Category Archives: Erie Railroad Rochester Division

This manuscript “Erie Railroad Rochester Division” by Ted Jackson is a work in progress, and is property of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Erie Railroad Rochester Division: Chapter One

Rochester Erie Canal

Rochester Erie Canal

By Ted Jackson

The city of Rochester, New York, sits astride the Genesee River, with the mighty High Falls providing a dramatic punctuation to the downtown landscape. Drawn to the abundant natural power of the falls, a grist mill and a saw mill were constructed there as early as 1789. However, the location was so isolated in the wilderness, there was little demand for their services. The mills lay dormant until a wealthy landowner by the name of Col. Nathaniel Rochester arrived from Hagerstown, Maryland, with his business partners Col. William Fitzhugh and Maj. Charles Caroll in 1800. Seeing the area firsthand, they quickly acquired wide tracts of land along the Genesee River, recognizing the great potential for future settlement.

By 1811, Col. Rochester began the process of laying out a town around the Upper Falls tract. The War of 1812 drove many settlers seeking greater security inland as a result of the enemy attacks on the shores of Lake Ontario. The fledgling town of “Rochesterville” benefitted from this influx of new settlers, and continued to grow throughout the decade. Col. Rochester helped lead this growth, relocating his family to the city he named after himself. By 1821, Rochesterville had been named the seat of the newly formed Monroe County. Population had reached 2,500 by 1823, the same year the name was changed to simply “Rochester.”

The city continued to enjoy prosperous growth as an industrial center, soon earning the nickname “Flour City” for the numerous mills taking advantage of the natural power source provided by the Genesee River waterfalls. The town leaders had earlier petitioned the state to favor a more northern course for the proposed Erie Canal, and this proved to be a wise decision. The canal provided the first mass transportation to the area, moving more than 3,600 tons of flour in just the first ten days of its operation. The population of Rochester skyrocketed to 9,200 by 1830, making it the 25th largest city in America. A decade later, the population would more than double to 20,191.

By 1850, Rochester had climbed the ranks to 21st largest city in America with a population of 36,003. By this time, westward expansion had pushed towards the Great Plains, and with it, the emphasis on farming. The “Flour City” soon transformed into the “Flower City” thanks to the growth of Rochester’s many nurseries and seed companies, though it remained an important industrial and manufacturing center.


While the Erie Canal had opened up a large part of the region to commerce, personal travel was still a bit of a challenge. As early as 1825, a stagecoach line opened through the Genesee Valley between Owego, Bath, and Rochester. Stagecoaches ran daily taking two days to traverse the route. These routes were operated by Magee & Co., founded by Bath resident John Magee. These primitive lines also carried the mails, which were awarded through highly sought after government contracts. (CT) After serving two terms in Congress, Magee was instrumental in forming the Steuben County Bank in 1832. One of the directors of the bank was Constant Cook, “The Frontier Horse King” of Cohocton. Cook worked with Magee on a number of projects, including expansion of his stagecoach business.

A number of competing stagecoach lines emerged during the 1830s and 1840s. One line went from Geneva to Dansville and, in 1847, took nine and a half hours and cost two dollars(B). Another line went from Canandaigua to Bath. The two lines intersected at present day Cohocton where passengers could transfer. Another line went from Dansville through Conesus and Livonia Center to the Yellow Wasp Tavern west of Lima where connections could be made with stages from Canandaigua to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. By 1850, upstate New York had a rather intricate network of stagecoach lines connecting Rochester with towns throughout the Genesee Valley.

When one thinks of stagecoaches, one is apt to envision them as pictured in Western movies, romantically kicking up dust along well-groomed prairie trails. Most upstate New York stagecoaches did not fit that mold. The roads were primitive and quite bumpy. If these trips were of any length, they could become tests of endurance. By 1850, the star of the stagecoach had already begun to set with the ascendancy of canal boats. Though not much faster, they offered a considerable upgrade in comfort with the advent of the packet boats. However, there were few canals and the stagecoaches still had considerable business making connections with them. The final blow was dealt by the railroads that had considerable advantage in speed and were much easier and cheaper to construct than canals. This reduced the stagecoaches to local pickup service, much of it connecting with trains, a role they maintained until the advent of the internal combustion engine.

Improved Canals and Waterways

Early Rochester settlers made use of every appropriate body of water for transportation. The Genesee River was navigable from Rochester to Geneseo with steamboats being able to travel as far south as Avon. The Conhocton River was also used for navigation. “Navigable” in many cases meant small flat boats but they were still better than hauling goods and people over what passed for roads in those days. If a stream was navigable, it took little preparation to ready it for use other than dock facilities. For this reason, any trickle of water that could be floated was put to work in western New York.

Early use was also made of the lakes throughout the region. Of the eleven Finger Lakes, nearly all of them had commercial shipping at one time or another. Seneca Lake, in particular, was part of a number of transportation routes. At 38 miles in length, it allowed relatively cheap shipping for quite a distance without transloading. Keuka Lake was another, with shipments terminating at Hammondsport, then horse-drawn to Bath, loaded on to rafts for a trip down the Conhocton River. With transfer to larger vessels, shipments could make their way down the Susquehanna River all the way to Chesapeake Bay.

