History of Columbia County, New York

By Captain Franklin Ellis

Published by Everts & Ensign

Philadelphia, PA

1878

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

Pages 126 to 135

INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS.

Roads---Stage-Routes---Turnpikes---Steamboats---Railroads.

    [Page 126] "The Dutch are great improvers of land," said Governor Nicolls in his report on the condition of the colony; which was true, beyond all doubt, but the same would not have been applicable to their building and improvement of roads.  To the first settlers along the river-bank, the stream furnished all the highway they care for or needed; and when, a little later, others came and located a short distance inland, a rough "wagon-way" from their lands to the river, enabling them to take their grain and other produce to a point where a sloop could land, filled all their requirements for travel and transportation.  Such were the roads traversed by the Labadist brothers, who visited the country back from Claverack and Kinderhook Landings about 1680.  That there were no roads across the mountains to the eastward, in the year 1690, is shown by the fact that Winthrop's troops, who came through from Hartford in that year, were a week in reaching Kinderhook "through the wilderness."  There was, however, a practicable road through to Massachusetts before the commencement of the boundary or anti-rent war, in 1751-52; and before 1714 (as is shown by Beatty's map, made in that year) "the king's highway" had been opened from Oak Hill, on the Hudson, eastward to Taghkanic, and there were roads running nearly across the present county from north to south was the "old post-road," leading from Albany to New York, through Kinderhook, Claverack, and Livingston.  As early as 1684 it was established by authority "that the rates for riding post be, per mile, 3 pence; for every single letter, not above 100 miles, 3 pence; if more, proportionably."

    On the 24th of November, 1750, an act was passed for the regulating and laying out of highways, of which that part having reference to this part of Albany county was as follows:  "The persons herein named shall be, and hereby are, appointed commissioners to regulate highways, and to lay out such publick Roads as may still be necessary, and are hereby fully authorized and empowered to put in Execution the several Services intended by this act; . . . that is to say, ---For the Manor of Livingston, from the southernmost bounds thereof unto the bounds of Claverack:  Robert Livingston, Jr., Lendert Conyn, and Dirck Ten Brook; for Claverack, from the southernmost bounds thereof to the boundary of Kinderhook:  John Van Rensselaer, Henry Van Rensselaer, and Casparus Conyn; for Kinderhook, from the southernmost bounds thereof, through the woods to Greenbush, including all the inhabitants along the Road, though they belong to the Manor of Rensselaerswyck:  Cornelius Van Schaack, Tobias Van Burren, Barrent Van Burren."

    The date of the first passage of mail-stages through this county is not exactly known, but it is probable that it was not until after the Revolution.  Among the Sir William Johnson documents is found a allusion to the mail service [page 127] between Albany and New York, in 1772, as follows:  "The mail to be sent weekly from New York to Albany, up one side of the River and down the other, for which an extra 100 is to be allowed;" the presumption being strong that this service was performed on horseback.

    In 1786 an act of Assembly was passed granting to Isaac Van Wyck, Talmage Hall, and John Kinney the exclusive right "to erect, set up, carry on, and drive stage-wagons" between Albany and New York, on the east-side of Hudson's river, for a term of ten years; and restraining all opposition to them by a penalty of 200.  They were to have and furnish at least two covered wagons, each drawn by four able horses; the fare to be limited to fourpence per mile, under any circumstances.  Trips were to be performed at least once a week, under penalty of forfeiture of charter.  This company advertised that during the season of good roads their stage-wagons would perform the journey in two days, with a charge of only threepence per mile; but that in time of bad roads, "for the ease of the passengers," the time of running through would be lengthened to three days, and the price raised to fourpence per mile, "agreeably to act of assembly."  The termini of the route were at Coe's tavern, in Albany, and Lewis' tavern, in New York; and the stopping-place in the city of Hudson was at Kellogg's tavern.

