Walking down the Putnam Greenway, which now connects with the Empire State Trail deep in Van Cortlandt Park, was part of the New York Central Railroad before it was a greenway.
People will see birds and tall trees as they can walk to Buffalo and Canada. But at one point — some will see a row of mystery monoliths that stick out like a sore thumb.
But in a good way, as it serves as a piece of history that helped build the Grand Central Terminal in 1905.
Pillars are an anomaly in the collection. These stones play a big part of New York City’s history and made New York Central Railroad what it is today.
These tall pillars served as a test subject area on a piece of land that the railroad controlled. In 1903 Van Cortlandt Park was used as a place to allow the stones to weather for winter orders by one of the wealthiest business magnates in the U.S., Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.
“We speculate there were multiples of Milford granite, but we don’t know precisely,” said Jonathan Kuhn, director of arts and antiquities at the city parks department.
He said while reading the Real Estate and Builders Guide it states that on Nov. 18, 1905 there were 15 granite suppliers. The park states two of the stones might have been lost — despite its size — or deemed unnecessary to have three samples of Milford granite.
Two years later — two stones were picked.
Indiana limestone in the upper portion and Stony Creek granite from Connecticut at the shopfront level stated by parks.
At the park, few are limestone and a couple are marble — Dorset or Woodbury. Both are considered to be softer stones.
Limestones, in fact, are considered to be sedimentary rock, and back in geological times, Limestones were created to compress seashells billions of years ago. The stone is known to absorb water from soil and the air.
Granite is an igneous rock that was created when molten lava compressed then cooled billions of years ago, making it hard, durable, and generally more impervious to the elements and weathering.
“I can’t recall other examples of this kind of testing so it’s certainly rare, if not unique,” Kuhn said.
He also expressed they do routine cleaning due to graffiti and vandalism, which detreated. They planned additional deep cleaning of the stones using a micro-abrasive system developed for conservation projects.
And the most recent restoration project was in the summer by the citywide monuments conservation program — a public-private initiative overseen by the art and antiquities office at the parks department.
On the park’s Facebook page, the monuments conservation team was putting “capstone” back on the mystery monoliths that fell off and scattered in the woods.
Each of those pieces weigh between 150 pounds and half a ton. That makes it physically impossible to pick up close to 8 feet off the ground.
The entire process called for several people to get the job done. Some sat on the stones, some worked on the ground below, drilling into the stone and putting epoxy on.
Instead, they used a lift or a gantry crane off the ground and back onto the stone. The entire process was stressful, Kuhn said.
They needed to get the stones in the right place.
They made “a cardboard template, penciled them out, then through the cardboard template we will mark the hole locations and we drill holes in them both in the stone receiving them,” he said.
“Then we grew up, cleaned up back down to the grid, and then we took away any prior dried mortar bed that we had to split, and then you had to lift the stone back up, and they had to get it exactly in alignment.”
It cannot be “off” at all; otherwise, it will not fit, he said.
He also gave credit for the help they have gotten with the project. One is Woodlawn Cemetery, the Municipal Art Society of New York, and the City Parks Foundation.
The Municipal Art Society’s adopt-a-monument program, under the direction of Phyllis Cohen, provided additional funds to purchase materials and supplies.
Also, they sponsored the cleaning in 2017 and 2019.