New York City has seen every walk of life in its short history - pros, pushers, poets and pirates; Mad Men, rappers, beatniks and punks. Then there's the cowboys. 2,000 miles from the outlands of Texas and New Mexico, they didn't wrestle heads of cattle and weren't too hot with a lasso.


The West Side Cowboys first moseyed into town in the mid-nineteenth century. They were railway employees that rode horseback in front of the street-level freight trains on Manhattan's 10th Avenue, clearing the way of pedestrians. Manhattan’s West Side was the city’s largest industrial neighbourhood, and freight trains were a necessity in transporting heavy goods in and out. Many New Yorkers lost their lives to the relentless engines that powered through the streets – to the point where locals cheerily referred to the thoroughfare as 'Death Avenue'. 

In the early 20th century the city announced a raft of improvements to the West Side, which included the construction of an elevated freight system, known today as The High Line. The rail track was built through the centre of city blocks rather than above and along the avenues, allowing factories and warehouses to load goods directly onto the trains. But as road infrastructure improved and heavy industry petered out in New York, so did the need for a dedicated freight line. The service ended in the 1980s and the tracks were left to rust, wild grasses and graffiti ran its length. 

It was the last of Manhattan’s elevated train lines, however, and felt by the immediate community to be of historic significance. The Friends of the High Line came together, and slowly found support within the City Council for the line to be saved rather than scrapped - over a dozen blocks of track had already been demolished in the 1960s. A decade later, the High Line reopened – not as a railway, but as the city’s most original and splendid park.

Above the sidewalks and horns of the city, the wooden decks replace rusted steel amid blooms and shrubs, with views rolling out across the west of broken piers drowning in the Hudson River, and the chatter of Chelsea to the east. Visitors sprawl over loungers and enjoy the calm as the High Line gently ducks and swerves around buildings and under hotels, curls and cups its brick brethren. 

The traffic below and azure above, stretching from the Meatpacking District to Hell's Kitchen, the High Line is a pathway of urban tranquility borne out of cowboys and freight trains, and a true must-visit destination when visiting the city. So unique. So very New York.




"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in November 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.