The New York & Northern was part of a Bronx to Boston route with the New York & New England Railroad via Danbury and Hartford. Financial failure forced the line to be leased to the New York Central in 1895. It became the Putnam Division.
Yorktown Heights Railroad Station (photo by the author)
Railroads made possible the growth of New York’s suburbs. Prior to the 1840’s, the villages north of Manhattan were sparsely settled because they were a half days journey by foot, horse carriage or boat from the commercial center of lower Manhattan. The 25MPH average speed of trains was fast enough to allow commuting from the country into the city. The influx of immigrants hastened the move of the moneyed residents. The railroads worked with real estate developers to sell suburbia.
A new commuter line was built through Westchester and Putnam counties in 1879 and 1880. The New York City & Northern RR was constructed from High Bridge (Bronx) to Brewster. Its 53-mile right-of-way was purchased from the bankrupt New York, Boston & Montreal. The line ran parallel to the New York Central Harlem Division. Beginning in December 1880, a mixed train ran daily. In 1881, a connection was made at 155th Street with the 9th Ave. EL (which ran to downtown Manhattan).
The New York & Northern was part of a Bronx to Boston route with the New York & New England Railroad via Danbury and Hartford. Financial failure forced the line to be leased to the New York Central in 1895. In 1913, it was formally merged into the New York Central. As the Putnam Division, its backwoods nature and the Bronx transfer never allowed it to grow like the Harlem and Hudson Divisions.
The Putnam Division (sort of inappropriately named because most of its trackage was in Westchester County) was a rural railroad almost on top of New York City. The Saw Mill River valley is a beautiful rural retreat and also important as a watershed to the city.
There was not a lot of local freight on the line. Alexander Smith carpet, located on a one-mile spur near Nepperhan, was the largest shipper (14 to 17 cars/daily). The Beers coal dealership in Dunwoodie received about 10 cars a day. In 1957, an A&P warehouse in Elmsford opened that received about ten reefers a day. It closed in 1975. When the line was its busiest, there were daily switchers at Nepperhan, High Bridge and Baldwin Place as well as two peddler freights working in each direction.
The division was partially electrified to Getty Square in 1926, but never extended north. Passenger, mail and milk trains had a speed limit of 45 while freight kept to 25 MPH. There were many 6MPH crossings which trains had to negotiate. The line was single tracked and manually signaled north of JS tower at Van Cortlandt Junction but had ample passing sidings at Ardsley, Nepera Park and ten other places.
In order to reach Grand Central, passengers had to transfer across-the-platform to Hudson Division trains at High Bridge or transfer to elevated trains at Sedgwick Avenue. The New York & Northern ran across a bridge into Manhattan at 155th Street. When the IRT subway extended its Ninth Avenue elevated service into the Bronx in 1916, the Putnam Division terminated at a stub-end terminal at Sedgwick Avenue and the IRT leased the bridge into Manhattan. Brewster to Sedgwick Avenue took slightly over two hours (compared to an hour and a half to Grand Central on the Harlem). While most trains originated at Brewster, some left from Yorktown Heights.
In 1929, the “Put” was chosen as a “proving ground” for diesels because of its curves and grades. Throughout the first half of this century, power was primarily Ten-wheelers, Moguls (2-6-0’s), and 4-4-0’s. Gas rail cars were used in the ’30s but disposed of in the ’40s. Several types (Mack, Brill) were used but the ability to pull a trailer and unreliability killed them. There is no indication that Budd RDC’s were ever tried. As with other commuter lines, coaches were discarded main line equipment.
In 1930, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. paid to move the Put away from his estate at Pocantico Hills. As well as the railroad, about 150 families vacated the area and the Christian Brothers winery moved to Barrytown. Mileposts on the northern portion of the division were slightly inaccurate because of the shortening of the route.
Many depots used kerosene lamps until 1952. Many of the stations (flag stops like Woodlands and Worthington) were merely open shelters. The NY&N-built structures were small, compact and high-roofed. Briarcliff Manor had a much better station (now the town library) because it was donated by one of the residents of the town. The line was run with manually-operated signals and train orders. Conversion to diesel power was made in 1951. Power was Lima and later Alco.