Of course, the problem with using lakes and rivers for transportation was that they rarely went from the Point A to Point B desired by the shipper and traveler. If there was enough demand for a particular route, the early solution would be to build a canal, usually at great expense.

The ambitious Erie Canal was completed between the Hudson River and Lake Erie in 1825. It was an immediate success and transformed the entire region it served. Passengers could make the entire trip end-to-end in four days. Of even more importance was its ability to handle vast amounts of freight which did much to develop agriculture in upstate New York.

A network of canals was developed across the state in the 1830s. Among these was the Chemung Canal, opened in 1833(E), which ran from Elmira to what would become Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake. There, steamboats could haul cargo or passengers to Geneva where they would then be transferred to canal boats on the Seneca and Cayuga Canal which had been constructed five years before. From there they would travel up to a connection with the Erie Canal. The Chemung Canal also had a branch from Elmira to Corning in Steuben County. That same year, the Crooked Lake Canal was opened which connected Keuka Lake at Penn Yan with Seneca Lake at Dresden and opened October 10, 1833(D). This gave Keuka Lake a connection to the Erie Canal system as well.

The other western New York enterprise was the Genesee Valley Canal (D). This was a much larger endeavor, eventually stretching 121 miles from Rochester to Olean. It was started in 1837 and by 1840 was opened as far as Mt. Morris. The following year it reached Dansville as a branch from present day Sonyea to Dansville. It took another ten years to get from Sonyea up into Allegany County, much of it having to do with problems along the banks of the Genesee River within the latter’s gorge, and tremendous climbs in elevation. Olean was reached in 1856 and a connection with the Allegany River was established in 1861.

These canals had numerous problems that differentiated them from the successful Erie Canal. First and foremost was the terrain through which they went. The Erie Canal, for the most part, went through level country and required relatively few locks. These other canals went through hilly country requiring the construction and maintenance of costly locks. These factors hurt the ability of the smaller canals to charge competitive rates against both the Erie Canal and the railroads. While the Erie Canal generated a large amount of traffic and could offer shippers cheaper rates than the railroads, the other canals went through less productive areas. None of the side canals was built as well as the Erie was in its eventual three incarnations, so their cutrate locks suffered with every spring flood. One major factor hurting all canals was that they could not operate in the winter.

The Chemung and Genesee Valley canals had a resurgence of traffic during the Civil War but after that they both went into steady decline. The State of New York, the eventual owner of both, ordered them, along with the Chenango Canal, closed in 1878. The Crooked Lake Canal had closed the year before, leaving the Erie Canal and its branches as the only viable water options.

Railroads Arrive

The first railroads followed natural transportation routes and connected cities. There were several connecting lines reaching across New York State from the Hudson River to Buffalo by 1850. The Mohawk & Hudson Railroad was the state’s first, with construction starting in 1826 and opening in 1831. In 1853, ten railroads were combined to form the New York Central, and established through service from Albany to Buffalo. With these improvements and consolidations, the total time required for their fastest passenger train was about fifteen hours. This was the death knell for the stagecoach lines which required four days between the same two points. The canals also lost whatever remaining passenger business there was to the railroads although they could still compete for some kinds of freight.

Down in Steuben County a pioneering railroad route from Corning, N.Y.m to Blossburg, Pa., opened in 1840 (J). The purpose of the Corning & Blossburg Railroad was to bring coal out of the mines around Blossburg. John Magee, Constant Cook, and his cousin were among the incorporators of the Blossburg Coal Company. In 1851 Magee purchased a controlling interest in the C&B railroad(OB). At the time of its construction, the railroad was completely isolated. In an ironic twist, all rails and spikes as well as locomotives and rolling stock had to be shipped by canal to reach the railroad. John Magee died in 1868, but control of the railroad remained in the family. The railroad continued to grow through a series of leases and acquisitions, eventually forming the Fall Brook Railway in 1892. The entire system was leased to the New York Central in 1899, offering valuable access to the rich coal fields of central Pennsylvania.

Steuben County almost had a second railroad about the same time. A group of businessmen organized the Conhocton Valley Railroad in 1840. The exact route is not known but presumably it was to run from a point in the valley down to Corning where it, too, could connect with either the Chemung Canal or the Chemung and Susequehanna Rivers. This would allow heavier and more predictable transportation down the Conhocton valley than was currently being offered by the small flat boats using the river. The route was surveyed but the project got no farther (PY).

Steuben County got its second railroad in 1850 when the New York & Erie Rail Road had been completed from the Hudson River port of Piermont all the way toHornellsville.  John Magee was one of the incorporators of the line as early as 1832. He realized the importance railroads would have to the economy of the region and pushed for construction to be completed west towards the Genesee Valley. By 1851, the New York & Erie would be completed through to a new port at Dunkirk, creating the first all-rail route between New York City and Lake Erie. The stage was now set.


