The present day Harlem line of the Metro North
Railroad owes its existence to a charter from the State of New York, which gave permission for its thirteen incorporators to build tracks from southern Manhattan to Harlem in 1831. At that time Harlem was
considered a suburb of Manhattan where affluent farms and summer homes were located. The most reliable form of transportation from Harlem to Manhattan was by steamboat; this happened to be seasonal, as the
steamboats remained docked when the rivers were frozen. Stagecoaches provided the only other travel method and proved to be long and arduous over New York's crude roads. Hoping to quicken and ease travel,
these thirteen New York City businessmen traveled to the New York State Legislature to ask for a charter granting them permission to construct a railroad from 23rd street to Harlem. The charter was given on April 25,
1831 over opposition from steamboat interests fearing competition. The New York and Harlem Railroad Company's stock was listed at $500 available in fifty-dollar shares. The thirteen entrepreneurs became the Board
of Trustees and construction on the Railroad began.
By 1852 the Harlem Railroad had grown 131 miles north reaching Chatham, New York. The steam trains required maintenance after 50 miles of run and a roundhouse was
constructed North of Brewster Village to service the steam engines. Many railroad workers lived in the Village, in houses on Railroad Avenue and some workers lived in apartments on Main Street.
Brewster's Three Railroads
The Harlem Railroad
ran from Grand Central Terminal to Brewster. It had several side branches including the Lake Mahopac Branch. The Mahopac Branch was 7.22 miles and carried freight and passengers from Golden's Bridge to Lake Mahopac. The Mahopac Branch offered a shuttle service for vacationers to and from Lake Mahopac.
The Putnam Line
was first organized as the New York and Boston Railroad in 1869. It ran from Highbridge in the Bronx to Brewster where it would connect with railroads from Connecticut and Massachusetts, creating the most direct line between the cities of New York and Boston. After a series of name changes, consolidations and bankruptcies, the New York and Boston opened service to Brewster in 1881 as the New York City and Northern Railroad. The
Putnam Line carried freight of iron ore, milk and ice from local industries such as the Tilly Foster Mine and Borden Milk Condensery. The Putnam Line
used a single track and had no tunnels so freight loads could be higher and wider than on the Harlem Line. Now with two railroad lines Brewster was known as "the Hub of the Harlem Valley."
The New York and New England Railroad, building west from Connecticut, connected through Towners and headed up to Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County. It arrived in Brewster in 1880 at which time the New York and
New England had been granted a connection with the New York and Northern thus linking their railroad to New York City. In 1881 the NY&NE freight connected with the Harlem Line
at the southeast corner of Putnam Junction Yard.
Some of the trades involved with the railroad included:
- track carpenters
- scale inspectors
- equipment operators
- bridge and building employees
- station agents
- roundhouse and railway shop laborers
- restaurant personnel
- and other trades