The Four Railroads of Utica

Utica Bound

As I look ahead on my calendar, I note that I’m scheduled to attend a meeting at the Utica Computer Center. On the surface, this would seem like a logical place to go on Amtrak until I consult my timetable and realize that the only way I can get to a morning meeting is to stay overnight – kind of a waste for a 70 mile trip!

In 1949 I would have had no problem getting to Utica in the morning. The South Shore Express arrived at 7:17 AM (2 hours 17 minutes from Albany) or the Dewitt Clinton arrived at 10:40. The fastest trains in 1949 were the Empire State Express (1 hr 41 minutes) and the 20th Century Limited (1 hr 33 minutes-but it didn’t stop in Utica). By 1961 I couldn’t get a morning train to Utica (although 3 mail/express trains were Westbound in the morning). 1961 times were better: the Empire was 1 hr 37 minutes and the 20th Century was 1 hr 27 minutes. In 1921, the Empire took 1 hr 50 minutes and the 20th Century took 1 hr 55 minutes. Currently, the earliest arrival in Utica is 1:09 PM (between 1 hr 37 minutes and 1 hr 47 minutes depending on type of train). It should be noted that only the current times are from Rensselaer-all earlier times are from downtown Albany.

Oh well, by driving I can still observe quite a bit of rail activity. Getting on the New York Thruway at Exit 26, I run parallel to the Conrail freight main from Selkirk. Soon I can see the junction with Guilfords’s Boston & Maine at Rotterdam Junction. Just after, Conrail crosses the Mohawk River to rejoin the old New York Central passenger main (Amtrak continues on East through Scotia, Schenectady and Carman to Albany). Adjacent to the Thruway, Conrail continues to South Amsterdam on the stub of the old New York Central West Shore and serves a large quarry and several other industries. This line now ends a few short miles from Rotterdam Junction, but you can see where the tracks went (old trestles, etc) all the way to Herkimer.

The Thruway leaves the river and both rail lines just before Little Falls. Little Falls had the sharpest curve on the New York Central’s “Water Level Route” and was the scene of one of it’s worst wrecks when the Westbound “Lake Shore Limited” derailed in 1940 killing 31. This curve (known as the Gulf Curve) has since been somewhat eliminated. There was a 9 mile branch to Dolgeville from here which once was a separate railroad named appropriately the Little Falls and Dolgeville. Since going into Little Falls is quite a slow detour, I am not at all sure what changes have been made there recently.

Until a few short years ago, this line went to Fort Plain. In the early 1970’s, the line had been cut between Fort Plain and Ilion. All the rail action is on the other side of the river. Sixty M.P.H. will usually pace a West-bound freight.

Heading West, a morning drive to Utica might catch an Eastbound Amtrak run (Train 49-the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago which leaves Utica at 8:27 AM for a 10:14 arrival in Albany).

Just after Herkimer, the Thruway passes over the Conrail main about where the trackage branched off to an old route through Poland and Newport to Remsen Junction and on to the Adirondacks. In the late 1800’s, this was a narrow gauge line called the Herkimer, Newport and Poland. It was standard-gauged in 1891 and extended to Remsen to connect with the Utica and Black River. Shortly after, the Adirondack and St. Lawrence (later taken over by the New York Central) opened through Fulton Chain Station (Thendara) to Malone. Most traffic went North via Utica and this line was abandoned between Remsen and Poland in 1943.

Getting off the Thruway at Utica and heading South on Route 12 through the city, the highway passes over the tracks which head North to Snow Junction. This route went to Malone as recently as 1961. Currently, Conrail runs a line from Utica to Boonville and Lyons Falls. This line originally extended to Carthage, Watertown and Ogdensburg but was cut at Lyons Falls in the 1960’s. The NY Central (Penn Central) abandoned its line to Lake Placid in 1972. It was operated briefly by the Adirondack Railroad about the time of the 1980 Winter Olympics. It is interesting to note that the New York Central did not own the portion of the line from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid until 1946. Before then, it was a D&H branch from Plattsburgh. Also of note is that the New York Central until 1937 ran from Tupper Lake to Ottawa.