CT: Emerson, Gary T. “A Biography of John Magee,” Chapter 3, Crooked Lake Review #116, Summer 2000;

B: Palmer, Richard F. (2003); “Canandaigua – A Stagecoach Town.” Crooked Lake Review, Hammondsport, NY 1992;

D: Whitford, Noble E. (1905) History of the Canal System of the State of New York, Vol. I, 1905;

E: Chemung Canal Website

PY: Stackpole, Thomas E., Editor. The Heritage of Bath, NY 1793-1993. The Historical Foundation of Bath, NY, Inc. 1993.

J: McMullen, J.A. (1997) “The Tioga Division of the Erie, Part II, A Complicated and Troubled Beginning.” The Diamond, Vol. 12, No.1, pages 22-24.

OB: History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania. R,C, Brown and Co., Harrisburgh, PA, 1897.



Erie Railroad Rochester Division: Chapter Two

By Ted Jackson

The powerful canal lobby blocked any serious competition from railroads for a number of years, and because of this, the New York & Erie Railroad was established along the Southern Tier of New York State with its western terminal at Dunkirk on Lake Erie. While Dunkirk was an adequate Great Lakes port, it was nowhere near the size of Buffalo. One could well imagine that the management of the New York & Erie always had thoughts of a direct line to Buffalo in the back of their minds. In later years, building such a line would have been relatively simple. One could select a point on the main line such as Elmira, Corning or Hornellsville, survey for a line, acquire the property and build. But in 1850, the NY&E was just completing their line to Dunkirk and certainly had no funds to do anything else. Capital would come in large part from the area in which a line would be built and there would be no lack of choices. Once the NY&E had become a reality, many communities that were not on its main line began voicing an interest in being connected to it.

Eventually, what was to become the Erie Railroad did reach Buffalo but it took a number of years to accomplish this and involved at least ten different corporate entities. While this was going on, a similar process was going in the general area of the Erie Canal which would eventually end up in the formation of the New York Central railroad. Unlike the Erie, which started from scratch and built a line from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, the New York Central was formed by combining a number of already existing lines between Albany and Buffalo. The communities of Attica and Batavia figured in the ambitious plans of both the Central and the Erie railroads.

The story of the Erie’s access to Buffalo starts with two local ventures to connect communities on the NY&E main line with Buffalo. These were Hornellsville and Corning. Both of these proposals were contingent on other projects already under way.

The first of these projects was the Tonawanda Railroad which was chartered on April 24, 1832, to construct a line from Rochester to Attica (QU). Construction began in the fall of 1834 and the section between Rochester and Batavia opened May 5, 1837. This was the second railroad built in New York State. It took another six years to complete the remaining section to Attica.

In the meantime, plans were being made in 1831 for a railroad between Attica and Buffalo. Five years later, the Attica & Buffalo Railroad received its charter on May 3, 1836, to connect those two municipalities (Y,RA) but their plans were stalled by the Panic of 1837. The charter was renewed in 1838, construction began two years later and Attica was finally reached on November 24, 1842. This would give the Tonawanda Railroad a reason to extend its line to Attica which was completed on January 8, 1843. With the completion of the Tonawanda Railroad, one could now go by train between Rochester and Buffalo.

In fact, one could go all the way from Buffalo to Albany with the exception of the lack of a bridge in Rochester. Two years later, that hurdle was surmounted by the construction of a bridge by the Tonawanda Railroad. The route from Buffalo to Albany was made up of eight different railroads including the Attica & Buffalo, the Tonawanda, what later became the Auburn Road of the New York Central and five more which comprised what later became the NYC main line from Syracuse to Albany. On February 17, 1848, these railroads combined to transport through passenger cars between Albany and Buffalo.

On December 7, 1850, the Attica & Buffalo and the Tonawanda merged to form the Buffalo & Rochester Railroad. In 1852, the Buffalo & Rochester constructed a direct line between Batavia and Buffalo making its original route through Attica redundant (QU). With the New York Central staking its claim across the northern half of the state, the stage was now set for the Erie Railroad’s expansion north and west.

Along Comes the Erie

Now that a railroad existed between Buffalo and Attica, the Attica & Hornellsville Railroad was chartered on May 14, 1845, to run between those two communities, giving the NY&E an entry into Buffalo. Construction was to begin within four years and be completed within six. The State of New York reserved the right to purchase the road within fifteen years of completion (AI).

Meanwhile, the people in the Conhocton Valley and north were getting restless. A group of citizens headed by stagecoach entrepreneur John Magee and the Cook cousins had originally hoped that they could convince the New York & Erie to relocate from Corning north through Bath, Wayland, Avon, Batavia, and on to Buffalo. As the New York & Erie continued building west of Corning, these folks decided that their only strategy was to build their own railroad from Corning to Buffalo. Meetings were held in Bath on January 10, 1850, and in Geneseo on January 20 to organize what would become the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley Railroad (AI,Z).

