Category Archives: Railroads

Early Railroads of New York

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dewittclinton-200.jpgFor the year ending Sept. 30, 1865, the Railroad Commissioners of the State of New York offered the following statistics for a year in which steam and horse railroads were both still operating:

New York that year had 3089.84 miles of steam roads, with 962 engines, 820 first class passenger cars, and 181 second class cars. The horse roads only covered 256 miles. (Horse-drawn rail tended to persist within densely populated cities, where fear – or experience – of fire caused a ban on sparky steam engines. Troy was one such city.)

Steam passenger trains in that year ran 7,978,889 miles, carrying more than 16 million passengers. The average speed, including stops, was figured at 20.57 miles per hour; without stops it was 25.43. Express trains were higher, at 26.25 and 30.44. Horses, despite having much less road, must have run much much more frequently, as they ran 18.4 million miles and carried more than 107 million passengers.

In that year, steam railroads killed 24 passengers, 92 employees, and 111 others; 227 in all. Another 272 were listed as injured. The horse railroads only killed 8 passengers, 1 employee, and 21 others, for a total of 62. So for the steam roads, that worked out to an average of 30.5 million miles of travel for each passenger either killed or injured, and for each one killed, 675,643 weren’t. These are published statistics.

The report also helpfully tabulates “the date when the several Railroads of this State were opened for public travel.” Although many of them, of course, aren’t local, I thought it would be useful to show them here. We all well know that the first passenger rail of any kind was right here between Albany and Schenectady, but it’s surprising how quickly rail service grew in the immediate Albany area, and perhaps also surprising how slow it was to expand elsewhere. The report included the date, the name of the railroad, and the number of miles opened each year.

In 1831. The Mohawk and Hudson, 17 miles,

In 1832. The Saratoga and Schenectady, 22 miles, and 1 mile of the New York and Harlem.

In 1834. The Ithaca and Owego, 29 miles, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1835. The Rensselaer and Saratoga, 25 miles.

In 1836. The Utica and Schenectady, 78 miles.

In 1837. The Tonawanda, 44 miles; the Lewiston, 3 miles; 15 miles of the Long Island, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1838, The Hudson and Berkshire, 31 miles.

In 1839. The Syracuse and Utica, 53 miles, and 2 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1840. None.

In 1841. 46 miles of the New York and Erie and 5 miles of the Long Island.

In 1842. The Albany and West Stockbridge, 38miles; the Auburn and Rochester, 78 miles; the Schenectady and Troy, 21 miles; 10 miles of the Long Island; and 6 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1843. The Auburn and Syracuse, 26 miles; the Attica and Buffalo, 31 miles, and 7 miles of the New York and Erie.

In 1844. 52 miles of the Long Island, and 12 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1845. The Cayuga and Susquehanna, 29 miles; the Buffalo and Niagara Falls, 22 miles; the Troy and Greenbush, 6 miles, and the Skanaeateles and Jordan, 5 miles.

In 1846. 8 miles of the New York and Erie.

In 1847. 25 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1848. The Saratoga and Whitehall, 40 miles; the Oswego and Syracuse, 35 miles; 140 miles of the New York and Erie, and 29 miles of the New York and Harlem.

In 1849. The Chemung, 17 miles; 59 miles of the New York and Erie, and 75 miles of the Hudson River.

In 1850. The Northern Ogdensburgh, 118 miles; the New York and New Haven, 14 miles; 78 miles of the New York and Erie; 18 miles of the Watertown and Rome, and 69 miles of the Hudson River.

In 1851. The Canandaigua and Elmira, 47 miles; 128 miles of the New York and Erie, and 52 miles of the Watertown and Rome.

In 1852. The Buffalo and State Line, 69 miles; the Troy and Boston, 26 miles; the Plattsburgh and Montreal, 23 miles; the Sixth Avenue, 4 miles; 51 miles of the New York and Harlem; 20 miles of the Watertown and Rome, and 44 miles of the Buffalo, Corning and New York.

In 1853. The Albany Northern, 33 miles; the Troy and Bennington, 5 miles; the Troy Union, 2 miles; the Canandaigua and Niagara Falls, 99 miles; the Buffalo and New York City, 91 iles; the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls, 77 miles; the Sackett’s Harbor and Ellisburgh, 18 miles, and 46 miles of the Buffalo, Corning and New York.

In 1854. The Syracuse and Binghamton, 80 miles; the Flushing, 8 miles; the Brooklyn City, 17 miles, and the Third avenue, 4 miles.

In 1855. 26 miles of the Black River and Utica, and 30 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1856. 9 miles of the Black River and Utica, and 24-1/2 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1857. 2 miles of the Brooklyn City, and 21 miles of the Potsdam and Watertown.

In 1858. 11 miles of the Buffalo, New York and Erie.

In 1859. The Genesee Valley, 15-1/2 miles; the Ninth Avenue, 3-1/2, and the Broadway Railroad of Brooklyn, 4-1/2.

In 1860. The Atlantic and Great Western in New York, 49 miles; the Staten island, 13 miles; 4 miles of the Brooklyn Central and Jamaica; 5 miles of the Brooklyn City, and one mile of the Ninth Avenue.

In 1861. 4 miles of the Brooklyn City, and 5 miles of the Warwick Valley.

In 1862. Coney Island and Brooklyn, 10-1/2 miles; 5 miles of the Brooklyn City and Newtown; 17-1/2 miles of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburgh, and 5 miles of the Warwick Valley.

