Q: I know you answer a lot of “important” historical questions, so I’m a little embarrassed to ask this because it seems kind of dumb—but I’m going to ask it anyway. On Metro-North, near Mamaroneck, there is a large stone structure just up from the station—what the heck is it? —Sloane True, Harrison
That stone structure, my sheepish friend, is a remnant of the old New York, Westchester & Boston Railroad. It is a bridge abutment.
The NYW&B—or “The Westchester” or the “Boston-Westchester” as it was known in its day—was an electric railroad that ran between New York City and Westchester (despite the name, there was no service to Boston). A single line beginning in the Bronx ran to Columbus Avenue in Mount Vernon, then split, with services to White Plains and Port Chester. The railway began operating in 1912 and closed shortly thereafter—it went bankrupt in 1937—and there are artifacts from it all over the county.
Initially, it was thought that folks would ride The Westchester because it was cheaper, had nicer stations, and was more comfortable than the Harlem Division line. However, NYW&B riders had to transfer in the Bronx to get to Manhattan, and that probably turned out to be a larger inconvenience than the owners anticipated. People generally preferred the Harlem Division because it went straight into midtown.
There are plenty of other NYW&B remnants in the region. In New Rochelle, the former station house at Stratton and Kewanee roads is now a private home; the terminal building in Port Chester is now a church; and the East Third Street Station in Mount Vernon was occupied by a granite company up until a few years ago, and it still stands just east of South Fulton Avenue.
Q: I’m a big fan of Boardwalk Empire on HBO and have an interest in the Prohibition era. I heard one of Westchester’s biggest speakeasies was in Hastings-on-Hudson, and I’d like to know what you can tell me about it. —Andrea Carney, Irvington
First, you have to tell me the password.
You’re probably speaking of the Farragut Inn. Located on the corner of Warburton Avenue and Spring Street, it operated in broad daylight with only a modicum of the clandestine stuff we usually associate with Prohibition-era illegal bars. It was an upscale joint patronized by respected businessmen, politicians, and civic leaders. Throughout the “Noble Experiment,” records show that the local chamber of commerce, various firehouses, schools, and politicians held events at the Farragut.
The arrogance of flaunting the sale of booze didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, newspaper accounts at the time referenced the Inn’s lack of effort to conceal what it was doing. The feds raided it five times during Prohibition and closed it for short periods after each raid.
All you really need to know about Prohibition—or should I say, “Prohibition”— is that the place reopened after each bust, and at one raid, the federal agents were met by an angry mob of thirsty, rock-throwing patrons who didn’t appreciate the cops’ sense of duty.
After Prohibition, the Farragut Inn stayed open, but I’m guessing drinking there after 1933 wasn’t nearly as much fun.
Q: When enjoying the last of this season’s beautiful weather at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, I came across the weatherworn hull of a small ship during low tide. When I asked one of the helpful volunteers, he stated that he was told that it was an abandoned ship from the 1920s by the name of “empress something or other,” but in researching he was unable to find any solid information. Thought that your resourceful team could help. —Gary Cardany, Hartsdale
That well-meaning volunteer was in the ballpark.
You saw what is left of the Benjamin F. Packard, built in 1883. She was nearly 250 feet long, originally designed to transport cargo between the Atlantic and Pacific by way of Cape Horn. The Packard was owned by Arthur Sewall & Co., the biggest merchant in the Cape Horn trade. It was later sold and used to ship salmon from the Puget Sound up to the Alaskan canneries. Her last voyage took her from Puget Sound to New York hauling lumber, and from there the ship was retired. She found a second life as an attraction at Rye Playland.
In 1938, a hurricane hit the Westchester area and the Packard suffered severe damage and had to be scuttled. When the tide is low, as it was during your visit, you can see the remains of the substantial hull. Much of the ship’s interior furnishings and the captain’s stateroom were preserved, removed, and are still on display at The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic, Connecticut.