    The following is a copy of an advertisement of a line (apparently a new line) of stages starting on the route in 1793.  It is from the Hudson Gazette of Oct. 25, in that year:

    "The public are informed that the LINE of STAGES will commence running from N. Y. to Albany, & from Alb. to N. Y., on Monday, the 4th of Nov.  The carriages will leave the aforesaid cities every Monday and Thursday mornings, and deliver the passengers every Monday and Sat. evenings.  The line will be well supplied with Horses, harness, & carriages.  Only 10 persons can be admitted, unless with the consent of the passengers.  The proprietors do not hold themselves responsible for the loss of baggage,---each passenger will be permitted to carry 14 lb. gratis; any weight between 14 & 50 to be paid for at the rate of 150 lbs. as a passenger; any weight above 50 the props. do not hold themselves bound to carry, but if carried must be pd. for in prop'n to size and convenience.  Extra carriages may be had by applying to Mr. Slay, Cortlandt St., N. Y., or to Mr. Ashbel Ely, Albany & Kinderhook."

    That there was, in 1785, no mail route across the mountains to New England is evident from the announcement made by the proprietors of the Hudson Gazette, on the 7th day of April, in that year, to the effect that "the printers inform the public that they have agreed to establish a post, to ride weekly to Litchfield, Conn., where he will exchange papers with the posts from Boston, Hartford, and New Haven," ---and, in 1787, they reminded the public that "the post-rider has ridden almost half a year, not asking for pay; he now requests pay in good merchantable grain, of any kind, or flax at cash price.*

    Next came the era of turnpike-roads, of which at one time Columbia had probably a greater mileage than any county in the State, of its size, but nearly all of which have now been surrendered.  The Dutch settlers asked, "What do we want with turnpikes?  Our grandfathers had none, and why cannot we do without them as well as they did?"  But the Dutch farmers of Columbia county were environed by New England influence.  Transplanted New Englanders were entrenched upon their west at Hudson, and New England itself lay just across the Taghkanic hills to the east, and therefore a turnpike-road between these two points was inevitable.  It was the third turnpike in the State; chartered in 1799, and built in that year and in 1800, running from Hudson city to the Massachusetts line, through the towns of Hudson, Greenport, Claverack, Taghkanic, Copake, and Hillsdale, about twenty miles.  The first meeting of the company was held in the city of Hudson, and the following-named persons were chosen directors:

    Thomas Jenkins, Elisha Jenkins, Rufus Backus, Samuel Edmonds, Robert Jenkins, Stephen Miller, John Hagerman, Benjamin Haxtun, Elisha Pitkin, Isaac Northrup, Paul Dakin, Thomas Power, and Jacob R. Van Rensselaer.  At a subsequent meeting, Elisha Pitkin was chosen president, Robert Jenkins clerk, and Elisha Jenkins treasurer.  Capital stock, $25,000.

    The following persons have served as president:  Elisha Pitkin served three years; Nathaniel Greene, four years; Thomas Jenkins, two years; Alexander Coffin, twenty-eight years; Elisha Jenkins, eight years; Samuel Rossiter, three years; Alexander Jenkins, two years; Job B. Coffin, four years; Benjamin F. Deuell, twenty-five years.

    The board commenced taking toll in November, 1800.

    This turnpike is still in operation; the present president of the corporation is Benjamin F. Deuell.

    Other turnpikes followed in quick succession.  The Rensselaer and Columbia turnpike, of which John Tryon, Eleazer Grant, and others were the corporators, was chartered in the same year (1799) "to run from the line of the State of Massachusetts, where the road from Pittsfield and Hancock leads by the springs in Canaan, by the house of Elisha Gilbert and others, to the ferry near the house of John I. Van Rensselaer."  The "Hudson and Livingston turnpike" was chartered in 1802, and the "Ancram and Susquehanna turnpike" in 1804; its route being nearly identical with that of the old "King's Highway" in the manor of Livingston.  The "Chatham Turnpike-road" was incorporated April 10, 1804, the corporators being Peter I. Vosburgh, Bartholomew I. Van Volkenburgh, John Goes, Jr., Medad Butler, John Rodgers, Abraham I. Van Vleck, John A. Van Buren, Lupton Warner, and others.