In 1863. Albany and Susquehanna, 35 miles; Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island, 4 miles; Forty-Second Street and Grand Street Ferry, 7 miles; Rochester City and Brighton, 6-1/2 miles; Utica City, 2; Van Brunt Street and Erie Basin, 1-1/2 miles.

In 1864. Albany and Susquehanna, 1 mile; Broadway and Seventh Avenue, 8 miles; Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island, 2-1/2 miles; Central Park, North and East River, 19 miles; Forty-Second Street and Grand Street Ferry, 1 mile; Long island, 5-1/2 miles; Harlem Bridge, Morrisania and Fordham, 5 miles; Troy and Cohoes, 3-1/2 miles; Utica City, 2 miles.

In 1865. Adirondack Company, 25 miles; Albany Railway, 3 miles; Albany and Susquehanna, 46 miles; Oswego and Rome, 18 miles; Saratoga and Hudson River, 26 miles.

Image of the Dewitt Clinton from Schenectady County Historical Association.

How the Livingston Avenue Bridge Changed Everything

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1860s 1st railroad bridge across HUDSON Albany NY NYCRR

The Hudson River Bridge Company built the first structure to cross the Hudson at Albany. When it opened in 1866, it was simply the Hudson River Bridge. Once the Maiden Lane Bridge opened at the end of 1871, the older bridge was often called the North Bridge. Eventually, it picked up the moniker of the Livingston Avenue Bridge, the name by which it is known today.

The President of the company was Dean Richmond, who had in 1864 been chosen to replace the retiring Erastus Corning as president of the New York Central Railroad Company.  Secretary and Treasurer was Sidney T. Fairchild,  an attorney from Cazenovia who was general counsel for the New York Central, among many other positions. (The son of this secretary/treasurer, Charles S. Fairchild, later became secretary of the United States Treasury.) Other members of the Board of Directors of the bridge company were Erastus Corning and Henry H. Martin, who served Corning in banking and railroading, as well as some other interesting railroading characters. One was William H. Swift, a bartender turned inspector with the railroad; James H. Banker and Augustus Schell filled out the Board. The construction team also served on the Board: Julius W. Adams, bridge engineer; A.F. Smith, Superintendent of Construction; and Charles Newman, Bridge Builder.

The Albany Evening Journal’s Feb. 23, 1866 account of the first crossing of the bridge was captured in the 1866 Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioners of the State of New York:

“Crossing the Bridge. –  After the meeting of the Directors of the Hudson River Bridge Company, yesterday afternoon, and shortly after three o’clock, a train consisting of four cars, drawn by the locomotive “Lyman J. Lloyd,” belonging to the Central Railroad Company, started from the depot on Maiden Lane for a trip across the bridge. The Directors of the Bridge Company, several of the Directors of the Central railroad, and a number of the employees of the company, together with officers of the Hudson River, Harlem and Boston railroads, were passengers on the train.  The train was drawn back by the locomotive “James H. Banker,” belonging to the Hudson River Railroad Company.

Subsequently a freight train, consisting of eight cars, loaded, belonging to the “Red Line” – through cars from Chicago to New York – passed over the bridge safely.

The Annual Report also recorded this March 5, 1866 article from the Albany Argus, explaining the importance of the new bridge:

Railroad Changes at Albany. – The revolution in railroad travel at this point, produced by the erection of the Hudson river bridge, is a very important one. For years the crossing of the Ferry at Albany has been a great inconvenience to the traveling public. Especially has this been the case during the fall and winter months, when persons leaving the warm cars on either side have been exposed to the cold winds on the river.

All the trains now leave this city from the New York Central Depot, near the Delavan House. On Saturday this new arrangement was in full operation. The Hudson River, the Harlem and the Boston trains all landed their passengers on this side of the river, and all the trains leaving this city for New York or Boston started from the same locality. Passengers going East or West had only to step from one train to another. The trains of the New York Central and the other roads named, all started from the same depot.

Trains are also run from New York to Buffalo and Suspension Bridge without any change whatever. Passengers from either of the points named can retain their seats through the whole route. These trains are called the “Red Line,” the cars being painted red to distinguish them from the other trains. They are elegantly fitted up, and provided with all the comforts and conveniences possible to furnish, for such a long journey.

This new arrangement will involve important changes in connection with travel through this city. The ferry boats will be almost entirely relieved from business, except so far as local traffic is concerned. The crowds of carts, and drays, and passengers, at the foot of Maiden Lane, will be no longer witnessed. The ticket and baggage offices of the Boston railroad will be transferred to the New York Central railroad yard, and from the locality tickets will be sold, and baggage checked for all points leading from the city by railroad, except the Albany and Susquehanna route.

This great revolution has been effected by the construction of the Hudson River bridge, and it must be acknowledged that the change will be very welcome to the traveling public.  The result has produced a concentration of the trains on all the roads named at one point, and we presume it will be for the interest of these several corporations to unite in the erection of an immense depot which will afford ample accommodations under this new state of things.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Livingston Avenue Bridge

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LivingstonAveBridgeMap1895.pngThe New York State Engineer and Surveyor’s report from 1864 contains an extensive history of The Hudson River Bridge Company, the operation that built Albany’s iconic Livingston Avenue Bridge. The report contains a huge amount of detail, some of which we’re reproducing here because a huge amount of detail on these old structures is usually lacking.

First, it includes Chapter 243 of the Laws of 1864, which was an act amending laws from 1856 and 1857 authorizing the construction of a bridge across the Hudson river at Albany. The original site was determined not quite right, and the new chapter allowed the HRBC to move the site of the bridge

from the place now located for the construction thereof, to a line running across the Hudson river, under the provisions of this act, south of the north boundary line of the city of Albany, and not more than one hundred feet north of the north line of Lumber street in said city, at a proper height of not less than twenty feet above ordinary common tide water.

