How did people get around White Plains before & during colonial days? How did new modes of transport transform WP from a “sleepy” small village into a modern city?
John Rosch photograph part of White Plains Public Library Digital Collection.
Remember, that modern day horses did not come to America till Europeans brought them here. Native Americans inhabiting the White Plains (WP) area got around mostly on foot. To the Munsee speaking people of the Weckquaeskeck tribe, WP was known as Quarropas. They created a number of footpaths that settlers would later use as roads. North St was one of WP’s first roads made from one of these footpaths. The settlers that came from Rye (around 1683) used the path.
Horses were used for travel, to transport goods & to work. Many horses were used by Hessian Soldiers and some Americas during the Battle of WP in 1776. Horses were used to pull WP’s earliest fire vehicles and even its first ambulances.
Horses were also used for sport. Horseback riding was quite popular as well as other equestrian events (like polo, racing, and jumping). The Gedney Farm Hotel that opened in 1913 (and closed in 1924) held such events. They even had a stage coach that gave the wealthy guests rides.
Liberty Stage Coach
Horses were also used by mounted police officers. One barn of the former Gedney Farm was used by Mounted State Troopers (Troop K) from 1917 till a fire burned it down in 1924. In more recent times, WP had two mounted police officers in the Business District.
For the horses, fountains were constructed in some of WP’s roadways (one in the circle on Westchester Ave and one on Central Ave). Today, the only remnant of that time that can be found in WP is the horse trough on S. Lexington donated to City (see entry on memorials for more information).
Bicycling was also used as a mode of transportation. Early bikes were wooden and had no pedals. Pedals were added in the 1800’s making them easier to use.
Today, people cycling also use bicycles for sport. Many long distance cyclists use Rt 22, a state designated bike route. There is also a multi use pathway along the Bronx River that goes as far south as Mount Vernon and north to Kensico Dam in Valhalla. Westchester County has Bike Sundays during warmer months for bicycling on the Bronx River Parkway.
WP recently put in bike lanes (4.3 miles) on some of its streets. In 2018, bike sharing was introduced (Lime Bikes) and in April 2019 they added e-assist bikes. These bikes are dock less.
Photo from White Plains Library Digital collection
Trains (NY and Harlem Railroad) came to WP from NYC in 1844 using a steam coal run engine. Early train carriages in NYC were horse drawn.
The Train’s arrival was instrumental in changing WP’s economy. The small village was transformed from a small agriculturally based community to a modern city. Farms switched from small subsistent farming to dairy. Milk could now be delivered to NYC where there was a big market. Small mills disappeared replaced by small industrial businesses and factories along the train route. The Business District changed to Railroad Ave that the City would rename Main Street. Even the County Government buildings moved and a new Court House was built on its street.
Weathly NYers commuted to the Westchester and for vacation homes as an alternative place to the dirty hot crowded City. Wealthy NYers bought former farms to create large homes. “Gentlemen” farmers like Howard Willet bought the Gedney Farm to raise cattle (for dairy) and for his prize horses and dogs. Willet’s first home burned down in 1909 but his 2nd home built in brick is still at 25 Hathaway Lane. Gedney Farm Hotel was built on the land Willet sold to accommodate these NYers. The hotel was created from the former barns after his dairy farm was no longer viable.
Train Ad that included suburban homes for sale
Trains were instrumental in bringing people to Westchester by aggressive advertising. They advertised the availability of inexpensive land where the wealthy could build a vacation home. Many former farms in WP were purchased and wealthy NYers built large estates. When these homes were abandoned many estates were subdivided into multiple smaller plots that were advertised for little money and where one could build a home. Developers put in streets, sewers and other needed amenities. Even Sears Roback and other companies advertised and delivered kits for building homes by providing designs, instructions, and everything one would need to build a home. There are still homes in WP made from these kits like one at 100 Greenridge Ave.
The New York and Harlem Railroad that later became part of the NY Central Railroad had a number of train stations in WP with most located south of Main Street. First two were small wooden structures. The 2nd station in WP is pictured below and when it was no longer used as a station, it was moved and used as a saloon till it was demolished.
White Plains residents also use the North White Plains Train Station where today the city has parking and a multi-level garage.
When the steam engine was electrified in 1910 (battery powered Julien traction cars), the tracks became a hazard so they were lifted above the streets at Main St & Hamilton Ave. In 1914, a new station was built nearer to Main St than the former stations.
In 1987, a new station was built on the tracks and it is now under going a major 92 million dollar renovation. The older station was demolished in 1983 but remnants from the former station can be found behind Bank St Commons Apartments. Today the Harlem Rail line is run by MetroNorth and they have offices at 525 North Broadway.
Another rail line ran in the central part of WP from the Bronx to the terminal at Westchester Ave. NY, Westchester Boston ran from 1912 to 1937. There were stations at Ridgeway, Gedney Way and Mamaroneck Ave (all demolished).
Map of NY Westchester Boston
Westchester Ave Terminal
Businesses on Gedney Way popped up on road with station there as well as Mamaroneck Ave where Bloomingdale intersects. For years rail tracks and stations disappeared. City created a trail on parts of tracks now named the Harrington Trail but efforts to extend it North have not happened with strong community opposition. It goes from Scarsdale border to Gedney Way. Parks of beds still run through Sam’s of Gedney Way parking lot and under Bryant Ave going to at City parking lot at Mamaroneck Ave by Bloomingdale Rd.
Trolleys and Buses:
During late 1800’s to 1926, trollies were used in WP run by electricity. Trolley tracks ran along many streets connecting to other places in Westchester. Buses replaced the trolleys and by 1926 they were gone. Buses could go on most streets and routes could change. The trolley tracks were phased out till they were paved over.
Today, many Westchester County run BeeLine buses often have a 2nd cab. They are ADA compliant and many have hybrid engines to reduce carbon emissions. Many outside front areas have a place for bicycles. Fares that were once paid in coins and bills now use MetroCards. Coins can be used but machines do not accept pennies. Alternative Paratransit buses are available for disabled passengers but some cities like WP use local taxicabs to supplement the demand.
WP is part of the NY states mass transit system connected with the new Governor Mario Cuomo Bridge from Rockland County. WP has a bus depot and bus station near the train station for Greyhound/Trailways for longer trips. Buses also come to WP from CT.
Hudson Link to other side of Hudson:
Cars and trucks were used in the early 1900’s in White Plains and roads were made out of more durable materials (cobble stone to asphalt). Trolleys and then buses used the same streets. Except for recreational use or by police, horses were eventually gone from the roadways.
Cars were made (one at a time) in WP in early 1900’s. Mammoth Garage was an early locale for making cars in WP. Building that was over one hundred years old was demolished in 2019.
Cars were also used to transport people for individual trips. There are multiple taxis companies operating in WP. City has rental cars available through many companies and with “Zip” Cars. Ride sharing is also available as well as limo services.
In 1939, Westchester County Airport was given the Gedney Farm Golf Club as a possible site for airport. The airport in West Harrison was built in 1942 for Air National Guard during WWII to protect NYC’s water supply. Since then the National Guard has moved on ( from 1983) and the County run airport has become a major airport in area with flights within in and outside the United States. It has become an alternative for LaGuardia Airport in NYC (Queens).
“Westchester County Airport” by Kent Patterson has info on early airports in County.
For more information see other entries on this website.