The Ballston Journal
Railroad Book Connects Past to Present
The Ballston Journal
BY DAN SABBATINO
A recently published work about some of the country's first railroads, many of which were in nearby in the Capital District, is now available at The Brookside Museum. Timothy Starr wrote “Early Railroads of New York’s Capital District,” published in March, and it features local history, spanning the years 1826 to 1900.
“Early Railroads of New York’s Capital District” features 85 vintage photographs and maps showing scenes throughout the Capital District. Starr said many of the photographs come from the sizeable collection of Joseph Smith through his grandson Kenneth Bradford. Others were provided by Ed Bond and local historian Chris Morley.
"The beginning of the railroad era in New York State took many by surprise," Starr said. "The Erie Canal had just been completed a few short months before application was made for the state’s first railroad. It was considered to be one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in human history, permitting boats to make the trip from New York City to the Great Lakes clear across the length of the state for the first time. Many believed that the state-sponsored marvel would be an unchallenged transportation system for years to come."
Starr said some forward-thinking people recognized the shortcomings of the slow and warm weather-dependent canal system and believed that there was a viable alternative.
In 1826, when only one or two other railroads existed in the entire country, a charter for a privately-funded steam railroad was applied for to be built between the Hudson River at Albany and the Mohawk River at Schenectady. The charter was granted on March 29, and ground was broken four years later. The first run of the sixteen mile Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was made in the summer of 1831, witnessed by thousands of awe-stricken citizens from both cities.
"In an effort to avoid any pretense of competing with the canal, the first extension of the line was constructed north to the tourist destinations of Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs. The Saratoga and Schenectady was opened in 1832 and enjoyed a thriving passenger trade during the summer months, sometimes carrying hundreds of people in the primitive coach cars," he said.
Eventually, railroads were a part of life for those living in Upstate New York, and according to information from Jon Patton, a railroad enthusiast who collects first-hand memorabilia relating to 1800s railroads, an 1848 railroad from Sackett's Harbor to Saratoga was a key economic generator.
Starr discusses the history of competing economic interests, Troy, Albany, Saratoga, and Schenectady and how they all became connected via railroad. Eventually, other states were accessible too. The book is available for sale at the Brookside Museum.