There’s a park trail in Van Cortlandt Park that was once a railroad. It can be reached by walking east through the park directly from the W 242nd Street stop on the #1 subway line, the last stop. Follow a line of telephone poles that boast extremely old lighting fixtures. When you reach an overpass, you have reached what is now known as the Putnam Trail. Go beneath the overpass and then make your way to the trail.
The Putnam RR Branch, or “The Old Put” as it was called, originally ran from Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx north to Brewster, New York on the NY Central commuter line, now called the Metro-North. It diverged from the Hudson Line just south of West Kingsbridge Road. The branch had two stops in The Bronx: Kingsbridge and Van Cortlandt Park. The Putnam Branch itself was never electrified (hence the absence of remains of a third rail). There was, however, an electrified branch that diverged from the line just north of the Van Cortlandt Park Station and ran to Getty Square in Yonkers. Passenger service ended on the line in 1958, and the last fright train rumbled on the now-missing tracks in 1980.
Make your way north on the trail, which runs on an overpass over Van Cortlandt Park Lake. Pause to look down and see several old wooden railroad ties which are still in place.
Continue north on the path (it ultimately reaches far into Westchester County, though you don’t have to go too far to see today’s featured item). After about the length of a football field, you will see several gray stone pillars, thirteen in number, on your left. They are in varied shades of gray — apparently they were partially repainted at some time.
In the 1910s, before the Grand Central Terminal was built, it was decided to test different varieties of stone to see what could stand up to the weather the best. These pillars were used to make the decision. The second pillar as you walk north (in the center in the above photo), made of Indiana limestone, contains the stone selected…not for its durability, but because it was cheapest.