    The "Highland turnpike" was chartered in 1804.  The "Hillsdale and Chatham" was incorporated April 2, 1805, "for improving the road from the house of David Crossman, Jr., near the Massachusetts line, to intersect the Rensselaer and Columbia turnpike, or the present post-road leading from Kinderhook to Albany."  After these were chartered the "Branch turnpike" to Ancram, 1805; the "Claverack and Hillsdale," in 1808; the "Canaan and Chatham," in same year; the "Hudson Branch turnpike," to improve the road "from the house of Fite Miller, in the town of Livingston," to Hudson, in 1812; the "Farmers' turnpike," Hudson to Troy, in 1813; and others, of which few [page 128] are now in existence, and few ever proved of any advantage, either to their corporators or to the people of the county.

STEAMBOAT NAVIGATION.

    The first attempt to navigate the Hudson river, by the use of steam as a propelling power, was made, not by Robert Fulton, as has very generally been asserted and believed, but by a resident of Columbia county, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston.  It appears that the chancellor, who, in addition to his pre-eminent legal and literary attainments, was endued with a mechanical turn of mind, had planned some improvements on Watt's engine, and afterwards conceived the idea of applying it to the purposes of navigation; though whether this was an original thought or whether it was suggested by the then recent experiments of Fitch upon the Delaware, or of Cartwright and other inventors in England, does not appear.

    A boat intended for the application of his idea was constructed for him at a place called De Koven's bay, south of Tivoli, in the year 1797, by a man named Nisbet; and as the engineer in the enterprise he employed a Frenchman, who had fled from his own country in the revolution of 1793, and with whom Livingston had probably become acquainted in the course of his experiments directed towards the improvement of the engine.  This Frenchman was Brunel, afterwards the engineer of the great Thames tunnel in London.

    Confident of the ultimate success of his project, and with a view to secure to himself the material advantages to accrue from such a result, he procured the passage by the Legislature of a bill granting to him the exclusive right to navigate by steam the waters within the limits of the State.  The bill, introduced by Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, and passed March 27, 1798, recited in its preamble that "Robert R. Livingston is in possession of a mode of applying the steam-engine to propel a boat on new and advantageous principles; but is deterred from carrying the same into effect by the existence of a law, passed March 19, 1787, giving to John Fitch the sole right of making the steamboat by him lately invented," and proceeded to repeal the said law in favor of Fitch, and to grant to the chancellor the exclusive privilege, as above mentioned, "for twenty years after the passage of this act, if he shall within twelve months build a boat of twenty tons, propelled by steam, and the mean of whose progress through the water, with and against the current of Hudson's River taken together, shall not be less than four miles an hour; and shall at no time omit for the space of one year to have a boat of such construction plying between the cities of New York and Albany."  The boat, however, proved a failure, and the act expired by reason of non-fulfillment of its conditions.

    On Mr. Livingston's arrival in France as minister, in 1801, he came in contact with Robert Fulton, who had come to Paris for the purpose of bringing to the attention of the First Consul a marine torpedo of his own invention.  Between these two there at once sprang up an intimacy, which at the end of about two yeas resulted in the construction of a small boat, which they propelled by steam upon the Seine, with sufficient success to justify a renewal upon the North river of Livingston's project of 1797-93.