A quarter of a mile past this point, we again cross the Conrail main just West of the Utica station. The Utica Amtrak station is a fortunate leftover from the New York Central. It is a large, imposing three-story building which cost $2 million to build in the early 20th century. It earned it’s title of Union Station by serving not only the New York Central (including it’s lines to the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence) but the Utica branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western which ran South to Binghamton with a branch to Richfield Springs and the New York Ontario & Western which ran South to Norwich, Walton and Weehawken.

Route 12 (a divided highway through the city) now parallels the Delaware Otsego line (ex DL&W via Schuyler Street and ex-NYO&W via Fay Street). The road passes the site of an old roundhouse (NYO&W?) which burned in 1960 (now the site of a large food warehouse (with a rail siding inside).

Getting off at my destination (French Road), I’m at what once was an important? (but never very busy) rail junction where three lines crossed at grade.

1. The Ontario & Western line from Utica to Clinton and beyond. This line was torn up in 1957 but in many places you can still see where it went. There was a branch from Clinton to Rome. There was also a siding into New Hartford which is still active. When the O&W left, the NY Central and Erie-Lackawanna served it. I’m not sure who runs it now.

2. DL&W to Binghamton (now part of the Delaware Otsego system). Delaware Otsego seems to be the sole survivor in this area now.

3. West Shore interchange which was 232 miles from New York City. This line continued through Clark Mills, Vernon, Canastota (interchange with the Lehigh Valley) to Kirkville Junction (Syracuse Division). The line between here and Vernon was cut between 1961 and 1965. Before 1961, the line between Canastota and Kirkville Junction was abandoned and connection to the main line was at Canastota. Additionally, the Lehigh Valley branch to that point was abandoned. The line through South Utica to a junction with the NYC mainline at Harbor was cut after 1965. Near this point, industrial trackage which served the old textile mills in New York Mills left the West Shore. In 1949, this line was double tracked and had a 35 MPH speed limit. By 1961, it was single tracked and had a 15 MPH speed limit. Now it is gone.

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uticagoogle2small

A short branch left the main here to serve the textile mills and later, other industries in New York Mills.  See more pictures of the New York Mills Branch

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West Shore crossed Genesee Street here. You can make out the path it took and see angled buildings that abutted the once double-track. This busy street had nothing more than crossbucks for protection and required flagging.

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childrensmuseumutica

Utica Children’s Museum has a locomotive from the Adirondack Railway Corporation. Since the museum is run by adults instead of children, they want to get rid of it.

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adirondackrailwayoldforge1980s

Utica was the headquarters of the New York Central’s Adirondack and St. Lawrence Divisions. The Adirondack Division was abandoned in 1972. Around 1980 (Lake Placid Winter Olympics) it was reopened by a new company to carry passengers to the Olympics. Right-of-way had been purchased by State of New York, but train service was run by the Adirondack Railway Corporation. It folded soon after that and a lot of old equipment was at Thendara. Later on, it got partially reopened by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. This is still a work-in-progress and will someday run all the way from Utica to Lake Placid.

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amtrakutica

This is a picture of Union Station in Utica, New York.

I grew up in nearby New Hartford (on the DL&W and O&W).

My grandfather was the Paymaster for New York Central “Lines East”

and his office was the corner one on the top floor.

Wasn’t any grass growing on the tracks then; it was a lot busier.

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new-hartford1947

This 1947 map shows the West Shore, Ontario & Western, and DL&W going through New Hartford.

See a current map of the ex-Ontario & Western sidings in New Hartford

uticagoogle1small

Here’s a far as I can trace the O&W siding into New Hartford. After Mohawk Containers, it served a building supply, then crossed Campion Road to Partlow Corporation and ended at the American Emblem Company.

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Some of What was in Utica

The O&W came north from Oriskany Falls, through the Eastern Rock quarry area and into Deansboro (station still stands) about a block east of Route 12B. There are numerous places you can see the roadbed on the east side of 12B between Oriskany Falls and Franklin Springs.

The tracks crossed Route 12B at the Jct. of Route 233 – still pretty visible – and went into Franklin Springs (pretty obliterated).

Then they were on the west side of 12B and went through Clinton – old freighthouse still exists – then the Rome Branch split off.

The track eventually crossed Route 12B again just north of the Clinton village limits and paralleled the highway. This area is now new housing, but the old Rotary Gas Station building still exists in the form of a home, painted I think a blue / gray. The tracks were behind it. The O&W, Trolley and Canal all went through this area.

