Below is one of the most interesting & factual narratives I have ever read about the Erie Railroad; it's history, it's people & it's demise. You won't be able to quit until you've read the very last word!

Thank you Bill, for caring enough to let us share it with you.  Ron Taylor


The Railroad by William A. Greene

©2003-2012copyright-William A. Greene


One of the most important things to ever happen to Allegany County in its history is the building of the railroad through it.  I’ll try to give you a little of the back ground of how this all took place.

In the early part of the 1800’s a large barge canal between Buffalo, on Lake Erie, and Albany, on the Hudson River, was built.  It was completed in 1825 and was 360 miles long.  This was a great thing for the villages, towns and cities along the canal but didn’t help the southern part of the state.

At about this time the subject of railroads began to attract attention and, at once, the advantages of such an avenue of communication through southern New York, between the navigable waters of the lakes and New York City, were perceived.  At that time railroading was in its infancy, and no one dreamed that railroads could ever compete successfully with lakes, rivers and canals.

Among the first in this part of the State to discern the importance of this work was the Honorable Philip Church.  He called for a public meeting on October 25th ,1831, in the court house in Angelica.  Judge Church was chairman and Asa S. Allen and Daniel McHenry secretaries.  Resolutions were adopted for the promotion of the enterprise.  A committee, consisting of Hon. Church, Gen. S. S. Haight, J. B. Cooley, Ransom Lloyd and John Collins was appointed to correspond with citizens of other counties; a delegation of nine was designated to attend a convention at Owego in the December, and a committee of three in each town appointed to communicate with the committee on correspondence, circulate petitions, and transact such business as might be deemed of importance.  These committees were:  Angelica - Andrews A. Norton, Charles Davenport, Ithamar Smith.  Almond - Stephen Major, J. Angel, Hiram Palmer.  Alfred - John B. Collins, Samuel Russell, Joseph Goodrich.  Andover - Sidney Frisbee, Sheldon Brewster, Elijah Hunt.  Amity - A. E. Parker, B. G. Crandall,  John Simons.  Allen -  James Wilson, J. W. Stewart, Chester Roach.  Burns - William Welch, H. Halliday, J. H. Boyland.  Birdsall - J. B. Welch, J. Whitman, A. C. Hull.  Belfast - S. Wilson, E. Reynolds, R. Renwick.  Bolivar - I. Leonard, T. Richardson, I. Evans.  Cuba - John Griffin, John Bell, H. Brasted.  Centerville - O. Pell, D. Bryan, William Freeman.  Caneadea - A. Burr, K.E. Burbank, James Caldwell.  Eagle - J. Grover, J. Wart, J. Wing.  Friendship - S. King, William Colwell, E. Griswold.  Grover - J. W. Wright, E. Smith, J. Van Ostran.  Genesee  -  J. S. Crandall, B. Maxon, Hiram Wilson.  Hume - S. H. Pratt, C. G. Ingham, C. Mather.  Haight - T. McEllhany, William Andrews, J. Westfall.  Independence - Q. S. White, Samuel Maxwell, S. Leonard.  Nunda - W. Z. Blanchard, W. P. Wilcox, S Joslyn.  Ossian -  J. Cleadening, W. R. Burnell, J. Chapin.  Portage - I. Wood, A. Wilch, S. Hunt.  Pike - A. Hinman, William Windsor, J. Otis.  Rushford - M. McCall, A. J. Lyon, J. Young.  Scio - J. Middaugh, B. Palmer, Asa Parks.  Meeting were held in other localities and the subject was thoroughly discussed.

An act of incorporation was passed April 24th, 1832 and amended April 19th, 1833; and on the 9th of August, 1833, directors were elected.

Work upon the road was suspended in 1842; but it was resumed in 1849, and pushed to its completion in 1851.  It enters this county from the east in Almond, a corner of which it crosses; it then passes through Alfred, Andover, Wellsville, Scio, Amity, Friendship, and Cuba.  There were Stations at  Almond, Alfred, Andover, Wellsville, Scio, Phillipsville, Belvidere, Friendship and Cuba, and switches at Tip Top, Elm Valley, Dyke and Summit.  The Highest point between New York and Lake Erie (in Alfred Station) is appropriately named Tip Top.

The Erie Railroad was chartered in April of 1832 and was finished in 1851.  It was roughly 446 miles long .  It was built as a broad gauge line, having 6 feet between the rails as opposed to the standard 4 feet 8 ½ inches.  This enabled them to carry larger items than anyone else, and only the Erie could use the line, thus keeping all other lines out of its territory.

Owego, New York, on the Erie’s Susquehanna Division, became the birthplace of the railroad.  The early Southern Tier settlers were urging the building of the line and the convention which led to the chartering of the company was held there on December 20th,  1831. Men from all of the Southern Tier Counties met.  During their proceedings a letter arrived from Eleazar Lord, the New York financier.  Lord, soon to be president of the Erie, encouraged the hopes of the convention,  His letter, too, warned against setting up two companies to build the road for some of the faint hearted felt that no one company could carry out construction of a railroad that was to reach for more than 440 miles, and thus had urged that two companies be formed.  The meeting’s most important accomplishment was that the legislature was asked to charter a company to build a railroad from Lake Erie to the Hudson River, through the Southern Tier, by the way of the village of Owego.  That railroad eventually became the 2,207 mile long Erie,  all operated by one company.  The Susquehanna Division’s portion of that mileage began at SR Tower, just west of Susquehanna station and ended just west of the Hornell station, no longer Hornellsville, for over the years the settlement where George Hornell was justice of the peace, postmaster, grist and saw mill operator, had grown into a city.

