Polar Express Night: a good excuse to check out restored Hyde Park Station

(Photo by Ann Hutton)

Amtrak’s Empire Corridor Service from Penn Station in New York City to Niagara Falls runs through many whistlestops along the route, but does not pause at all of them. The Hyde Park Train Station is one that gets passed by, ever since it was closed in 1958. Built over a century before on River Road, below what was to become the Vanderbilt Estate, it once served travelers between New York and Albany on the Hudson River Railroad line.

Some of those passengers were quite famous. Abraham Lincoln was transported along the corridor twice: once alive and once after his assassination. King George and Queen Elizabeth of England visited the Roosevelts in Hyde Park in 1939 for that remarkable hot-dog picnic before continuing on to Canada by train. Indeed, the station was used by the Vanderbilt and Roosevelt families themselves, and in 1945, FDR’s body was unloaded at this location in preparation for burial.

In 1914 the stationhouse proper was rebuilt in a design reminiscent of the Mission and Spanish Revival styles by Warren and Wetmore, the architects who also designed Grand Central Terminal and the nearby Poughkeepsie Station. The low profile and red-tiled roof must have seemed exotic to early-20th-century train travelers making their way along the Hudson River. By mid-century, auto and air travel had begun to appeal to the masses, and passenger rail transport in the US declined, leading to the station’s closure.


After some tracks were removed and a tunnel passage was boarded up, the station was sold to the Town of Hyde Park and essentially abandoned. It was scheduled for demolition by 1975, when the Hudson Valley Railroad Society (HVRS) stepped in and signed a 15-year lease to occupy the premises for the whopping sum of a dollar a year. Then began the arduous and much-more-expensive process of repair and renovation.

After years of neglect and vandalism, both the interior and exterior were in dire need of attention. The interior work included rebuilding and refurnishing the ticket booth and refurbishing benches, the waiting room and baggage room. Windows, doors, exterior trim and the unique Spanish-tile roof had to be repaired or replaced to make the station weathertight. The water source near by is very hard for the plumbing and so after consulting http://watersoftenerguide.com/fleck-water-softener-reviews the committee installed a water softener. IBM supported the Society with grant money to do the windows: a task that was completed for the PBS filming of Eleanor and Franklin. All other restoration work, including wiring, plumbing and heating systems, was done at the Society’s own expense.

Situated at the riverside, with an adjacent park next to the parking lot, the building looks quiet and unused – until, that is, the local HVRS members show up for their weekly Monday-night meeting. Then the lights go on, and the station is filled with enthusiasm for all things railroad-related. Now converted into a nonprofit museum celebrating its rich past, the station holds displays and photographs depicting 100 years’ worth of Hyde Park history, including poster-sized shots of Franklin and Eleanor and those illustrious British royals. Other artifacts harkening back to rail-travel heydays decorate the space, including a life-sized, mustachioed model of a ticket-seller and an old apple-vending machine that still works.

Up a steep set of stairs, the entire space is filled with working model trains, along with a large slotcar setup for another set of track and model enthusiasts. HVRS president Jeff Armstrong extols the pleasure of “hanging out with the guys” in the atticlike hobby room, where they can run multiple trains at once around the perimeter of the area. At least one train has a closed-circuit camera attached to the front of its engine that connects to a TV screen, giving viewers a more “virtual reality” sort of experience. With around 15 active participants showing up on a regular basis, the Society is always open to more members and volunteers.

Outside, the remaining tracks along the river – still used by CSX and Amtrak – are fenced off for obvious safety purposes. The Empire Corridor Service rumbles by like clockwork, without even slowing down. This spot was used briefly in Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest: the bit where the train comes to a halt for an unscheduled stop and the Feds get on. It’s thought that the facility could possibly reopen as an active passenger station, if the idea of extending Metro-North’s Hudson Line commuter rail service farther north is ever realized.

Meanwhile, all continued maintenance and restoration of the station are the sole responsibility of the Society, which raises operating funds at an annual model-train show in Poughkeepsie. Other regularly held events include monthly hobby and history nights, Hobo Night, Halloween Ghost Train Night and Polar Express Night (coming up this weekend) – all attracting visitors to the site, which is also open to the public from 12 noon to 5 p.m. on summer weekends. Check it out. And visit the website below to see a four-minute clip about the museum.

The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, will be read by Karin Armstrong at the Hyde Park Station, located at 34 River Road, on Monday, December 19 at 5 and 6:30 p.m. Come enjoy holiday conviviality and crafts for the kids; refreshments will be served. For more information about HVRS, call (845) 229-2338 or see https://hydeparkstation.com/hps.html.


Polar Express Night, Monday, December 19, 5 & 6:30 p.m., Hyde Park Station, 34 River Road, Hyde Park; (845) 229-2338, https://hydeparkstation.com/hps.html.