Ballston Spa Life
History Lesson: One Railroad Was Ballston Spa's Connection to the World
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — Although Ballston Spa was served by four railroads in 1900, three were electric trolley systems and only one, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, was a steam railroad. The Delaware and Hudson turned out to be one of the most important entities in Ballston Spa’s history.
Oddly enough, the company was one of the few major railroads to begin life as a canal builder. It was established in 1823, before any railroads had even been built in the country, to construct a canal from northern Pennsylvania to Kingston on the Hudson River. This was deemed the only effective way to send anthracite coal from company-owned coal fields to markets in New York City and Upstate New York.
An issue arose when the company was forced to scale several mountains to get to the Hudson River. Engineer John Jervis recommended that small gravity railroads be built to get over these mountains. He further suggested that the flat areas between the inclined planes be navigated using steam locomotives. Thus, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company became the first in the nation to use a steam locomotive.
The company was content to operate its system of canals and railroads to ship coal to points along the Hudson River for forty years. An opportunity arose after the Civil War to lease the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, which operated from Binghamton, close to the New York-Pennsylvania border, to Albany. By that time, railroads had progressed from using primitive engines on wooden tracks covered in strap iron to using large locomotives on modern, steel rail.
Company officials determined that railroads were the wave of the future. A railroad could be built much less expensively than a canal and move goods faster and more efficiently. It was decided that the company would begin focusing on shipping coal by railroad rather than by canal barge.
In 1870, plans were put in motion to lease the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, which in itself was a miniature railroad empire, having absorbed or leased several area railroads. The Delaware and Hudson was then able to ship coal by rail from Pennsylvania to Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, and other population centers.
The company continued its expansion by extending its lines into Canada and Vermont. It also had good relations with the New York Central Railroad, which spanned from New York City to Albany and then west to Buffalo and Chicago. It also shared a large yard with the Boston and Maine Railroad at Mechanicville.
Communities served by the Delaware and Hudson were thus able to ship finished goods to New England, Canada, New York City, and the West using either company lines or friendly connections with other railroads. Industries in Ballston Spa such+ as the Haight and Company tannery and the George West Paper and Bag Company flourished, able to send their products to areas that were previously isolated. In addition, residents were able to travel with more freedom than ever before.
Because the Delaware and Hudson was so diversified in coal, industrial shipments, passenger patronage, and bridge traffic with other railroads, it was one of the more stable and prosperous railroad systems. Only after trucks and automobiles had become commonplace did the railroad company falter, even outlasting the New York Central Railroad.
Starr’s eleventh book, “Early Railroads of New York’s Capital District,” will be released in 2011. “Lost Industries of Saratoga County” was released by The History Press in late October. For more information, see www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.