The act made it the job of the state engineer and surveyor to determine the proper place for the bridge and to ensure it was of the proper height, allowing for clearance of some vessels (interestingly, the requirement of a draw is not mentioned in this act). The State Engineer and Surveyor at the time was William B. Taylor, who made his determination May 6, 1864.

Beginning at a point on the wharf in the city of Albany, on the westerly side or shore of the Hudson river, sixty (60) feet north of the north line of Lumber street in the said city (the said wharf being the westerly line of what is generally known as the Albany Basin), and running thence in a direction south fifty-four (54°) degrees, thirty-five (35) minutes east across the main channel of said river to a  point on the island on the easterly side of said main channel, commonly known as Van Rensselaer island, which point is situated one hundred and twelve (112) feet easterly from the front line of the docks on said island and from last mentioned point, running on a line curving southerly with a radius of nine hundred (900) feet to the easterly side or shore of the said river, in the town of Greenbush, Rensselaer county, is the proper place for the construction of said bridge across said river; and I do also hereby further certify and determine that the proper height for said bridge is at least thirty-four and one-half (34-1/2) feet above the lower mitre sill of lock number one of the Erie canal, which lock connects the Erie canal and the Hudson river at the outlet of said canal into the Albany basin, and I do hereby further certify and determine that said bridge, when contracted at the place and height above ascertained and fixed therefor, will be at least twenty-five (25) feet above ordinary common tide water.

Within the report was a description of the history of the Hudson River Bridge at Albany, prepared by chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, Charles Hilton, Esq., “who, in the early progress of the bridge, aided efficiently in its plans and construction.”

Hilton writes that the bridge crossed about a half mile above the old railroad ferry and linked the New York Central Railroad on the west and the Hudson River, New York and Harlem, and Albany and Boston Railroads on the east. He provides an extensive physical description of the bridge, which follows:

Commencing on the Albany side, the west approach leaves the line of the New York Central Railroad near the corner of Broadway and Colonie streets, curving to the left on a radius of about one thousand (1,000) feet, for a distance of eight hundred sixty-six (866) feet, thence straight three hundred fifty eight (358) feet; thence curving to the left again on a radius of one thousand (1,000) feet, two hundred twenty-one (221) feet, and thence straight, forty-eight (48) feet, total, fourteen hundred ninety-three (1,493) feet, to the west shore of the Albany basin, and beginning of the bridge proper; thence the line is straight, and nearly at right angles to the course of the river across the Albany basin, two hundred (200) feet, Albany pier, seventy-eight (78) feet, and the main channel of the river ten hundred twenty-one (1,021) feet, total, twelve hundred ninety-nine (1,299) feet; thence curving to the right on a  radius of nine hundred (900) feet, for a distance of seven hundred seventeen (717) feet, across the flats which spread out at the head of Van Rensselaer’s island, to the east abutment, or end of the bridge proper; thence the line continues curving to the right on about the same radius for five hundred (500) feet over the east approach to the line of the Hudson River Railroad, making the total length of the bridge and approaches, four thousand and nine (4,009) feet, or, over three-fourths of a mile.

The approaches to the bridge designed ultimately to consist of masonry and embankment, are at present temporarily built of timber trestle work, varying in height from three to twenty feet, with timber truss bridges over Montgomery, Centre and Water streets, on the Albany side. The trestle work on the east side of the river, consists of piles driven in the ground in rows of four each across the line of the track, the rows being eight (8) feet apart, cut off at the proper height and capped with twelve-inch square timber. Upon these caps the stringers are laid, which carry the cross-ties and rails. The trestle work for the western approach is more substantially constructed, being framed in double bents of twelve inch square timber, having their sills imbedded in the ground several feet below the surface, and of sufficient width for a double track. The trestle work of the east approach is intended to be replaced by an embankment during the coming season; while it may be several years before that of the west approach is replaced by more permanent structures.

Consists of twenty (20) spans, of the following clear widths: three (3) over the Albany basin of sixty-six (66) feet each, four (4) fixed spans of one hundred seventy-two (172) feet each, and two (2) draw spans of one hundred eleven and three-fourths (111-3/4) feet each, over the main channel, and one (1) span of seventy-one feet, and ten (10) spans of sixty-six (66) feet each, across the flats on the east side; and stand about thirty (30) feet clear height above ordinary summer tide level of the river.

Consists of twenty-one (21) stone piers, as follows: beginning at the west end, the first pier is on the west shore of the basin, and is thirty-two (32) feet long and six (6) feet thick under the coping; then follow two (2) in the Albany basin, sixty (60) feet long and six (6) feet thick under the coping; the next is a square abutment, about forty-four (44) feet on each side, and located on the west side of the Albany pier, leaving a roadway in front about thirty (30) feet in width; the next pier is in the deepest water of the main channel, and is seventy-two (72) feet long and six and one-half (6-1/2) feet thick under the coping; the next is the pivot pier, thirty-two (32) feet square, on which the draw-bridge swings; then come three more piers in the main channel, of the same dimensions as the one mentioned next before the pivot pier; and after them, ten (10) more on the flats, of the same thickness, but not so long; and lastly, the abutment on the east shore, having wings extending up and down stream, to retain the earth embankment to be built behind it.

