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THE RAILWAY ERA -Buffalo, N.Y.

Part I

Edited by Stephen R. Powell

"Buffalo had a track which was dignified by the name of railroad as early as 1834, and two years prior to that, two railway companies had succeeded in obtaining a charter with Buffalo as part of their respective corporate names. The two companies were incorporated on the same day, April 14, 1832, one becoming the Buffalo and Erie Railroad Company."

Early Steam Experiments

Buffalonians as Railway Promoters

Extraordinary Expansion

The Railway Era cannot be properly considered to have come until the middle decade of the Nineteenth Century, at least so far as it affected means of transportation to and from Buffalo, but for almost a generation prior to that, efforts were being made by enterprising farseeing Buffalonians to secure for their geographically-favored site means of transportation other than those that passed along the highways or the waterways. Many felt that the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the placing of luxurious canal-packets thereon, designed particularly for "express" travel therealong, afforded the people of the western city all that they could reasonably desire in the way of comfort while expeditiously traveling to Albany or New York City. And although the first packets took about nine days to complete the journey from Buffalo to New York City, and the later packets could not hope to exceed a speed of four miles an hour, the general citizen was happy in the possession of such facilities. Indeed, complaint was soon made of the "rapid movements" of packet boats on the Erie Canal. However, a few were agitating for the iron road, and the steam locomotive.

Early Steam Experiments

-Oliver Evans, whose principle of grain elevating was adapted by Joseph Dart in the 'forties to meet the pressing needs of the grain forwarders in Buffalo, patented a steam-wagon as early as 1782- a high pressure engine, placed on wheels, which transported itself a mile and a half. Twenty years later Richard Trevethick, in England, patented a steam carriage which was practically applied on the Merthyr-Tydfil railway in Wales. But another two decades were destined to elapse before the first railway was built in the United States. According to the record, the first railway constructed in America was projected by Gridley Bryant in 1825. It was four miles long, and extended from granite quarries at Quincy, Massachusetts, to Neponset river. But it was run by horse-power, and so was not radically different from the tramways which had been used in British mining centres for two hundred years. In 1827 the second American railway, that from near Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, to the Lehigh river, was begun. The first locomotive to actually begin running in America was in 1829; it was built by George Stevenson in England. The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company was the first American transportation company to make practical use of a steam locomotive; the engine, built in Stourbridge, England, was running from the company's mines near Honesdale, Pennsylvania to the terminus of their canal at Honesdale during the summer of 1829. In 1830 there were twenty-three miles of railroad completed in the United States, the tracks in some cases being only oaken ties placed longitudinally on wooden or stone crossties, and in other cases oaken rails upon which strips of one-half or five-eighths inch iron were spiked. The latter were known as, trap rails, and the dread of early passengers along such roads was that the strip of iron would become unfastened and curve upward as the carriage passed over it, and so impale the passengers.

New York State was interested in another means of transportation, namely over the Erie Canal, at the time that railway-building began; and therefore it did not foster railway promotions. However, the people of the State were not dilatory in the matter. It is recorded that the New York Central road was "projected" in 1825, but "the origin of practical competition between railroads and between cities" may be considered to have begun with the building of the New York and Erie road, the construction of which was hastened "with a view to divert to New York the traffic which had before gone to Boston from the West, via Albany." The New York and Erie railroad was commenced in 1836, and completed in 1851 as far as Dunkirk. The Boston and Albany had completed its through organization byway of the Western railroad (Massachusetts) and the Albany and West Stockbridge in 1842. In 1848 the railway mileage of the United States was 6,491, which meant that the steam railroad had passed beyond the experimental stage and had demonstrated its utility.

Buffalonians as Railway Promoters

-Enterprising men of the village had been quite prepared to foster the movement through its early and uncertain experimental stage. The first steam railway brought into operation in New York State was the Mohawk and Hudson road, from Albany to Schenectady. Charter had been granted to the projectors in 1826, but it was not until August, 1830, that construction began. It was completed in September of the next year (1831), and in October was carrying as many as four hundred passengers in one day between the two cities. The name of the railway was later changed to the Albany and Schenectady.

The West was ever before the eyes of the capitalists of the east even in the early 'thirties, and Buffalo was the logical gateway to the West. As early as 1831 a movement was on foot to secure a charter for a railway connecting Buffalo with the Hudson. Presumably, it was the New York and Erie railroad project that Buffalonians were endeavoring to further when in April, 1831, certain residents of Erie county addressed a letter to Governor Throop "on the subject of a contemplated railroad from Buffalo to the Hudson river," and urged the "propriety of its being built by the State." David Long, Otis Turner, William Mills and C. Vandeventer signed the letter. A Buffalo journal for the 6th of September, 1831, carried a notice which read:

"Railroad--At a numerous and respectable meeting of the citizens of Buffalo, held at the Eagle Tavern on the 6th of September, for the purpose of taking into consideration the subject of railroad communication between this place and the Hudson river, Bela D. Coe was called to the chair, and James Stryker was appointed secretary."