Two routes were investigated (AE), both starting from a connection with the New York & Erie Railroad at Painted Post and proceeding up the Conhocton Valley through Bath to Blood’s Corners (now Atlanta). The first route (the “Honeoye” route), ran “from Bloods Corners north, near Naples, along the west bank of Hunt’s Hollow and Honeoye Lake to Richmond Centre, crossing the outlet of Hemlock Lake at Frost’s Hollow, thence, one mile east of Lima, one mile west of Honeoye Falls, to the village of West Rush, crossing the Genesee River on Judge Sibley’s farm, about fourteen miles south of Rochester, thence up Dugan’s creek to Caledonia village.”

The second route (the “Conesus” route) ran “from Blood’s Corners west six miles to Tuttle’s Inn (six miles east of Dansville), thence along the west bank of the Springwater valley, through Conesus Centre, along the east bank of Conesus Lake to Lakeville at its foot, thence down the outlet through Littleville and Avon Springs, crossing the Genesee River north of the bridge at Avon – thence up White Creek to intersect with the Honeoye route at Caledonia village.” Both routes would turn west to continue through LeRoy, Stafford, Batavia and on to Buffalo.
The “Conesus” route was chosen with one modification. Instead of following the east side of Conesus Lake to Lakeville, it took a path between Conesus and Hemlock Lakes as far north as Hamiltons (now South Lima) and entered the Conesus Lake outlet a little west of there, probably to make the grade up to Conesus a little more uniform. This is also probably why Dansville and Geneseo were not considered in either route. With the exception of Livingston County, the chosen route was the same as Magee’s stagecoach line founded some 25 years earlier.

With this new proposal the dormant Attica & Hornellsville suddenly came to life. Their charter was renewed in 1849 with a provision that other railroads could purchase A&H stock (RA) and construction began out of Hornellsville. It was generally felt that a significant amount of funding for either of these two railroads would have to come from Buffalo and it would be unlikely both lines could be financed. Magee and some of his associates met with the directors of the Attica & Hornellsville to discuss the matter. The result was that the A&H agreed to abandon their enterprise. (K) Buffalo interests agreed to fund one-third of the required funds.

On April 2, 1850, Magee and others organized the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley Railway Company. It was to run from Painted Post to Buffalo, 135 miles and would be incorporated for 99 years starting on June 26, 1850 (AI). The officers were John Magee, President, Orson Phelps, Vice-president, Edward Howell, Secretary, and Aaron D. Patchin, Treasurer. (Patchin, 4.17) Construction began later that same year. In September of that year, the investors leading the Attica & Hornellsville changed their minds and resumed construction. Since that might well affect the Buffalo funding the B&CV expected to receive, the citizens, particularly in Livingston and Genesee Counties, vowed to raise the necessary funds themselves. To purchase additional shares, many of these people mortgaged their own properties. By year’s end, construction had progressed from Painted Post to Savona.

On or about March 3, 1852, the B&CV was renamed as the Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad Company (Q,MW). The BC&NY reached the Livingston County line April 13 and Conesus on December 12. By the middle of 1853, service had been extended through Avon (known then as Avon Springs) to Caledonia. That same year, the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad had opened between Rochester and Avon, giving Rochester its second route to the New York City area. The BC&NY reached Batavia in 1854 and grading continued from Batavia west towards Buffalo.

At the time the Buffalo, Corning & New York came into being, the directors announced that it would be necessary for them to borrow some money. In April 1852, they obtained a mortgage as security for $1,000,000, 7% bond issue due April 1, 1867. These bonds could be issued as certain points on the line were reached (MW). $400,000 could be issued immediately, $150,000 when the line was in operation to Conesus , $125,000 when track was ready to be laid between Conesus and Avon, $125,000 when track was ready to be laid to Batavia and the remaining $200,000 when track was ready to be laid between Batavia and Buffalo. The trustees for this mortgage were John A. Stevans, James S. T. Stranahan and John A. C. Gray. This caused considerable apprehension among the stockholders which was made worse by a second mortgage for $600,000 which the directors obtained the following year (K).

Meanwhile, the Attica & Hornellsville also changed its name and on April 18, 1851, it became the Buffalo & New York City Railroad (Q,MZ). The president was Aaron D. Patchin who, as we have seen, was also the treasurer of the Buffalo, Corning & New York. The line from Hornellsville to Portage was opened January 22, 1852. At the start, the B&NYC had only one locomotive, the NY&E’s Orange, which restricted them to one round trip per day. Eventually, a second engine was acquired and the Orange was taken apart and ferried across the Genesee River to aid in construction of the line from there to Attica (RA). Ultimately a bridge was constructed across the Genesee River west of Avon and the line was opened to Attica on July 6, 1852 (MZ).