1866_Albany_railroad_bridge_Harpers.jpgThe piers and abutments all rest on foundations of spruce piles, from twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, and driven from two and a half (2-1/2) to three (3) feet apart between centers, and as deep into the bed of the river, as they would go (without splintering under the hammer), which was generally from twenty-four (24) to twenty-eight (28) feet below low water level. In preparing the foundations for the masonry, different methods were adopted in different portions of the work. In the case of the pivot pier, and the three main channel piers east of it, the site of each pier was first excavated to a  depth of about twenty (20) feet below low water, and of a length and breadth considerably greater than the intended pier, and, after the piles were driven, a strong crib of twelve inch square timber was built around them, the sides of the cribs being kept from spreading by ties of 1-1/8 inch square iron, placed twelve (12) feet apart in each course of timber. The crib was then sunk upon the bottom of the excavation, having been made of sufficient height to bring the top thereof within two feet of low water level. The interior of the crib was then filled with concrete, composed of coarse gravel and hydraulic cement, and the surplus excavation around the cribs filled with loose stone up to within twelve (12) feet of low water, to support the crib and avert any danger from scouring. The piles were then cut off level with the tops of the cribs, and the whole covered with a platform of six-inch plank, upon which the stone work was commenced. For the westernmost pier in the main channel, which is in the deepest water, no excavation was made, but the piles were cut off to a level about a foot above the bed of the river, and the masonry sunk upon them by means of a timber caisson. For each pier in the basin the piles were cut off six (6) feet below low water, a strong platform moored over them, on which the masonry was commenced, and lowered upon the piles by means of screws. For the piers on the flats, east of the main channel, the site of each was excavated to a depth of about three (3) feet below low water, the piles driven as for others, and cut off about one foot below low water. The excavation was then filled around and over the heads of the piles with concrete, about up to low water line, and upon this the masonry was commenced.

The masonry of the piers and abutments is composed of the best quality of limestone of a bluish grey color, from quarries at Amsterdam and Tribes Hill, on the line of the N.Y. Central Railroad, and from Kingston, in Ulster county, and is laid in courses varying in thickness from twelve to thirty inches.

The beds and joints are cut, and the arrises of each stone chipped to a line, but the faces are left rough and undressed, forming what is technically called “rock-faced work.”

The stones in each course are clamped together with strong iron clamps, and each course is secured to the one next above and below by iron dwells. The shape of the ends of the piers in plan is that of a gothic pointed arch, being formed by two circular arcs of sixty (60) degrees each. The up-stream edge or nose of each main channel pier is sloped back at an angle of about thirty (30) degrees from the perpendicular, the better to enable them to resist, break up or turn aside masses of ice or other float
ing bodies.  The pivot pier has guards, constructed of stone in the same manner as itself, placed up and down stream at the proper distances to receive the ends of the draw when swung open, and connected with the pivot pier by timber crib work filled with loose stone.

The sides of all the piers and abutments, except the pivot pier and its guards, which are vertical, have a batter of half an inch to a foot, and the tops are coped with large cut flags carefully fitted and clamped together, and projecting nine inches beyond the face on all sides.


The superstructure is designed ultimately to be of iron, and to carry a double track, but at present consists of a single track timber bridge, all except the draw spans being on the well known Howe plan.

The trusses of the long spans (172 feet) are twenty-four (24) feet high, and those of the short spans (66 feet) nine (9) feet [sic] high. The needle beams, 7 X 14 inches, rest on the lower chords, and support the running timbers, cross-ties and rails in the usual manner. The clear width between the trusses if fifteen (15) feet.

The draw, designed by Mr. J.W. Adams, the engineer, is on what is known among engineers as the “arch brace plan,” the peculiarity of which consists in having the main supporting braces radiate from the ends of the lower chords to different points in the length of the upper chords, thereby transmitting the weight of the bridge and load directly to the abutments, instead of indirectly through a series of braces, as in most other plans. The ends of the draw when swinging are supported by eight chains composed of iron bars 5X1 inches, extending from the top of a central tower sixty (60) feet high to the ends of the lower chords of the trusses.

The turn-table of the draw consists essentially of a series of seventy (70) rollers, placed between two circular tracks, one being fastened to the masonry of the pivot pier, and the other to the under side of the bridge. The faces of the tracks which are six (6) inches broad, are accurately planed, so as to present no obstacle to the movement of the rollers, which are turned true and smooth. The rollers are twelve (12) inches in diameter, and eight (8) inches long on the face. They are placed in the annular space between two concentric iron rings, and kept at the proper distance by radial bars, which connect the inner ring with a collar fitted to and revolving around a central pivot pin six (6) inches in diameter.

This turn-table, which is wholly of iron, was made by the Boston Machine Company, and is a very creditable piece of work.

The draw, which weighs about 330 tons, can be opened and closed by five men in about five minutes.


Beginning at the west end of the west approach, the track rises at the rate of twenty (20) feet to the mile, for a distance of seven hundred fifty (750) feet to Montgomery street, where it crosses over the Albany branch of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, and from thence descends at the rate of thirty (30) feet per mile to the west end of the bridge proper. Across the main channel is grade level, but from the east side thereof it descends at the rate of thirty-five (35) feet per mile to the Hudson River Railroad.

Of course, we’ve given some other parts of the history of the Hudson River Bridge, later known as the North Bridge, and today known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge; you can find it here. While the substructure discussed here still exists and dates to 1866, the superstructure of the bridge was replaced about 1902.

Police Battle Maniac on Smith’s Special

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KnickerbockerPressManiac.pngIn his Nov. 4, 1950 column in the Knickerbocker News, Charles L. Mooney recounted days of long ago – Oct. 21, 1928, to be exact, and in doing so gave us a peek into the working of political campaigns, railroads, police work and the press, back in the days when the Knick Press was Albany’s only morning newspaper.  Prompted by an assassination attempt on President Truman, Mooney gave the following account of an exciting night in the newsroom that sounds like it came directly from “The Front Page”:

It happened the night of Oct. 21, 1928, while we were covering police headquarters for the old Knickerbocker Press, and we got in on the ground floor of the story quite by chance, for it took place somewhat off our normal beat.

