HorseShoe Curve
Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern RailRoad at Swain, NY

We would welcome any submission of historical information about this.
Horseshoe Curve.(See comments received, below picture)


(Photo by Jim Gelser)

Shawmut Depot and Trestle at Swain


(On Nov. 6, 1969, an article with the above headline including the photograph (above) was published in the Nunda News, written by M. Frost, Nunda Town Historian at the time. Although the article is vastly over-generalized, it was felt it should be reprinted in order to put the much more informative follow-up letters from Col. Clarence Koeppe pf LaJolla, Calif. into context.- Richard Palmer)   

     Many readers must remember the old Shawmut railroad and some probably remember this elaborate trestle work which carried it over the lowlands at Swain. It was one of the early "connecting link" railroads like Nunda's "Swains Branch," but there is very little available information about it in any of our reference works ... probably because it was not a Livingston county railroad.

     Some of its chief promoters were Angelica men, since that town was anxious for a railroad, and a proposed line from Belvidere to Hornell passed through Angelica. One of the promoters was Francis Sullivan Smith, and when the Shawmut went into receivership in 1905 he was appointed receiver. At the time it was called the Angelica & Belvidere Narrrow Gauge R.R.

     Originally a narrow gauge road, the 10 miles of track between Angelica and Swain were changed to standard gauge in the summer of 1883. It was expected then that trains would be running by Oct. 1 to connect with the "Swains Branch," but it would be several weeks after that before extensions to Belfast and Perkinsville would be opened. This bit of information locates two of the terminals.  

     "Angelica Collectanea," published in 1955, says that the broad gauge road (the Shawmut, apparently, although it was not called by name) was 42 miles in length and ran between Perkinsville, Steuben county, and Belfast, Allegany county, connecting the DL&W and "Pennsy" railroads. Depots included Canaseraga and Stony Brook besides other places mentioned, and there were water tanks at Angelica, Birdsall, Canaseraga and Perkinsville.

     There were 184 bridges on the Shawmut, The viaduct in Stony Brook Glen was 40 feet in length and 245 feet high, making it one of the highest bridges in the state.

Like other early short line roads, the Shawmut had its ups and downs. Passenger service was discontinued in 1936 and the line was officially abandoned March 31, 1947. Several of the depots, including the one in Angelica, were made over into homes.

     Fred Ludwig of Dalton owns the original of this fine photo and kindly lent it for publication, for which he has our thanks.


Nunda News, Nov. 27, 1969


Col. Koeppe Recalls the Shawmut


   (Col. Clarence E. Koeppe, former Nundaian who now resides at 316 LaJolla Rancho Road, LaJolla, Calif., writes concerning the Shawmut Railroad, a photo of which appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of the “News.”)

     Your article in the November 6th issue of the “News” concerning the Shawmut trestle and depot at Swain held a great deal of interest for me who, as a lad at the turn of the century, expected someday to be a railroad magnate. I frequently visited my uncle, James Ryan, who lived in at Swain; and I spent many hours of each visit watching the trains on both the Shawmut and the Erie.

     The trestle shown in connection with your article formed a great horseshoe curve, comparable to the Pennsylvania horseshoe curve at Cresson, Pa. This great curve was necessary in order to reduce the grade in going from the lowlands of Chautauqua Hollow to the much higher areas at Birdsall and Angelica. Later this trestle was filled with gravel except at the point where the Shawmut crossed the Erie. This was a common practice of the day, and I well remember seeing this method of grading along the newly built line of the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad as it crossed the broad Genesee Valley east of Belfast. As you know, the B&S RR went the way of the Shawmut, the Olean Rochester section of the PRR, and many other railroad lines.

     When I first knew of the Shawmut it was called the Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern. Whether it actually had its own line as far south as Pittsburgh or whether it used leased roads to that area I cannot say; but I remember well of seeing rather long trains of coal-laden cars passing over the horseshoe curve on their way to connect with the DL&W or the Erie.  Later I also rode Shawmut passenger trains to points close to the Pennsylvania state line, indicating that passenger service extended well beyond Angelica and Belvidere. An  interesting feature of the old Shawmu5 line was the fact that its freight cars were painted a variety of colors, black, white, blue, green and yellow; I don’t remember of ever seeing the standard red used by other railroads.