An excursion train from New York, having distinguished guests, was run to Binghamton May 31st, 1849 and completed the trip to Owego the next morning arriving at 10 a.m.

Four months later and 36 miles further west, construction permitted the first train to roll into Elmira October 2nd, 1849.   And on September 1st, 1851 the first train rolled into Hornellsville, 140 miles west of Susquehanna, Pa.

Constructed in 1850 - 1851, the Erie’s Allegheny Division was part of the original main line to Dunkirk, New York.  Maintenance began at the western end of the Susquehanna Division just west of Hornell, 332.15 miles from Jersey City, New Jersey and ended just west of Salamanca, New York, yard at milepost 413.98, 81.85 miles and 112 curves later.  The division’s eastern boundary, however, was at the Cass Street crossing in the west end of Hornell yard. Mile Post 331.76.  There, trains bound over the Allegheny Division had always begun their long climb to Tip Top, highest point on the Erie'’ main line,

1776.3 feet above sea level, a climb of 621.6 feet in 12.24 miles from the division boundary, for an average gradient of 1%.  The grade began even before the train entered Allegheny Division territory,  for in front of the Hornell station the road rose at the rate of 2%; at West Street the grade had reached 98% and from there  to Tip Top the rate of climb varied from 96 to 1.04%.  In all, the 12.24 miles from Hornell station to Tip Top there was no level place, nor was there any down grade to interrupt the steady rise.  Finally, at the west end of the hill, the grade dropped from 1.05% to 22% before leveling off to start down the other side.  Average grade was 1%.  During the climb 24 curves were encountered.  The road lay in solid ground; cuts through shale and stone and the fill were stable.  Chief danger to the solid work of the maintenance of way department were the sudden run-offs of water that rains caused in this mountainous region.  That threat was put under control by a dam between Hornell and Almond.

Once over Tip Top the Railroad Brook and Dyke Creek to Wellsville, some 13 miles away, the descent started, broken only by a slight upgrade in the yard at Wellsville.

The downhill run was nearly 22 1/2 mile long with a descent of 426 feet.

Leaving Wellsville the road paralleled the Genesee River crossing it at Belmont and, after following the river only two more miles, the rails crossed VanCampen Creek and began the climb along it toward Summit.  In slightly less than 10 miles the road climbed 345 feet but once past Summit, it began its downhill course to Salamanca.

Just before the road reached Cuba (30 miles east of Salamanca) the steep downgrade became a gentle one with the railroad and Oil Creek running side by side.  1.6 miles beyond Cuba was Cuba Junction from which point onward the railroad was double tracked again.  It was here that the two tracks of the main line divided, one becoming the River Line low grade cut off - route of the Erie fast freights to and from the east.  The River line was opened in 1910 as an alternate route to Allegheny Division between Hornell and Salamanca.

With grades becoming more gentle, the road followed Oil Creek to Olean and from there the Allegheny River all the way to Salamanca.

At the town of Vandalia and mile post 402.856 the Erie crossed Nine-mile Creek and entered the Allegany Indian Reservation.  The story is told that when the Erie’s founders tried to persuade the Indians to give them free passage for the railroad through their lands, which extended for a half mile on either side of the river, the Senecas demurred.  “The land we want “ the railroad men said, “is of no actual use

to you.  You can not raise corn on it, you can not raise potatoes on it.  What is it good for then?  It isn’t good for anything.”  Whereupon, the story goes, the president of the Senecas replied:  “Pretty good land for a railroad,” and collected $10,000.

It should be noted here that in 1836 the New York & Erie company  commenced at Almond the grade on their first survey.  The company failed.  It was the intention, had this been completed, to make Almond the terminus of the western division;  ground had been purchased for machine shops, and everything appeared favorable.  But, when the company was reorganized in 1850 and the grade commenced at Hornellsville, the influence of the railroad was not only diverted to that place, but much of the travel and trade which before was the life of Almond was drawn off.

During the building of the railroad through Allegany County a few stories have been passed down.  The first is the Irish Raid that took place when the railroad was being built through Alfred Station, then known as Baker’s Bridge.  One of the Irishmen living at the Station was arrested for a misdemeanor and was taken to Alfred.  The Irish were aroused and a mob started on foot for Alfred to rescue their comrade.  They were armed with picks, shovels or any implement that was handy.  Women joined the mob with rocks carried in the toe of a sock or stocking.  At this time there chanced to be a Company of State Militia located there, composed of residents of the town and they had an old brass cannon among their paraphernalia, and when the news reached the town that the mob was  approaching, this old cannon was gotten out and loaded with stones, nails, and bits of chain.  A chalk line was placed across the street on which they were approaching.  Several men with guns stood behind this line, and when the Irishmen cam up they were told that the first man who stepped over it was a dead man.  They hesitated, and about that time the cannon was put in working order and more men came dragging it around the corner.  At the sight of the formidable weapon, the mob dropped their picks and shovels, and took to their heels.  Some the them slid off the bank down into the creek, and other went pattering down the dusty road.  This ended the raid.

