Erie Railroad Rochester Division: Chapter Three

Erie Railroad, Avon, NY, 1910
Avon, N.Y., 1910, courtesy Livingston County Historian’s Office

By Ted Jackson

It took nearly four years to complete the Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad from Corning to Batavia. Construction began in 1850, reached the Steuben-Livingston County line two years later, Caledonia in 1853, and Batavia in 1854. Grading continued towards Buffalo but no track was ever put down. This was due to the precarious financial condition of the BC&NY at that time and the fact that by 1854, the New York Central was already operating a line parallel to this one.

But why four years to reach Batavia? Some of it was due to the uncertainties regarding the proposed Hornellsville-Buffalo route. Part of it was because it was a well-built line. In their haste to reach their goal or because of their financial status, some of the early railroads would skimp on their building standards. The BC&NY did not do this.
When discussing the construction of Buffalo, Corning & New York, one should divide the line into three parts. The first part would be from Corning to Wayland which was primarily along the Conhocton River. This is basically a gently flowing stream. The railroad utilized its valley floor and was able to construct a fairly level line between these two points. The third portion, between Avon and Batavia was also constructed on fairly level ground.

The middle section between Wayland and Avon was a different story. Here, the railroad would bridge the gap between the Conhocton and Genesee valleys. The high point on the line was between Wayland and Springwater at 1412 feet (OR). From there it would descend over 800 feet in 28 miles to Avon. While not as dramatic as Dansville Hill that would later be scaled by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, it was nevertheless a climb for eastbound freight trains that would have to be reckoned with in operational planning. In addition, much of this stretch went through hilly country. Keeping the grades as even as possible required extensive use of cuts and fills. The initial cost of building the line to a high standard must have paid for itself many times in operating costs. The cuts, however, tended to be snow collectors in the wintertime which added the costs of snow removal and occasional stoppages of service.

The Trains Roll

The first trains between Avon and Corning with connections to and from New York City began running on July 21, 1853. The Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad made the following announcement (AI):

On and after Thursday, July 21st, trains will run as follows:

Express train will leave Corning at 4:15 p.m. or immediately on the arrival of the Day Express from New York and arrive at Avon at 7:30 p.m. Returning will leave Avon at 8:00 a.m., Livonia Centre 8:30, Conesus 8:50 and connect with the Day Express which arrives in New York about 10 p.m.
Mail Train will leave Corning at 7:00 a.m. and arrive in Avon Springs at 10:10 a.m. Returning will leave Avon at 2:20 p.m., Livonia Centre 3:05, Conesus 3:33, connecting with the Night Express which arrives in New York about 10 a.m.
The road being broad gauge and running direct to Avon Springs, is the most comfortable and expeditious route from New York to that place. Through tickets to New York can be procured at Avon, Conesus, Wayland and Blood’s stations. Also New York City at the N.Y. and Erie Railroad office to any of the above places.
The freight train will run until further notice, as follows: leaving Corning Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Caledonia on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
—J. A. REDFIELD, Supt.,
Superintendent’s Office, Corning

Avon Springs was a well known health resort in Avon. Livonia Centre (old spelling), apparently, was the first name given to what later became Livonia Station and eventually Livonia. There was no community located around the depot at the time and Livonia Center was the closest village. Blood’s became Atlanta. One would assume that Redfield issued a number of these notices for the various community groups along the line.

When studying this train schedule, there are two noteworthy features. First, the running times for the passenger trains between Corning and Avon were a little over three hours. Considering the times required for stagecoaches that were given in Chapter I, these times must have seemed to the residents of the time to be little less than a miracle. If that were not impressive enough, one could now climb aboard a train in Avon at 8:00 a.m. and arrive in New York at 10:00 p.m. the same day. This opened up a new way of life, particularly for businessmen. With two trains each way, it was possible to visit certain localities on the line and return home the same day.

This was just the beginning. By the end of the Civil War, the number of passenger trains had doubled and would eventually include sleeping cars. Although this line never received the sort of service that a main line would expect to receive, at least it was an adequate service and quite flexible when one was making plans.

