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As the final day of the month of January, today marks the last day of Howard Permut’s tenure as president of Metro-North Railroad.
I’m a firm believer in the adage that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Although frolicking in a grassy meadow may be fun, for the Upper Harlem it displays neglect.
We rewind the clock back to 1968 – the year of the ill-fated merger between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central (the New York, New Haven and Hartford was added to the merger in 1969). One of the reasons this site even exists is because of my interest in Penn Central’s abandonment of the Upper Harlem Division.
Penn Central operated after bankruptcy for a few more years, until its operations were taken over by other companies.
In the earliest days, it was obvious that Metro-North was cobbled together from the remains of the New York Central, New York, New Haven and Hartford, Penn Central, and Conrail.
Most of Metro-North’s stations look quite different than in the past, as almost every station now has high-level platforms.
High level platforms, overpasses and elevators are just some of the changes seen here at Chappaqua. One of the most influential changes made by Metro-North was the electrification of the Harlem Line north of White Plains. Restoration of Ossining station, on the Hudson Line, and platform upgrades at Larchmont on the New Haven Line. As a lover of history, the fact that many historic train depots have been restored during Metro-North’s tenure is an important point.
No railroad wants to have late trains, but unfortunately it has become a fact of life for Metro-North. No commuter wants to ride a late train, but make some friends, try to enjoy your ride home. In 1964, I started riding the New York Central train from Bronxville to Fordham University in the Bronx every day.
Fifty years ago, commuting was an opportunity to relax, play cards and chat with friends you saw everyday. In closing, Metro-North has much potential for greatness, and we wholeheartedly welcome the very well respected railroader Mr. Not too long ago, I showed you all some of the various commuter monthly ticket designs from the past one hundred years. Although I wouldn’t classify it as an advertisement like above, the Woodlawn Cemetery also printed their own small time cards. Eventually, local timetables did become standardized – printed by the railroad, but still containing advertisements. Twenty-four years ago I boarded my very first train – a Harlem Line local from Brewster to Grand Central Terminal. On this day 41 years ago the very last passenger train on the Upper Harlem Division departed the line’s terminus, Chatham station, bound for Grand Central Terminal.
Another fact that was hardly a surprise was that ridership on the Upper Harlem had severely dwindled over the years.
Throughout all these events, an organization called the Harlem Valley Transportation Association had been founded to not only improve service, but to ensure that the full route of the Harlem Division – all the way to Chatham – would stay in service.
The HVTA brought together over a hundred riders from not only New York, but Connecticut and Massachusetts as well – all people that depended on the Upper Harlem. But to truly save the line and make it profitable, Carson even attempted to create an industry from scratch.
Though the courts ordered the Penn Central to keep operating trains, mostly due to the HVTA’s efforts, they were by no means obligated to provide any customer service whatsoever. As we travel north beyond the Harlem Line’s terminus at Wassaic, the first abandoned station we come to is Amenia.
The obvious vestige of the railroad in Amenia is the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, which runs from Wassaic station to the former station in Millerton. Named for nearby Sharon, Connecticut, Sharon station on the Harlem Division predominantly served riders from that state. As a station serving mostly Connecticut riders, there was never much of a community around Sharon station. One of the less prominent stations on the line, Coleman’s was named after a local landholder. The next station along the line is Millerton – but that will have to wait for another day. If you enjoyed our previous set of Farm Security Administration photos, no doubt you will enjoy the ones today, possibly even more so.
Grand Central Terminal was still in construction when the Pennsylvania Railroad opened their great station in 1910. Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children?
1960 photo of Poughkeepsie station, not obstructed by Route 9 which now runs above the station’s front parking area. A wide variety of timetables from Pougkeepsie, including two of Amtrak’s trains that stop here. 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. 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. Here are photographs of Grand Central station, the site of the famous Penn Central Transportation Company v. The Pan-Am Building stands immediately behind Grand Central Station, and blocked any conceivable view of downtown Manhattan. The Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City has some incredible pictures posted on their Flickr page showing the abandoned transportation system hours before Hurricane Sandy hits the area. History is incredibly important, and it has been painfully obvious recently that many are deficient in that area – especially when it comes to trains. Less than a decade from when this photo was taken in 1966, Millerton and the rest of the Upper Harlem was abandoned for passenger service.
On a cold March morning in 1972 the 6:55 train from Chatham to Grand Central operated as normal. Conrail became the steward of Grand Central’s commuter lines until Metro-North was formed and took over operations in 1983. The old New York Central shops at Croton-Harmon dated back to 1909, and were restored in Metro-North’s earliest years.
These days both the Upper Hudson Line and Upper Harlem Line get enough traffic that there are 7-car through trains a few times per day.