Tip Top between Alfred Station and Andover is the highest point on the Erie Railroad between New York and Chicago, having an elevation of 1,783 feet , and while the Erie was being built many handicaps had to be overcome in getting through the swamp. In 1851 a locomotive hauling a gravel train had sunk out of sight, when the rails with ends placed in chairs and not bolted pulled apart and a section of the track went down in the soft earth, until only the smokestack and part of the cab remained in sight.   The locomotive was pulled out by fastening  heavy ropes to it and their ends to a cherry tree that stood on solid ground.  The men had a hard job rescuing the locomotive, and people came from all over the region to witness the wonderful sight.  It took several days to accomplish it.

The “Lee Homestead”  was also located at Tip Top.  The homestead was built in 1840 and was used as a tavern for passers by.  This old tavern sheltered many officials of the Erie Railroad between the years of 1848 and 1851 as well as numbers of workmen.  The price of board was $2 per week, meals for wayfarers one shilling, lodging sixpence.  This was before the time of nickels and dimes had come into existence.  As referring to liquor, it is said the pure whisky sold for three cents per glass, or in larger quantities for two shillings per gallon.

Lumber, such as No. 1 pine, sold for twenty shillings per 1,000 feet at the mills.  Common laborers worked for seventy-five cents per day, carpenters and mechanics, $1 per day.

After 1852, the old tavern ceased to be a regular public house, although its doors were always open to Erie men, and many of them remember it as a “life-saving” station, when stranded at Tip Top without a “full dinner pail.”

There were also a telegraph station and a water tower located at Tip Top, along with switching tracks to allow “switching” engines to unhook and return to Hornell or Andover.   Brint Baker and Jesse Shaw were the telegraph operators who made sure that the trains ran on time so there were no accidents.

Also a man by the name of Charles Lusk should be brought up.  Charlie lived a few hundred yards north of the telegraph station on the Lusk Road.  Charlie was a foreman of a section gang and devised a railroad spike with a spur below the head which kept the spike from backing out of a tie.   He won much acclaim because his idea reduced the maintenance of the bothersome loose spike.

Everything is gone at Tip Top except the bottom half of the water tower.  There is a monument works located at Tip Top.  The water tower can be seen behind it.  Lee’s Homestead stood across the street from the monument works on the bank.  Water to fill the water tank came from behind the Lee Homestead, Frank Lee was paid $10.00 a month for the water.

Before we talk about the first train to make the trip from New York City to Dunkirk, lets refresh what has happened so far.

The New York and Erie was not the first railroad in the United States.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Mohawk and Hudson  had already begun to operate.  A branch of the Delaware and Hudson was is service at Honesdale, Pa., and the Camden and Amboy, the Paterson and Hudson River- later to become part of the Erie System- as well as several other railroads were in existence in 1851.

But the New York and Erie was the was the first long railroad in the country.  As a matter of fact, it was then the longest railroad in the world with the exception of the Russian railroad running from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  When the New York and Erie opened for traffic, New York City was connected with Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo only by local railroads of different gauges, the forerunners  of the New York Central System.

It was a gigantic undertaking, through a wild, wooded and uninhabited country, from the Hudson to Lake Erie.  There were many disappointments.  Money was hard to raise, even though the communities had helped by giving land for station sites and right of way, and individuals had purchased the company’s stock.

At the outset, it was estimated that the cost of building the railroad would be $6,000,000.  Actually, when the railroad was finally completed to Dunkirk, the cost was over $20,000,000!

Work was begun in 1835 when the first dirt was turned at Deposit, New York.  The first section completed was from Piermont to Goshen, in  1841.  From there the line was advanced to Middletown by 1843, to Port Jervis by 1848, to Binghamton in 1849, and finally, to Dunkirk in the spring of 1851.

There were two trains to make the first trip from New York City to Dunkirk.  And on those trains were the most distinguished persons ever to gather at one time.  Some of these people were: Millard Fillmore - the President of the United States, Daniel Webster - the Secretary of State, John J. Crittenden - the Attorney General, W. C. Graham - Secretary of the Navy, N. K. Hall - the Postmaster General, Hamilton Fish - ex Governor and United States Senator,  ex Governor Macy,  Many U. S. Senators, Representatives and State officers -  a total of 300 in all.

With the passengers safely aboard, the first train with President Fillmore and other members of the official party, pulled out at exactly eight o’clock.  Daniel Webster, at his own request, was seated in an easy rocking chair securely fastened on a flat car.  He didn’t intend to miss any of the scenery.  The second train followed seven minutes afterward.

