by the building of the Poughkeepsie Bridge in 1888.


For freight, it allowed western raw materials to more easily reach eastern industries, and for passengers, by using the trackage of several railroads, it allowed a one-seat ride from Washington/Philadelphia to Boston, totally avoiding the headaches of transiting New York City. For that reason, in contrast to what I like to call the PRR’s “Great Connector”, I consider this route the “Great Bypass”, which trains started using in 1889.


Note that this diagonal route is really just a more inland version of the Northeast Corridor, and that it not only avoids NYC, it almost completely avoids New Jersey and Connecticut. It runs N out of Philadelphia and only crosses the Delaware later, barely skirting NJ. After crossing the Hudson at Poughkeepsie, it also barely skirts CT on its way to Boston. And as a maverick route, it didn’t serve Boston’s large South Station as other lines still do, but served instead the smaller North Station (on the map called Causeway Street Station), for further connections to Maine and beyond.


The facilitator of the route was the Poughkeepsie Bridge, which was at the time the longest bridge in the world at 2060 m, just over 2 km (6757 ft or about 1.28 mi) and the first bridge (and before any tunnel) to cross the Hudson S of Albany. It was considered an engineering marvel of its day, and is today on the National Register of Historic Places.


The bridge was heavily used. In 1943 during WWII, it carried up to 3500 train cars a day. But then use declined, and in 1974 a fire severely damaged the tracks, and the bridge was closed. I remember being in Poughkeepsie several times wondering what that huge structure was all about, and only recently found out its story. Again, after threats of demolition, preservationists won out, the bridge was restored and the Walkway Over the Hudson (State Historic Park) was opened in 2009.


Although the Walkway Over the Hudson (Photo by Mfwills) (click) is more remote than the High Line, it has still been quite popular with visitors. There are more “rails to trails” examples in the area, where the former rail route has become the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the west side of the Hudson and the Dutchess [County] Rail Trail on east side.


While both friends Paul and Dave each managed, separately, to walk the bridge on opening weekend in October 2009, I instead waited until better weather the following spring and did a group walk with nephew Greg, his wife Rosemary, and family friends Audrey and Jane. Although I’d traveled along the Hudson on Amtrak, the Hudson Line of Metro-North was the only line out of Grand Central I’d never ridden, so while the others came from opposite directions to Poughkeepsie by car, I came by train. I took the subway at Wall and Broadway (start of the Boston Post Road!), and was well aware from Brooklyn Bridge to Grand Central that I was de facto on the successor to the NY & Harlem. I picked up brunch at the station for the train, which stopped in Harlem at 125th Street, then, crossing the Harlem River, deviated from the other routes up the Hudson Line, making several stops, including at Marble Hill and Spuyten Duyvil, before continuing up the spectacular Hudson to Poughkeepsie to meet the others. The five of us did what is called the Loop Trail that runs 5.8 km (3.6 mi). From Poughkeepsie Station we first walked inland to gain altitude to the height of the bridge, then walked westbound--the opposite direction from these people in the picture--across the longest elevated pedestrian bridge--or park--in the world. (Click to enlarge to see the neighboring Mid-Hudson Bridge [for cars] in the background to the south.) The top of the deck of the Poughkeepsie Bridge is 65 m (212 ft) over the Hudson (here looking north). I particularly remember looking down at the shore and noticing the wet area on the rocks at the shore that indicated the impressive difference in the tide, which appeared to be about a meter/yard or so. We saw trains on both sides of the Hudson, since freight still runs on the West Shore Line. On the far side, it was only a few minutes’ walk south to the pedestrian walkway of the Mid-Hudson Bridge (here looking west), which we crossed eastbound back to Poughkeepsie and the rail station where we’d started. The fact that it crosses both bridges gives the Loop Trail its name. We ended the day dining at my favorite Poughkeepsie restaurant, located on an old country road out of town, Le Pavillon, a French country restaurant.

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