Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pelham's Highbrook Avenue Bridge Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Village of Pelham Deputy Mayor Susan Mutti has announced that the Highbrook Avenue Bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, effective August 2, 2016.  Called by some the "Bridge to Nowhere" because there no longer are railroad tracks at the site and the bridge connects to no roadways, the structure is a remnant of the defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway that once ran through Pelham.  The bridge was listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places last March.

BOSTON RY. CO."  An Undated Post Card View
of the Highbrook Avenue Bridge Ca. 1912.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Also known as "The Westchester" and the "Boston-Westchester," the railroad was constructed between about 1909 and 1912.  Portions of the electric commuter railroad line were considered a technological triumph at the time.  The line opened for passenger service on May 29, 1912.  Eventually it ran from the southernmost part of the Bronx near the Harlem River to Mount Vernon where it branched north to White Plains and east, through Pelham, eventually as far as Port Chester.

The railroad was known derisively as the "Million-Dollar-A-Mile Railroad" and "J.P. Morgan's Magnificent Mistake."  It reputedly never ran at a profit.  Construction of the line (excluding rolling stock) reportedly cost more than $1.2 million per mile, an extraordinary sum at the time.  The portion of the line that ran from the Bronx, through Pelham, to New Rochelle was built to rather lavish standards with attractive cast concrete stations that had marble interiors.  Additionally, and important when it comes to the history of the line in Pelham, the line was built with no grade crossings.  Consequently, many bridges, tunnels, and viaducts were built along the line including a viaduct adjacent to Pelham Reservoir, a combination station and bridge over Fifth Avenue, and the Highbrook Avenue Bridge that still stands.  Such costly infrastructure certainly drove up the cost of the Million-Dollar-A-Mile Railroad.  

Post Card View Ca. 1912.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

During the Roaring Twenties, the railroad was slowly extended from New Rochelle to Larchmont (1921), Mamaroneck (1926), Harrison (1927), Rye (1928) and Portchester (in December, 1929, shortly after the stock market crash).  With the onset of the Great Depression, expansion of the line stopped.  

RY. CO.  5TH AVENUE, PELHAM, N. Y."  An Undated
Post Card View Ca. 1912.  This View Shows the Pelham
Station in the Distance.  Though It Might Seem to Be at
Ground Level, the Pelham Station Stood Atop a Very, Very
High Cast Concrete Arch that Stood Over Fifth Avenue
at About Third Street.  NOTE:  Click on Link to Enlarge.

Passenger traffic on the line was never what was projected or hoped.  The railroad developers hoped that passengers would flock to the modern and comparatively luxurious new railroad from the old New Haven line that ran to Grand Central Terminal for a much higher fare than that of The Westchester.  Travel to Manhattan on The Westchester, however, required a transfer in The Bronx onto the Third Avenue El for a five cent fare.  Though cheaper, many passengers ignored the new line and paid the higher fare on the New Haven Line to be carried directly to Grand Central Terminal.  The Westchester reportedly carried 1.3 million passengers in 1913.  Its ridership grew to 14.1 million a year in 1928, shortly before the Great Depression.  Still, that was not enough. 

When the eastward branch of The Westchester turned toward Pelham, it remained high above ground level on a high, curving viaduct as it crossed the Hutchinson River.  Trains remained high above ground level as they slipped into the Fifth Avenue Station in Pelham because that station stood atop a very high concrete arch over Fifth Avenue at Third Street.  Upon leaving the Fifth Avenue Station heading eastward, the trains followed tracks with a gentle grade decline until crossing the Highbrook Avenue Bridge and next pulling into the Pelhamwood Station that actually stood at about the New Rochelle border on Storer Avenue between today's Lincoln Avenue and the intersection of Harmon Avenue with Storer Avenue.  

Undated Photograph of the Fifth Avenue Station of
the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway, Ca.
1912, from Engineering News. Source: Remembering
North Pelham Facebook Page. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

Throughout construction and operation of The Westchester, it was operated under the auspices of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.  As the Great Depression raged, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad entered bankruptcy in 1935.  Consequently, so did The Westchester.  As the two railroads struggled with bankruptcy, there were countless efforts to save The Westchester.  According to one brief history:

"Former New Haven General Manager Clinton L. Bardo was appointed as Trustee to try to turn around the fortunes of the ailing Westchester.  But the trustees of the NH [i.e., New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad] bankruptcy and the trustees of the NYW&B bankruptcy were responsible to different groups of creditors.  The liquidation brought them into conflict. The NYW&B was forced to cease operating on the Port Chester line to enhance the revenues of the NH from its parallel service.  The loss of revenue could not be offset by lower costs.  If the NYW&B had been left intact, it would have required the New Haven to pay off a bond issue that was due in 1946.  Total liquidation was the only answer.  Bardo died of a heart attack in August 1937, before the full effect of his policies could be realized.  The NYW&B ceased operations on December 31, 1937."

Source:  "New York, Westchester and Boston Railway" in Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited Sep. 18, 2016).  

All efforts to save The Westchester were of no avail.  The steel rails and bridges, and the electrical distribution system of the railroad were dismantled and scrapped in 1942, for the most part, to provide steel and copper for the war effort.  In addition, it took the Town of Pelham years to settle the unpaid real estate tax bills of The Westchester, finally resolving that issue in 1943.  By 1946, liquidation of The Westchester was complete.  

Though the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway is no more, its remnants may still be found in Pelham, including the most visible relic:  the historic cast concrete overpass above Highbrook Avenue that once held trackage and allowed trains to pass above. It is quite befitting that historic bridge that it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Abandoned Bridge of the New York, Westchester & Boston
Railway Above Highbrook Avenue in the Village of Pelham
in 2004. Source:  Photograph by the Author, 2004.
NOTE: Click on Image To Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written about the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway on numerous occasions.  For examples, see:

Wed., Apr. 01, 2015:  Pelham Settled the Unpaid Tax Bills of the Defunct New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company in 1943.

Fri., Feb. 20, 2015:  Village of North Pelham Fought Plans for Construction of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway in 1909.

Tue., Jan. 12, 2010:  Architectural Rendering of the Fifth Avenue Station of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad in North Pelham Published in 1913.

Fri., Dec. 18, 2009:  The Inaugural Run of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Through Pelham for Local Officials in 1912.

Thu., Jul. 7, 2005:  The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company Begins Construction of its Railroad.

Fri., Feb. 25, 2005:  Robert A. Bang Publishes New Book on The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company.

Bell, Blake A., The New York, Westchester And Boston Railway in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 50, Dec. 17, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

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