Such factors as the new expressways which drained off traffic, the demise of Saturday commuting, and the commercial development of the formerly all residential suburbs put commuter railroads in a financial bind. This resulted in service cutbacks and threats of service cutbacks. An early casualty was the Putnam’s three-mile Getty Square branch in Yonkers. Its last run was in June 1943. In 1956, the Central announced its intent to close the Putnam Division as well as raise fares on the Hudson and Harlem Divisions. This was part of a system-wide move to end passenger deficits. At this time, the Putnam was carrying 2000 passengers on 7 trains for a $400,000 annual loss. The Public Service Commission allowed the Central to drop 3 trains and Sunday service as well as increase fares 15%. In 1958 there were further discountenances and a 7% fare increase. The last train between Brewster and Sedgwick Avenue ran in May 1958.
The only passenger service which remained was a daily train from Brewster to Lake Mahopac which switched back to the Harlem Division at XC crossing a half mile past the Lake Mahopac (sometimes known as Thompson House) station. Following the Harlem Division branch for seven miles, it rejoined the main at Golden’s Bridge. This service ended in 1959.
Until the 1960’s, the “Put” was used as a freight route for oversize loads because it had no tunnels or other impediments.
The cutbacks on the Putnam Division occurred in the following order:
* 1962-East View to Lake Mahopac abandoned. This 23-mile section included service to Yorktown Heights and Briarcliff Manor. There are many spots where you can still see the path of the Put.
1969-Lake Mahopac to Carmel abandoned (3 miles).
1970-Carmel to Brewster abandoned. This was finally torn up in 1972 after a teenager “borrowed” a diesel from Brewster for a ride to Carmel.
1977-Chauncey to East View abandoned. This section included the closed A&P warehouse at Elmsford. Continuing service on what Conrail called the “Putnam Industrial Track” continued for a while as far as the Stauffer Chemical Co. and includes several industries in Yonkers and The Bronx. A lot of this trackage can be seen from the Saw Mill River Parkway.
See Penney’s blog on John Ruth’s visit to the The NY Central Putnam Division Freight House At Lake Mahopac
When was “The Put” Abandoned?
Here are some dates for the latter years of the Putnam Divison. Source for more history
May 1943 – New York Central abandons the Yonkers Rapid Transit Railway.
December 21, 1944 – Scrapping of the Yonkers Rapid Transit Railway begins.
July 2, 1951 – The Putnam Division begins converting to diesel-powered engines.
September 10, 1956 – New York Central, citing declining ridership and a $400,000 annual loss, considers abandoning passenger service on the Putnam Division.
1957 – The A&P Warehouse in Elmsford opens.
May 16, 1957 – The Public Service Commission refuses to allow abandonment of passenger service. New York Central reduces its number trains operating on the Putnam Division by half.
June 29, 1957 – New York Central petitions the Public Service Commission for a 34.5% fare increase for trains serving Westchester and Putnam Counties.
March 8, 1958 – The Public Service Commission decides the Putnam Division passenger service could be discontinued after June 1.
May 29, 1958 – Last passenger service on the Putnam Division.
September 17, 1962 – Last freight run to Yorktown Heights.
1963 – Twenty-three miles of track between Eastview and Lake Mahopac is abandoned and removed.
1968 – New York Central merges with Penn Central.
1969 – Three miles of track between Lake Mahopac and Carmel is abandoned and removed.
March 14, 1970 – Last freight run to Carmel.
September 1, 1972 – A teenager steals a diesel switcher from the Brewster railroad yards and takes a joyride along the abandoned tracks to Carmel. The engine stops when it crashes into trees that had fallen across the tracks.
October 1975 – The A&P Warehouse in Elmsford closes.
December 2, 1977 – Approval of abandonment of the segment of track from Chauncey to Eastview is applied for.
(Courstesy of Dave Gianna)
More History on “The Put”
First, just at the county line between Westchester and Putnam Counties, on the Putnam Division, was a junction between the Put and the Mahopac Falls or Mahopac Mines RR. This left the Put mainline at Baldwin Place and meadered over to an iron mine somewhere north of Lake Mahopac. There was definitely a station at the hamlet of Mahopac Falls, which still exists as a hamlet and has a tiny Post Office. (It is near the place on Rt 6N known as Red Mills.) The mine eventually caved in while active, but there was enough warning that everybody got out OK.
It is hard to find any trace of this RR today, but the right of way could be seen in a few places in the early 1990’s.
The ROW of the Mahopac Mines RR is on the hillside east of the marsh which is east of the Church of the Hill.
