Brewster Railroad History

www.southeastmuseum.org

Jack Yale

The history of the railroad begins in 1825 in England when the first steam train carried  passengers from Stockton to Darlington. This first "railroad ride" cost passengers one shilling. Railroads were soon being built in the United States with the first successful venture carrying goods from Quincy, Massachusetts to Boston in 1827. In August 1829 the first passenger railroad was built by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. A year later, in 1830 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the South Carolina Railroad opened for service. Following soon thereafter, the  Mohawk and Hudson Railroad connected the upstate New York cities of Albany and Schenectady.

Photograph of Trainman Jack Yale circa 1902

In 1831, the Harlem Line Railroad received it's charter. The intended route would connect towns in Westchester, Putnam and lower Dutchess Counties with New York City. Local terrain and waterways determined the layout of the railroad route. In 1848, knowing that the Harlem Line Railroad would pass through Southeast, in Putnam County, Walter and James Brewster constructed passenger and freight stations, donating the buildings to the Harlem Line Railroad.

In 1848, the Harlem Line reached "Brewster's Station." A rival company began building the Hudson Line in 1835, reaching Albany by 1849. By the early 1850's the Harlem Line had revenues of one million dollars a year and transported nearly three million passengers at a fare of two and a half cents per mile.

  The railroad helped boost population and travel to Brewster.The freight trains on the Harlem Line carried mainly iron ore, animals, and dairy products. Dairy, lumber, mining, and circus businesses in Putnam County benefited from the new mode of transportation.  Trains helped carry heavy material for these businesses including both raw and processed materials.  The railroad also dispersed large quantities of material that could not be used locally. 

The Harlem Line

New York Central Timetable circa 1943

Initially, farmers were against the development of the railroad as the train tracks frequently ran through their property.  They feared the danger this posed to their animals, the loss of prime low lands, and the damage to their crops by soot and smoke.  Opposing farmers were soon convinced of the benefit of the railroad as it further opened the New York City market to their goods. In the 18th and early 19th century goods were often sent across the county to Cold Spring where they were loaded onto sloops headed for New York City. The railroad provided a faster and more direct route to the New York City market.

An early Photograph of Grand Central Terminal, circa 1870

Grand Central Terminal

The first Grand Central Depot in New York City opened in 1869.  After a major crash on January 8, 1902 new designs for a safer terminal began. The Beaux Arts 42nd street Grand Central Terminal was designed by the architectural and engineering firms of Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem. The ten-year project was completed and opened to the public on February 2, 1913.

 The completed terminal had two levels of train service with 123 separate tracks. After major track renovations in 1992-1993, Grand Central Terminal had 45 platform tracks and a total of 109 working tracks.

 the Brewster Train Station, circa 1935

The Railroad and Brewster

The opportunity for growth encouraged Gail Borden to open a milk condensery in Brewster in 1863.  The Borden factory became a major employer for the area.  Close to 80,000 quarts of milk were condensed daily Monday through Saturday with finished products sent, via railroad, to New York City.

The railroad helped in the growth of local mining interests most notably the Tilly Foster Iron Mine. Previously, the expense of transporting the iron ore to the blast furnaces in Pennsylvania where steel was produced hindered the rapid development of the mine.

The railroad was instrumental in the development of the Croton Water System in the 1890s. It made it easier to bring supplies and materials for construction of the aqueduct, dams and related facilities. Traffic of milk from Brewster farms decreased during this era as many farms were condemned to protect the purity of the watershed. The milk business also began to decline as refrigerated train cars made it possible for New York City to obtain fresh milk from upstate New York and New England.

Brewster was an important station since it was the main service point for steam engines on the line.  There were 15 to 20 stalls for servicing engines and a turntable.  The Harlem Line employed many engineers, brakemen, firemen, and mechanics, most of who lived on North Main Street near the depot.  In 1952 diesel trains were introduced and the roundhouse was no longer needed and it was demolished.  The Harlem Line was electrified to White Plains by 1912. However it wasn't until 1984 that the line was electrified to Brewster North.

In 1881 the Putnam line also began running through Brewster, and Brewster with its 2 lines became known as "the Hub of the Harlem Valley."  "The Put", as the line was called, connected 155th Street and Highbridge in the Bronx to Brewster, which meant it really served Westchester County.  "The Put" was electrified in 1926.  The Putnam line freight cars usually carried iron ore, milk, and ice. The freight business of railroad began to diminish as airplanes and trucks started to ship products faster. On  May 29, 1958 the last train service ran on the Putnam Line.

A modern diesel engine steams into Brewster Station

The Railroad Today

Today, the Metro North Railroad operates on the Harlem Line transporting many commuters from Brewster to New York City's Grand Central Terminal.  According to Metro North Railroad, on an average weekday about half a million people pass through Grand Central terminal of which approximately 200,000 are Metro North commuters. Grand Central Terminal is now in the midst of a large renovation and restoration project that should be completed by January 1998.

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