Uptown Shopping Center, Harlem 1900 Part II


Harlem A Railroad Center: 1900

It is not very many years since the only trains that stopped at the insignificant One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth street railroad station were very few in number, slow in progress, uncertain in time and altogether unsatisfactory. They were perhaps all that the Harlem of that day required, for it was then a small, scattered hamlet, inhabited by a sparse and not very energetic population, who went down to the big city occasionally, when home affairs were not very pressing, and the chores had all been done up.

But meanwhile this same big city was growing, growing, growing, night and day. At the rate of five, ten, fifteen streets a year the brick and mortar ramparts were extended. Its dwellers were getting crowded. Men with families, men of native refinement, who liked fresh air, and cleanliness, and privacy, found that these were no longer to be had in New York proper, without an outlay too large for the average citizen.

Life in tenements, then, being distasteful, and life in ordinary houses too costly, they were thrown upon the horns of a dilemma; either to desert their business and throw up their careers or to find some cheaper place, free from the vexatious delays and uncertainties of ferries, and there to set up their household gods anew, giving to wife and children the benefit of sunlight, fresh air and decent surroundings, while themselves returning to work each day, stronger and better men than when crowded into the pestholes that served for houses in the lower city.

This emigration of bright, energetic, young breadwinners, who spurned the dark alleys and fetid tenements of the great city, was the foundation of the marvelous rise and progress of the bustling, busy Harlem of today. It was a crucial example of the doctrine of selection, and the survival of the fittest. The best and most desirable portion of the working inhabitants turned their faces Harlem ward. There they settled down, made their homes, demanded and obtained traveling facilities to and from their offices, counting rooms and workshops, until, today, what was the paltry village of yesterday is a metropolis in itself, with its churches, schools, theatres, opera houses and hotels, and with a social and political life of its own.

The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad was not slow to recognize nor loath to assist in this wonderful transformation. America's greatest railroad could not fail to further so commendable a progress. First and foremost it awoke to the fact that its roadbed, at its then grade, gave just cause of complaint in so well populated a district. It was too low. It interfered with traffic, was unsightly, and darkened the abutting houses. To remedy this evil would be a gigantic, a Titanic task. It's thousands more or less of daily trains must be kept running. Traffic must not be interfered with. The elevation of miles of tracks must go on while the ponderous locomotives were thundering back and forth over the structure. As an engineering feat it presented difficulties unique and apparently insurmountable. But to the management of this wonderful road difficulties are of no great moment. They must be overcome. Then there was the matter of expense. How many millions would it require? No matter. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad had the millions ordered the thing done and its engineers attended to the rest.

Having thus practically and generously recognized the birth of a second New York up by the Harlem River, the road's next concern was to give it proper depot and train accommodation, and right royally has it carried out its purpose. There are cities not far from the first rank in the country which, were they blessed with a depot as complete and perfect as the One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth- street station, would swell with civic pride, while, in the matter of train service, no city in the country, outside of a very few railroad centers, is half so well served.

Every one of those great through trains of palaces on wheels stops at One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth street. The proud Harlemite may step into his luxurious car here almost at his doors, and alight in San Francisco. He may journey to any part of the West or the Southwest, or to the Adirondacks, to Canada, to Niagara Falls, or the Thousand Islands.

In still greater furtherance of their laudable  purpose to offer every possible advantage to the people of Harlem, the New York Central management have recently opened a new ticket office on June 1, to be exact at No. 133 West One-hundred-and-twenty-fifth street near Seventh avenue where not only may tickets be procured but baggage may be checked from residence direct to destination without need of any further oversight. Thus the father of a family that cannot take its summer outing with less than eleven trunks, need only secure his tickets and checks here, and then travel with empty hands and a light heart to let us say the Thousand Islands. There, when he has registered at his favorite hotel, he will find his baggage waiting for him to order its distribution among the members of his clan.

Those few remaining chronic faultfinders if indeed, there be any remaining who would still cavil at the great railway artery that carries the bright red blood of constant, perfectly managed railway traffic into the life of Harlem, should recall Aesop's fable concerning the quarrel between the belly and the members, in which, after the hands had accused the belly of gluttony in devouring all the substance obtained by their toil, and the belly had retorted that it was tired of supplying strength to so unappreciative members, they determined to mutually neglect one another. The consequent hunger of the one and weakness of the others, however, soon taught them their mutual interdependence, and they resumed the old beneficial relations.

Continue: Uptown Shopping Center, Harlem 1900 Part III


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Uptown Shopping Center, Harlem 1900 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Tribune June 10, 1900 Page: 7
Time & Date Stamp: