The High Line: The wild, wild West Side, cowboys included, inspires an elevated railroad and a remarkable park

Pictured above — Joel Sternfeld’s extraordinary four-seasons photographs of the High Line — displayed in his 2002 show Walking The High Line — revealed a ribbon of nature surrounded by urbanity and presented a peek into forgotten history. These images greatly influenced the later design of the park, a mix of seamless design and tastefully untethered flora. Courtesy Joel Sternfeld

PODCAST  The High Line, which snakes up New York’s west side, is an ambitious park project refitting abandoned elevated train lines into a breathtaking contemporary park. This is the remnant of a raised freight-delivery track system that supported New York’s thriving meat, produce and refrigeration industries that have defined the city’s western edges.

You can trace the footprints of this area back almost 200 years, to the introduction of the Hudson River Railroad and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who transformed the streets along the Hudson River into ‘the lifeline of New York’, filled with warehouses, marketplaces and abattoirs. And, of course, lots of traffic, turning 10th Avenue and 11th Avenue into ‘death avenues’, requiring New York’s first ‘urban cowboys’.  The West Side Elevated Freight Railroad was meant to relieve some of trauma on the street. That’s not exactly how it worked out.

We’ll tell you about its downfall, its transformation during the 70s as a haven for counter-culture, and its reinterpretation as an innovative urban playground.

FEATURING: Cows, dining cars, Russian caviar and sex clubs!


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St. John’s Freight Depot, built in 1871. The Cornelius Vanderbilt statue stood watch over the bustling activity until the building was demolished in the 1930s. Mr. Vanderbilt was then moved to Grand Central Terminal, where he still stands today. Pictures courtesy NYPL digital images

The businesses, the trains and the marketplaces of the west side created a nightmare traffic situation along 10th and 11th Avenues, resulting in dozens of death and the sinister moniker ‘Death Avenue’. (Picture courtesy Friends of the High Line)

Rangers of Eleventh Avenue: A railroad cowboy marches ahead of an approaching train. Below that, many years later, another cowboy has his work cut out for him going up the avenue in 1922, the era of automobiles.

The relatively ‘modern’ St. Johns Terminal on Spring Street.

Building the elevated freight railroad: At Gansevoort Street, looking north. Picture courtesy the New York Historical Society

The elevated in 1934, West Street and Spring Street. This was one of the sections that was later ripped down. (Courtesy NYPL)

After the elevated railroad closed for good in 1980, the track sat abandoned, covered in natural overgrowth of the likes hardly seen anywhere else in Manhattan. ‘Urban explorers’ often traipsed along the mysterious rails, capturing the dichotomy between sudden natural landscape and metropolitan backdrop. (Photo courtesy wally g/Flickr)

The High Line Park opened in 2009, after almost a decade of awareness and fundraising. The linear park has helped transform the neighborhoods below it and has created a new must-see destination for tourists. (Courtesy Friends of the High Line)