The Portage Bridge, which took two years to build, was an impressive all-wooden structure. (Pix, 4.3a and 4.3b) This bridge, engineered by Silas Seymour, was 900 feet long and 250 feet deep. It contained 1,600,000 linear feet of wood (requiring 300 acres of pine trees) and was constructed in such a manner that if any section needed replacement, it could be removed without affecting the rest of the bridge (H, KY). On May 6, 1875, this bridge caught fire and burned in less than an hour. It was replaced by a cast iron and steel bridge which, at this writing, is still standing and carrying trains over the Letchworth gorge, though slated for replacement in the coming years. (Pix, 4.4) While major revisions were conducted in 1906, and vertical supports were upgraded in the 1940s, the bridge remains very similar to the original design.

On December 1, 1852, the Buffalo & New York City purchased the original line from Attica to Buffalo from the Buffalo & Rochester Railroad which had just completed their own direct line between Batavia and Buffalo. (According to reference AC, this section was sold to Patchin who resold it to the Buffalo & New York City.) The Buffalo & Rochester did keep their branch from Batavia down to Attica. The Buffalo & New York City then converted its new trackage to six-foot gauge to match the Erie, thus giving them a direct route from Hornellsville to Buffalo. (Newspaper Acct. 4.5) Buffalo now had its second through route to New York City.

The Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad

As plans for the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley Railroad progressed, so did interest by some communities in connecting with the B&CV upon its completion. Most notably among these was the City of Rochester. The Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Company was organized on June 7, 1851, for the purpose of constructing a line from Rochester to Portage in Livingston County (Q). It would connect at Portage with the proposed Attica & Hornellsville Railroad and intersect the Buffalo & Conhocton Valley at Avon.

Avon was located in the Genesee Valley, as was Rochester and Mt. Morris, so that that much of the line would have little problems with grades. Avon was located on a road which had been a stagecoach route and would later become U.S. Route 20. It was also the location of Avon Springs Park, a spa and recreational area with an adjoining race track which would attract passenger business. (Pix 4.11)

The first president of the Rochester & Genesee Valley was James S. Wadsworth of Geneseo who had also been a director of the Attica & Hornell Railroad (NZ) and the Buffalo, Corning & New York. Wadsworth had purchased $200,000 of stock (AI). Wadsworth would later become a Major-General in the Union Army during the Civil War and was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness (IY). Rochesterian Azariah Boody was another of the early organizers. Probably best known for his donation of land to the fledgling University of Rochester, Boody was involved in several other railroads including the New York Central, and served as president of the Wabash & Toledo Railroad. He would also serve briefly in Congress before resigning due to “prior obligations” that were never explained (IZ). Freeman Clarke was another organizer and would later also become a Congressman as well as the Comptroller of the Currency (JA).

Construction commenced in October 1852 and the line was completed to Avon the following year. The Rochester terminus of the railroad was originally even with the old city jail on the banks of the Genesee River. The area north of that to Court Street, including the property on which the Court Street depot later stood, was purchased later by the Erie Railroad.

Many Rochester merchants were happy with this new development because by 1854, the New York Central had acquired control of every other railroad in Rochester. Four miles north of Avon, the R&GV crossed the tracks of the Canandaigua & Niagara Falls Railroad, which shared the same six-foot gauge and was also operated by the New York & Erie at the time. The junction just south of Rush would later be referred to as Golah.
The R&GV was initially operated by the Buffalo, Corning & New York and then by its successor, the Buffalo, New York & Erie. For the six months ending March 31, 1858, the R&GV received 55 per cent of the gross earnings, and for the six months ensuing, the net earnings. On October 1, 1858, the road was leased to the BNY&E for a period of ten years, the latter agreeing to keep the road in repair, and pay, as rent, 48 per cent of the gross earnings (X).

Financial Difficulties and Consolidation

(Insert 1852 map, 4.19) All of this expansion came at a price. The New York & Erie had been operating the line for the Buffalo & New York City and had made substantial improvements to it. By 1854, the B&NYC had financial problems of its own. The chattel mortage for its rolling stock (valued at $275,000) was sold at foreclosure and purchased by Aaron D. Patchin for $10,000 on March 21, 1854, and held in his name.

A committee representing bondholders, stockholders and creditors was formed to monitor the situation but things went from bad to worse. On May 20, 1854, Patchin was made lessee of the B&NYC. In this capacity, he received 10% of the gross receipts and paid the expenses out of the remainder, a situation which did not sit well with the Committee. On September 1, 1855, the B&NYC was leased to the New York & Erie. On December 11, 1856, the railroad was sold under foreclosure and purchased by Patchin. The portion of the line between Buffalo and Attica was sold to the newly formed Buffalo, New York & Erie Railroad on October 29, 1857, (MZ) who also assumed the First Mortgage of the B&NYC on that portion of the line (X). The section between Attica and Hornellsville remained with the B&NYC. This latter section was sold under foreclosure to Dudley S. Gregory and J. C. Bancroft Davis on March 21, 1861. These gentlemen then incorporated The Buffalo Branch of the Erie Railroad Company on June 13, 1861, to own this property (MZ). On July 1, 1861, The Buffalo Branch of the Erie was leased to the Erie Railway Company (Q) and later merged on December 12, 1861 (MZ).