About where the highway comes into “Utica Mutual Junction” the track bent northwards and is still existant in the brush adjacent to the Yahnundasis Golf Course.

The O&W then went north – tracks still in- with a switch off to Mohawk Containers behind the New Hartford Shopping Plaza. It used to continue across Campion Road as far as was once American Emblem, but I don’t know if any trace exists. The arterial crossing is ex- O&W. North of the Sauquoit Creek Bridge, along Chenango Road, they crossed the West Shore -whose tracks are still in. The diamond came out around 1971 when PC took operating rights over EL to access their NY Mills Branch. This also took out the diamond between the EL and West Shore east of the French Road Crossing.

O&W then went in front of GE where you can still see a little vestige I think, and up against the hillside into the Canal Branch area along the present Arterial. The O&W yards were in this area “Scheidlemans”. The old roundhouse burned down in 1960. The highway is on the former DL&W, and the present NYSW, ex EL is on the O&W right of way.

The O&W and DL&W crossed on a diamond near Oswego Street and the Fay Street Industrial track that is right adjacent to the arterial in the weeds is the O&W. The DL&W (EL, NYSW) is to the west running down Schuyler Street.

The O&W crossed Oriskany near the overpasses (Varick – State – Street areas) and dropped down past the former Potter School. The abutments over Water Street were still in a few years ago, but I think they are gone now. The track would have been just to the west of the Potter School (Insight House now ?). Used to be a Hemstrought’s Bakery building there for a while.

They then ran parallel to the DL&W and Water Street and dropped down between Water Street and the DL&W (EL) freighthouse which is now the NYSW Enginehouse / Shop Facility. Then a straight shot into Union Station and their freighthouse.

The West Shore crossed Route 5S east of the City – bridge may still be there – and ran down along the old GE Broad Street plant – Charlestown Shopping area. It made a diagonal line across East Utica (with numerous unprotected grade crossings) and went across Genesee Street near Dandee Dounts. I don’t recall what is in that area now, but used to be Cadilliac Dealership, Bowling Alley and a roundish bank building. The crossing was on a bit of a diagonal and one could see Alco “S” switchers parked in the area. Probably the crews being at Dandee Donuts. Way before, was King Cole Ice Cream on one side of thetracks and a small grocery on the other.

They made about a straight run from there across the DL&W and O&W, with the Mills Branch diverging off near the GE plant.

The main crossed the highway on an overpass by Bev’s Beauty Barn, and now there is a hotel in that area .. maybe a Ramada.

They then went over Commercial Drive and west. I believe the overpass was north of a diner there, but can’t say for certain what occupies that area now. I think the embankment on the east side is visible yet.

NY840 was just recently opened in its entirety from Judd Rd to the Arterial 12/8. From Judd Rd it runs mostly south crossing the former West Shore line which you can see to the right as you head east on 840. The road then makes a big swing to the left(east) and you are now parallel the West Shore right of way( which the State DOT has made into a hiking/ biking trail) on your way to Commerical Drive crossing on a bridge that is within feet of where the West Shore once had a bridge. If you continue east on 840 you will cross a RR track. This is the segment of the old O&W thats still used today by the NYS&W to serve Jefferson Smurfit ( Mohawk Container).

(Some information from railroad.net forums, other from memory)

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dlandwtowerutica

Lackawanna tower in Utica. This is where the DL&W did it’s “street running”.

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REFERENCE

An old and detailed map of Utica. Shows the four railroads.
Complete List of

New York State Railroads

Old Utica
A history of Utica that provides some great information of Utica in the 1920’s

Utica Radio History

The first radio station in Utica, New York was called WSL, operating on a power of 10 watts using the 1100 frequency. This WebSite traces the development of radio in Utica. Includes the personalities, both local and national.

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crewchange

Utica was once an important stop for the New York Central

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utica1917

Here is downtown Utica in 1917 with several trolley cars on Genesee Street.

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uticafranklinsquaresyracusetrolley

Syracuse Interurban Car at Franklin Square in Utica

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unionstationairview

Union Station and yard in 1950’s from the air

. Know it is after the end of steam locomotives, but before the yard started to shrink.

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City of Utica, Union Station and yard in 1950’s from the air

. After this point, both the city and the yard started to shrink.

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