An Evening In Middletown
Photos and text by Ronald J. Vassallo
On September 15, 2000 I headed up to Middletown for one of several Trustee's meetings that we have during the year. After battling with some initial traffic getting out of NJ, I finally got on RT. 17 and then the Thruway heading up towards the Catskills. Once on the Quickway I made up for some lost time and it was then that I was glad that I had brought with me our new digital camera. I purchased this for the society some months back and it has since become a trusty companion when traveling. It's amazing what an hour or two and one of these camera's can produce.
It was quickly turning into a beautiful evening and I decided to see what kind of trouble, I mean action I could get in before it got dark and I only had about an hour to make my way over to the meeting on Cottage St.
I got off at the Crystal Run exit, then on to East Main Street, and quickly made my way over to the M&NJ Depot and to my surprise Mr. Harold Rasmussen was just coming out of the front door. He took a minute to pose in front of one of the M&NJ Corporate vehicles. and made my Jeep an honorary M&NJ vehicle as well.
Having some time to poke around the depot with Harold I quickly commented on the recent painting of the depot and enginehouse. As can be seen it the following photos they did a pretty decent job! This photo is looking north toward the East Main St and the O&W's Middletown Headquarters. The odd looking item to the left in the previous photo, is a most unusual piece of rolling stock which is made even more so by the graffiti which covers both sides. If I remember correctly Harold told me that this is a diesel oil storage car. He also told me where it came from and where it is headed for but for the life of me I can't remember. I am sure someone out there will be able to help jog my memory. Here is another photo of the depot taken from on top of this coal car. This was such a nice vantage point I couldn't get down without snapping of a few more shots which included one of the Susquehanna caboose. Another shot looking south includes the Sprague Ave. bridge engine facility. The O&W mainline ran to the left of the Caboose and the Erie was to the right where the ties are piled up.
After spending a most enjoyable visit to the M&NJ I decided to head over to the O&W's headquarters on Wisner Ave. Now first let me set the stage . I have been making visits to this station for well over 10 years now which is not a long time to most people but I had to mention this because in the last 10 years there has been a most dramatic change for the worst involving this architectural masterpiece. We have all heard the expression, "The wrong side of the tracks" and unfortunately that is where the O&W station found itself in later years. One of it's sister stations, that of the Erie, found itself like a diamond in the rough and is now one of the crowned jewels of Middletown as part of the downtown revitalization project and is teamed up with the Thrall Library. If you are ever in Middletown this is definitely worth a visit.
Now back to the Middletown depot and it's surroundings. After the O&W closed much of the Business in Middletown followed and the whole area around the station changed. What was once perhaps a middle class climate now is predominantly lower income and with this comes alot of baggage. Broken bottles, graffiti, vandalism and ignorance have run rampant in this are and with regards to the O&W has replaced what was once a symbol of pride in the community, with an eyesore.
The Depot has undergone many business transformations since 1957, and for many years was a restaurant and nightclub and was home to many different businesses including an Art Studio, Driving School, a Baptist Ministry in the Old Seeholzers, and a Dance studio amongst others. Over the past few years I have seen the business decline dramatically and some of this blame must pass to the owners of this building. I have talked to many of the tenants over the years and they had expressed many concerns over the lack of basic necessities such as heat and security. Many were forced to leave the station to find office space elsewhere and only a few remain today.
Each time I come to Middletown it gets more and more difficult to stop by the depot and originally I did not want to visit on my trip up last week. The reason I made my visit was to focus on the beauty that can still be seen in and around the station. As I parked my Jeep I made a quick visit to the Adams Express bldg. located just North of the Station. A few years back this was used as an Auto Parts store and was vacant for about 8 years but now looks occupied. The reason i always stop there on visits is the look at the beautiful O&W herald at the top of the bldg. I then took this shot of the North end of the depot and platform.
The sun was just beginning to set and I could help but rattle of two photos of the North Tower and platform canopy. I then proceeded towards the platform and took this photo looking south towards the M&NJ. This was a spot of much excitement this year as Orange and Rockland Utilities took delivery of a huge transformer via CSX and the M&NJ. Jim Thorn was there on that cold day to catch this action as the consist passes the depot.