The meeting favored cooperation with others in the central and eastern parts of the State for the construction of such a road ' and a committee was formed. The members were: Samuel Wilkeson, James Stryker, Reuben B. Heacock, J. R. Carpenter, Lewis F. Allen, Bela D. Coe, Samuel Russell, S. Thompson, Heman B. Potter, Isaac S. Smith James McKnight and Horatio Shumway.

Fortunately for the railway promoters, the State legislators did not at that time feel that railways could ever seriously compete with the Erie Canal in the matter of freight transportation, otherwise there is reason to believe that the railway charter would not have been granted for very many years, for the railway would constitute direct opposition to the canal, in the construction of which the state had invested much money. But the railroad advocates were so enthusiastic as to the future of the steam road that a suggestion was made that even the Erie Canal be "converted into a railroad." Legislators were considering the petition for a charter for the Erie railway in 1834-35, and on February 23, 1835, the Canal Commissioners were actually asked for a report on the relative cost of construction and maintenance of canals and railroads. The Commissioners reported that "it will not be difficult to show that the expense of transportation on railroads is very materially greater than on canals." Therefore there could be no unsurmountable objection to the granting of the charter. Many years passed, however, before the Erie road reached Buffalo.

Buffalo had a track which was dignified by the name of railroad as early as 1834, and two years prior to that, two railway companies had succeeded in obtaining a charter with Buffalo as part of their respective corporate names. The two companies were incorporated on the same day, April 14, 1832, one becoming the Buffalo and Erie Railroad Company, with power to construct and operate a line from Buffalo through Chautauqua county to the State line, and the other, the Aurora and Buffalo Railroad Company, authorized to run from Buffalo to the village of Aurora, now East Aurora. Considerable stock was sold in Buffalo and elsewhere, and the route to Aurora was surveyed by William Wallace. But the monetary panic of 1837 occurred before construction of either railway had begun, and nothing was accomplished. Calvin Fillmore, uncle of Millard Fillmore, was among the incorporators of the Aurora and Buffalo Railroad Company.

The Buffalo and Black Rock railroad, which is claimed to have been the first constructed within the limits of Erie county, was in reality a tramway, or at best a street-railway. It was opened in 1834, and was operated by horse-power, as has been described in an earlier chapter. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls road, which was built in 1836, has also been before referred to. It was the first railway along the Niagara Frontier to be operated by steam. The first locomotive ran along that road from Black Rock to Tonawanda on August 26, 1836. The railway was thus completed just before the financial panic came, and was able to survive it, whereas other promising railway enterprises were either abandoned or seriously jeopardized and delayed by the financial stringency.

In August, 1836, subscription lists of the Buffalo and Attica Railroad Company were opened in Buffalo. The issue was soon withdrawn, and for some years the stock was not again offered. However, the iron road was coming gradually nearer and nearer to Buffalo. The first stretch was from Albany to Schenectady; the second, that from Schenectady to Utica, was finished in 1836; the third, from Utica to Syracuse, was opened in 1839; the remaining links were added within three years, so that with the opening of the Buffalo and Attica line on January 8, 1843, Buffalo had access by railroad with the outside world, the Buffalo and Attica railroad adding the last link to a chain of connected roads stretching across the State to Albany.

The next decade was marked by the prosecution of innumerable railway enterprises. The country had 7,500 miles of railways by the year 1850, and it would seem that New York State had been especially active. In 1851, by the opening of the Hudson River road to Albany, and the finishing of the New York and Erie to Dunkirk, New York City obtained two complete connections by rail with Lake Erie. From Buffalo a westward extension of rails along the southern shore of the lake as far as the Pennsylvania boundary, was opened by the Buffalo and State Line Railroad Company in February, 1852. Larned writes:

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"In that year (1851) two railways from the western end of Lake Erie to Chicago were brought into operation and the needed links between our State Line road and Toledo were filled in the next year, completing a railway connection of Chicago with New York. In 1854 the chain was stretched from Chicago to the Mississippi, and it was lengthened to the Missouri in 1859. Before that time a halt to all business enterprise had been called by the financial crash of 1857, and the halt was prolonged by the Civil War.