Occasionally in those days we used to hop down for a bowl of chili con carne at the rathskeller the Bernstein brothers operated in a basement in Broadway near Quackenbush St.

We had finished a snack and were headed along Broadway when we recalled the Al Smith special train, bringing home the Governor, who was campaigning that year for the presidency, was due in shortly.

There was a vast crowd on hand to greet the Happy Warrior, who had just campaigned over much of the nation . . . The train’s arrival was still a half-hour off, we recall, when Joe Boyle [captain of the New York Central Railroad Police] was called away to a telephone. To say he was excited upon his return would be putting it mildly. For there was big news in the making.

The Smith special had been speeding through the Mohawk Valley when an attendant in a tower at Hoffmans spotted a fellow riding the head end.

The tower man flashed the word ahead and Captain Boyle detailed the late Patrolman William Keith to meet the special when it slowed down at Van Woert St. crossing and take the fellow off.

In those days it wasn’t unusual for a fellow to hop the front end, even on passenger trains, and the fellows who ordinarily did were hoboes who probably couldn’t dig up the fare anyhow.

Back on the platform we naturally couldn’t know it at the time, but when Patrolman Keith swung aboard, the free rider, a big, powerful fellow, grappled with him.

Keith grappled right back with the 6-foot, 3-inch giant and as the train nosed into the straightaway toward Union Station they were fighting a terrific hand-to-hand battle.

Just as the special slowed for the station Patrolman Keith brought his man under control, and it was only a matter of seconds before Boyle, Dunn and the whole entourage had the fellow in tow and hustling down the stairs to Captain Boyle’s office for questioning.

Meanwhile, from a parlor car farther back on the train stepped Al Smith, Mrs. Smith, their son-in-law, John Adams Warner, at that time superintendent of the New York State Police, and others of his campaign party.

From still another car stepped a corps of legislative correspondents who had made the swing with the Happy Warrior . . .

We followed the police detail to railroad police headquarters, totally unaware of the magnitude of the story.

For it took only a few minutes’ questioning to disclose the man on the front end was a dangerous lunatic who had escaped three weeks earlier from a state hospital at Westboro, Mass.

The fellow had beaten his way to Central New York, he said, and had ridden the train in from the west to Utica. When the train stopped for a few hours to permit Mr. and Mrs. Smith to attend Mass he hid in the railroad yards, then hopped the train again as it pulled out for Albany.

He hadn’t realized it was such an important train, he told the authorities. His only thought had been to get away somewhere, although he wasn’t certain where he’d like to have gone.

We chuckle sometimes when we recall that story. In the first place, there wasn’t the competitive speed that obtains today. In the second place, The Knickerbocker Press was the only morning newspaper, and we had the story alone. In the third place, New York Central officials clamped a publicity embargo on the story, but we already had it in the bag.

We recall we were still a few hours from deadline, so after informing the late Tom (Duke) Ford, our city editor, of the details, we didn’t hurry about getting into the office.

The Duke told a couple of legislative correspondents a little bit about the story and the wires were burning between New York City and Albany by the time we hit the editorial room.

We talked with some legislative correspondents that night that we had never met, and still haven’t met.

It couldn’t happen today, of course, for competition is much keener, but it is interesting to reflect that hardly more than 20 years ago there was that vast difference in news coverage.

We’d like to see some reporter walk around today for a couple of hours, in his pocket a story that produced this big, black headline in The Knickerbocker Press that night:

“Police Battle Maniac on Smith’s Special”

 By the way, our guess is that the Knick went to evening publication when it merged with the Evening News and became the Knickerbocker News in 1937.

The Rail-Road Exchange

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railroadexchange.jpgThe Library of Congress includes this flyer in its ephemera collection, with a possible date of 1847 and no more information than that. Apparently Abner A. Pond’s Rail-Road Exchange offered board and lodging (single meals 25 cents) on Broadway, with its entrance at 25 & 27 Maiden Lane. “This House adjoins the square used as a depot by the Mohawk and Hudson Rail Road Company, and opposite the Ticket Office of the Boston Rail Road, and contiguous to the Steamboat Landings.”

The 1850 Census listed him as Abner “Pound,” who was from Massachusetts and whose occupation was “Hotell.” He was 48 years old in 1850; wife Henryetta was 45. Their children were Agustus, Albert, Nancy and Thomas; Agustus, the oldest at 18, was a bartender. Pond had a number of Irish porters, hackmen and maids living on the premises as well. His Exchange was likely located on what is now a little park at the foot of Maiden Lane. It doesn’t appear in the 1840 city directory.

Albany’s Horse-Drawn Trolleys

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1893’s Street Railway Journal said that Albany was “one of the first cities in the United States to rise to the dignity of passenger transport by means of a street car system.” But street car didn’t yet mean electric trolleys; the earliest trolleys in Albany were actually horse-drawn, run by two different companies.