Back on the Buffalo, Corning & New York, things had not been flowing smoothly either. The direct line they had started to build between Batavia and Buffalo had been paralleled by the Buffalo & Rochester Railroad, which in 1853 had merged into the newly formed New York Central. Furthermore, the B&NYC had already acquired access to Buffalo through Attica leaving them the odd man out. Moreover, recall that the directors had already obtained two mortgages on the railroad totaling $1,600,000. Work ceased on their planned continuation from Batavia into Buffalo. Nevertheless, in late 1854, the BC&NY was selling preferred stock and also trying to sell some of the second mortgage bonds which were still available. The purpose of this fundraising was declared to retire the company’s floating debt and finish the line to Buffalo. There was also the veiled threat that if these funds were not raised, the road would have to be sold to the bondholders (MX). Subscription meetings were held at numerous villages up and down the line.

The proposed line from Batavia to Buffalo was graded most of the way but no track was ever laid. To the locals in the area, it was known as the “Cohocton Grade” reflecting the original name of the line. In 1882 the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel & Western Railroad proposed using the right of way to construct a line from western Massachusetts to Buffalo (QB). However, they incurred many delays in getting into New York State and across the Hudson River. By the time they reached Rotterdam Jct., the New York, West Shore & Buffalo was under construction and the BHT&W would go no further (QC).

On October 1, 1855, the directors of the BC&NY defaulted on the first series of bonds. On December 1 of the same year, they defaulted on the second set. The BC&NY went into receivership and was sold on October 29, 1857, for $1,600,000 to satisfy the bondholders’ claims (Q). The purchaser was the Buffalo, New York & Erie Railroad which had been organized that day and had already taken over the Buffalo & New York City Railroad. The BNY&E connected their two properties by building a line from Attica to Batavia which paralleled the New York Central. This was opened on June 20, 1858 (X,AC). On October 1, the BNY&E leased the Rochester & Genesee Valley and the Avon, Geneseo & Mount Morris (which had been recently constructed connecting those villages). Now all of the pieces of a route linking Buffalo and Rochester and Corning were owned or controlled by one corporate entity. (Insert 1859 map, 4.21) On May 1, 1863, the BNY&E would be leased by the Erie Railroad for 490 years (IW,MV). On April 3, 1896, the Erie purchased all of the shares of the BNY&E and merged it into the parent organization (K).

Post-Mortem on the BC&NY

When the Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad went into receivership, as is customary with bankruptcy procedures, the bondholders’ rights override those of the stockholders’. If a corporation is reorganized, the bondholders generally become the new stockholders. If the corporation is sold, after the creditor’s claims have been satisfied, the bondholders are next in line. In this case, they would generally receive stock in the new company or cash. In either case, the stockholders receive nothing.

Such was the case with the BC&NY. The railroad was sold to the Buffalo, New York & Erie for $1,600,000 to satisfy the bondholders’ claims but the major bondholders were directors of the Company who had exchanged their stock for bonds (K). The general opinion among the stockholders was that this entire incident was fabricated by those directors by stopping the interest payments on the two bond issues. These people split up the $1,600,000 while the stockholders received nothing. Many of the stockholders were ordinary citizens living in the general vicinity of the BC&NY. For them it was a major investment and many of them had mortgaged their property to do so. (Stock cert.& rights, 4.6,4.7) Those who purchased the preferred stock less than three months before the company went into default must have felt particularly aggrieved.

These people felt that they had been swindled and filed charges against the managers and directors of the railroad. The directors named in the petition were John Magee and Constant Cook of Bath, Orson Phelps, Thomas J. Dudley and William J. Miller of Buffalo, Miles P. Lampson of Le Roy, James S. Wadsworth of Geneseo, Orville Comstock of Avon, John A. C. Gray of New York, Daniel Curtiss of Campbell, Thomas Brown of Caledonia, Trumbell Carey of Batavia, and Andrew B. Dickinson of Hornby (MW).

The petition was a lengthy document, running some eight pages. In it, the petitioners showed that the BC&NY had made enough money to pay the interest charges if the directors had so desired. They also alleged that none of the funds obtained from the sale of preferred stock in late 1854 was used for its intended purpose. The petitioners also claimed that the rails, intended for the Batavia-Buffalo line, were bought by some of the directors including Magee as individuals and sold, by them, at a substantial profit to a railroad company in Indiana, receiving securities of that railroad in return. That railroad apparently later failed making the securities worthless. The Board of Directors then made up the difference of what the individuals had lost and added the amount of the loss to the BC&NY debt.

The petitioners also accused Cook, the director in charge of construction, of diverting some of the construction crew to work on his grist mill near Bath. He was also accused of purchasing rights of way with BC&NY stock and being reimbursed in cash by the company; he was also accused of actively trading BC&NY stock based on information not readily available to the public (what we might call “insider trading” today).

The petitioners also claimed that Magee, Cook, and other directors had tried to sell off the road west of Avon and terminate the BC&NY at Rochester thanks to cash incentives provided by rival railroads to do so. It was also alleged that some of the second mortgage bonds were unaccounted for.

