A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



A lot of railroading in a small village

Ballston Spa Life

As incredible as it may seem, the village of Ballston Spa was once served by a steam railroad and three trolley railroads. This gives testament to the fact that it was an important tourist destination and industrial center that warranted such transportation and distribution services. 

In the early 1800s, the Capital District area of New York State was an important industrial hub for points north and west due to its strategic geographic location and its proximity to the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. As soon as advances in technology made it feasible, the first railroad in New York State was constructed between the state’s capital of Albany and the industrial center of Schenectady. The line, called the Mohawk & Hudson, went into operation in 1831 and would someday become part of the New York Central. 

Before the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad had even been completed, investors were already planning for a railroad to be constructed to the tourist centers to the north – Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa. Largely completed in July 1832, the 22-mile long Saratoga & Schenectady was the second railroad in the state.

In Ballston Spa, a railroad station was built on Bath Street to accommodate the heavy passenger traffic and freight deliveries. Harvey Loomis, then running the Sans Souci hotel, built “The Arcade” over the tracks at Low Street, where the train would stop for the benefit of the guests there. 

Merchants in the city of Troy saw this activity and decided that a railroad of their own was needed to remain competitive with Albany. A railroad called the Rensselaer & Saratoga was built that started in Troy, passed through Waterford and Mechanicville, and ended in Ballston Spa, 25 miles distant.

 The two railroads joined in Ballston Spa and had a somewhat awkward “S” shape through the village, with 12 highway crossings. This completed a continuous connection among the cities of Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Ballston Spa, and became the most important link from Ballston Spa to the outside world from the late 1800s until the advent of the automobile. 

There were several early electric railroads in Saratoga Springs, the first dating back to 1889 (the Saratoga Electric Railway). But the first electric line to enter Ballston Spa was the Saratoga Traction Company, formed in 1897. A year later it began building extensions of its line to Mechanicville and Ballston Spa. The newly expanded railroad created tourist connections with Saratoga Lake and nearby Kaydeross Park.

Soon after, the Saratoga Traction Company would be absorbed by a new railroad created to combine several small lines in the area. The Hudson Valley Railway (HVR) was incorporated in 1901 as an all-electric railroad.

The second trolley line to enter the village was known as the Schenectady Railway Company (SRC), incorporated in 1895. A year later it was absorbed by the General Electric Company, which had extensive manufacturing operations in Schenectady.  

Once the Delaware & Hudson consolidated the steam railroad lines under its own control, the company further diversified its holdings by taking over several electric roads. Its directors saw the rise of urban and interurban trolley lines as a direct threat to its own passenger service, and figured the best way to eliminate the threat was to take them over. In 1904 it bought out GE’s share of the Schenectady Railway, and made plans to extend its trackage between Saratoga and Ballston Spa with a high-speed line directly adjacent to its own line. A third trolley line, called the Ballston Terminal Railroad, was built in 1896 to serve the paper mills along the Kayaderosseras Creek.  

Excerpts from this article were taken from Starr’s book “The Ballston Terminal Railroad and Its Successors.” His seven other local history books are available at the Brookside Museum. For more information, go to www.ballstonhistory.com.


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