The conductor of the first train was “Poppy” Ayres, a jovial 300 pounder.  Some years before, “Poppy” had rigged up a device to signal his engineers.  It consisted of a rope running to the engine, with a stick attached at the engine end.  When “Poppy” wanted the engineer to stop the train, he would pull on the rope and the stick would jump.  His engineer Hamel, the first engineer on the New York and Erie, by the way, felt that he was at least the equal to, and possibly the superior of the conductor.  He ran the engine, didn’t he?  Consequently he refused to accept any orders from “Poppy,” and several times cut the stick down.

Finally “Poppy” lost patience.  Following one of Hamel’s refusals, he went forward to the engine at the next station stop and thoroughly licked the engineer.  “Poppy’s” stick was never interfered with again but the precedent was firmly established which placed the conductor in charge of the train on American railroads.

Throughout the journey many stops were made along the route to take guest aboard and to permit the local people to see and sometimes hear the distinguished members of the party.  At all the stations there were crowds, banners, speeches and band music.

It was indeed an occasion!  Not only was it the inauguration of the first through-service over the railroad, but the people, then as now, were keenly anxious to see the President of the United States, his Cabinet, and particularly the orator, Daniel Webster.

About the time the first train arrived at Goshen its engine began to give trouble.  Something was wrong with the valves.  Before long the train was hour behind schedule.

General Superintendent Minot met the emergency at Middletown by using the newly built telegraph line to wire instructions to Port Jervis to have another engine ready when the train arrived at that point.  It was Minot, also, who, over this same telegraph line in the Autumn of 1851  - only a few months later - wired the first telegraph train order ever sent on any railroad.  As a result of that experience, Minot put a dispatcher in charge of train operation over each division - a universal railroad practice from that day on.

Leaving Middletown, the trains descended the long grade into the Neversink Valley and arrived at Port Jervis.  The site of this little town, was the terminus of the Erie’s New York and Delaware Divisions, at the intersection of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was just a swampy waste land before this opening of the railroad.  Nearby ran a highway, one of the oldest roads in the United States.  Tradition has it that the road was built about 1690 by Hollanders seeking gold or copper in the Delaware river mountains.

The engine which Minot had ordered was waiting to be coupled to the first train.

From Port Jervis to Narrowsburg -34 miles- the railroad followed closely the windings of the Delaware River.  The iron rail made at Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the first rolled in this country, was new.  The ballast and the road bed left much to be desired.  They made the 34 mile trip in exactly 35 minutes.  To say that the officers of the road were astonished is to speak mildly.  The passengers were alarmed. Some of them wanted to get off and walk.

At Narrowsburg there was a delay because of hot journals, (the shaft that goes through a bearing.)  But soon the trains proceeded westward, with stops at Cochecton, at Callicoon and Deposit.

It was at Deposit that the first spade full of dirt for the construction of the railroad had been turned in 1835.  Consequently a somewhat longer stop was made, permitting President Fillmore and Webster to make back platform speeches.

Construction was started at Deposit for a definite purpose.  From the start it had been difficult to get stock subscriptions.  The people at the west end of the proposed line claimed that if the railroad started at the Hudson River it would never get beyond Middletown and would not benefit them.  Those at the eastern end, at New York, where most of the money was, retorted that if the work started at Lake Erie, the railroad would never get beyond Elmira, so why should the invest their money?  Therefore it had been decided to start construction at Deposit, just about the middle of the line.  The first contracts for grading covered the forty miles between Deposit and Callicoon.

At the ceremonies incipient to the start of the work, James Gore King, the second president of the railroad, who had traveled a hundred miles by stage coach from Catskill on the Hudson River to Deposit, announced the purpose of the meeting , and said, “What now appears a beautiful meadow will in a few years present a far different aspect - a track of rails with cars passing and repassing loaded with merchandise and the products of the country.  The freight will amount to $200,000 per annum in a few years.”

This prediction was received with incredulity by some of those present, and President King modified his prediction by adding “at least eventually.”

Leaving the picturesque Delaware River valley at Deposit the trains climbed the steep grade of Gulf Summit and passed over the divide to the valley of the Susquehanna River.  In those days, it must be remembered, there were no power shovels, no bulldozers nor wheel scrapers.  The handling of earthwork was limited to the wheelbarrow, the pick and shovel, and horse-drawn carts, and the sheer costs and delays from this type of labor forced the early engineers who located the line to reduce to a minimum the amount of grading work to be done.

Going down the western slope, the passengers saw ahead of them the great Starrucca  Viaduct.  Here a stop was made for all aboard to alight and get a good view of this mammoth work of man.

In the surveys of the roads this spot had been a great stumbling block.  It was necessary to carry the road for 1,200 feet over the Starrucca Creek valley, at a height of 110 feet above the valley floor.  Too high for a timber trestle, the amount of earthwork required would have been stupendous.

A happy solution was found when James Kirkwood a Scottish civil engineer, offered to build a stone arch bridge.  His offer was accepted and he built the Starrucca Viaduct, with its 18 arches of stone, each fifty feet in diameter and 110 feet high.  This was a great engineering feat for that day but true appreciation is only possible when one knows that today this same great structure carries a double track railroad with modern heavy locomotives and heavy trainloads.  Small wonder some of the passengers called it the eighth wonder of the world!