New York Central engineers working on the design of Grand Central Terminal in the early 1900s clocked patrons boarding trains and calculated that riders board 50% faster on high level platforms.


Service up to Brewster became incredibly more reliable, and led to an increase in ridership. Grand Central, Harlem 125th Street, New Haven Union Station, Port Chester, Chappaqua, Hartsdale, Yonkers, Ossining… the list could go on. The Harlem Line was lengthened to Wassaic, the Yankees E 153rd Street stop makes it easier for people to get to the baseball game, and two different Veterans Hospitals are accessible from Cortlandt and West Haven stations.
After the derailment at Spuyten Duyvil speed restrictions can be found on all Metro-North lines (especially the New Haven Line). There are very few times that the train has gotten me to work seriously late, but I can count plenty of times that driving coworkers have been late due to traffic, construction, or other accidents. When we all get bored with our laptops and cell phones, I hope that the opportunity to engage in good conversation with conductors and fellow commuters is still there. Although the color might not fill the entire canvas, you can still get a similar effect with both New York Central and Penn Central tickets. Gone are the light blue striped shirts – the new look features a sheer white dress shirt.
Also a bifold, this card is likely more successful than the unwieldy one above, as it would easily fit into your pocket. The cancellation of service north of Dover Plains was abrupt and in the middle of the day – no one, from the riders to railroad employees – knew that this would be the final run. The New York Central operated five weekday southbound trains from Chatham to Grand Central throughout the early 1900?s, and during the busy World War II years increased that number to six.
The HVTA’s fight against line operator Penn Central was like David versus Goliath, and they had no qualms about taking it to the courts.
They were designed by Seymour Robins, the treasurer of the HVTA, and an industrial designer.
One of the most charismatic personalities involved in the fight was HVTA Vice-President (and later President) Lettie Gay Carson.
Because of Penn Central’s lapse, the Harlem Valley Transportation Association took over many of their duties to prevent losing passengers.
Around 85 miles north of Grand Central, the area surrounding the station is attractive and rich in farmland. A station building was constructed in 1875, and consisted of two floors, with the ground floor being separated in two sections – one for freight, and one for passengers.
The station building itself, however, is one of the few Upper Harlem stations to still exist today.
The rail trail and Coleman Station Road are all remnants of the Harlem in this small community. Designed by the famous McKim, Mead, and White, the two stations shared a Beaux Arts aesthetic.
If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?
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. Both the access to the river, and later the railroad, played a significant part in Poughkeepsie’s growth.
The four story concrete and brick building was designed by the notorious Beaux Arts architects Warren and Wetmore.
Featuring five massive windows that stretch from almost floor to ceiling, during the day the station is well lit just from sunlight alone.
For anyone who has ever been to New York or even seen movies of the bustling metropolis, the pictures are slightly creepy and even reminiscent of the abandoned Chinese ghost cities. It is undeniable that Metro-North has had some major issues within the past twelve months, and there are many lessons the railroad must learn. However, by midday the Penn Central legally won the right to terminate the line, and fifty miles of the Upper Harlem Division were abandoned for passenger service. In 2010 they were reconstructed, and the new Croton-Harmon Locomotive and Coach Shop is now a modern, state-of-the-art facility. In 1983 only eight southbound trains operated on the Upper Harlem, today thirteen trains depart Wassaic every day, bound for New York City.
They also make it easier to accommodate those with baby carriages, and patrons in wheelchairs. It is also worth mentioning that restoration work was also performed on the Park Avenue Tunnel. Perhaps the best part has been and continues to be the friends I have made on the train over the years with conductors and fellow passengers. Bright, varying colors are obvious to the conductor taking tickets, and each month features a new color for identification purposes. In featuring only weekday trains, the card is tailored to the businessman that would likely patronize the featured establishments.
But after the war had ended, and train travel steadily began to lose favor, many of these Upper Harlem trains were eliminated.
By the end of 1971 a service shutdown on the upper Harlem had been delayed by the courts no less than seven times.
Although the long intertwined history of the Upper Harlem and Columbia county was certainly in her mind, the shrewd Carson fought to save the line not for nostalgia purposes, but for both local economic and environmental reasons.
Instead of dumping sewage sludge in the ocean, which contaminated fisheries and beaches, Carson proposed that it could be carried by railcar up the Harlem where it would be composted and spread onto the many farms in Dutchess and Columbia counties. When the Penn Central failed to distribute timetables, the HVTA mailed them out to riders instead. On this 41st anniversary of the end of passenger service, we’ll be taking a tour up the abandoned line to all thirteen former stations, and to see how these areas fare today.
Besides the obvious farming and dairy production, Amenia also had a steelworks and several iron mines, all of which used the Harlem for freight.
