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).