Looking forward to the Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25 opening of The Station Gallery in the old NY Central Train Station, has stimulated a fascinating trip down memory lane about Westfield's special connections to the two railroad lines and depots that still run through our historic village and town. There are many wonderful historic photos and photo postcards of these railroads, trains and depots, as well as plentiful personal and historic stories surrounding all of these.
For many of us, one of our most famous and true stories is of President-elect Abraham Lincoln stopping in Westfield on his Inaugural train journey in February 1862, and asking to meet Grace Bedell, "Lincoln's Little Girl," of whom Fred Trump wrote the most accurate, well-researched and enjoyable biography regarding her life before, during and after Abe Lincoln took her advice to grow "whiskers" to ensure his election. But that meeting took place at the older depot which stood at the foot of Pearl Street, not at the current train station turned art gallery and hopefully railroad museum as well.
A historic photo of the earlier passenger and freight depots, taken in the late 1890s when Westfield boasted 14 tracks and sidings, a roundhouse and impressive coal towers, will be seen hanging in one of the two passenger waiting rooms planned to be the rail museum. Shown with this BeeLines story is a historic photo from December 1904 of the current depot, a trolley and muddy rutted English Street, which was taken for the newspaper articles when the station was first opened.
Photo courtesy of the Victor Norton, Jr., collection
The Lake Shore Depot, later New York Central Passenger Station at Westfield, N.Y., is shown here as it looked shortly after it was built in 1904, looking west along muddy and rutted English Street. On the left is the old Westfield Hotel. The trolley tracks and trolley in this photo is the Chautauqua Traction line and car, part of the “Hop Toad” to Barcelona that ran on North and South Portage streets. On the west side of the station were the JW and NW Trolley line tracks that came down behind the library and turned under the North Portage bridge over the Lakeshore, later NY Central, railroad tracks.
In the Dec. 12, 2004, Living section of the Jamestown Post-Journal, reporter Ryan Michelle Wilcox wrote about the late Dr. Randall L. Swanson of Lakewood, the most recent owner of the Westfield depot, and his 16-year effort, "to restore it to its former glory as it marks its 100th year today." Swanson was, "a rail fan, both model railroad and real railroad," who collected railroad memorabilia, built his own models, including one, "of the Westfield station that won best of show at a contest in Chicago" in about 1998. He was adamant about not allowing the depot to be made into a restaurant.
Swanson removed false ceilings, refinished the original pyramid-like ceilings in the two passenger rooms - one for men the other for women - "restored windows' and doors' wooden framework, painted the interior and scoured antique shops and garage sales for light fixtures that closely match the description of the originals." He had no photos to aid him with the restoration, so relied on the detailed descriptions found in the Dec. 14, 1904, Westfield Republican front page feature, "The Gem" - what the new Lake Shore Station was called. Portions of that original article were also reprinted in the Post-Journal article, along with several photos from the late Victor Norton collection, circa 1940s and some 2004 photos of the station, tracks and interior with Swanson looking out the bay window at a passing freight train. The Holly Tour in 2004 included the depot and Swanson family members dressed in 1940s fashion.
In her June 24, 1983, "Dibble's Dabbles," the late former historian Billie Dibble wrote, "New York Central station was 'a gem'" and quoted portions of the original grand opening story from 1904. Her story used another historic photo of the Lake Shore station, also showing ruts in English Street, and the old Westfield Hotel taken prior to 1922 and gifted to the Patterson Library by Paul Welch.
The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is email@example.com.
Quoting from the December 1904 newspaper story, "Inside the building one finds a pleasing change from the usual tile floor, an Italian Mosaic floor." It was a bright pinkish coral color that will take some hard and costly work to restore from its current dull grey grime and cracks. "The interior woodwork in Norway pine is finished in the lateral grain, with hardwood seats running around the three sides of each waiting room. The ladies' waiting room containing spacious oak rockers, table and handsome rugs which give it a cozy air ... The whole being heated by an automatic steam heating plant in the basement."
The electric light fixtures are described in great detail as well as, "Each toilet room is an innovation containing handsome settees, large French plate mirrors, hot and cold water."
The new owners, Robert and Katherine Galbraith, are continuing to restore the station, furnishings and equipment including the three hardwood benches attached to the walls of the men's passenger waiting room and the built-in desk in the center office with old telegraph equipment, original baggage carts and wagons in the baggage and freight room.
One of the steam radiators has been restored, but the other is in pieces, and, sadly, the basement is filled with deep stagnant water so is presently inaccessible for restoration and viewing.
As the 2004 article so succinctly summarized, "The Westfield depot has seen better days and may no longer be considered a 'gem,' but it's slowly making a comeback."
And from my preview tour of the work now in progress, just prior to writing this Beelines story, The Station Art Gallery should amaze and delight all who attend this upcoming Memorial Weekend opening. Congratulations to Katherine and Rob Galbraith.