    Another point of interest is that the original Swains Branch crossed the Erie at a point above the swamp lands of Chautauqua Hollow just north and west of Swain. Its passenger station was in the center of Swain, an old red building later used by the Shawmut which sent its passenger trains into Swain from the junction a mile or so up the grade toward Angelica. 

    Later, the Swains Branch, then known as the WNY&P (Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad), moved its track to the other side of the Erie and joined the PS&N at the point where your photograph showed the Shawmut Depot; this junction point was only a few rods from the highway now labeled Highway 408. This new junction point made it possible for the Swains Branch to haul considerably more freight originating not only along the Shawmut, but also the Lackawanna and the Erie. Even so, this additional freight was not sufficient to save the Swains Branch which had so many wrecks on the poorly ballasted tracks that the final owner, the Pennsylvania Railroad, abandoned the line in the first decade of this century, salvaging only the light rails. Thus ended the aspirations of the people of Nunda for a “through line,” for which they bonded themselves for $75,000, a bond which was not paid off until after the line was torn up.

   (More on the history of the Swains Branch will follow) 


Nunda News, Dec. 15, 1969  


                                                                         316 LaJolla Rancho Road

                                                                         LaJolla, Calif., 92037

                                                                         10 December 1969

Dear Editor:

     Further recollection, reinforced by a bit of research, prompts some additional comments concerning your article about the “Shawmut” in the November 6th issue of the “News.”

     It appears that the original railroad built through Nunda, locally known as the “Swains Branch,” actually extended to Angelica in order to connect that village with Rochester. At the time all communities in western New York had the urge to have rail connections with either Rochester or Buffalo. The people of Angelica, like the people of Nunda, contributed to the construction of this railroad.

     That was the reason for the Swains Branch entering Swains on the southwest side of the Erie and at a considerably higher elevation than the Erie in order to reduce the grade leading up to Birdsall and Angelica.

     The Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern already had a line starting at Brockwayville (roughly ten miles north of Dubois, Pa.). Two railroads, the Pennsylvania and the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh, passed through Brockwayville and Dubois on their way to Pittsburgh. The coal mining town of Shawmut was only about two miles north of  Brockwayville.

     The Shawmut had rapidly pushed its line as far north as Bolivar, and it saw great possibilities for freight traffic if it could connect with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and with the Erie railroads.

     Accordingly, it acquired that portion of the Swains Branch from Angelica to Swains. It built its horseshoe curve over the Erie at Swains and went on to Hornellsville Junction, a mile east of Canaseraga where it branched into two lines, one leading to Wayland to connect with the Lackawanna and the other to Hornellsville to connect with the Erie; and it extended its line from Angelica to Friendship. By 1901 the last link of about ten miles was under construction from Bolivar and Friendship.

Col. Clarence E. Koeppe



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Members Comments about Picture above:

Yes the photo was taken from the Rt. 70 side, also at this same spot is a small farm, the older couple that own the farm are very friendly
towards Shawmut fans and will gladly let you walk around on the old R.O.W. that ran right thru the farm, just ask. The small creek near the old station flows thru a cement culvert that is still in great shape and makes for a good photo. I've walked the area lots of times over the years no remains of the station are left. The Rt. 70 side of the horseshoe curve is still in place, the far side, across the old Erie main line was removed years ago. The farmer said shortly after he purchased his farm they removed half of the horseshoe curve to put in the ski slopes and the old wood trestle wood work that was later filled in was still there in good shape in the removed fill! (Member C.B. 2/27/05)

That is the village side. You are looking north/northeast, sort of.
The station represents the location before the PRR's Swains Branch was rebuilt to the north of the Erie. When this was done, the station was rebuilt or moved to the other end of the curve.  Does anyone know if the station was moved to the other end of the trestle or a new station built? (Member C.W. 2/25/05)

I think that photo was taken from the current Route 70 on the north side of the horseshoe and is looking south toward the village of
Swain.  The creek can be seen in the foreground where there is a
cement culvert today.  The hill you see at the left is where Swain
Ski Slope is.  I have seen maps showing the station at this north
side location and also in town, depending on where the interchange
switch was.  (Member D.R. 2/26/06)



(Photo by Jim Gelser)