Chemung County NY
History of Tompkins, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga 1879
Chapter VI - Internal Improvements.
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1879 Four County History - Table of Contents
Typed by Debbie Hansen
Formatted by Joyce M. Tice


The First Railroad Train in America-The Mohawk and Hudson-Opened in 1831-Seventeen Miles in Length-Miles of Road in Operation in New York in 1845-Location-Miles of Road in Operation in New York in 1878-Cost of Construction and Equipment-The Second Railway in this State-The Cayuga and Susquehanna-The New York, Lake Erie and Western-The Northern Central-The Chemung-Canandaigua and Corning-The Southern Central-The Lehigh Valley-The Ithaca and Towanda-The Geneva and Ithaca-The Cayuga Lake-The Utica, Ithaca and Elmira-The Syracuse, Geneva and Corning-The New York and Oswego Midland-The Tioga and State Line-The Chemung Canal.

The first railroad company incorporated in the State of New York was chartered April 17, 1826, under the name of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad Company, and under its charter the first link in what is now known as the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad was constructed, seventeen miles from Albany to Schenectady.

It was opened for traffic in 1831, and was operated by inclined planes, and partly, it is believed, with stationary engines. There were no Westinghouse air-brakes or other modern appliances for checking the momentum of the cars; brakesmen used the simple hand-lever bolted to the track, and operated by pressing downward with the hands. In 1831 a locomotive engine weighing four tons, and named the "John Bull," was imported from England, and in the same year the first steam railway passenger-train in America was run over this road. The coaches were old-fashioned stage coach bodies, and were suspended over the tracks by leather through-braces. These coaches had seats inside and outside. The first train over the road had two of these coaches, containing fifteen passengers.

The following description of this train is given by Thurlow Weed, who was among the passengers: "The first train of steam-cars ever run in America was on the old Mohawk and Hudson Railway, the first section of the present New York Central. It then extended from Albany sixteen miles to Schenectady. The trial trip was made on the last day of July 1831. For a train, two ordinary stage-coaches had been shorn of their bodies, which were placed on single four-wheel trucks adapted to the track. Nothing could be conceived more primitive, as compared with the present stately locomotives, than the ugly and clumsy engine, which was imported from England at an expense of $5855.63. There was no cab. The engineer, who wore a silk hat, had behind him, on a single-truck fender, a pile of fagots, and two flour-barrels filled with similar fuel. There were fifteen passengers, eight in the first coach and seven in the second (one passenger being on the box and one in the boot of each coach)."

"I remember the occasion very well. They hadn’t discovered the engineering tricks of railroading in those days. The road was sixteen miles long. But instead of going around an obstacle in the shape of a hill, as they would now, they went over it. They did not understand the principle of overcoming steep grades. The first half-mile out of Albany was very steep, as was also the first half-mile out of Schenectady. To pull the train up these steep inclines, stationary engines were used, with drum and cable, the engines being placed on the summits. Between these two hills, a stretch of fifteen miles, the grades were very easy, and the locomotive carried us along at a rapid rate. If I remember aright, we traversed the fifteen miles in less than an hour; remarkably good time, all things considered. I know the train was carefully timed, and we all had our watches out.

"The passengers were all men of some prominence either at Albany, Schenectady, or New York. Ex-Governor Yates was in the car or stage with me. John Townsend, a prominent merchant, and formerly mayor of Albany, sat by my side. Billy’ Winne, the penny postman, as he was called, sat in the boot. Other passengers were Lewis Benedict, of Albany, John I. DeGraff, Mayor of Schenectady, and once member of Congress, John Meigs, chief of the Albany police, and Jacob Hayes, of the New York police.

"A Philadelphia gentleman named Brown, who stood looking on, when the train was about to start, and who was very expert in cutting silhouette likenesses, cut out the profile of the train and passengers in black paper."

The enterprise proved a success, and other links in the road from Albany to Buffalo were soon after constructed, and, in 1845, fourteen years after the opening of the first road, there were about six hundred and sixty-one miles of railway in operation in this State, viz., from Albany to Buffalo via Auburn, Syracuse, Rochester, and Batavia; Lockport to Lewiston; Buffalo to Lewiston; Troy to Massachusetts State Line via Chatham; Troy to Saratoga via Mechanicsville and Ballston; Troy to Schenectady; Schenectady to Ballston; Brooklyn to Greenport; New York to White Plains; Piermont to Middletown; Ithaca to Owego; and Painted Post to the Pennsylvania State Line.

From this period the railroad interests developed with almost marvelous rapidity; until at the present time the State is traversed with a net-work of railway, embracing about 5360 miles, costing in its construction and equipment about 510,000,000.


The Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad Company was the second railroad chartered in this State. It was incorporated Jan. 28, 1828, with a capital stock of $150.000, and authorized to construct a road from Ithaca and Owego.

No attempt, however, was made to construct the road until the building of the Chemung Canal from Elmira to Watkins. The successful accomplishment of this project was regarded by the citizens of Ithaca and Owego as detrimental to the interests of their towns, and a movement was started by Simeon De Witt, then a resident of Ithaca, and others to build the road. In March, 1832, the capital stock was increased to $300,000, and the road was opened in April, 1834. In the following month the capital stock was increased to $450,000, and in April, 1838, the Legislature authorized a loan to the company of $250,000, taking a lien upon the road and its appurtenances.

The "panic" of 1837 crippled the company; it failed to pay the interest to the State, and on May 20, 1842, the comptroller sold it at auction to Archibald McIntire and others for the sum of $4500. The road as originally constructed was twenty-nine miles in length, with two inclined planes ascending from Ithaca. The first of these was 1733 1/3 feet long, with 405 feet rise, and the second was 2125 feet in length, with a rise of one foot in twenty-one. The total elevation in eight miles was 602 feet above its southern terminus at Ithaca. It was operated on the first plane by a stationary steam-engine, while horses were used as the motive-power on the balance of the road. After passing into the hands of Mr. McIntire, the inclined planes were replaced by others of lesser grade, traversing the mountain in a zigzag manner, and locomotives superseded the horse-power and stationary engine. The main line of the road is now 34.61 miles in length, and the total track mileage is 40.61. The road is leased to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company, and is operated by them as the Cayuga Division. It is 34 61/100 miles in length, with six miles of sidings, and traverses the towns of Ithaca, Danby, and Caroline, in Tompkins County, and Candor, in Tioga County.


The New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company was incorporated as the New York and Erie Railroad Company, April, 21, 1832. In 1861 it was reorganized as the Erie Railway Company, which organization was continued until 1878, when it was again reorganized, this time as the New York, Lake Erie and Western.

The first section of this road was opened for traffic from Piermont to Goshen in 1841; from Goshen to Middletown in June, 1843; to Port Jervis in January, 1848; to Binghamton in December, 1848; to Elmira in October, 1849; to Corning in January, 1850; and through to Dunkirk, the then western terminus, May 14, 1851. The opening of the road brought a wealthy and comparatively isolated section of the State in communication with the sea-board, and soon became the outlet for a large Western traffic. Although the "Erie" as it is familiarly known, has had a checkered career, it has ever been regarded as one of the representative railways of the United States, and under its present efficient management its interests will doubtless be extended.

The total line operated by the Erie Road is 1032 miles; double track, 319 ½ ; on branches, 28 ½ ; total, 348 miles; sidings, 157 ½ ; total length of track, 1547 ½ . Gauge, 6 feet; and on 64 ½ miles by extra rail, 4 feet 8 ½ inches.

The road crosses the towns of Owego, Tioga, and Barton, in Tioga County, and Southport, Horseheads, and Big Flats, in Chemung.


That portion of the Northern Central Railway lying within this State is a consolidation of three roads, viz.: the Chemung Railroad, leading from Elmira to Watkins; the Canandaigua and Corning Railroad, leading from Canandaigua to Watkins; and the Williamsport and Elmira Road. The Chemung road was incorporated in May, 1845, and opened in 1849, having been leased while in course of construction to the New York and Erie.

The road from Canandaigua to Jefferson (now Watkins) was constructed under the charter of the Corning and Canandaigua Railroad, granted May 11, 1845. The building of the road was commenced on July 4, 1850, and in the following year, 1851, it was in operation, the New York and Erie furnishing engines, cars, etc., at a specified rate per mile. It connected with the Chemung road at Jefferson (Watkins), and Sept. 11, 1852, its name was changed to the Canandaigua and Elmira Railroad, and May 1, 1857, the entire road from Elmira to Canandaigua was sold and name changed to Elmira, Canandaigua and Niagara Railroad. This road was under the management of the Erie Railway until 1866, when the unexpired term of leases held by that corporation were assumed by the Northern Central, and in 1872, a majority interest in the stock was purchased by the Northern Central.

The Williamsport and Elmira Railroad was organized under the laws of Pennsylvania in 1852. The contractors for building the road were John S. King, of Geneva, and I. J. Stancliff and A. S. Diven, of Elmira, under the firm-name of King, Stancliff & Co. Major Wm. H. Arnold was chief engineer.

The road was open for traffic in 1854, with A. S. Diven as president. It was leased to the Northern Central Road in 1863. These three roads form an important section of the 325 miles of rail now operated by the Northern Central from Baltimore to Canandaigua.

This road enters New York State in the town of Southport, and traverses the towns of Southport, Elmira, Horseheads, and Catlin, in Chemung County, and Montour, Dix and Reading, in Schuyler County.


The Southern Central Railroad Company was incorporated in September, 1865, as the Lake Ontario, Auburn and New York Railroad, but subsequently its present corporate title was substituted. The company was authorized to construct a road from Fair Haven, on Lake Ontario, to Athens, on the Pennsylvania State line. 25 miles of the road were opened in 1869; 43 in 1870; 27 in 1871; and the remaining 22 miles in the winter of 1871-72.