The other obscure RR is a short-lived narrow gauge line that pushed up the Peekskill Hollow from Peekskill Creek. Purpose and dates unknown.
At one time, Westchester was one of the world’s major sources of emery, the garnet-like abrasive.
There was a temporary construction RR used to carry granite blocks to the Kensico Dam from wherever they were quarried. Strictly speculation, I’d bet that a similar RR would have been used to build the awesome Croton Dam, one of the world’s largest granite block structures.
There is a shopping center where the Yorktown Heights yard and the roundhouse were located.
You might also enjoy exploring Baldwin Place were the Put freight house was still standing, last I looked.
In Lake Mahopac, you will find the old Put station is now the VFW hall and the freight house for the Lake Mahopac branch still stands below it. (Last observed by me just a few years ago, could be gone now.) With a map, you might be able to find XC Crossing.
Transfers to Grand Central were made at High Bridge.
Transfers to the IRT Subway were made at Sedgwick Avenue.
Could the Put have Survived?
During most of the 20th century Putnam Div. passenger trains terminated at Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, where passengers could transfer to an IRT elevated shuttle between 155th St. (In earlier days, there was a direct connection at Sedgwick Ave. to the 9th Ave. el in Manhattan) The bulk of passengers, however, transferred to Hudson Div. m.u. trains at High Bridge, the next station west. The Put’s engine terminal also was at High Bridge.
The New York & Northern, the Put’s original predecessor, terminated at the 155th St. terminal of the 9th Ave. el in Manhattan, next to the onetime Polo Grounds. The line then swung north to cross the Harlem River on a swing bridge at about the site of the later Sedgwick Ave. terminal. Some time early in the 20th century this section was taken over by the IRT, electrified, and made part of a shuttle line to the Bronx, and afterward all Put trains used the Sedgwick Ave. terminal.
The NY&N opened a branch to Yonkers in 1888s, which was generally operated with 2-4-4T Forney-type engines and elevated-style coaches. The branch left the main line at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Forney locomotive continued under NYC control until 1926, when the Central electrified the Yonkers branch, using its standard third-rail system. There was no through operation to GCT, however; passengers continued to transfer at High Bridge. The Yonkers branch was abandoned in 1943.
Unfortunately, the tracks ran side by side with the Hudson Division from just below Marble Hill to Highbridge. A throw of the switch and they could have run GCT service.
One reason the Put trains did not run through to GCT was the necessity of an engine change in the Bronx. It would have added drastically to the already money losing situation regarding those particular trains. The biggest thing that killed the Put was the tax situation at that time and the lack of any sign of state support in 1958. Another reason was that the line was not very far from either the Harlem or the Hudson Divisions and both of them had heavy ridership and many more and faster trains than the Put had.
Another reason for the NYC to keep Put trains out of GCT was the fact that the Put was maintained primarily as a route for high and wide freight shipments to and from New York City. The passenger service was an accommodation to the local communities, where most of the passengers could walk to the station, and where NYC also handled mail and express. The division, in steam days, was actually operating at close to capacity considering the location of sidings, the light steam power (F-12’s with small tenders) that could operate over some of the bridges, and the general configuration of the railroad.
If the NYC increased the demand for Put service by eliminating the change at High Bridge they would have had to upgrade the railroad in many ways to accommodate the demand. That would have been a bad business decision, especially considering that they were handling the same commuters much more efficiently on the Hudson and Harlem Divisions.
Lake Mahopac Branch: Harlem Division or Putnam Division?
The Lake Mahopac Branch was built specifically to serve the resort area of Lake Mahopac. I don’t think the Tilly Foster Mine was ever a customer of the Putnam Division. There was a Mahopac Falls branch that came off the Putnam Division that served the Mahopac Mines. It was cut back to Mahopac Falls sometime after the mine closed at the turn of the last century. The Mahopac Falls branch had passenger service until 1931!
The Putnam Division (the New York & Northern Railroad) didn’t arrive in Lake Mahopac until the 1880s. Until 1958, there were two separate passenger stations serving Lake Mahopac! The Harlem Division and the Putnam Divison maintained separate agencies to the end. Passenger service on the Put ended in May 1958, but the Harlem Division shuttle that operated “around the horn” Golden’s Bridge-Lake Mahopac-Carmel- Brewster- Golden’s Bridge lasted until April 1959 timetable change. Lake Mahopac Branch was always operated as part of the Harlem Division, any Putnam Division crews that ran “around the horn” had to be qualified on both lines.
