In Country Days in New York City, author Divya Summers describes this old commuter line that is now used for another purpose:
The Old Putnam Railroad Track, a defunct railroad bad that one Manhattan-based Urban Park Ranger tells me is his favorite walk in the city (“I love being out in the fresh New York air”, he adds) follows the route of a commuter train that ran from the Bronx up to Brewster, New York for almost a century. Now that the “Old Put”, as commuters called it, is no longer in use, rabbits, skunks and raccoons have taken over. Even deer and foxes have been spotted, and the variety of birdlife waiting to be spotted along the way includes the occasional rare great horned owl.
This abandoned railroad is in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. It can be reached by walking east through the park from the E 242nd Street stop on the #1 subway line, the last stop.
The Putnam Branch, or “The Old Put” as it’s 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 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.
The old Van Cortlandt Park station remains, in a skeletal state. The old line is unofficially used as a nature trail in Van Cortlandt Park, although it has never achieved that official designation.
The shadows of the girders of the old station echo the railroad tracks that used to run here.
A pedestrian overpass in Van Cortlandt Park is marked with the date of construction.
The trackbed of the Putnam now serves as a handsome nature trail/bike path that extends well into Westchester County. An egret feeds at a pond near the old trackway.
Deep in the heart of Van Cortlandt Park, north of the abandoned Van Cortlandt station, stands this series of stone pillars.
In the 1910s, before the Grand Central Terminal was built, it was decided to test different varieties of stone. These pillars were used to make the decision. (In the end the cheapest one was used.) It’s unknown which pillar was the deciding one, but they’re still there in Van Cortlandt Park.
A railroad bridge and some remaining cross-ties. Occasionally a remaining spike can be found along the trail.
Van Cortlandt Lake, shot from the left and right sides of an old Putnam Branch railroad bridge.
These pictures show the Putnam a few years ago between West 225th Street and Van Cortlandt Park South. The tracks had been used for layup at the time.
5/3/99; revised 2002
Country Days in New York City, Divya Summers, Country Roads Press, 1993
There were NY Central stops in the Bronx that sopped at Gunhill Rd.; Fordham; Westchester Ave./Whitlock; Tremont Ave.; Parkchester; Hunt’s Point; and 149th Street. I can still see the vestiges of these stops (in decrepit, falling down condition). Do you have any information about these stops? Gunhill Rd. and Fordham Rd. are still used, but I can’t seem to find any information about the other stops.
These stations were part of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad, it was a separate railroad; the New York Central System Railroad never owned or control the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad. The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad went into bankruptcy, and cease in 1938. As can be see, many of the former stations in the Bronx can still be seen, there was a station at City Island, some of the former station houses are still standing on the Amtrak right of way in the Bronx, of course many are in decrepit condition, while some have stores inside the structure, the crown jewel was the station at East 180 Street. There are many books on the New York, Westchester and Boston, that can give you additional information, especially books with many pictures, Amazon is one place.
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I enjoyed looking at the photos especially the ones taken along the Major Deegan.
The old Putnam Division did have other stops in the Bronx besides the ones named. In the early 1900s the trains used to stop at High Bridge, Morris Heights, University Heights. These stations also were served by New York Central Hudson Line trains and by the 1920s the Put no longer stopped at them. There was also a stop in the Bronx called Mosholu on the Yonkers Branch north of the Van Cortlandt stop. This was where the Yonkers Branch crossed Mosholu Avenue. The Yonkers Branch was electrified as mentioned but the third rail extended to the Sedgwick Avenue terminal. Only the Yonkers Branch trains used it, however.
Are there any photos or sketches of Getty Square Spurs flag stop? I believe it stopped functioning in 1926. I am also trying to find sketches or photos of the Putnam Lines’ Van Cortlandt passenger/ticket station. I believe it was taken down in the 1950’s. I’d be grateful for any guidance.
There are some excellent photos of VCP station, the railway, and the old signal tower (JS) from the 1930s-1940s in Forgotten Railroads Through Westchester County by Robert A Bang et al. In addition, I’ve come across a few older photos elsewhere, a couple of them dated 1902.
A real shame about the condition of Van Cortlandt Station.
bring back ”The Old Putnam Rail Line.
There are a few excellent 1930-1940s photos of the VCP station, the signal tower (JS), and railway in Robert Bang’s book, Forgotten Railroads of Westchester County. I’ve also found a couple of photos of the VCP station dated 1902.