Now the train crossed into the State of Pennsylvania, which it had done once before for a short distance after leaving Port Jervis.  The charter granted by the State of New York, stipulated that the road must be built entirely within the State of New York.  The engineers had attempted to comply with the language of the charter but had finally decided that because of the lesser amount of earthwork required on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River for about 26 miles, construction costs would be materially cheaper than they would be on the New York side.  Appropriate legislation was obtained, both in New York and in Pennsylvania, to make this possible.  Here again, to save grading, the line dropped down into the little village of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, only to turn north again and back into New York State about ten miles beyond Susquehanna.

The trains arrived at Susquehanna Depot only eight minutes late.  Here the passengers found the most extensive yard on the railroad.  Sixteen locomotives were lined up on  a sidetrack and saluted the trains with whistles and bells.  A procession of railroad employees appeared, led by a pioneer engineman of the road, playing a copper key bugle.

Leaving Susquehanna the passengers soon noticed a long timber trestle paralleling the track.  Originally the engineers had estimated that it would be cheaper and better to place the road on stilts than it would be to grade the roadbed. They also felt that a trestle would be free from snow in the winter and above floods in the spring and summer months.  Many miles of this trestle work had been built, not only at this point but also in the Canisteo valley near Hornell, but when the time came to lay the rails the plan was reconsidered and the timber trestles were abandoned. Instead the road was built on earthwork.

An extended stop was made at Binghamton, then a village of about 2,000.  Here the trains were greeted by the largest crowd since leaving Piermont  and President Fillmore spoke briefly.  Daniel Webster addressed the crowd in these words:

“I can hardly say more than express the pleasure I have in seeing you and the western end of this great work of art.  I have crossed the upper branches of the Delaware and the Susquehanna, and I know something of these rivers at their mouths; but never had I seen them as they issue from these lofty, sublime and picturesque hills.  It is a beautiful and a vigorous and a healthy country.  May God bless you and enable you to enjoy all its blessings.”

At five o’clock of that first afternoon the trains reached Owego, the birthplace of the railroad, and the birthplace of John D. Rockerfeller who on that day may have been attending the Owego school or was perhaps in the crowd assembled at the station to meet the trains.  Daniel Webster began a short speech to the crowd but the train pulled out before he finished!

At seven o’clock the trains ended their first day’s journey at Elmira.  With a population of 3,000, this was the metropolis of the Southern Tier.  Presidents Fillmore and Loder led one group to Brainard’s  Hotel and sat side by side during a fine dinner, while Webster headed the other group to Haight’s Hotel for a equally sumptuous meal.  After dinner the two groups reunited at Brainard’s and the two Presidents held a reception in the lobby, shaking hands with all the citizens of Elmira.

After a night of merrymaking and celebration, the trains were a little late departing the following morning.  One of the two conductors did not show up - probably the first violation of Rule G!

Just west of Elmira the trains passed through Horseheads.  The name was given, legend said, when settlers moved in and found the skulls of many worn-out Army horses which the soldiers of General Sullivan had been obliged to kill during the Revolutionary War.

The day’s first stop was at Corning, a new village which had been created by the building of the railroad.  There was a noticeable lack of applause for the distinguished guests on the train at this point.  Most of the residents were Democrats and the official party from Washington was composed almost entirely of Whigs!

On and on went the trains, through Addison, through Canisteo, and finally to Hornellsville, which was to be a top-ranking town along the Erie Railroad, site of its principal locomotive repair shops and main stores depot.

Leaving Hornellsville, Charles Minot doffed his coat and climbed up on the engine to ride into Dunkirk.  Pusher engines assisted the trains up the steep hill west of the town to the summit of Tip Top, 1,776 feet above sea-level, the highest point on the main line of the Erie.

Wellsville, Belmont, Belvidere.  Now the trains were passing through vast wooded regions, showing no signs of cultivation, with only an occasional log hut here and there.

A stop was made at Cuba where the last spike in the construction of the road had been driven a few weeks before, on April 21st 1851.  At Cuba was the “Seneca Oil Spring” where petroleum was first discovered on this continent.  The Indians used its oily waters for medicinal purposes before the discovery of America.

At Allegany a delegation of Cattaraugus Indians from the nearby reservation met the trains, attired in their native costumes and heavily painted for the ceremonies.  The scenic beauty in this section  was judged by the travelers to be “the most stupendous any railway ever passed through.”

The town of Salamanca, later to become an important division point on the Erie, did not exist in 1851.  Located about 14 miles west of Allegany, it came to prominence when the Atlantic & Great Western Railway was built.  Its name was derived from the Spanish Marquis of Salamanca who was a liberal contributor in the building of this later railroad.  The town enjoys the distinction of being located entirely on Indian Reservation lands.

The travelers got their first glimpse of the distant waters of Lake Erie as the trains reached Dayton, where an accident marred the festivities.  A townsman, shooting off an old cannon, was seriously injured by the explosion of the old piece.  History says that a liberal fund was collected among the passengers to pay the unfortunate man’s medical expenses.

At 4:30 on the afternoon of May 15th 1851 the people of Dunkirk heard the first whistle of the incoming trains, now combined into one.  Horatio Brooks, an engineer on the road, later a division superintendent, and still later the founder of the great Brooks Locomotive Works of Dunkirk, came out from Dunkirk with the engine “Dunkirk” to meet the approaching train and escort it into town.  As it entered the city the special party was met with the shrieking of whistles and the pealing of bells.  A Navy gunboat in the harbor, surrounded by all manner of floating craft, fired the Presidential salute.

A great arch had been erected across the track and near it, at the very end of the railroad, stood a pedestal on which was the old plow used in 1838 to break the first ground at Dunkirk.  The pedestal’s base bore the single word: “Finis.”

As a final fitting touch, a new hotel had been named “The Loder House.”

A mighty banquet was held for the distinguished guests at the Loder House.  The villagers and others enjoyed, a tremendous barbecue arranged in an immense pavilion near the tracks.  A single table, 300 feet long, ran the length of the pavilion.  On it were piled meat from a yoke of barbecued oxen, ten sheep roasted whole, a hundred roasted fowl and other meat and game.  Two men were required to carry a single loaf of bread.  The loaves were ten feet long and two feet thick.  Ranged along the table were barrels of cider to wash down the meal.  The festivities lasted until midnight.

Many speeches were given over the evening by numerous dignitaries honoring the accomplishment that had taken place over the 20 year span.  But the main thing was that the New York and Erie Railroad had begun to serve the Southern Tier and the nation.  The communities along its line now had the transportation service they desired and they grew and prospered.  Great industries were established throughout the area.

When they were building the railroad through Tip Top, the Greene farm was at the intersection of State Route 21 and Kenyon Road.  Great, great Grandpa Edward’s house front door was within a hundred feet of the tracks.  Most of the labor was Irish, immigrants from both Northern and Southern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant.  On one St. Patrick’s Day, the feuding started and began to get violent.  One of the Ulster boys got a bit too mouthy, and the Micks started after him, picks and shovels in hand.  The lad ran up to great, great Grandma’s house for protection.  She saw what was happening and grabbed Edward’s gun, holding them off until help could be brought in to quell the disturbance.

Finally, when, in 1851 the first train went through, my great, great Grandpa Edward held up his son Maxon, who was too young to remember,  to see the event so that he could say he saw it.

It also should be brought up that not far from the house is an old cemetery, located on the bank near the railroad tracks.  I’ve been told by my mother that some of the laborers who helped build the railroad were buried there.  There are about 14 grave sites located there.

In Cuba as the first train stopped for a few minutes, President Fillmore stepped out and said a few words of greeting, but Daniel Webster, wearied by the long journey and the innumerable speeches he had made, refused to appear.  The train was about to start when David Kirkpatrick of Cuba, an Erie foreman, ordered his men to pile ties across the track and prevent it from moving.  At this the great Daniel acceded to the demand of his fellow-citizens, appeared and made a brief but gracious speech.

A few years later the railroad was extended to Jersey City, N.J.,  and to Buffalo, N.Y., but in 1861 the company failed and was reorganized as the Erie Railway Company.  The company gained sound financial footing during the Civil Warbefore it became the subject of tremendous financial battle.  Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and James Fisk allied themselves and from 1866 to 1868 outmaneuvered - with the aid of unauthorized stock issues, political chicanery, and incessant litigation -Conelius Vanderbilt to keep control of the Erie Railway Company.  After further financial trickery, the Erie Railway Company went bankrupt and was sold for $6,000,000. It was reorganized in 1878 as the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railway Company.

By 1880 branch lines were built to Chicago, Ill.

In June of 1880 the Erie was the last railroad to submit to the “battle of the gauges.”  Remember Erie had the widest gauge of all the railroads, six feet opposed to the standard  four feet eight and one and half inches. In the first few weeks of June 1880, extensive preparations leading to a rapid narrowing of the road had been going on.  All along the line between Dunkirk and Hornellsville, a distance of 198 miles, the measurements for the new gauge had been made.  In the past few months the ties had been marked as to where the rail was to be moved and spikes had been laid out to be ready for the move.

The work of moving the rail began at 4:30 A.M. on a Tuesday morning, and at 8 A.M. intelligence was flashed over the wires that the work was completed on the main line. About 800 men were employed in the great enterprise, which was carried though without accident in just three hours and a half from the time the first spike was pulled.   The Little Valley section was first to report its work finished.  In just two hours from the time of beginning.  A number of sections were completed at almost the same moment.  Shortly after the news that the line was reduced to standard gauge, an inspection train was started out of Dunkirk.  Another inspection train left Hornellville,  they both met in Olean.

The inspection trains having passed over the road,  the track was pronounced in good condition, and trains started rolling.  Thus with comparatively little inconvenience to the traveling public the Erie was reduced to standard gauge, and again the trains were speeding over the road nearly on time.

The Erie shop in Hornellsville narrowed the cars for the change.  The engines were sent out.  There is mentioned that twenty new consolidated 60 ton moguls from the Grant Locomotive Works are to pull the freight on the western division of the Erie.  Their power seems almost limitless, and the boys say they will draw everything that can be hitched to them.

In May of 1893 the NYLE&W went into bankruptcy again and was reorganized in 1895 as the Erie Railroad Company.

On January 8, 1896  the Andover News ran this article.  The Erie Railroad company is having its freight cars repainted in bright colors.  Instead of the letters “N.Y., L.E. & W.”, the newly painted cars bear the words, “Erie Railroad.”

Sometime after the building of the railroad, depots were built to handle the people and the goods being sent out and coming in to each community.  In Allegany County there were nine depots to serve the county.  As the trains left Hornellsville they came to Almond, Alfred Station, Andover, Wellsville, Scio, Belmont, Belvidere, Friendship, and Cuba.

In 1899 an unknown newspaper put out the following article on Erie Railroad Stations.  Almond, Alfred, and Andover, Allegany Co. N.Y.  Miles from New York, 337, 341, 350; Hornellsville, 5, 9, 18;  Dunkirk, 123, 119, 110, respectively.  Old settlements - Almond, 1796; Alfred, 1807; Andover 1824.  Agricultural and local industries; mills; creamery.  Almond - 3 churches; 1 school; 2 hotels;  Population, 1,500.  Alfred ( originally Baker’s Bridge) is the station for Alfred Center, 2 miles. 2 churches; 2 schools; 2 newspapers; 2 hotels - no license; 9 cheese factories in the locality.  Alfred University (Seventh Day Baptist).  In one respect this pretty village, in the heart of the rich farming region of Allegany County, is the oddest town in the State. At sundown every Friday evening work of every kind and description ceases.  Saturday is the Sabbath of the people hereabout, and the early Puritans of New England observed their Sabbath with no more severe reverence.  When the sun sets on Saturday the village spring into busy life again.  Stores are opened, promenaders  appear, worldly affairs are resumed.  Andover - Incorporated, 1893, Population 1,000. 5 churches; 1 school; 1 newspaper; 4 hotels; cheese factories.

Wellsville, Allegany Co., N.Y.  From New York, 359 miles; Hornellsville, 27; Dunkirk, 102. Incorporated village, 1872.  Population, 5,000.  Agricultural and manufacturing.  9 churches; schools; 2 newspapers; 6 hotels; 2 banks; free library; machine works; leather and furniture factories; tanning.  Formerly Genesee station. Outlet and inlet for all the region for 50 miles south in the lumber regions of Potter County for 25 years after coming of Erie.  Also on Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad from Coudersport, Pa.

Scio, Allegany Co. N.Y., from Hornellsville, 30 miles; Dunkirk, 98, Agricultural.

Belmont, Allegany Co., N.Y. From New York 366 miles; Hornellsville, 34; Dunkirk, 95.  Settled, 1816.  Incorporated, 1856.  County seat.  Agricultural and manufacturing.  6 churches; 1 school; 2 newspapers; 2 hotels; 1 bank; free library; county buildings.  Was in the great pint belt of western New York; lumbering until 1856.  Mill; machinery works; pail factory.

Belvidere, Allegany Co., N.Y.  From Hornellsville, 38 miles; Dunkirk, 90./  Takes name from the late Philip Church’s historic residence.  Former station for Belfast, Oramel, Angelica.  Agricultural.

Friendship, Allegany Co., N.Y.  From New York 374; Hornellsville, 42; Dunkirk, 86.  Settled, 1807.  Incorporated village, 1852.  Population, 1898, 1,800.  Agricultural and industrial.  6 churches; 1 school; 1 newspaper; 1 hotel; 2 banks.  Important shipping point for dairy products, hay, grain, potatoes, live stock.  Sash, door, and blind factories; stove company.  Prosperous and growing.

Cuba, Allegany Co., N.Y.  From New York 383; Hornellsville, 51; Dunkirk, 77.  Agricultural.  Population, 1,400.  4 churches; 2 schools; 2 hotels; 1 bank.  The last spike in the construction on the Erie was driven at Cuba, April 21, 1851, by Silas Seymour, engineer in charge of that division.  Cuba was the terminus of the Erie for five months pending the completion of the road from Dunkirk east.  After the close of the War of 1812, emigration become extensive from the Eastern States to Ohio.  The direct route from the Hudson to the Allegany through New York State was from Albany to Utica, then to Canandaigua, and from that point to Angelica, or Cuba, thence to Olean Point, from which the Allegany River conveyed them to the Ohio.  Oil Creek, a tributary of the Allegany River, rising in the historical oil spring near Cuba, was preferred by the emigrants to the wretched roads.  They would come to Cuba in the fall or in the spring, where they would wait for the first freshet in the creek.  To accommodate them, boats of logs and planks, 16 to 24 feet long, were made by local builders at Cuba, and sold for from $30 to $50 each.  These boats would carry five persons each with their goods. And the emigrant would make the trip to the Allegany at Olean Point, and thence down the river.

I have gone through the old county history books looking for information on the depots but have found nothing .  There is nothing on when they were built or when they were shut down.

A news article in the August 6th 1915 Andover News had this.  “Andover Now Great Shipping Station.”  Andover, Allegany County, N.Y., On the Erie Railroad, has become probably the largest shipping station for a town of its size in Western New York, in potatoes, hay, cattle, etc.

Another news article in the January 21st 1954 Andover News:  With the closing of the Erie Station at Andover Tuesday January 19th 1954 another epoch of Andover history closed.

For years the Erie station was the center of Andover activities with everything coming into Andover and a vast amount of farm produce, cattle and Ice being shipped from here all handled by the railroad.

For a number of years the Andover station held the record for the largest number of potatoes being shipped from here of any point between New York and Chicago.  In 1920 the Erie handled 325 carloads of potatoes from this station and the carload shipments of hay, straw, lumber and cattle shipped from Andover would run into an enormous figure.  In the boom days of the ice business on the Andover ponds the Prangen Brothers of Hornell sipped about 1,000 cars of ice each winter which was all handled through the local depot.

In the days when the Erie was operating in full force here it took three full time men to handle the depot business.   The first of these we can remember were “Gus” Richardson, station agent: “Tim” Regan, freight agent: and “Tom” Regan, operator.  Besides the men in the station, the Erie also had a pusher stationed here to help the heavy freights over Tip Top.  Charles Rogers was engineer on the pusher with Floyd Richardson, firemen and Patrick Gallagher engine tender.  A track crew with Patrick Mulcahy as foreman and C. E. Baker, track walker also operated from Andover.

I won’t go into the wrecks the trains had, we know they happened and many people lost lives and many workers lost lives and body parts due to unsafe work practices and crude devices on the trains.

On one occasion during the first world war a train derailed in Andover causing all other trains to stop until they could clean up the mess.  A troop train was stranded in Andover loaded with Army men heading for France to fight in the war.  After a few hours the men were getting restless, so it was decided to march them around Andover to give them a little exercise.  School was closed along with all of the businesses.  Everyone lined the streets to see the men parade from the depot to Main Street.  Once there the men put on a drill for the spectators.  After the drill the Army men were given coffee, cookies, bananas, cigarettes and magazines.

When the tracks were cleared, the soldiers were marched back to the train and left to go to war.  They weren’t allowed to tell their names or where they were from.  It was later learned that most of them were from Texas and many died of the flu epidemic and many were killed in the war.

After the war one of the men wrote saying how much it meant to all of the soldiers to be treated so kindly by someone they never knew.

During and after WWI, WWII, Korea, and the Viet Nam wars, the railroads handled many of all organized military travel.  They carried millions of soldiers, sailors, marines, and coast guardsmen and women to and from training centers and seaports.  They carried millions of members of the armed forces on trips to and from their homes and recreational areas.  They also operated numerous hospital trains carrying wounded servicemen and many other trains carrying prisoners or war.

Under the presidency (1901 - 27) of Frederick D. Underwood, the Erie continued to suffer losses, and after a major reorganization (1941) it yielded (1942) a dividend for the first time in 69 years.

In 1953 the Andover depot was shut down - never to open again.  Passenger and mail service was discontinued in June of 1965.  The building was sold to Baker Brothers contractors. It was torn down in the mid 1990’s. Alfred Station’s depot was razed in 1987.

In 1960 the Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western RR to form the Erie - Lackawanna.

In 1976 the organization and five other lines the had gone bankrupt were merged to form the Conrail system, which in 1999 became part of the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads.

Plans are under way to open the lines again in 2003.

I have always had a place in my heart for the Erie, having grown up less than 100 feet from the tracks.  As kids, my brothers, sister and I would sit on the porch and guess how many cars were on the train and then count them to see who was closest to the correct number.

I’ve seen many trains that couldn’t make the summit at Tip Top.  They would stop, unhook, and take part of the train with them, leaving the other for another engine to come and get.

From the time I was about the age of 7, I would stand on the railroad bank and wave at the 4 PM freight train coming from Wellsville way, heading to Hornell.  I did this every night, and soon the engineer and I became friends.  We had never met each other but I knew.  Every night I would wave and he would through me the Buffalo Newspaper with candy wrapped inside.  This went on for years.  When I was about 19 or 20, home on leave from the service, a man stopped at the farm.  I was helping my Dad do something, when he walked up to us.  He asked if I was the kid that used to wave at the train, and I answered that I was.  He shook my hand and said that he had watched me grow up for years.  I didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about, then he stated that he was the man on the train that had thrown  the paper and candy.  He stated it made his day seeing me there, rain, snow, warm and cold, waving my arm off  at him every day.  He just wanted to “Thank me.”  I should have been the one thanking him for all of the candy.

I don’t remember his name, but I wish I did.  He is the man that made me love trains the way I do.



1842 - First to ship milk to New York City

1842 - First to use a conductor bell-cord to signal engineer

1847 - First to use iron rails rolled in America

1850 - First to construct telegraph lines on its right of way

1851 - First railroad to use telegraph for its operations

1851 - First railroad in America with over 400 miles in length

1851 - First to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes

1851 - First with six-foot gauge, widest in America

1861 - First to use tank cars for hauling oil

1887 - First to bring fresh produce from California to New York City

First to use a ticket punch.