Once inside the doorway I can't help but feel that I have transcended time and I immediately feel like I am in 1952. I was immediately hit with the old familiar smell of old wood, dirt, paint and neglect. You don't have to go far inside the old beast to catch the beauty of this beauty. Just looking up the stairwell one can catch an eyeful of design, form and craftsmanship. I bounced around from floor to floor there was a very eerie silence in the building save for the creaking of the floor as one walks down the long corridors. My first stop was the north attic but what was once a very friendly spot in the building was void of any lights or light switch and I couldn't remember from past visits where to find one. As I stood in the darkness at the top of the stairs leading to the attic I could hear what seemed to be about a thousand pigeons on the other side of the door and caution sgot the better of me so I retreated hastily out of this area. Back down to the third floor I entered several empty offices and quickly scanned the area for anything of interest. Although this building has been picked clean of any artifacts long ago, I could not help but look around to see if maybe an elusive O&W marked light bulb could be hanging from an ancient fixture. I have gotten permission from the owners in the past to look in the building and I have in my possession a beautiful wood mail cabinet from the south attic and this is one of my most prized O&W possessions complete with the names of the first executives of the O&W including Canfield, Childs, Anderson and others.
After checking out the offices I made my way over to the south tower attic and noticed that the office where the O&W clock resides was empty also. I had only been in here once before when it was occupied as a friendly gesture by the tenant so I now had some time to explore at my leisure. This is a beautiful part of the building and except for a leak coming from the ceiling was a trill to behold. One can enjoy a beautiful view looking south and I could not help but think what it must have been like to occupy this office during the heyday and see Bullmooses and Camelbacks blasting by. The clock is still in good shape and I hope it is saved if any misfortune should come to this building. I then made my way to the doorway up to the south attic.
On my first few trips to the depot back in the early 90's this doorway had eluded me and I was almost stumped as to it's locations. After several more visits I finally deduced the location and after finally finding it discovered it had no doorknob! What to do?....not to worry, let's see if Ford truck hey will work and...whalla! we're in! This I must say is one of my favorite areas in the bldg. You walk up a steep set of about 10 stairs that quickly turn about halfway up. Then you enter what seems like a small room, which it is but there is so much to see. This must have been used as an office at one time as I can only think this because this is where I had found my mail cabinet and when I tried to take it out it wouldn't fit down the stairway! It must have been built by the O&W carpenters in the attic. There are still some of the original striped awnings hanging in the rafters with the pigeons, and you can easily see where another staircase leads to the roof although i have never climbed it to the top for fear of it collapsing. One has to be really careful up here as the are many floorboards just waiting for the right moment to give way. There was no light this visit and I did not bring my flashlight so I did not stay to long. I took in this view looking toward the north side before leaving.
Back down to the second floor and a quick stop at the walk-in safe. This enters into a huge room which was rented by a book collector some years back. I was just about to go back downstairs when I remembered a promise I had made to another website about getting a photo of the train order signal which still sits on top of the platform canopy. All the offices around this were locked and I almost settled for a ground shot when i walked through...ssshhhh....the ladies room and...what's this? an open window? Hence this great photo!
Now I don't know about some of you but I don't really believe in ghosts but after reading John Taibi's article about ghosts on the O&W I came to the conclusion that maybe they might exist in certain places, especially the O&W! We'll if you are not sure then step on down to the south-side basement and have a look. I always get the feeling I am being watched down here and I won't even go in the other basement anymore as it's too dark down that end it scares the heck out of me just thinking about it. I once crawled through the passageways under the whole bldg. and even dropped down into what was Seeholzer's storage room, but not on this night. A few quick photos of what I believe was the old electrical room (photo 2) and boiler room and it was time to call it a night. I did get once last look at the stone foundation which I think is quite remarkable in itself. This station was constructed for less that $50, 000, which I find hard to believe when you look and the amount of attention paid to detail and the engineering foresight displayed by her creator, Architect Bradford Lee Gilbert.
A quick stroll to the front of the building and across the street to take a photo of the entire building which I have transformed into the header photo. I hope you have enjoyed the visit to the Home of the O&W and maybe someday this station will gain the stature of the Erie depot across town. I only hope that she gets another chance and that someone realizes the history that surrounds this giant. Who knows....maybe one of us will hit the big one and buy the station and surrounding properties and put a big giant moat around it and then ....
..... oh well, at least one can dream.