The second item of note was the number of freight trains, three a week in each direction. The truth of the matter was that the early railroads were planned primarily to transport passengers. The concept of using a railroad for freight was sort of an added feature. Until the coming of the railroad, shipping freight was a difficult and time consuming job at best. The majority of people along the Conhocton Valley were farmers. They grew just enough, in general, to satisfy their own needs. Any surplus would be sold to the local mill or produce dealer. The railroad would open new markets and encourage these farmers to expand their operations. Manufacturing had consisted primarily of local shops, tending to local needs. Incoming merchandise would involve shipping problems but with the coming of the railroad, this was also improved. As inhabitants along the railroad began to earn more money, either through expanded farming operations or other new business, so, too, would they have more money available to order merchandise from out of town. The whole thing fed on itself, resulting in more jobs, the growth of the communities and an increase in the standard of living. Soon, additional freight trains would appear and eventually, freight would become the major source of income for the railroad.

How the Trains Actually Ran

When we think about these early trains, we might well consider them through the images of trains one may have seen 100 years later. But these early trains were quite different. The locomotives were wood-burners. (Pix 5.2) Instead of coaling stops, trains made wood stops. Instead of shoveling coal, the fireman threw chunks of wood into the fire. Instead of automatic brakes set by the engineer, handbrakes had to set by the brakeman on each separate car, who would be signaled by the engineer to do so. Rails in the 1850s were made of iron, not steel and were much lighter than rails are today, nor was the roadbed ballasted to the standards of today. So when one reads of a passenger train making it from Corning to Avon in three hours, a rate of about twenty-five miles per hour including stops, it really was quite an accomplishment.

Although the passenger cars were probably rather rough riding, they must have seemed like heaven to passengers who had previously used stagecoaches over what passed for roads in those days…if they travelled at all.

Finally, what was it like to be a railroader in those days? We have already mentioned that brakes had to be set by hand. Care had to be taken not to tighten a brake too much as the wheels could get flat spots. If a train was going down a steep grade, the brakeman might have to alternate setting and then releasing the brakes. In the case of freight trains, these men had to walk from car to car along the tops of the cars, dangerous work anytime but particularly bad in inclement weather. (Pix, 5.3) It has been estimated that the optimum number of cars per brakeman was three but that rarely happened (OO).

These were also the days of link-and-pin couplers. Very few veteran brakeman had a full set of fingers. Although automatic coupling systems were available in the 1870s, some railroads were slow to adopt them because of the expense. As late as 1890, half of all employee injuries occurred while coupling or uncoupling cars (OO).The Janney, or knuckle, coupler was finally made mandatory on March 2, 1893, as was the use of automatic brakes (RD). Even with the new equipment, being a brakeman still had its hazards. James Moran, on retiring, commented to a newspaper reporter, “Sometimes I think we all were crazy (QO).”

Work rules did not include a limitation on the number of hours crews could be required to work. If a crew was scheduled to bring a train from Corning to Rochester, it would be assumed that they would remain with the train no matter how long it took to get there. By World War I, railroad workers could no longer be required to work more than 16 hours in a row. This has since been reduced to 12 hours.

The science of train dispatching was in its infancy. The construction of the Buffalo, Corning & New York coincided with the beginning use of the telegraph as an aid to dispatchers.

How the Railroad Changed some of the Communities

Not only did the railroad affect communities along the right-of-way with changing business patterns but the location of the railroad itself might affect the communities as well. Most of the communities between Corning and Wayland were all located along the Conhocton River valley and the construction of the railroad was such that it went right through most of these places such as Bath, Avoca and Wayland itself. Once the railroad got into the Genesee Valley, it had to go many miles over hilly terrain before it reached the Genesee itself in Avon. This created some challenges for depot location. Springwater is located on the floor of the inlet to Hemlock Lake but the necessity of providing as even a grade as possible required the railroad to be located high up on an overlooking hill which restricted the development of commercial interests in a single area. We have already noted that the topography around Dansville precluded it from inclusion on the route at all.

