Excerpt from the
Capital District cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy were
favorably located to become transportation hubs for early railroads.
They stood between the well-settled New England states and the
unsettled west, making them a natural pass-through point for
hundreds of thousands of people. Vast forests and mineral reserves
convenient to the Hudson River allowed for industry to develop in
the Capital District and points south. New York harbor served as an
important hub for trade with the outside world and was linked
directly to Albany and Troy. The accumulation of wealth in New York
City enabled several important projects to be funded, most notably
the first canals and railroads.
One of the most overlooked
factors in the sudden construction of the first New York State
railroads was competition between Albany and Troy, which sometimes
bordered on open hostility. Some historians contend that the Mohawk
and Hudson Railroad was built to keep Albany from losing more of its
trade to the rapidly-industrializing city of Troy. Meanwhile, travel
to and from Schenectady was painfully slow using the Erie Canal and
uncomfortable by stagecoach. Its residents therefore welcomed the
concept of a railroad.
Changes brought by the canals and
railroads to cities in the Capital District and points west were
dramatic. Between 1850 and 1950, the population of Albany increased
from 51,000 to 135,000, Schenectady increased from 9,000 to 92,000,
and Buffalo increased from 42,000 to 580,000. In 1840, when there
were few railroads in existence, New York had 1,650 miles of tracks
in use at an aggregate cost of $65 million, which, along with its
series of canals, gave the state the most developed transportation
network in the country.
The presence of such a
comprehensive rail system by the mid-1800s did much to extend the
life of manufacturing in the Capital District beyond what the canals
could achieve. For example, the iron foundries of Troy were able to
import raw materials direct from the anthracite coal fields of
Pennsylvania, the Lake Champlain ore mines, and the ore deposits of
the Hudson River Ore Company near Catskill. Finished iron and steel
was shipped to the east on the Troy and Boston Railroad, to the west
on the New York Central, and to the south on the Delaware and Hudson
and the Hudson River Railroads.
It was unusual for an area the
size of the Capital District to have more than one large railroad
shop and yard complex. The regionís strategic location convenient to
New York City, New England, and the West made it an ideal place to
host classification yards and repair shop facilities. Comprehensive
fabrication and repair shops were built in Green Island, Colonie,
Rensselaer, and West Albany, while large freight yards were located
in Mechanicville, the Albany waterfront, West Albany, and Selkirk.
Arcadia Publishing 2020