    Having both returned to the United States, Fulton commenced, in 1806, the building of that small, but historic craft, the "Clermont," built with funds furnished by Mr. Livingston, and named for his Columbia county estate.  It is needless to repeat the well-known but melancholy story of her construction, of the jeers, the ridicule, the open insults which constantly assailed her heroic projector from the laying of her keel to the hour of her final triumph.  "The project," wrote Fulton to a friend, "was viewed by the public, either with indifference or with contempt, as a visionary scheme.  My friends indeed were civil, but they were shy  They listened with patience to my explanations, but with a settled cast of incredulity on their countenances.  Never did a single word of encouragement or of bright hope, or a warm wish, cross my path.  Silence itself was but politeness, veiling doubts or hiding its reproaches."

    The little vessel was launched in the East river, in August, 1807.  Her dimensions were----length, one hundred feet; width, twelve feet; depth, seven feet.  After receiving her engine---built in Birmingham, England, by Boulton & Watt---she was taken into the North river, and laid upon the Jersey side, from whence she was to take her first departure for Albany.  The following advertisement, copied from a newspaper of the 2d of September, 1807, announced the expected event:

    "The North River Steamboat will leave Pauler's Hook [Jersey City] on Friday, the 4th day of September, at 9 o'clock in the morning, and arrive at Albany on Saturday, at 9 in the evening."

    The trip, however, was not made on the specified day, on account of a failure of some part of the boat's machinery, which occurred when but a short distance out, and compelled her to return to the dock for repairs.  These being completed, she again started on her voyage, and this time accomplished it triumphantly, in four hours less than the advertised time, arriving at Albany at 5 p.m. of the second day.

    "The morning I left New York," said Fulton "there were not perhaps thirty persons in the city who believed that the boat would ever move one mile an hour, or be of the least utility."  But it would appear that the doubters were soon converted, if we may believe the somewhat extravagant and ridiculous account given by Fulton's biographer.  "Before the boat had made the progress of half a mile," he says, "the greatest unbeliever was converted.  Fulton was received with shouts and acclamations of congratulation and applause.  She made this her first voyage from New York to Albany at an average rate of five miles an hour, stopping for some time at Chancellor Livingston's dock at Clermont to take in wood.  The whole voyage is described as having the most terrific appearance.  The dry pine fuel sent up many feet above the flue a column of ignited vapor and, when the fire was stirred, tremendous showers of sparks.  The wind and tide were adverse to them, but the crowds saw with astonishment the vessel coming rapidly towards them; and when it came so near that the noise of the machinery and paddles was heard "the crews of many sailing vessels shrunk beneath their decks at the terrific sight, while others prostrated themselves and besought Providence to protect them from the approach of the horrible monster which was marching on the tide and lighting its path by the fire that it vomited."

    This writer would have us believe that the skippers and crews of the North river sailing craft, in 1807, were as simple-minded and untutored as those natives of San Salvador who hid themselves away from the flash and report of Columbus' guns, believing them to be the fiery eyes and the thundering voice of the Great Spirit.  But, divested of its extravagance, the account shows simply that all along the route the people flocked to the river-side to gaze in curiosity (though not in fear) at the strange-looking vessel as it passed, and that they gave unstintingly to Fulton the tribute of applause and admiration which is always extorted by success.

    That the "Clermont" was at once, and largely, patronized by the traveling public is shown by the following item from the New York Evening Post of October 2, 1807:  "The newly-invented steamboat, which is fitted up in a neat style for passengers, and is intended to run from New York to Albany as a packet, left here this morning with ninety passengers, against a strong head-wind.  Notwithstanding which, it as judged she moved through the water at the rate of six miles and hour."

    Before the close of the season (in which, however, she made but two or three trips) the travel which offered was largely in excess of the "Clermont's" accommodations.  She was, therefore, taken to what was then called lower Red Hook, where she was hauled out on ways, and during the winter of 1807-8 was entirely rebuilt and remodeled, by ship-carpenters from the city of Hudson; her length being increased from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet, and her beam from twelve to eighteen feet.  About the first of May she was re-launched, re-christened as the "North River," and, in charge of Captain Samuel Jenkins, was taken to New York, where she received her cabin-work and machinery, which latter had in the mean time been put in what was then considered thorough repair, though at the end of her first succeeding trip her boiler was found worthless, and was replaced by a new one of copper.