Consider the present village of Livonia. At the time the railroad was built, the main community within the township of Livonia was what is now called Livonia Center, about a mile and a half from the railroad. There was virtually nothing along the railroad. The depot was located where the present building now stands and was called Livonia Station. Some produce buildings were soon erected and the village of Livonia gradually built up around this. There was little more development around Livonia Center until the last few decades when urbanization reached Livingston County. (The Lehigh Valley Railroad did reach Livonia Center in 1893 but this was a case where the hamlet was on top of a hill and the railroad was at the bottom.)

Another interesting example came up in connection with the location of the Conesus Depot. In the 1850s there existed two nearby hamlets, Conesus Centre and Crockett’s Corners (later called Union Corners). Crockett’s Corners had been the local stagecoach stop with an inn and it was originally planned to have the depot nearby. However, anengineering study disclosed that the railroad would have to go through a cut near Crockett’s Corners and also cross a swamp to do so (CZ). In considering a drier route, it appeared that Conesus would have better terrain for a depot and freight facilities although the depot would be some distance from the small commercial district. Thus, the hamlet of Conesus expanded while Crockett’s Corners appears little different from how it did 160 years ago.

How Some of the Communities Changed the Railroad

When the Buffalo, Corning & New York began operations in 1852 there was little commerce in any of the communities along the route that would immediately contribute much freight to the railroad. This would have to be developed as time went on. There were occasions where some industries developed later on that could enhance the fortunes of the railroad.

An example of this was a mine developed south of Livonia by the Retsof Salt and Mining Company which had a similar operation in Retsof. Unlike the one in Retsof, the Livonia operation had a short life and while it contributed a large amount of outgoing freight for the Erie Railroad, it did not last long. If it had been as prosperous as its sister operation, the Corning Branch might still be in existence.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, milk processing plants began to spring up along the Rochester Division with much of that production being shipped by train, first to Rochester and later to New York City, a concept that would certainly have raised eyebrows in 1853.
{I’m getting tired of these, and so will the reader.}Lines such as the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley were largely local efforts. The promoters were generally residents along the line and some of the construction was also done by the locals. One of the directors of the B&CV was Jotham Clark of Conesus. One of his assignments as a director was to obtain the necessary right-of-way through his part of the line. Once that was done, he would contract some of the work required in the construction of the railroad. This involved at least one of his sons, J. Adams Clark, as we can see from the following letter he wrote to one of his brothers (KE).

Liberty Pole House
Springwater
6th Oct, 1852
Dear Brother,

You may think it strange at my dating a line from this place. I have left the fraternal roof. I am now stopping at this place and did last week and shall probably some two weeks longer. I am engaged in drawing ties to the RRoad. I have drawn down some 800. Have two other teams with me. Tom is up here with the oxen drawing out of the woods. He thinks like some of the rest of us that there is no place like home. A good team will draw about 80 a day. Bill and Pete do every day. I have driven them every day until today. I have had a raw Dutchman at it. Rail Road matters progress rather slowly. There has not been much rail lain down in the town yet. There has been considerable hindrance from a man by the name of Spafford in the south part of town.
Father has let nearly all of the fence in Livonia at a living profit. We build from Mrs. Boyds to McDonalds.
Father has gone to LeRoy to a meeting of the Directors. I think it will be cold weather before the cars run to Conesus. [Ed. The first train arrived in Conesus on December 12, 1852.]
Love , Your brother,
J. A. Clark

In reminiscing about the railroad, Jotham Clark had this to say (KC): “When the railroads began to be built, the spirit of enterprise took a rapid move. The first road was from Albany to Schenectady. I rode on this road. A line of roads from this beginning soon reached to Utica, Buffalo and in many directions. A road was started near Corning to extend from the Erie Railroad through Livingston and Genesee Counties and on to Buffalo. I had always lived much secluded and was interested to cast my might to forward the plan. I was made a director and for three years used all the power of mind and means to forward the plan a success but being ignorant as to the cost and work, I invested money, sold my lands and finally the road was made and I lost $23,000. But we have a good road, country improved and now at the age of eighty-five, I would not have it taken up for all my money back.”
Later on he added:

“The Buffalo, New York and Erie Railroad is now a good thing for the country. To me it has been costly. My loss amounts to a large sum in Bonds and Stock.