How much of this was fact and how much fancy, we will probably never know, but there certainly was enough substance to the claims to merit filing the petition. These charges would be investigated by the New York State Board of Railroad Commissioners. This Commission had been organized a few years before and had been very active in introducing legislation better to control the activities of the railroads. The railroads, naturally, considered the Commission to be a thorn in their sides. As the only major operators in the state at that time, the New York Central and the New York & Erie conspired to do something about this. Alexander S. Diven, who was involved in financing and constructing the NY&E between Binghamton and Hornellsville, and who was now essentially a lobbyist for the NY&E, drafted a proposal for the New York Legislature to abolish the Commission. When it came before the Legislature, there appeared to be little opposition, even from the Commissioners. This was because Dean Richmond, representing the New York Central, had paid them $25,000 to keep quiet. After the bill was passed and the Commision abolished, the New York & Erie quietly paid the New York Central $12,500 for their share of the bribe (K). Thus the Commission which had been investigating the BC&NY stockholders’ petition passed out of existence and with it any hope for these stockholders of receiving any compensation.

It would appear that the stockholders of the Buffalo & New York City fared no better than their compatriots on the Buffalo, Corning & New York. However, the only record of discontent would appear to be a protest filed by the bondholders of the original Attica & Hornellsville against the formation of the Buffalo, New York and Erie. The B&NYC had filed no financial statements for the last years of its existence.

Reorganization of the New York & Erie Railroad

The formation of the Buffalo, New York & Erie was coincident with the Panic of 1857. The always cash-short New York & Erie Railroad had numerous problems since its completion to Dunkirk. The Buffalo & State Line Railroad reached Buffalo on February 22, 1852. This was one of a series of lines that stretched from Buffalo to Chicago and on June 22, 1869, would become part of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway (BF). The New York Central obtained control of LS&MS around 1877 and officially absorbed it in 1914. The B&SL connected with the New York Central at Buffalo and the New York & Erie at Dunkirk and created a rate war between the two which was a drain on the company treasury.

In 1855, there was widespread flooding along the Southern Tier. The following year, the NY&E experienced a major strike. The Panic of 1857 was the last straw. The company went into receivership August 16, 1859, and emerged in 1861 as the Erie Railway (H). In 1863, the Erie leased the Buffalo, Erie & New York Railroad for 450 years creating its own through route from Buffalo to Jersey City. Any hopes of Dunkirk developing into a major terminal had ended. The major Erie route to Buffalo would be through Hornellsville and Attica. Since the Buffalo extension of the line through Bath, Avon and Batavia was never built, traffic on this line had to go south to Attica to get to Buffalo. This was a longer route and relegated the route through Avon to the status of a branch line.

The Avon, Geneseo & Mount Morris Railroad

While the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad did reach Avon in 1853, it got no farther south on its trek towards Portage. The company had acquired title to the right of way between Avon and Mt. Morris, but had done very little with it up to that point. In 1854, the R&GV announced that it would complete the line to Mt. Morris and would issue $300,000 in bonds to finish the job, but were prevented by an injunction procured by some stockholders from Geneseo and Mt. Morris (U). In 1855, some interested residents of the area proposed building the line themselves and lease it to the R&GV, but nothing came of that idea. Finally in 1856, an agreement was reached that the R&GV would transfer title and rights to whoever would complete the line.

On June 2, 1856, the Genesee Valley Railroad was incorporated for the purpose of acquiring that right of way from the R&GV and did so on December 26, 1856 (Q). Construction began that year but was stopped by the Panic of 1857. Work started again the following year and the railroad was completed to Mt. Morris on January 13, 1859 (BG). The first freight train arrived in Mt. Morris that day carrying 80 barrels of whiskey and wine, shipped by G. M. Cuyler of Cuylerville (AI). Regular service commenced that April (U). The Genesee Valley was then leased to the Buffalo, New York & Erie (X).

By the end of the year, the company was bankrupt and was sold for $87,500 under foreclosure to its bondholders February 10, 1860. The new owners reorganized it as the Avon, Geneseo & Mt. Morris Railroad on March 3, 1860 (X). The president for a number of years was William Kidd. The Avon, Geneseo & Mt. Morris Railroad was leased to the Erie Railroad in 1872 and the arrangement continued that way until the abandonment of the line in 1940.

In the reorganization of the Genesee Valley Railroad that led to the creation of the AG&MM, the Town of Mt. Morris issued some bonds and received some stock in the new company in return. At the time the proposed lease to the Erie came up, one of the terms of the lease was that Mt. Morris would transfer its stock to the Erie for as long as the lease continued. If the lease was terminated, the stock would be returned. This proposal was passed at a town meeting. Then a petition was sent to the Livingston County Judge authorizing the commissioners of the AG&MM to sell the stock in the best interest of Mt. Morris. In an agreement signed December 27, 1871, the stock was transferred over to financier Jay Gould, trustee for the Erie Railway. On March 8, 1872, Gould transferred the stock to Hugh Jewett, the incoming president. Jewett received a new certificate as receiver of the Erie and later another one as president of the New York, Lake Erie & Western. On February 10, 1885, Jewitt transferred the stock to incoming president John King.

