New York's

Capital District

A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



History Lesson: Railroads Reach Ballston Spa in 1832

Ballston Spa Life


BALLSTON SPA — Even before the state’s first railroad was completed between Albany and Schenectady (the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad), some of the directors were already thinking of ways to expand the line. It was politically difficult to lay tracks that would directly compete with the Erie Canal, so attention was turned to the tourist destinations of Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa. The fame of the mineral springs was increasing by the year, and hopes were high that a thriving passenger service could be conducted through Saratoga County, especially during the summer months. 

Accordingly, the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad was chartered on February 16, 1831. The state legislature gave the new company permission to build a single- or double-track railroad from Schenectady to Saratoga Springs so long as it was completed within five years. An initial stock offering raised $150,000 from investors in New York City and Albany. However, the act of legislature forbade any crossing of the Erie Canal without the written permission of the canal commissioners, and if any crossing was made, it could not in any way obstruct canal traffic. 

Mohawk and Hudson Railroad president Churchill Cambreling was elected as the president of the new railroad, while John Jervis (who oversaw construction of the Mohawk and Hudson) was appointed as the head engineer. Many of the directors of the new railroad were also directors of the Mohawk and Hudson, exemplifying the close relationship between the two railroads.  

By March, Jervis reported to the board that he had completed preliminary surveys for two potential routes, each costing around $10,000 per mile. He was aided by the almost completely flat country between the two villages, with a rise not exceeding sixteen feet per mile. The total cost to build the railroad, including carriage houses, stables, and worker tenements, amounted to $217,201. 

Construction began in September, and had advanced so quickly that the line was completed as far as Ballston Spa by June of the following year. The line reached Saratoga a month later, although the stone bridge across the Kayaderosseras Creek had not yet been finished by the time operations began, forcing passengers to disembark on one side of the river and catch a second train on the other side.  

In Schenectady, the tracks began on the east end of the Mohawk River at a lift bridge near Washington Avenue. There was not enough money to build a new bridge, so tracks were laid across the existing wood highway bridge. Locomotives stopped at the north side so that passenger cars could be hauled to the other side by horses. A passenger station was situated on the corner of Railroad and Water Streets, while the engine house was located just over the Glenville town border.  

Large crowds gathered along the twenty-one mile line to witness its opening on July 12, 1832. A party of fifty left Schenectady under a deluge of rain at 10 am and reached Ballston Spa about noon, where they were “handsomely and politely received by a large assemblage of citizens, amid repeated cheers, the firing of canon, and ringing of bells,” according to the Saratoga Sentinel. After a short rest, the party proceeded to Saratoga Springs where they were received in a like manner. A “grand jubilee celebration” was held at the Columbian Hotel accompanied by a host of speeches and toasts of champagne. A canon was set up on the hill in Congress Park and frequently fired amid the jubilations. 

A regular schedule was posted the following day that had trains leaving Schenectady at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, and 5:30 pm each day. Trains departed from Saratoga at 4:30 am, 9 am, and 3 pm. Passengers making the round trip to Saratoga would leave Albany at 6:30 am and take the Mohawk and Hudson to Schenectady. After a short breakfast, the train would leave Schenectady at 9 am and arrive in Saratoga at 11:30. After dining at 2 pm, they would take the return train at 3 pm, arriving in Schenectady at 6 pm and finally reaching Albany at 7:30 in the evening.  

Although a twelve hour day was needed to spend just a little more than three hours in Saratoga, citizens of Albany were impressed that they could take a seventy mile excursion with little physical effort or fatigue. The age of the railroads had arrived.

Timothy Starr
Brookside Museum trustees board treasurer

Excerpted from Mr. Starr’s latest book, “Early Railroads of New York’s Capital District.” Published in March, the book relates the history of Capital District railroads from 1825 to the turn of the century. It is available for sale at the Brookside Museum or on-line at


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