In Bonds $15,000.00
In Stock 3.500.00
Interest Loss 3,930.61
The Deposit Which I built 600.00
$23,030.61

Altogether too much for one of my property. These losses occurred from 1852 to 1855.”

From Adams Clark’s letter it would appear that Jotham retained his position as director when the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley changed to the Buffalo, Corning & New York. It would appear that he left the board after the railroad was completed through Livingston County which was about the time the second bond issue was authorized. He was not mentioned in the petition brought about by the stockholders (MW) and, as we can see, he was a big loser.

Within the Town of Conesus, the railroad crossed what is now Rowland Road. When the railroad came through, the same Adams Clark constructed a grain warehouse at this crossing with its own siding. It also had a water tower. In one end of the building there was a ticket office and a waiting room as well as the local post office and it was designated as Clark’s Station. This was only a mile south of a depot in South Livonia and three miles north of the one in Conesus.

There were probably dozens of such little stops on railroads in western New York State. Some of them were nothing more than a flash in the pan. Others, for a particular reason, were successful, sometimes overshadowing nearby communities. In those early days, the railroads were willing to pick up any potential business. A lot of these stops would appear in local timetables at best. For every one of these, there were probably several local freight stops, often for a single enterprise. (In later years, Elm Place, on the Rochester Branch, was a farm that had its own sidings for shipping produce and milk.)

Clark’s Station prospered until the untimely death of Mr. Clark in 1858 at the age of 32. In 1862, the main building was destroyed by fire and that was the end of Clark’s Station. The post office continued until 1905 (DX), the mail picked up by means of mail crane (DA).

The Short Life of the Buffalo, New York & Erie Railroad

The original company formed to construct a line from Corning to Buffalo was the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley Railway, created in 1850, subsequently renamed the Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad in 1852. Although the railroad was completed as far as Batavia by 1854, it never reached Buffalo. It ran into some financial difficulties, some of dubious nature, and in 1857 was acquired by the newly formed Buffalo, New York & Erie Railroad as we have seen in the previous chapter.

The BNY&E had also acquired that part of the Buffalo & New York City Railroad between Buffalo and Attica. The BNY&E was an operating railroad for only five years but it was an important five years as far as the development of western New York State and the Erie Railway were concerned.

The first president of the BNY&E was Aaron D. Patchin who had been president of the Buffalo & New York City and treasurer of the Buffalo, Corning & New York. The next president was G.W. Tift and the last president was Charles G. Miller, former president of the BC&NY. Among the directors were John Magee of Bath, John Arnot of Elmira and Nathaniel Marsh, the president of the Erie Railway (IW).

The first order of business was to construct a line between Attica and Batavia to connect the two parts of their railroad. The BNY&E first tried to acquire the line between these two points that was owned by the New York Central. The NYC did not wish to sell so the BNY&E built a new line right next to it. This line was open for business on June 21. 1858 (NA).

Not only did the NYC refuse to sell its Attica-Batavia line, but, according to stories of the time, it also tried to gain control of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad which was the BNY&E’s connection to Rochester. If successful, the NYC would have changed that trackage to standard gauge and thereby shut the BNY&E out of Rochester in the same way that they were doing with the Canandaigua & Niagara Falls (the “Peanut” line) to shut the New York & Erie out of Niagara Falls. Whether or not this was a real plan of the NYC, it never materialized and the BNY&E obtained controlling interest in the R&GV in July 1858 and leased it three months later (NA). The BNY&E also began to operate the Avon, Geneseo & Mt. Morris which had just been completed that same year. Later on, the BNY&E expanded its port facilities in Buffalo (ND).

One proposed project that never came to be was the extension of its line from Corning to Elmira. A lot of BNY&E traffic from Pennsylvania came up the Northern Central to Elmira and from there to Corning on the New York & Erie. Apparently, the Elmira-Corning stretch was becoming a bottleneck which the BNY&E felt could be rectified by building their own line between these two cities (NA). It never happened.

Management’s assessment of the trackage they had acquired varied by the section of the line. The track between Buffalo and Attica was fifteen years old and needed some work. From Attica to Batavia was brand new. From Batavia to Conesus, the track was felt to be in good shape but from Conesus to Corning, some work was required, particularly ballasting and fence work (NA). The BNY&E started rehabilitating the parts of the line that needed it. It would require over two years to do this (NB). Later on, they concentrated on improving bridges and constructed several new ones in the Conhocton Valley (ND).

Recall that the high point on the Corning branch was between Wayland and Springwater. During the BNY&E days, all Corning branch freights originated or terminated at Wayland. Whether freight crews would operate “turns” (i.e., Corning to Wayland and return to Corning) or that distance was all that could be accomplished in a day is not recorded. What we do know is that traffic was increasing and perhaps this was the best way to handle it. This was also the point where helper locomotives were taken off and returned to their home facilities. These operations resulted in Wayland acquiring more trackage and a turntable to replace a wye that had been located there (NA).

The BNY&E inherited twenty-six locomotives from its predecessors and purchased two more the first year, giving them eleven passenger engines, fourteen freight engines, two switchers and one locomotive used for work trains (NB). They began experimenting with coal burning locomotives and by the beginning of the Civil War had converted a quarter of their engines to soft coal at a cost of $150 each. Soft coal was readily available from mines located around Blossburg, Pennsylvania, on the Tioga branch. It was determined that the use of wood cost twice as much as coal on a per mile basis. Because it was easier to refuel with coal than wood, an average freight run time was decreased by an hour, passenger trains by one-half hour (NC). The BNY&E also devoted some effort to repairing their freight car fleet and added to their fleet as well. The first year of operation saw 64 freight cars added, including 40 stock cars which they built themselves.

During the tenure of the BNY&E, gross receipts from passenger business actually decreased until the outbreak of the Civil War and then made a modest recovery. First class passenger rates, per mile, at that time were 2.5 cents for through fares and 3 cents for locals. Second class fares were 2 cents and emigrant fares were a penny (IW).

Freight, on the other hand, gained every year and the last year were over double what it had been the first. In particular shipments of coal and iron from Pennsylvania doubled the second year of operation and would have been even more had it not been for the shortage of cars, a situation made worse by the demands of the Civil War. The last year of operation was particularly profitable.

By 1863, the Buffalo, New York & Erie had become a successful operating railroad. The physical plant had been improved and required maintenance goals were being met. The rails used were 56 and 65 pounds per yard (IW). They had by then 28 locomotives, 21 passenger cars (it appears they were also using cars from the Erie), 7 baggage cars, 165 box cars, 117 stock cars and 108 flat cars (MV). The company was making money.

In the meantime, the Erie Railway had come out of receivership and was adding to its route. The Attica-Hornellsville line had been added in 1861 and it would seem logical to bring the BNY&E into the fold. This occurred on May 1, 1863, when the Erie leased the BNY&E for 490 years for $230,000 per year (MV). This amount was renegotiated on April 15, 1874, to relate, in part, to interest charges for which the BNY&E was liable. When the Erie Railroad came out of receivership in 1895 it began to simplify its lease structure and in so doing, merged the Buffalo, New York & Buffalo into the Erie on April 11,1896 (MZ).

The Eighteen Eighties

By 1880, most of the parts that made up the Rochester Division had been in operation for twenty-five years or more. Passenger schedules had evolved that would continue for another twenty-five years. (Pix, 5.19) In the hamlets and villages, the railroad depot was an important part of local life. If the depot was in the center of town it would probably have a hotel nearby. If not, the hotels in town would have their own rigs for transporting patrons, much like the hotel limos of today. (Pix Avon Hotels and Livery 5.7,5.8) Prior to the arrival of a passenger train, these rigs would appear at the depot, joined by a representative from the post office. There would also be carriages carrying people who would be boarding the train or awaiting people who would be detraining. There were probably carts with express to ship or pick up. The train would arrive, people would come and go, the train would depart and the carriages would all depart for their respective locations. Then, the depot would be relatively quiet until time for the next train.