D.L. & W Terminal

Lehigh Valley Terminal


"Meanwhile, in 1852, Buffalo had been doubly connected with the New York and Erie railway by a line to Corning, built by the Buffalo and New York Railway Company, and a second line to Hornellsville (now Hornell), produced by an extension of the Buffalo and Attica road, which the New York and Erie had leased. In this year, moreover, the railway connection of Buffalo with Canada and with the West through Canada was undertaken by the beginning of a Buffalo and Brantford road, which, being extended to Goderich in 1858, took the name of the Buffalo and Lake Huron railway. In 1853 the consolidation of the several connecting roads between Buffalo and Albany in the New York Central, was effected; and in 1855 the Buffalo and Niagara road was taken into the New York Central system."

Extraordinary Expansion

Almost 20,000 miles of railway had been laid between 1850 and 1858. The country had really overstepped itself in the matter, for such an extent of construction had necessarily entailed stupendous outlays. $700,000,000 of borrowed money, largely from abroad, had been used when the financial panic came in August, 1857, almost all railway projects were in difficulties. "Railroad corporations went to the wall; the Michigan Central, Illinois Central, New York and Erie, among the rest." Still, nothing could stay the onward march of the railways; the steel arms stretched further and further into and beyond the settled spaces of the American continent. In 1870 the mileage of United States railways had reached 49,000; but there was a serious check in 1873 when Jay Cooke, the Union's great financier of the Civil War period, failed during a monetary stringency, which was world-wide. His grand railway schemes were at an end-only temporarily, however, and by 1880 the mileage of American railways stood at 93,671. During the next thirteen years, which brings the record to another year of extreme financial stringency, the mileage was almost doubled, reaching 171,805 Miles of completed railway. That was the most active period of railway construction in American history. In 1887, 12,878 miles were laid; in 1894 only 1,760 miles. Thereafter the construction gradually increased until it reached 6,026 miles in 1902. It averaged nearly that mileage in annual construction until 1907, when the next money shortage occurred. Since that year, nothing of magnitude in railway building has been accomplished. It may be considered strange that during the seven years from 1914 to 1920, only 6,263 miles of new railway were built; but history shows that railway construction is a national enterprise, that the state of national finances is at once reflected in the activity or inactivity of railway-building. American railways were placed under the control of the national Government during the important years of the World War and national funds had then to be conserved for extraordinary uses so that little money could be spared for railway-building. On January 1, 1920, the railway mileage in the United States was 253,152.17. New York State had 1,403 miles of railway in 1850; 2,682 miles in 1860; 5,957 miles in; 8,121 miles in 1900; and 8,353.21 miles in 1920.

While the progress made by Buffalo in general prosperity cannot be more than partly attributed to its railway facilities, it may be safely stated that means of transportation largely condition the degree of prosperity. What it meant to Buffalo was shown by Guy H. Salisbury in 1862. His comparisons were of the period from 1836, the first year in which a locomotive was seen on the Niagara Frontier. He wrote:

"In 1836 we had less than 16,000 inhabitants. Now (1862) we have, in round numbers, 100,000. * * * In 1836 we had but a single railroad running into Buffalo-that from Niagara Falls-of not less than twenty miles in length, with no connection whatever with any other road. Now we have the great New York Central, with its freight and passenger depots and enormous business-the New York and Erie, the terminus of whose line is practically here-the Buffalo and State line, with its interminable western connections-the Buffalo, Western and Grand Trunk railways, with over two thousand miles of Canadian

Six decades later, in 1920, Buffalo had a population of more than half a million, and was so well served by railways that "over half of the country's population and two-thirds of Canada's were within a night's ride of Buffalo."

There are five important steam railway passenger terminals or stations in Buffalo, at which the trains of eleven of the great railways of America are handled. The stations and companies are: The D. L. and W. Station at the foot of Main street, used by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company and the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railway Company; the Lehigh Valley Station, at Main and Scott streets, used by the Lehigh Company; the Erie Station, at Exchange and Michigan streets, used by the Eric Railroad Company; the New York Central Station, at Exchange street, used by the New York Central lines, east and west, by the Pennsylvania railroad, by the West Shore railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad companies; the Grand Trunk Railway Station, at Black Rock, used by the Grand Trunk Railroad, the Wabash Railroad, and the Pere Marquette Railroad companies. There are, in addition, fourteen freight stations within the city limits, handling an enormous volume of traffic. The capacity of the freight stations is 286 cars inbound, and 343 cars outbound. There are, in addition, immense lake terminals and bulk freight terminals, capable of handling an enormous tonnage. The Ore Docks handle between six and eight millions of tons a year, and the Coal Docks about five millions. All these facilities are the enterprises, principally, of railway companies.

In the early decades there was keen competition for tonnage between the Erie Canal and the railways, and the Erie Canal held its own until the 'eighties as carriers of grain. Both means of transportation are needed, but the railways have for several decades earned premier place. In the first years of operation, the railway companies had to pay tribute to the Canal in the way of tolls on freight handled by the railways that might otherwise have been carried on the Canal. It was a somewhat arbitrary exaction, but seemed to only slightly affect the development of the railway systems. Railway tolls were abolished in i851; Canal tolls were abolished altogether in 1882 on the Erie Canal, and other State canals.

Briefly reviewing the development of the railways that have entered Buffalo since 1836: The year 1852 was eventful when four systems terminating or beginning in Buffalo were in operation. Mr. Larned, in his "History of Buffalo," gave the main facts regarding all of the Buffalo lines from 1836 to 1910, and as this chapter must necessarily be brief, and his was a concise and accurate review, it might appropriately be taken here. It begins:

1836. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Acquired by the New York Central Railroad Company in 1855, and extended to Lewiston.

1843. The Buffalo and Attica, which connected Buffalo with a chain of railroads through the State to Albany. The erroneous statement has often been made that this western link in the chain became part of the New York Central Railroad, in the consolidation of 1853. On the contrary, the Buffalo and Attica was acquired by the Buffalo and New York Railroad Company and extended to Hornellsville, to connect with the New York and Erie Railway, then progressing toward Dunkirk.

1852. The New York and Erie Railway brought into connection with Buffalo, by the completed extension of the Buffalo and Attica road to Hornellsville, and also by the opening of a second line of connecting rails, from Buffalo to Corning. Both of these lines became integral parts of the New York, Lake Erie, and Western system, as it now exists.

1852 The Buffalo and Rochester Railroad, completed to Buffalo by the building of a direct line of rails between Buffalo and Batavia. Included the next year in the consolidation with the New York Central line.

1852. The Buffalo and State Line Railroad, linked with the chain of roads then in formation along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and thence to Chicago, which, after some years, were to be forged into the consolidated Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad line.

1852. The Buffalo and Brantford. Extended a little later to Goderich, and name changed to Buffalo and Lake Huron in 1858. Leased in 1870 to the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, of whose lines it forms the Buffalo terminus. Under the auspices of the Grand Trunk Company the Niagara River was bridged at Buffalo by the International Bridge Company, in 1874.

1853. Organization of the consolidated New York Central Railroad Company, owning and operating a continuous line from Buffalo to Albany.

1854. Establishment of a uniform gauge on the connected roads from Buffalo to Chicago, in the line known ultimately as the Lake Shore and M. S.

1869. Consolidation of the New York Central and the Hudson River railroad companies in the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company.

1869. Consolidation of several connected roads by the organization of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Company. Since 1898 the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company has held a majority of its capital stock and controlled the management of the road.

1870. The Buffalo Creek Railroad. From William street to Peck Slip and other connections on the south side of Buffalo River. Leased to the Erie and the Lehigh Valley railroad companies in i889.

1873. The Canada Southern Railway, from Buffalo to Amherstburg, on the Detroit River. In 1878 the ownership of the road underwent a change. For many years past it has been under lease to the Michigan Central Railroad Company, and is known by the latter name.

1873. The Buffalo and Washington Railway. Built from Buffalo to Emporium, Pa., opening direct connection with the sources of anthracite coal supply and a shortened route to Philadelphia and Washington. A little later the name was changed to Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia, and that name, in its turn, was extinguished by the absorption of the road in the great Pennsylvania Railroad system. For several years past it has been operated under contract as the Buffalo and Allegheny Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

1875. The Buffalo and Jamestown. Reorganized in 1877 under a change of name, becoming the Buffalo and Southwestern Railroad. Leased to the Erie Railway Company in 1881, and now known, as the Buffalo and Southwestern Division of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad.

1882. The New York, Chicago, and St. Louis (known commonly as the Nickel Plate), completed to Chicago. Reorganized, after a foreclosure sale, in 1887. Large parts of its capital stock owned by the Lake Shore and M. S. Company and by the Vanderbilt interest. The road is operated with what is known as the Vanderbilt system.

Continued…

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This text is Copyright 2001 all rights reserved by Stephen Powell and buffalonian.com. This electronic text may not be dupicated or used in any manner without written consent of Stephen R. Powell or buffalonian.com