The first company was the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company, formed April 15, 1862 as a successor to the Watervliet Turnpike Company (formed in 1828). The original Watervliet turnpike ran from the Albany city line to Buffalo Street (now 15th Street), at the edge of the now forgotten Gibbonsville. The line was operated from 1854 with horse-drawn omnibuses, under the auspices of the turnpike company; the Turnpike and Railroad Company was the first to lay down track. It built a line from South Ferry Street up Broadway to the Lumber District and ran its first car on June 22, 1863 (according to Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany”). It extended its line from Broadway up to Albany Rural Cemetery. By 1886 it had 7.5 miles of double track from South Ferry to Green Island, and a mile of single track from Broadway to the Lumber District, employing 27 cars, 150 horses and 75 conductors, drivers, and trackmen. The line served North Albany, the Cemetery, the Old Men’s Home, Island Park and the Watervliet Arsenal. The Board of Directors included such Albany luminaries as James Jermain, Dudley Olcott, and Rufus King.

It was quickly followed by the Albany Railway Company, incorporated Sept. 14, 1863, and work began that winter to build a horse railway from Broadway through State, Washington, and Central Avenue to Knox Street. The first car ran February 22, 1864. The following year the line was extended to West Albany and a new line built down South Pearl to Kenwood. Another extension was built in 1866, on Pearl Street from State to Van Woert. In 1873, a line was built from North Pearl up Clinton Avenue, through Lexington to Central. In 1875, they built a Hamilton Street line to Lexington, later extended to Quali and then Partridge. In 1886, the company had 18 miles of single track, four miles of double, 44 cars and 215 horses. The Board included names like Manning, Pruyn, Ten Eyck, and Van Vechten. Around 1888, both companies began changing over to electric power.

In 1891, the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company was bought up by Albany Railway Company, which now had exclusive rights in Albany. Changing to electricity required the construction of new car barns and power stations. It wouldn’t be until 1899 that the Albany Railway, the Troy City Railway and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company merged to form the United Traction Company, which ran the trolleys for many years.

American Express, Wells Fargo, and Albany

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American_Express_Shipping_Receipt_1853.jpgDid you ever get hit with something you feel like you really should have known, something that should just be common knowledge, and yet you had no idea? So here’s one of those things: American Express was started in Albany. And, there was a Wells Fargo connection as well. (Have to give thanks to a Facebook post by local newscaster Phil Bayly for the American Express information.) But maybe more importantly, Albany was the home of the very first package express delivery service.

 It turns out the earliest express companies, which arranged for the movement of freight by canal and rail, were complicated and more than a little incestuous. They went in and out of business in very short periods of time, with this agent or that principal jumping ship to another company with alarming regularity. So actually tracking the genesis of what became the American Express Company is a bit complicated. Howell, in his otherwise invaluable “Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany,” makes a bit of a mash of it, providing a wildly confusing series of names and relationships in the express business in Albany. But he is clear on one point:

 “To William F. Harnden belongs the credit of recognizing a public want before the public had any definite idea of what that want was; and not merely recognizing it, but going practically to work with energy to supply it. He was the beginner and earliest practical worker of an institution which, for rapid growth and business importance, is without a parallel,” Howell wrote in 1886. “The package express of modern times was unknown until Harnden started it in 1839 . . . The origin of the express, as an institution, was brought about by the introduction of the railway, which made a revolution in former methods. Business men began to require a more rapid and safe delivery of valuable packages and sundry parcels. The old way demanded large confidence, and sometimes became a burden and an inconvenience to friends and acquaintances. There are now living those who well remember how anxious men were to send by some friend going to New York or Boston, parcels of bank notes, drafts, bills collectable, or other valuables; and it was expected to be cheerfully performed as a favor.”

 According to Howell, William F. Harnden was a conductor on the first train of the Boston and Worcester Railroad in 1834. He found the confinement injurious to his health (don’t imagine that the inside of an early rail car was a clean and healthy place to be), and told his friend James W. Hale he sought some more active business. Hale was somewhat of a pioneer in express himself: he carried letters at a reduced rate at a time when U.S. postage was actually fairly high. (Hale claimed to have been arrested for this act 450 times.) Hale suggested that Harnden run a parcel express between New York and Boston, which he did beginning in 1839.

HenryWells.jpgEnter Henry G. Wells, a Vermonter who was a freight agent on the Erie Canal, who encouraged Harnden to extend his growing service to Albany and Buffalo and beyond. Harnden did start an Albany service in 1841, hiring Henry Wells as his agent, but he didn’t carry it further west. Wells, who had grown up near Seneca Falls and apprenticed at Palmyra, still thought the service should extend westward and suggested to a George Pomeroy that it would pay to start an express from Albany to Buffalo. This seems to have had a short run, then lay fallow, then a coal merchant named Crawford Livingston suggested it start up again, so Wells joined Pomeroy & Co.’s Albany and Buffalo Express, which shipped packages west once a week and could reach Buffalo in four nights and three days. Livingston, Wells and Pomeroy also began the Hudson River Express in 1842. “Pomeroy and Wells . . . served as the two messengers of the concern, having a desk in the Exchange Building, where the first express business was transacted in this city.”

 Meantime, Harnden sold the Boston to Albany route to James M. Thompson, who had an agent named Robert L. Johnson, in 1844. He also sold his Philadelphia route, which ended up in the hands of William A. Livingston, who sold out of the business there and moved to Albany to join brother Crawford’s business. They connected with the Fargo brothers, Williams, James and Charles, in Buffalo, running the Western Express Forwarders under the name of Livingston, Wells & Co., and, after Crawford’s death in 1847, Wells & Co.

There was a rival company started by James D. Wasson, an Albany postmaster, and John Warren Butterfield, a Berne native who started as a stage coach driver and established stage routes throughout the state, steamboats on Lake Ontario, a street railroad in Utica, and local plank-roads. And telegraphs. And banks. To say that Butterfield might have been the biggest tycoon ever to come out of Berne would likely go unchallenged. They formed Butterfield, Wasson & Co. in 1849.