Interesting thoughts on why the Put became New York Central.
1873, the New York Boston & Montreal Railroad’s line from Chatham to Rutland and the White Creek Branch was leased to the Central Vermont Railroad. The NYB&M was to be a string of small lines connecting New York with Montreal. It did indeed collapse in one of the panics, 1873 I believe. The Dutchess and Columbia was involved in the scheme and ended up reorganizing as the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut. The Clove Branch RR was a wholly-owned subsidiary built from just outside Hopewell to the iron mine in Beekman (now Sylvan Lake), about 4 miles. A bit more was graded under the NYB&M scheme and built as an extension of the Clove Branch RR.
When the NYB&M collapsed, the northern leg became the Rutland, while the southern became the New York & Northern. The New York & New England was looking to partner with the NY&N, providing it with direct rail access to NYC. The closest the NY&NE ever got was Bridgeport, CT. Despite having to ferry across to the Long Island RR for connections, the NY&NE was able to give the NYNH&H stiff competition with passenger traffic because it took a more direct inland route to Boston (freight was another matter- for this, ferrying was too slow and costly). Plans were made to connect the NY&N to the NY&NE via Danbury, which is the grading near the Maybrook. However, before this “marriage” could be consummated, the then-President of the NY&NE left and soon emerged as President of the NYNH&H. He was keenly aware of the NY&NE’s weaknesses. Back in those days, RR management often sat on each others’ Boards. The NYNH&H President persuaded the NY Central to buy the NY&N before the NY&NE could, forever isolating the NY&NE and forcing it to eventually sell to the NYNH&H.
So what we have is a line originally planned as part of a grand route, was orphaned, then acquired solely to keep it out of the hands of competition. The Put was, essentially, a line that should never have gone past the paper stage.
Stories on Abandoning “The Put”
By 1961, use of the line was rare, it being used mainly for ConEd apparatus that had clearance problems. It was not related to any other line, being one of many simple cases of costs exceeding revenues.
There were two switchers, the BN-BO brought up A&P arrivals plus other cars. At A&P the grocery and meat cars were dropped on lead to grocery/meat and the produce went to Eastview for inspection. Eastbound JN-FO came down and switched the grocery, then moved to FO and waited to give A&P their second produce switch around 600pm and then left for JN with emptys for the Rut Milk to pick up Westbound. The last Eastbound move of any significance was the steel for I-287. These cars moved in sets of 3 with a gon in middle and a flat on each end wired as idlers. High and wide cars historically moved via HK-JN BN. In 1983 the stella Doro cars were still active but with deregulation disappeared as did Otto Brehm and it was still used in 1986 for Stella Doro. In 1958 the passenger trains were gone following the transportation act of 1958 and A&P was working well…Stauffer at Chauncey was active, Hardwood flooring at Elmsford with Fox Head Beer on the team track once a month and the Nepperhan business was then Georgia Pacific and the others incl the daily Phelps Dodge outbounds
There was a “forgotten” boxcar was at Carmel, NY, overloooking Lake Gleneida. IIRC, it was at Lloyd Lumber, near Sam Hickman’s feed sheds. The car stood at Lloyd’s for months, maybe years. The last authorized movement on the upper Put before the rail was torn up between Brewster and Mahopac was to retrieve this car.
A second “forgotten” boxcar was truly forgotten. It stood on a siding at Eastview near where the Put crossed over the Saw Mill River Parkway. I believe this siding was once the “house track” of a long- demolished station. (This siding had a pipe-connected derail, but whether this was connected to the switch stand, or if the derail had its own stand, I do not remember.) This boxcar was scrapped where it stood when the rails were taken up.
Here’s what’s left of the Putnam Division
Bike Trails Along Railroads
In Québec, the longest one, the “P’tit Train du Nord” runs for 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Saint-Jérôme to Mount-Laurier on an abandoned Canadian Pacific route.
South of Saint-Jérôme, this route continues to Blainville alongside what will become a busy rail commuter line. Photo above shows its route past the new intermodal terminal at Saint-Jérôme.
In Central New York State, a great trail runs on the former Troy & Schenectady branch of the New York Central Railroad.
Part of theWallkill Valley branch of the West Shore is a bike trail.
Cape Cod has a scenic trail on what was once the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
Along Lake Ontario Shore, a portion of the old Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad is a trail now.
(old vehices, shelters, garbage trucks)