From the beginning of the Rochester Division, adequate telegraph service was available. Dispatching trains by telegraph was the established method of getting trains over the road. When a train was ready to start from its terminal, the conductor and engineer would each receive a set of train orders covering such things as meets with other trains not covered by the time table, slow orders caused by weather or the work of track gangs. If something came up after the train had departed, the dispatcher would wire a train order to a station along the line for the train to pick up. If the crew came up with an unusual situation en route, they could wire the dispatcher for instructions or could wire the results of any unscheduled actions they may have taken.

For any communities other than large cities, the local telegraph office was located in the depot where patrons could send or receive telegrams. In the smaller depots, the station agent would also be the telegrapher. News was also passed back and forth on an unofficial basis by this method. If there was some breaking news, the station agent was probably the first person in town to know about it so the depot was also an unofficial news source and the link to the outside world. (There are accounts that on election nights, a few citizens of Conesus would hire the agent there to stay on until the results were in (DA), an event likely repeated elsewhere up and down the line.)

Traffic patterns had been established for freight operations. This was the dynamic part of the business. By 1880, much of the freight business was brought on by the existence of the railroad itself. The accompanying photo is of an oil train carrying oil from Rochester to New York where it would be shipped to India. The pictured bill of lading is for a shipment of wool. Wool business was not new but this shipment is for nearly three tons. In the days before the railroads, shipments of this size would require considerable planning and a lot of time. Now a farmer needed only to request a car from the railroad, load it and that was it. Part of day’s work. (Pix of oil train, 5.10 and Bill of lading, 5.11)

The Erie Goes Standard Gauge

The early part of the 1880s brought two dramatic changes to the Rochester Division. The first was the change in gauge of the track. Recall that the original New York and Erie was built to a six-foot gauge as were the branches that were ultimately added to the system. (Avon pix,5.12) By 1880, the Erie was the only major railroad with this gauge and it was causing them all sorts of problems so they changed over to standard gauge, one division at a time. Some divisions had first installed a third rail to allow for dual-gauge operation. The Rochester Division had considered this and had actually installed it for a portion of the division but later thought better of it and took it all up (QA).

The method of regauging on the Rochester Division was typical of the others. In preparation for this on the Rochester-Corning line, the track crews removed half of the spikes from the rail to be moved and placed them where the rail would be moved to. On July 29, 1881, 1,500 men were moved in from other divisions and broken into gangs every six miles. At 4:00 a.m. the next morning, pairs of these gangs began moving towards each other, pulling the remaining spikes, moving the rails and spiking them down. Regular service on the new track commenced in the middle of the morning. An hour later, trains picked up the workmen and returned them to their home divisions. Seventy-six miles of track between Avon and Corning had been regauged in less than three hours (AE)! The entire line from Rochester to Corning would have been done in three hours except for a problem at West Henrietta which delayed that section for another hour (IT). This operation was not unusual. The line from Hornell to Dunkirk, 128 miles, was regauged in three and a half hours and the 388 miles from Salamanca, New York, to Dayton, Ohio, was completed by 2,500 men in six hours (IS).{should we mention in here that the Erie also had to re-do all the trucks on their cars and do a lot of work on locomotives?}

Rochester Gets a New Depot

In 1887, the original depot in Rochester was replaced by a new one on Court Street. For the time, this was an impressive structure. Among its distinguishing items were its large train shed and a tower which contained a clock. When the plans for this structure were announced, the following description appeared in the Scientific American (QR):