So there were at least three rival express services, some of which had been in partnership with each other, operating from or through Albany. In 1850, those three companies – Wells & Co., Livingston & Fargo, and Butterfield, Wasson & Co. – came together as a stock company and formed The American Express Company. Henry Wells was President (until 1868), John Butterfield, Vice President; William C. Fargo, Secretary; Alexander Holland, Treasurer. Of course, the company saw phenomenal growth, and very quickly established its headquarters in New York City. Over the years, it absorbed a number of rival companies, such as the United States Express Company and Pomeroy’s Merchants Union Express Company. Many of these had their offices in the Exchange Building, at the northeast corner of State and Broadway now occupied by the former federal government building.

Howell wrote in 1886:

“The American Express Company doing business in Albany County is largely the growth from seed sown by such men as Henry Wells, Crawford Livingston, William A. Livingston, R.L. Johnson and George Pomeroy. More than two-score years ago, in 1841, when Harnden induced Henry Wells to serve him as agent, Wells, then young, sanguine, full of energy and willing to work, fixed his headquarters in Albany.”

 Very shortly after its creation, there was an internal division; Wells wanted to extend the express operations westward to California; Butterfield and the other directors objected. Apparently, there weren’t non-compete clauses back then, because Wells enlisted Fargo in creating a western express company that you may have heard of.

Wells himself doesn’t appear to have spent much time in Albany; his first wife Sarah Daggett was from Schuylerville, but they lived in New York City (way out in Jamaica), in 1850, and shortly after the creation of American Express they moved to Aurora. Shortly after retiring from Wells Fargo and American Express, he founded Wells College on the grounds of his estate, one of the earliest women’s colleges in the country.

Butterfield created the Butterfield Overland Mail route, carrying U.S. mail and passengers between St. Louis and San Francisco. Debt forced him to sell out to Wells Fargo and he returned to his adopted city of Utica, where he served as mayor. Butterfield’s son Daniel is often credited with composing “Taps.”

The Fargo brothers, originally from Onondaga County and then Buffalo, bounced around Detroit, Chicago and New York City, but mostly stayed an express train away from Albany.

Additional details from The Express Gazette, Vols. 46-47; American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, Volume 2.

It’s NOT 40 Miles from Schenectady to Troy

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FortyMiles2.pngAmong the greatest songs of Gustave Kerker (No. 14 on the Honor Roll of Popular Songwriters, according to Billboard magazine, back in 1949) was a tune he wrote, with lyrics by Hugh Morton, for an 1896 show called “In Gay New York” that was featured at the Casino Theater in New York City. Even in 1949, Billboard noted that Kerker was one of Tin Pan Alley’s forgotten men. Among the songs in that show was the inexplicably titled “It’s Forty Miles from Schenectady to Troy” (preserved for us by the New York Public Library).

“I’m going on the stage,” said the pale-faced youth,
“I’m going on the stage, and I’ll be another Booth.”
“Before you go,” said the second old man,
“You want to get the thickest pair of boots that you can
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy;
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk
To the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The art of the stage is a very high art”
Said the youth as he placed his hand upon his heart
The old man said, with tears in his eyes,
“You’ll find it isn’t higher than the railroad ties!
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
you want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

“The actor-man is a being most rare,”
The pale-faced youth then proceeded to declare.
The old man said, “Undoubtedly he’s sweet,
But he ought to be born with an extra pair of feet,
For it’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy,
You want to keep “tab” on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto in New York.”

It’s forty miles from Schenectady to Troy
You want to keep tab on that, my boy,
And when you reach Troy
It’s a darned long walk to the gay Rialto of New York.

Of course, it isn’t 40 miles from Schenectady to Troy, even if you walk it, and The Schenectady and Troy Railroad begn running in 1841, making fairly short work of the 21 miles between the Electric City and the Collar City (though at that time Schenectady was still stronger in the broom department, and Troy was pumping iron).

Albany Architects: Marcus T. Reynolds

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MarcusTReynolds.jpgThe last Albany architect of significance was Marcus T. Reynolds. Working from 1893 through 1930, Reynolds created some of Albany’s greatest landmarks and, sad to say, was the last architect to have a positive impact on the city. (One could argue that for Wallace Harrison, architect of the Empire State Plaza – but that feels like a single piece, something apart from the city, and the effect it had on the fabric of the city was anything but positive. Besides, Harrison was not from Albany.)

Reynolds was born in Great Barrington in 1869; his mother died in 1875, and his father (a Union College classmate and friend of Chester Arthur) then put Marcus and brother Cuyler in the care of their aunt Laura Van Rensselaer, living at 98 Columbia Street in Albany. Marcus was sent to boarding school in Catskill and later attended The Albany Academy and St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire before entering Williams College. He graduated in 1890 and went to the architectural program at Columbia University’s School of Mines, and then returned to Albany to set about finishing the city.

In 1893, Reynolds took on the reconstruction of the Sigma Phi fraternity house, of which he was a member, at Williams College. His Van Rensselaer connections gave him access to parts of the old Van Rensselaer Manor House, which was at that point in disrepair, having been vacated in 1875. He designed for Sigma Phi a new house similar to the Van Rensselaer mansion, and was able to salvage some of the exterior stonework and window trim from the old Albany house. (Interior elements of the manor house are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.) Views of the old Manor House and the Sigma Phi house can be found at this link; sadly, the Sigma Phi house was demolished in 1973. One reason the Van Rensselaers were no longer interested in the old manor site was that it had become part of the lumber district and was overrun with industry, and the decision to tear down the mansion was coincident with the construction of Reynolds’s first Albany commission, the Albany Terminal Storage Warehouse on Tivoli Street, in 1893. William Van Rensselaer owned the company. The building still stands, but had lightning struck its architect in that year, we wouldn’t be remembering him today.

