NEW YORK CENTRAL, Mott Haven

by Kevin Walsh

The East 149th Street station serves #2, 4 and 5 trains on their way to midtown Manhattan or north to Wakefield, Woodlawn Cemetery, or Dyre Avenue, in two separate trackways on two levels. It’s a complicated complex that was the first Interborough Rapid Transit subway station in the Bronx when it opened in July 1905 (though the IRT el as far as East 177th-East Tremont had already opened in November 1904).

The mosaic work of the Wakefield-bound platform (serving the #2) is “archaic,” resembling that of other very old uptown Manhattan stations at 168th and 181st Street, opened during the same time frame. Instead of raised away from the wall, they’re quite flat and even. When the station opened the station was called Mott Avenue, for the southern end of the Grand Concourse that absorbed Mott Avenue when “the Conk” opened in 1909. There were still mosaic “Mott Avenue” signs on the platform remaining there in 1999, when I first encountered them when shooting subway scenes for Forgotten New York; they have since been covered over by regulation black and white metal signs with the station’s current name, 149th-Grand Concourse.

Forward to 1917-1918, when the IRT built the present Jerome Avenue subway and elevated up to Woodlawn Cemetery. Corridors were constructed allowing transfer between the two trunk lines, and they contained mosaic directional signs with slightly raised tiles, similar to most mosaic tiling you see in today’s subway. One set pointed to “the Jerome Avenue line,” today’s #4 train, but other signs, one of which is shown here, pointed the way to the “NY Central Line.”

This is one of NYC’s many puzzlements to me. Railbuffs know that after a series of mergers and acquisitions, the NY Central tracks in this stretch of the Bronx are used by Metro-North trains en route to Westchester and Connecticut. The tracks are about a block east of the station, at Park Avenue and East 149th.

However, modern maps show no actual station there. For that matter, this atlas plate from 1911 doesn’t, either. The closest present Metro-North station to the East 149th Street station is the Melrose station, and you would need to walk north on Park Avenue to East 161st to reach it.

Thus: either the IRT developers of the late 1910s were expecting anyone wishing to catch a NY Central train would be willing to do just that…or, they were anticipating the construction of a station on East 149th that never happened!

Maybe I’m missing something. Fill me in in Comments.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

4/7/20

12 comments

CG Todaro April 7, 2020 - 7:34 pm

I have a Penn Central Metropolitan Region employee timetable from 1971. There is a station stop at 138th St. at milepost 5.0 from GCT. It appears to be an actual station and not just a control point. There are trains with scheduled for stops at this location in the timetable portion. Could it be for this station when it was still the New York Central?

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Martin Rzeszotko April 7, 2020 - 7:57 pm Reply
Ed Findlay April 7, 2020 - 8:29 pm

The sign could refer to the New York Central due to the fact that they had a large yard just east of the station between 153rd Street and 161st Street, that’s most likely the reason for the inclusion. The yard is long gone, but its impact on the neighborhood remains: multiple schools alongside the MetroNorth tracks and a shopping plaza was built on its site servicing the neighborhood.

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Edward Findlay April 8, 2020 - 12:51 pm

The Mott Haven(or Melrose depending on source) yard was the New York Central’s most important yard for passenger service: it was where their famed long distance trains were serviced. Its presence was more than enough to justify having the directional tiling installed, it was a major employer as well as a key landmark for the neighborhood

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Martin Rzeszotko April 7, 2020 - 10:30 pm

A station was supposed to be built during the great depression butnever got built. See the Wikipedia article link.

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Andy April 7, 2020 - 10:51 pm

As far as I know, there was never a NY Central RR station at 149th Street east of the Concourse. There was a NY Central station at E 138th Street that timetables referred to as “The Bronx”, without using a specific neighborhood name – but it closed in the 1970s, as I recall (can’t pinpoint the date). The Melrose Station at 161st Street is still there, of course.

The area north of 149th St. and east of the Grand Concourse was occupied by a large rail yard for many years, known as Mott Haven Yard. In the days of robust long-distance train travel, intercity (as opposed to commuter) NY Central trains would return here empty after discharging passengers at Grand Central. At Mott Haven, the trains would be cleaned and serviced. Fresh bed linen was placed on sleeper cars, and a commissary would restock dining car kitchens. The yard had a complicated track layout, and placing a station at 149th Street would no doubt complicate train movement through an already congested venue.

In the early 1960s, as long-distance trains became redundant, the NY Central focused on commuter trains only, some of the yard property was leased to developers in order the build the high-rise apartments known as Concourse Village, at 156th Street. Eventually the entire yard was closed and the property repurposed.

It appears that the mosaic signs at the IRT station anticipated a walkway connection between the subway and railroad at 149th Street, which seemed logical but never happened for reasons probably lost to history. Probably the existence of stations at 138th and 161st Streets, and the Mott Haven Yard, were arguments against a NY Central station at 149th Street. When the Lexington Avenue IRT opened in 1918, its 125th Street station was a short block from the NY Central’s station (Metro North today), further reducing the need for an IRT-NY Central connection at 149th Street.

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mike April 8, 2020 - 2:29 am

The NY Central line station was at 138 street and Park Ave.

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Kevin Walsh April 8, 2020 - 7:23 am

A good 11 blocks away from 149th.

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Ron S April 8, 2020 - 5:00 pm

I’m going to bet that one of the railroad fans (not myself) has a definitive answer. I have seen the most obscure questions answered here before.

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Ron S April 12, 2020 - 1:42 pm

The Wikipedia link seems to settle it.

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Eric Costello April 12, 2020 - 8:25 pm

The February 9, 1908 edition of the New York Times carries an article on page 5 entitled “New York Central’s Plans For Big Bronx Station.” It opens with: “In some respects, the most important feature of the New York Central’s vast scheme of improvement will be the building of a large station at 149th Street and Park Avenue, in the Bronx.” It continues: “The new station will be within one short block of the Mott Avenue Subway Station, with which direct connection will be made.” There’s also a rendering of the station to go with the article. There’s your answer, plain as a pikestaff. As of 1908, there was a plan to build a NYCRR station one block from the subway station.

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Eric Costello April 12, 2020 - 8:31 pm

A May 15, 1938 article in the Times, on the first page of Section 2, describes an apparent “25 year feud” related to the building of a NYCRR station at 149th Street and Grand Concourse. It seems that in 1913, the City granted land for the terminal, which was never built, and court actions resulted. The NYCRR is cited in the article as saying it can’t afford the $5 million cost of a new station. This might well be the Depression-era proposal others have referred to.

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