“The new depot is located on the south side of Court Street, near the river. The style of the architecture is based on the modern Renaissance, being treated in a free and unconventional manner suitable for this class of building. On the first story there is a general waiting-room. 38 ft. x 35 ft., with a gentlemen’s toilet-room opening from it. Also a ladies’ waiting-room opening from it, with a ladies’ toilet-room attached. There is also a baggage-room, 39 ft. x 15 ft. ; all agent’s room, with ticket-office; a news-stand; and a telegraph-office. On the second story there are a superintendent’s office, conductors’ room, division freight agent’s office, hall, lobby, and toilet-room. The main building is 76 ft. x 60 ft. A tower on the northeast corner rises to the height of 110 ft. above the pavement. Brick and stone have been used for the walls, with Medina stone laid up in regular courses of ashlar, with quarry faces and chiselled draught below the first-floor sills. Above this point the exterior courses of walls are laid up with pressed brick in black mortar. Window-sills, bracket corbels, key-stones, and first-story sill-course are of Ohio sandstone. Trimmings of terra-cotta and moulded brick are freely used in belt and string courses and in the arches. The roofs of main building and awnings are covered with slate and copper and the roofs of wings with tin. The interior of the building will be finished in white ash and cherry, the floors of waiting-rooms and vestibules laid with black and white marble tiles, and the floors of the toilet-room with slate tiles. An open staircase in oak, ash, and cherry is located in the tower. Steam will be used to heat the building and electricity for lighting. The tower clock has four soft glass dials, and will be lighted automatically by electricity. A train-shed 270 ft. long and 72 ft. wide, of ornamental design, in iron, is to be erected adjoining. The cost of passenger station and train-shed will be upward of $50,000. The work is being executed under the direction of C. W. Buchholz, engineer, from drawings and designs of George E. Archer, architect to the company.”

Although the 1880s were probably the high water mark for passenger service between Rochester and Corning and on to New York, the depot’s busiest days were still ahead of it. With the coming of the electrification of the Mt. Morris and Rochester branches and both the Buffalo, Lockport & Rochester and the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern electric interurbans becoming tenants, the depot would witness upwards of sixty arrivals and departures daily or a train movement about every nine minutes while the depot was open. (Pix of Depot 5.24)

Milk Traffic in Western New York

Many upstate New York railroads did a considerable business hauling milk, much of it to New York City area. Again, it was the Erie that pioneered this activity. The first shipment of milk by rail occurred in the spring of 1842. The shipment was on the New York & Erie from Chester, N.Y., to Jersey City, N.J., and consisted of milk in blue pyramidal wooden churns. Most shipments, particularly during the summer, consisted of salted butter until the NY&E devised a method of refrigerating milk (RD). The first milk train ran from Otisville, N.Y., to Jersey City on March 3, 1847 (HY). It proved to be a profitable activity. The Erie began to expand this business, particularly under Frederick Underwood (NY). At the height of the milk train era, milk was being shipped on the Erie to New York City from as far west as Meadville, Pa.

Milk could be shipped in several ways. The most simple was the use of milk cans which could be carried in refrigerator cars, or for a few cans for short distances, a baggage or express car would suffice. There were special purpose tank cars, generally glass lined and, later on, there were also special tanks that could be hauled by a truck to a railhead. The tank was then transferred onto a special flat car. At the destination, the process was reversed. Although some railroads owned some milk cars, the majority of these cars were privately owned. Many of these cars were equipped with high-speed trucks for use in passenger trains.

In general, raw milk was delivered to a creamery to be processed. As creameries were being built, it was to their advantage to be located close to a railroad and have their own siding. The processed milk would then be picked up by a milk train and delivered, usually, to one or more distribution centers in a major city. The other milk work consisted of picking up individual milk cans at depots, or occasionally at cross roads for delivery to creameries. The Rochester Division had both kinds of delivery. For a number of years, this was a very active business and for every milk car or milk can that was picked up, an empty car would have to be spotted or milk cans unloaded. In 1926, the milk plant in Lakeville shipped two to three cars of milk a day and employed 40 people (QV).

In perusing old employee timetables, it appears that nearly every station on the Corning branch was involved in what was referred to as “milk work.” All classes of trains were involved and milk was shipped in both directions. An employee timetable from 1912 stated “No.463 (passenger) will do milk work at Avoca, Wallace, Websters, Conesus, South Livonia, Livonia, South Lima, Conesus Lake Jct., Miller Crossing, McQueens and Avon.” This was a westbound train headed for Rochester and, judging from the stops, was probably picking up cans of milk for Rochester. Other trains, both passenger and freight, unloaded empty cans at these same locations. Less is known about the other branches but Elm Place, between Avon and Golah, was a milk stop and Attica branch passenger trains did milk work at Alexander.

