Van Cortlandt Park
Grand Central Stones
The Grand Central Stones in Van Cortlandt Park are a surprising and important part of the history of Grand Central Terminal, one of the nation’s most important buildings, and a lesson in the built history of New York City.
In November 1905, the New York Central Railroad placed a series of stone samples in the open air on property the railroad controlled within Van Cortlandt Park. The purpose was to assess the effects of a New York winter on the samples of granite, limestone, and marble that the railroad and its architects, Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore, were considering for the exterior curtain wall of the head house of the new Grand Central Terminal, then under construction in midtown Manhattan.
Grand Central Terminal was constructed between 1903 and 1913, with the station head house located between 42nd and 43rd Streets and Vanderbilt Avenue and Depew Place, astride Park Avenue. The structure is faced in two stones: Indiana limestone in the upper portion, and Stony Creek granite, from Connecticut, at the shopfront level. Construction of the head house began in 1910. (All construction up to then had been on the vast underground portion of the terminal, including the tracks, platforms, and marshalling yards.) In 1905, when the stone samples were placed in the park, the railroad had not yet settled on many details of the head house design, including its curtain wall materials.
Twelve samples of granite are listed, along with two of Indiana limestone and one of marble. The Indiana limestone selected for Grand Central Terminal appears to be the sample provided by the Perry, Matthews & Buskirk Quarry (second stone from the left). The sample of Stony Creek granite selected for the Terminal appears to be the third stone from the right. Today there are thirteen, not fifteen, samples on view in the park. Perhaps two have been lost, or it was deemed unnecessary to have three samples of Milford granite.
It was said at the time that this was the first time stone samples had been evaluated by being “kept in the open and exposed to the elements for any period."
The stone samples are set along a path beside the former right of way of the Putnam Branch of the New York Central Railroad, which served passenger trains from 1870 to 1958, and freight trains to 1980. The right of way is now a nature trail.
Over the years the stones were defaced by graffiti and covered with paint. In August 2017, the Grand Central Stones were cleaned and conserved through the Adopt-A-Monument program of the Municipal Art Society in collaboration with the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and NYC Parks, made possible by a generous grant from the Paul and Klara Porzelt Foundation.
The fifteen firms that submitted granite samples:
- Woodbury Granite Company of Vermont
- The John Peirce Company provided a sample from Bodwell Granite Company's Fox Islands quarry in Maine
- Booth Brothers provided Waldoboro granite from Maine
- The George Doyle Stone Company provided Blue Bedford limestone from Indiana
- Perry, Matthews & Buskirk provided buff limestone from Indiana
- The Webb Pink Granite Company provided Milford pink granite from Massachusetts
- The Thompson-Starrett Company provided Bethel granite from Vermont
- Norcross Brothers provided Dorset marble from Vermont
- Norcross Brothers provided Milford pink granite from Massachusetts
- W.N. Flint provided granite from Dummerston, Vermont
- John Peirce provided granite from Jonesboro, Maine
- John Peirce provided granite from Hallowell, Maine
- Norcross Brothers provided granite from Stony Creek, Connecticut
- John Peirce provided granite from Mount Waldo, Maine
- The Milford Pink Granite Company provided granite from Milford, Massachusetts
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