The Southern Central Railway is 117 miles in length. It crosses the towns of Groton and Dryden, in Tompkins, and Richford, Berkshire, Newark, and Owego, in Tioga County.

That portion of the Lehigh Valley Railroad lying within the bounds of this State embraces what are known as the Ithaca and Towanda, and Geneva and Ithaca Roads.

The Ithaca and Towanda Railroad Company was incorporated in December, 1865, and in 1868, by a special act of the Legislature, its name was changed to the Ithaca and Athens Road. It was completed and opened for traffic in 1870. It was subsequently merged with the Geneva and Ithaca Railway, under the title of the Geneva, Ithaca and Athens Railroad. This name was afterwards superseded by Geneva, Ithaca and Sayre, and is operated by the Lehigh Valley Road.

The Geneva and Ithaca Railroad was incorporated in 1870, and in October, 1874, was opened for business. As mentioned above, it was consolidated with the Ithaca and Athens, and is now operated by the Lehigh Valley Road.

The branch known as the Ithaca and Athens Road traverses the towns of Ithaca, Danby, Newfield, Spencer, Van Etten, and Barton, in Tompkins County; and the branch known as the Geneva and Ithaca passes northwest through the towns of Ithaca and Ulysses into Seneca County.


This company, as at present constituted, is a consolidation of the Ithaca and Cortland, and Utica, Horseheads and Elmira Railroad Companies, the former of which was organized July 31, 1869, and the latter April 2, 1870.

It traverses the towns of Horseheads, Erin, Cayuta, and Van Etten, in Chemung County, Spencer and Candor, in Tioga County, and Caroline, Danby, Ithaca, Dryden and Groton, in Tompkins County.


This company was organized to build a road from Ithaca to Cayuga, on the New York Central Railroad, a distance of 38 miles. The road was opened in 1872. In 1873 the road-bed was damaged to such an extent by heavy freshets that traffic was entirely suspended. The damages were, however, soon repaired, and in August of the same year the road was again in operation. After leaving the town of Ithaca it passes through the town of Lansing into Cayuga County.


This road was incorporated in August, 1875. The pioneer mover in the enterprise was General George J. Magee, a wealthy capitalist and extensive coal operator residing in the village of Watkins. It was built ostensibly for the purpose of forming a direct outlet for the Fall Brook Coal Company from Corning to the New York Central Railway.

The road is 58 miles in length, and was constructed at a cost of about $1,500,000. It was opened for business Dec. 10, 1877, and has met with a success even beyond the anticipations of the most sanguine. It passes through a wealthy country, heretofore comparatively isolated. It crosses the famous Watkins Glen, near its head, which is spanned by one of the finest specimens of railway architecture in the State. The bridge is 150 feet above the stream, and the highest railway bridge in the State, except Portage.

The road has proved a substantial benefit to the country which it traverses as well as to the people of Corning, and the Fall Brook Coal Company, and its public-spirited progenitor, General George J. Magee, is entitled to much credit for his indefatigable efforts in building the road, and through whose untiring energy it has reached its present prosperous condition.

The present organization of the board of directors is as follows: General George J. Magee, Daniel Beach, and John Lang, Watkins; Alexander Olcott, Corning; William T. Hamilton and Frank Hiscock, Syracuse; George H. Burrows, Rochester; James Tillinghast, Buffalo; E. D. Worcester, Albany; Augustus Schell, S. F. Barger, and I. P. Chambers, New York; and D. W. Pardee, Brooklyn. General Magee is the acting President, Mr. John Lang is Treasurer, and Alexander Olcott, Secretary. The road is leased and operated by the Fall Brook Coal Company.


Enters the town of Dryden, Tompkins Co., on the west border north of the center, and running in a northeasterly direction passes Freeville and Malloryville, leaving the town east of the center, on the north border. It was completed in 1872. This road is a branch of the main line.


Organized April 24, 1872. Line of road: junction Northern Central Railway, N.Y., to Tioga Railway, N.Y., about 6.5 miles. This road is intended to run from the junction of the Northern Central Railway, 2.5 miles south of Elmira, N.Y., to the Pennsylvania State line, to intersect a branch of the Tioga Railroad. The road was opened in 1877.


The building of the Chemung Canal was commenced in 1830, and in 1833 was completed and opened for business. It extended from Elmira to Watkins, and together with the navigable feeder, leading from Horseheads to Corning, is 39 miles in length, and cost in its construction $344,000. The canal and feeder had 53 locks in a rise of 516 feet. The first collector of tolls was Thomas Maxwell, and the last-when the office was discontinued, in 1876-was John Butcher. The opening of this canal ushered in an important era in the history of Elmira and Chemung Counties, as it furnished a water communication with the Hudson River, and greatly advanced the interests of this section of country. During a long period the canal did a large business, but the building of the Erie, and other connecting lines of railway, affording quick transportation to the sea-board, has diverted the traffic, and the canal is now little used. The collector’s office is abandoned, the channel is in a bad condition, the locks are out of repair, and the crack of the driver’s whip and the voice of the boatman are but seldom heard along its banks.