The total amount of this business must have been considerable, particularly when a lot of milk was being shipped to Rochester. The plant in Lakeville shipped two or three cars a day in the mid 1920s (SO) but by 1940 was shipping only four cars a week.

Later on, most of the milk business was going east towards New York City as summarized by this entry from a 1930 employees time table: “ No.138 (a way freight) will do milk work at Lakeville, Websters, Wayland, Wallace, Kanona, Bath, Savona and Campbell.” Number 138 would hand these cars off to a Jersey City-bound train at Corning. (Pix Websters 5.14)

Into the Twentieth Century

The period leading up to the beginning of the twentieth century was probably the high-water mark for many branch lines. More and more commerce had been developed in smaller towns. The inroads of the automobile and the truck would affect these communities earlier than the larger cities. Sizable reductions in train service on the Corning and Attica branches were already underway during World War I.

Less is known about freight service but there was a lot of activity during this period. Part of it was due to the aforementioned growth of commerce and part was because freight trains were shorter in those days. (Pix 5.1 Doubleheader)

During World War I, the United States Government took over the operation of the railroads under the United States Railroad Administration. One curious event during World War I was the proposal by the Government essentially to shut down two segments of the Rochester Division. The first segment was the Erie Corning branch between Painted Post and Wayland . This traffic would be diverted over to the Lackawanna and all of the Erie depots along this stretch would be closed so that these agents could do other tasks. (The account did not state what these “tasks” would be, whether other railroad jobs or the armed forces.) This proposal was made in the fall of 1918.

A second proposal in January 1918 was to shut down the Erie Attica branch from Batavia to Avon and divert this traffic over to the New York Central “Peanut” branch between Batavia and Golah on the Erie Rochester branch. (5.22 Pix of Golah) This was apparently changed to the segments of the two lines between Batavia and Leroy. (The NYC branch between Batavia and Attica would also be closed and that traffic diverted to the parallel Erie track.) The Batavia- Leroy proposal was put on hold in October of that year (QI) and the ending of the war in November put an end to this and also the Corning branch proposal. Some combinations did take place. The Erie freight house in Batavia was closed; its operations and its personnel were sent over to the New York Central facility (QJ).
In 1927, the Batavia-Leroy proposal resurfaced as a cost-cutting strategy but the two railroads never could agree on the details (QK).

On July 4, 1919, a gentleman by the name of Charles E. Fisher did what many of us would like to do. He picked up his camera and visited the Erie yard in Avon. A number of his photos are displayed here and elsewhere in this book , giving us a pretty good idea of Rochester Division motive power immediately after World War I. Fisher was the founder and long time president of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. During World War I, he was located at Eastman Kodak in Rochester as the Chief Inspector for the U.S. Bureau of Aircraft Production (PN).

The locomotives displayed here may seem old to us but some were old when these pictures were taken. The 4-4-0s were about 30 years old at the time and the 2-8-0s were 35 to 40 years old. The newcomers were the Mother Hubbard 4-6-0s which had been built in the 1890s. With the acquisition of a considerable number of new locomotives during the Underwood regime, these older engines would begin to be retired and within ten years most of these old-timers would be gone.(Pix of 479, 1096 and 881, 5.15-17) This train order from 1923 indicates that the big H-21 2-8-0s were already pushing their smaller brethren aside even if one of them was assigned to the second section of a passenger train. (September 1, 1923 was a Saturday. It is possible that the second section was an excursion or possibly a way to clear out some freight before Sunday.) (Train order,5.18)

The inroads of the automobile were already being felt. By the end of the war, both the Corning and Attica branches were down to two passenger trains each way. Freight was still holding up fairly well but its time, too, would come. Meanwhile, with more powerful locomotives appearing on the scene, the freight trains were getting longer even though the cars were also getting larger. This was also resulting in fewer freight trains being run.