United_Traction_Company_Albany.jpgThe Manor House had been abandoned, but people named Van Rensselaer still needed places to live. Reynolds’s next Albany commission were the Van Rensselaer houses at 385-389 State Street, just across from Washington Park near Willett, and still one of the most distinctive houses in Albany. Then, just to get away from old money for a little while, he worked on the remodeling of the Albany Country Club on Western Avenue in 1898. Then he built what was for a long time almost the northernmost limit of civilization on Broadway, the United Traction Company building at Columbia Street, a lovely landmark that stood alone, cater-corner from Union Station, among desolate parking lots for decades.

 There were other private homes, and the Superintendent’s House at the Albany Rural Cemetery (1899). He built the much-lamented Pruyn Library at North Pearl and Clinton, and the Canon George Carter House (1902, 62 South Swan St.), before returning to the family well, building the Van Rensselaer Apartments at Madison and Lark Street (1904). But at this time he was also building some of the most notable downtown Albany structures that stand to this day.

First among these was The Albany City Savings Building at 100 State Street (1902). He built the first National Savings Bank Building at 70 State Street, now lost. Then came the New York State National Bank at 69 State Street, which preserved one of Philip Hooker’s facades within an early skyscraper, and moved it up the street to boot (1904), and the First Trust Company building (1904, 35 State Street), at the corner of State and Broadway, still sometimes known as the Museum Building for the structure that preceded it, which looked similar (1904, with Reynolds additions in 1908 and in the 1930s). He built The Hampton Hotel (1906, 40 State Street), and the iconic Hook and Ladder No. 4 (1910, Delaware Avenue at Marshall St.).

D&H bldg 1From 1912-1918, he built what is probably his crowning glory, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building. This was the headquarters of one of the region’s railroads; it never served as a station, although it had a freight warehouse directly to its north. Commonly reported to have been based on the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium, the D&H Building rivals the State Capitol at the top of the hill in grandeur, and exceeds it in unity. It was built at what was then a very busy intersection, and part of the plot’s design was to include a loop for trolleys in front of the building, in what was then known as The Plaza. The building shut off the waterfront from view; as it was heavily commercial at the time, that wasn’t considered a bad thing. The building was constructed north to south, expanding with the years; the final, southernmost section was built for the Albany Evening Journal, though it can really only be told apart from the railroad headquarters by the small figures celebrating the history of printing.

 The Evening Journal was only there for a few years before it was absorbed by the Times-Union in 1924. The D&H lasted there into the 1960s. A plan for the building to become the headquarters of the expanding State University of New York developed in 1972, but it took until 1978 before SUNY finished renovations and took over the site, along with the neighboring Federal Building.

 After the D&H, Reynolds built two more notable downtown structures, the Municipal Gas Company Building (1916, 126 State Street) and the addition to the Albany City Savings Institution (1924, 100 State Street) that included its signature tower. Further afield, he built the Albany Industrial Building, later home to the Argus Litho (1915, 1031 Broadway), Public School No. 4 (1924, Madison Ave. and Ontario, now gone), Hackett Junior High School (1927, 45 Delaware Ave.), and both the new Albany Academy (1931, Academy Road) and renovations to the old Albany Academy (1930, Academy Park). He also designed the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs and buildings in Catskill, Amsterdam and New York City.

 Reynolds died March 18, 1837. He is, appropriately, buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Lines in Favor of Building the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad

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English: Albany - Susquehanna Railroad Delmar ...

English: Albany – Susquehanna Railroad Delmar Station, (Town of Bethlehem, New York). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Albany was the hub of commerce, connecting the great markets of Montreal, Boston and New York to the heartland and the new West, being able to get your goods to our ancient city was highly important. Connection to the major railroads or the Erie Canal was critical. What is now the Interstate 88 corridor, the areas of Cobleskill, Oneonta, and beyond, suffered for a very long time from lack of access to urban markets, being a long way off the canal or the railways that followed it. Finally came the Albany-Susquehanna Railroad, which connected the Schoharie valley to the capital in 1863, and just a few years later reached Binghamton. Like all great (and most non-great) railroads, it inspired a fair amount of prose over the years, including a 1903 volume by Harley Dana Tuttle, who bestowed posterity with “Stray Poems and Early History of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad.” Noting the struggle for approval of the railroad in the first place, in 1856 Cobleskill’s Tuttle wrote many, many “Lines in Favor of Building the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad,” of which these are only the last:

Close at our backs we’ll have the west,
With all its verdure richly dressed;
New York and Boston at our feet,
And Albany we’ll hourly greet.
Thus joined unto the business world,
Progression’s flag will be unfurled;
And men will prize the railroad’s sway
That now upbraid its cause today.
How shall we do it? some may ask,
And ’tis indeed a heavy task.
Go, sirs, and sign the railroad bill,
It will not cause you any ill;
But then some say it is not just
That they be taxed to raise the “dust,”
While yet they are in truth confessing
The road would be to them a blessing.
Why then not pay your honest part,
And do it with a cheerful heart?
But if there is a single soul
So lost to reason’s right control,
As not to prize a railroad’s sway,
To him I would most humbly say,
Go seek some dark sequestered glade,
Beneath some lonely mountain’s shade,
And with some moss beneath your head,
Make beech leaves answer for your bed.
Rest on, ye sloths! in quiet sleep,
While tree toads ’round you vigil keep!

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