But similar to many towns with abandoned stations, Amenia has a few street names reflect the once important railroad that traversed the town. The upper floor consisted of living quarters for the station agent or other railroad employees. Taken about a year after the photos we saw last week (these date to August 1942), the war is in full swing, and the station is filled with soldiers. Both were exquisite New York monuments, and they almost shared the same fate – the wrecking ball.
Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Grand Central was declared a landmark, and the New York Central, and later the Penn Central, were not permitted to destroy it – a fight the railroad took all the way up to the Supreme Court. 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. No strangers to the New York Central, Whitney Warren was a cousin of the Vanderbilts, and designed Grand Central with duo Reed and Stem.


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. Metro-North Railroad took the opportunity to scrub the floors of the lower level dining concourse. Permut’s years as president, but it remains fact that he was a member of the team that formed the railroad 31 years ago. But we must know the past to adequately move into the future – thus if one wishes to truly understand Metro-North, a little visit to the past is required.
Anyone that came down on that morning train had no ride home – they had to find their own way.
Despite the pros of high level platforms, they were not implemented system-wide until after Metro-North took over.
I appreciate the efforts of the railroad, of the communities, and of the state to preserve our history.
However, it is incredibly irresponsible to pretend that all methods of transit are at a hundred percent, all the time.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some fascinating people who have enriched my life. Businesses ingratiating themselves among their customers by providing them with a useful item (with a little advertisement for themselves, of course) is hardly a new concept – in fact it has been in practice for well over a hundred years. The railroad had threatened to close the line for years, and only the courts prevented the Penn Central from doing so. By 1950 only three southbounds departed Chatham every day, and by 1953 only a single train left the station every weekday. As part of their campaign, the HVTA distributed posters to local businesses to display, all in the efforts to encourage rail ridership and prevent a shutdown.
She recognized that it wasn’t passenger service that paid the bills, and besides looking to attract new ridership, Carson also focused on attracting local businesses to use rail freight. Although the concept may be off-putting, the sludge could greatly improve the fertility of farmland naturally, without the use of chemical fertilizers. When the Penn Central failed to pay the phone bill for Millerton station, the HVTA set up their own answering service. Our tour starts at Amenia, the first abandoned station north of Wassaic, the current terminus of the Harlem Line.
Depot Hill Road, and Railroad Avenue cross near the rail trail, and are a small reminder of the Harlem.
Not far from the station was the Manhattan Mining Corporation, which had its own siding and used the Harlem for freight.
Several years ago the building was placed on the market, and I just happened to get a tour of it.
With the decline in rail travel both the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads were strapped for cash and looking to make a buck anywhere they could.
Maybe this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.
If not for the destruction of Penn Station, it is very possible that we would not be celebrating the centennial of Grand Central right now.
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. 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. 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. The previous systemwide suspension of service took place in August 2011 for Tropical Storm Irene.
On average, the duration of a trip from Grand Central to Dover Plains in 1972 was about two hours and 20 minutes – today the trip takes about two hours, and note that the route is six miles longer and terminates at Wassaic. Giulietti was around for the fledgling Metro-North Commuter Railroad’s earliest days.
While today fridge magnets and calendars are commonplace, historically it wasn’t unheard of for a business to print useful cards with train schedules. The new design still contains advertisements, but they’ve been relegated to the inside.
Industrial designer Seymour Robins, also the HVTA’s treasurer, created these two-color silk-screened posters, with nine variations in all. And just two weeks before passenger service was eliminated, the HVTA was again in the news – for getting the station platforms cleared of snow, because the Penn Central refused. Wassaic itself was abandoned in 1972, but service there was restored by Metro-North in 2000.
Recently sold for $525,000, the building remains a private residence, and is hidden from the nearby rail trail by strategically placed trees and a fence. With the significant costs to maintain such large stations, the buildings were worth more to them as real estate.
I saved Poughkeepsie for the end, as it is truly a gem, and a worthy send off for our Panorama Project. Historically, the north wing of the station was reserved for a railway express agency, and the south end with a kitchen and dining room. Sorry, New Haven commuters, our last stop today, and forevermore is Port Chester, and we don’t care how you get home.
Plus we all know that nobody ever sleeps in airports because flights are delayed for days, and that multi-car pileups are pure fiction.
What better way to remain at the forefront of your customers’ mind than to have your ad on a card they carry around everywhere? Each variation referenced a specific point the HVTA wished to improve: Service, Ecology, Stations, Windows, Track, Cars, Schedules, Toilets, and Roadbed. The only other hint that a railroad ran through here is the aptly named Sharon Station Road. In 1963 the gorgeous Penn Station was demolished in order to build Madison Square Garden above. 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. But perhaps the most intriguing bit of history is that of the Upper Harlem – nearly fifty miles of track, with thirteen different stations, all abandoned.



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