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Railroad history books help put Brookside back on track

Published by the Saratogian

Friday, February 17, 2012



BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Historical Society, housed in one of the county’s oldest buildings (Brookside), has perhaps the largest collection of artifacts in the area that were donated from throughout Saratoga County and beyond. The organization’s educational programs serve several thousand children a year and hundreds more adults.

Despite Brookside’s successes, it has had to contend with funding cuts from several supporters, including the town of Malta, the New York State Council on the Arts and, most recently, Saratoga County.

Late last year, Saratoga County abruptly decided to discontinue support for Brookside in the 2012 budget. Although the amount was small when compared to the overall budget, just $12,500, it represented almost 10 percent of Brookside’s annual income.

A spirited protest from the community persuaded the county to partially restore the cut, but the organization’s director, Joy Houle, was warned that there may be no funding at all in 2013.

Now, Brookside is forced to look for other ways to remain financially secure. Some expenses were cut this year by making the painful decision to close the facility in January.

Getting people to come through the door is half the battle.

In addition to the exhibits, research center and artifact collection, one of the main attractions is the Holiday Shoppe, which operates in November and December each year, and the gift shop, which is open year round during normal business hours. The biggest sellers outside the holiday season are books for sale by local authors, some of which are not sold anywhere else.

Because the topic of railroads is so popular in this area, welcome additions to the gift shop this winter are two books by author Timothy Starr.

“The Golden Age of Railroads in New York’s Capital District” describes the exciting history of rail transportation in the Capital Region during the height of operations from the late 1800s to mid-1900s.

The book contains many details that will be of interest to beginners and rail historians alike. Important but sometimes little-known facets of the railroads include local yards and car shops, towns and industries served, and the effect that the electric street railways had on the steam railroads and life in general. 

The second book, “Railroading in New York’s Capital District: Hot Off The Presses,” is a compilation of the author’s favorite newspaper articles dating from 1832 to the post World War I period. Starr culled more than 200 articles from his collection that relate some of the most interesting aspects of life in the railroad era. Chapters include “Mother Nature Strikes,” “Crime on the Rails,” “Accidents and Injuries” and “Strange Tales of the Rails.”

According to Starr, in the early 1900s Saratoga County hosted four electric railway lines and two interstate steam railroads. The Delaware and Hudson Railroad was the dominant line in the county, with extensions into almost every significant town and village. The Boston and Maine Railroad was noted for its extensive classification yard and shops in Mechanicville.

Like many of the titles for sale at Brookside, both books are self-published and available in limited quantities, making the gift shop a mandatory stop for local history buffs and avid book readers alike.

For a list of book titles offered at the museum, go to or call 885-4000. Brookside is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.


To purchase a book by mail, click here