Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, NY
F. W. Beers & Co. 36 Vesey Street, 1878




Scarcely was the Erie Canal completed throughout its whole extent, and equipped with boats for the transportation of passengers and merchandise,when its splendors, which had aroused so much enthusiasm, were threatened with eclipse by the institution of railroads. The first charter granted by the Legislature of New York, for the building of a railroad, was given to the Mohawk and Hudson River Railroad Company, which proposed to build a road from Albany to Schenectady. This, the pioneer railway of the State, and the second of any importance in the Union, was finished in1831. It was rudely built and equipped. The rails were like those of horse railroad, and at first indeed horses were the motor, except that at the summits of the higher hills, stationary engines were planted to draw up and let down the cars by ropes. The passenger cars were modeled after the stage coach of the day, being hung on leather thorough-braces and having seats both inside and out. A lever attached to the truck, was operated by downward pressure as a brake.

Steam came into use on the road in its first year. The first locomotive was one imported from England, called " John Bull," weighing but four tons. The advantages of this mode of transit even in its infantile stage were apparent, and other railroads were projected. Their charters provided for the appraisement of property taken for the use of a railroad company, named the commissioners for receiving subscriptions, and sometimes those for surveying and locating the line.

It was not to be supposed that Schenectady would long remain the terminus of a road pointing up the Mohawk valley toward the growing west. Enterprising men very soon resolved on its extension among the thriving villages created by the tide of westward emigration ; and in 1833, a charter was granted for the construction of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad.The original capital of the company, $2,000,000, more than sufficed for the building and equipment of the road, and the enterprise proved conspicuously successful. The first board of directors consisted of Erastus Corning,John Townsend, Lewis Benedict, James Porter, Alonzo C. Paige, Tobias A. Stoughtenburgh, Nathaniel S. Benton, Nicholas Devereaux, Henry Seymour, Alfred Munson, James Hooker, John Mason and Churchill C. Cambreling. Corning was first President; Porter, Secretary ; Wm. C. Young,Chief Engineer, and on the completion of the road Superintendent, and Gideon Davidson, Commissioner. One of the provisions of the charter was, that each county through which the road passed, must be represented by one or more of its citizens in the board of directors ; under this regulation, Tobias A. Stoutenburgh was chosen from Montgomery county. The original charter also fixed the maximum fare at four cents per mile, and required the company to sell out to the State after ten and within fifteen years if the State desired to purchase.

The work of construction went on with rapidity, and on the 1st of August,1836, the road was opened for the conveyance of passengers. That August day was an event in the valley, both in itself, and in its foreshadowings.The long excursion train was packed with delighted passengers, and each station furnished yet other crowds seeking places in the overflowing cars.The train made slow progress, but eager and curious eyes watched the iron monster that puffed its murky breath, and hissed through its brazen throat.As indicting the deep interest felt in the occasion, we may mention that a lady confined to her bed by illness, near the route of the road in the village of Amsterdam, by an ingenious arrangement of looking glasses was enabled to see the train move past.

At this time the idea of carrying freight was not entertained. The charter forbade it, consequently no preparations for the transmission of merchandise had been the company. The desire of the superintendent seemed to be to confine the business of the road to carrying passengers, The occasion for handling freight, however, of course arose on the closing of the canal in 1836, On the very day that the frost stopped navigation, in that year, a German family wishing to convey their effects from Palatine Bridge to Schenectady, were permitted to ship them on a car, and this, it may be said, was the beginning of the way freight business of the Central Railroad. The conductor in this case having no tariff of rates to guide him, made the rather exorbitant charge of fourteen dollars. The Legislature in 1837 authorized the company to carry freight, and subsequently made the regulation, allowing passengers to have a specified amount of baggage carried free of charge. The first freight cars were called " stage wagons."

Improvements were made in track and rolling-stock at an early day in the history of the Utica and Schenectady road. We have said that the rails were originally like those of the present street railroads-namely,sticks of timber with bands of iron spiked upon them, called "strap rails."The irons had a tendency to work loose at the ends and turn up, forming what were called "snake-heads," which were ready, on catching the bottom of a car, to spear the passengers or throw the train from the track.The first improvement in passenger cars consisted in building frame bodies, somewhat ornamented, and placing them on four-wheeled trucks.Each car was divided by partitions into three compartments, seating eight persons apiece, and entered by a door on either side. The conductor traversed a plank running along the side of the car, and holding on to an iron over the door of each section reached in for the fares.

At first no time tables governed the running of the trains. One would leave Utica at a specified hour each week-day morning, and get to Schenectady when it could, returning on the same plan. For a long time after the completion of the road there were few station agents, and freight conductors had to hunt up patrons at each stopping place where merchandise was to be left, and collect the charges. Freight trains ran about eight miles an hour; passenger trains about twenty, or less. Time and experience gradually brought order and exactness into every department of business on this line, and it enjoyed almost unexampled prosperity.

In the spring of 1853, the Legislature passed an act for the consolidation of roads then in operation, and some only projected, between Albany and Buffalo, to form the New York Central. This was effected a few weeks later. The new company had a capital of $23,085,600. The Utica and Schenectady was, of course, one of the companies absorbed by it.One of its original directors, who remained such up to the time of the consolidation, states, that at that time " the stock capital of the company was $4,500,000, on which the shareholders received fifty per cent. premium in six per cent bonds of the consolidated company, equal, at par, to$2,475,000; and how much of the two and a-half millions of increase to the original two millions was made up by extra dividends in the old company, and how much of surplus has been and will be paid by the trustees to the stockholders of the company, I need not name to make good the assertion that the Utica and Schenectady Company has turned out the most successful of modern railway enterprises." The growth of business on this road is evidenced by the fact that its second track was laid before it became part of the New York Central.

The ambition of each railway magnate as the actual and prospective greatness of the West became apparent, was the control of a through line from the seaboard which could make sure of its share of the transportation for the great grain regions and populous cities so rapidly developing Vanderbilt's first step in this direction was the consolidation for five hundred years of the Hudson River Railroad with the New York Central, which took place under an act passed by the Legislature in May,1869, the line taking the name of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. The immense business in the transportation of freight commanded by this road required that its freight trains should have tracks to themselves, and made it at once necessary and profitable to double the already large capacity of the line from Buffalo to Albany, where much of its traffic is diverted toward New England. This was accomplished by the construction of third and fourth tracks between those cities, which were completed in the autumn of 1874, giving this portion of the line greater capacity than is possessed by any road in the country.

The almost incalculable advantages to be derived from railroad facilities are offered at their best to the inhabitants of the Mohawk valley. The creation of points of sale and shipment for agricultural produce increases the value of farm property, and Montgomery county everywhere shows, in its rich, well cultivated farms and fine buildings, the benefits of home markets and the highest facilities for transportation. The villages which by the Central Railroad are placed within an hour and a-half of Albany and six or seven of New York, are far more nearly equal to those cities in their advantages as homes than they could be without it, while possessing their own class of attractions, and thus are assured of a solid growth and development. To arrest or seriously delay the conveyance of what now comes and goes so promptly by mail and express would be to take away much of what constitutes civilization, and remand the community thus afflicted to comparative barbarism.

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