“The Disappearing Railroad Blues” Greenburgh Style: The Fate of the Putnam Railroad Line and the Old Putnam Trail

Illustration: Felicia Barber

“All the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream and the steel rails still ain’t heard the news. The conductor sings his song again, the passengers will please refrain. This train has got the disappearing railroad blues” – Willie Nelson in “The City of New Orleans” (1984).

While when Steve Goodman wrote these lyrics in 1971 and when Willie Nelson sang them in 1984, they were talking about a southern train called The City of New Orleans, they could just as easily have been talking about New York’s Putnam Railroad Line and the old Putnam Trail. In 1871, The Putnam Railroad connected New York City to Boston and Montreal, Canada via Brewster, Danbury, and Hartford. It carried both passengers and various types of freight including: milk, grain, and iron ore.

Illustration: Felicia Barber

On its journey from Riverdale in the Bronx to Brewster, it passed through Greenburgh’s villages of: Hastings, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Elmsford.  Unfortunately the Panic of 1873 forced it to shut down until 1881, when the economy finally recovered enough for a new connection to open up across the Harlem River. The railroad continued from then until the 1970s.

The remains of this venerable railroad are known as the Putnam Trail. History does not stand still however, and like the venerable railroad before it, the trail is slowly disappearing. While the tracks are still visible off the Saw Mill River Parkway in Ardsley, they were removed from the part of the trail that went through Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, and Irvington to create the bike path known as The South County Trailway, which is enjoyed by many and ranked by the residents of Westchester County as one of the best  bike trails in the county. This action may have destroyed most of the physical remains of the railroad, but the memory of the Putnam Railroad shall live forever.

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