On June 23, 1892, the Town of Mt. Morris took the NYLE&W to court. It claimed that the transfer of the stock to Jay Gould was invalid because the stock had been transferred, not sold, as per the petition to the Livingston County Judge and it wanted its stock back. Mt. Morris lost this case on a number of counts, one being a statute of limitations, now over 20 years since the original transfer (EB). A few years later, Mt. Morris was back in court again. The NYLE&W had passed through receivership to become the Erie Railroad and the certificate had now passed to Eben B. Thomas, the new president. This time the Town of Mt. Morris claimed that the original transfer was invalid because it went to Jay Gould as trustee rather than the railroad itself. Mt. Morris lost that one also (EC).

In 1878, New York State closed the Genesee Valley Canal and put the right-of-way up for sale. The New York, Lake Erie & Western put in a bid of $2,500 per mile for the segment between Mt. Morris and Cuba. The State Legislature, however, sold the property to the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad for $100 per mile! This right of way eventually became part of the Olean-to-Rochester branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Coneseus Lake Railroad

Although Conesus Lake in Livingston County is one of the smallest of the Finger Lakes, its location led to early development. Located at the head of the lake is Lakeville, 26 miles from Rochester and only 8 miles from Geneseo, the county seat. The construction of the Buffalo, Corning & New York Railroad was responsible for the creation of Livonia Station (now the village of Livonia) which is only two miles from Lakeville. A mile and a half north of Lakeville, another stop had been established by the name of Trew’s Switch, later Conesus Lake Junction.

Some of the larger Finger Lakes were involved in commercial enterprises and were themselves part of various transportation routes shortly after the construction of the Erie Canal. This in turn attracted settlers. Many of the lakes had steamship service and railroad connections before the Civil War. Conesus Lake, on the other hand, was settled after the war and was best known for tourism, recreation, and eventually an ideal location to construct a summer cottage. Steamship routes soon followed to serve this new population.

One of the first Conesus Lake steamship routes was owned by James A. McPherson (better known as Col. McPherson, the rank he held during the Civil War). McPherson was also developing property on the lake (CU) and specialized in sightseeing trips. However, potential patrons for his “day trips” could get only as close as Livonia Station by train and would then have to engage some private transportation down to the lake. McPherson and some of the other businessmen around the lake could see the potential for a connection between Lakeville and what was then the New York, Lake Erie & Western.

A group of these businessmen obtained a right of way for a railroad from Lakeville to Trew’s Switch. They offered it to the NYLE&W but it was refused. On May 10, 1882, they incorporated the Conesus Lake Railroad Company, with authorized capital of $20,000 to build the line (EA). The president was L.P. West.

The NYLE&W furnished the rails and on June 26, 1882, received a mortgage on the line (Q). Why did the NYLE&W choose this strategy? This was the period when it was divesting itself of a number of short lines. It may be that the NYLE&W was being cautious but it was apparently a workable solution for all parties. A steamboat dock was also constructed. The line was opened for business August 3, 1882 (AI).

It would appear that the Conesus Lake Railroad owned one locomotive and one passenger car.(CW) President West, who was also the station agent at Lakeville, carried the Lakeville mail up to the junction on a handcar (CU). Apparently, the railroad had no fences along the right-of way for the first few years and the crews had to open and close five sets of gates every time they went from Lakeville to the Junction or vise versa (AI). In 1884, the Conesus Lake Salt & Mining Company located in Lakeville, with West as president of this concern as well. It was a brine operation which used evaporation to obtain the salt. It was not successful and when it burned three years later, it was not replaced (GF).

On July 22, 1886, the New York, Lake Erie & Western acquired all of the stock of the Conesus Lake Railroad. While from that time on it was considered a part of the Erie Railroad, there were some technical details regarding the mortgage and it was not until May 22, 1930, that the Conesus Lake Railroad Company was formally merged into its parent (Q). The Conesus Lake branch is now operated as part of the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville Railroad, and is busier than it ever was in the Erie days.

Establishing the Rochester Division

By the 1880s, the Erie had established its routes connecting Rochester, Corning, and Buffalo. In 1885, the Buffalo Division of the Erie was split into two separate divisions, Rochester and Buffalo (AI). The Rochester Division was made up of the lines radiating out from Avon to Corning, Rochester, Attica and Dansville. Later, the Conesus Lake branch would be added as well as the connecting Bath & Hammondsport Railroad while it was controlled by the Erie. The headquarters for the Rochester Division was located in Rochester, and Avon was designated as the Division Point where the shops were established. The Buffalo Division was made up of the line from Hornellsville to Buffalo to which were added the branches from Buffalo to Niagara Falls and Lockport. The Rochester and Buffalo Divisions were consolidated by 1936 (AI).


Erie Railroad Rochester Division: Chapter Three

Erie Railroad, Avon, NY, 1910
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
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

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.