Exploring new places and abandoned things are what get me out of the apartment on lazy weekend mornings, and since last Saturday was so gorgeous with its early fall cool breeze and bright summery sun, what better thing to do than to take the ferry to Jersey City and seek out the ruins of an old train station?
I met up with my friend Hannah at the World Financial Center, and after getting the necessary cup of black coffee that is my mental fuel, we boarded the ferry for Jersey City. I had never been to this city just across the Hudson before, so I was curious what we would find.
It turned out the ferry docked not far at all from our derelict destination. The skyline of Manhattan gleamed in the not-so-distant distance, but Jersey City had a distinctly suburban feel. The station turned out to be the only thing in the area really left to ruins, as the surrounding park was carefully maintained and bordered a marina with charming white boats bobbing in the water.
The train station, overgrown with plants, its tracks lost beneath foliage, was once the gateway for the Central Railroad of New Jersey. It was built in 1889 and was in operation until 1967.
Passengers once arrived by ferry, like us, to this grand terminal before boarding the trains behind it.
The terminal building is topped with a clock that doesn’t seem to quite have the right time. In its four corners are labels and symbols for science, commerce, industry, and agriculture.
This building is actually beautifully renovated and still has ferries, except now they only go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Word to the savvy tourist: go here to visit those monuments. The wait appeared significantly less than from Battery Park, plus you get to go through this glamorous old world terminal. Many immigrants from Ellis Island actually entered the US through this building, so there is added history as well.
Here is the corridor connecting the ferry building with the tracks. Now you can buy snacks here.
Strangely, a snack stand that was shaped like a boat said “Miss Liberty” on one side and was topped with an image of the Statue of Liberty. But on the other side it seemed like we had suddenly switched coasts. Unless there is some sort of epic ferry ride to Alcatraz from New Jersey that I don’t know about. So… is there only one version of this boat concession stand and you flip it around depending on what tourism center you are at? That…. does not make sense.
Anyway, back to the abandoned section of the station. While the ferry building looks almost new, the tracks have been left to the elements and are beautiful that way. Metal columns connect to arches of a ceiling where shafts of light pierce down. In some places, trees have grown up through the roof to the sky.
I wonder what these drawers below the train signs were for? Tickets? They seemed to be sealed shut so I couldn’t investigate too closely. And they were a bit dusty. And I didn’t really want to get a tetanus shot.
At its peak in 1929, it’s estimated that 21 million passengers passed through the station and ferry terminal. However, the Depression, competitor railroads, and finally the automobile caused its decline.
Unlike many architectural relics of the railroad era, the station was saved by destruction, largely to the efforts of the local community.
There was a stunning view from the small balcony on the terminal facing Manhattan, where you can also see the remains of the old piers.
Interestingly, the bricks by the pier are made from wood and have to be frequently replaced. We learned this from a chatty National Parks ranger, who had to make sure no one went on the small area of federal land leading to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferries without going through security.
Here is a last view of the pier. If you ever want a low impact urban exploration activity, I highly recommend visiting the old station. However, our journey would not end there and in fact would include many miles of walking. But I will save that for another post.