    One of the passengers (and the latest surviving one) of the "North River," on her first trip to Albany, was the late Francis Sayre, Esq., of Catskill, who, in a letter written in September, 1857, made the following mention of that event:  "Commodore Wiswall was now in command.  At the hour appointed for her departure (nine o'clock a.m.), Chancellor Livingston, with a number of invited friends, came on board, and, after a good deal of bustle and no little noise and confusion, the boat got out into the stream and headed up the river.  Steam was put on and sails were set, for she was provided with large square sails, attached to masts, that were so constructed that they could be raised and lowered as the direction and strength of the wind might require.  There was at this time a light breeze from the south, and with steam and sails a very satisfactory rate of speed was obtained, . . . and, as the favorable wind continued, we kept on the even tenor of our way, and just before sunrise next morning we were at Clermont, the residence of the chancellor, who with his friends landed, and the boat proceeded to Albany, where she arrived at two or three o'clock p.m."

    Two or three days were spent at Albany in repairs upon the boiler, which nevertheless gave out entirely on the return trip, some thirty miles above New York, and the remainder of the voyage was accomplished under sail.  The boat was then laid up for about two months, awaiting the completion of her new copper boiler, as before mentioned.  Her trips were then resumed, and from that time were accomplished with regularity, fairly inaugurating the era of steamboat navigation upon the Hudson.

    The project, from its inception to its consummation, owed more to Columbia than to any other county; more than to all others, excepting New York.  the boat was named for a town and estate in Columbia; a citizen of the county had first conceived the idea of her construction, and had furnished the means to execute it; her captain was a ship-master of Hudson; and her first pilot (David Mandeville) was a resident of the same city; and when she was rebuilt as the "North River" the work was performed by Hudson mechanics.

    The "Car of Neptune" was the next steamboat built to navigate the Hudson after the remodeling of the "Clermont."  Fulton owned an interest in her, though to what extent is not known.  Following her came the "Paragon," and then came others in rapid succession.  In 1826 there were some sixteen steamboats plying the river, taking passengers only.  The sloops monopolized the freight business.  The following is a list of the steamboats that competed for the traveling patronage of the river:

    Union Line.---"Olive Branch," Niagara," "William Penn."

    North River Line.---"Chancellor Livingston," "James Kent," "Richmond," and "Saratoga."

    Connecticut Line; Hudson Steam Navigation Company.---"Swiftsure" and "Commerce."

    Troy Line.---"Chief-Justice Marshall" and "New London."

    North River Association Line.---"Constellation" and "Constitution."

    The safety-barges "Lady Clinton" and "Lady Van Rensselaer," Captains Seymour and Peck, were towed in the rear of respective steamers "Commerce" and "Swiftsure."  The passage was performed chiefly by day-light, giving the passengers an opportunity to view the light, giving the passengers an opportunity to view the interesting scenery of the Hudson, and affording to travelers an unrivaled degree of comfort and entire security from those disasters to which steamboats and sailing packets are [page 130] exposed.  These passenger-boats made stops at Hudson and other important landings, and, throughout the summer months, formed the only means of public conveyance to the people of this county up to the time of the opening of railroads.

    Among the boats which succeeded those already named were the "De Witt Clinton" (launched in 1828), the "Oliver Ellsworth," "Henry Eckford," "United States," "Sandusky," "Ohio," "Albany," "Captain Jenkins," "Rochester," "Robert L. Stevens," "Diamond," "Hendrik Hudson," "Oregon," "Empire," "Erie," and "Champlain," four-pipe boats; "Francis Skiddy," at one time made two trips a day; "Arrow," "Napoleon," cigar-boat, built by Burden, which proved a total failure; "Emerald," "New Philadelphia," "North, and South America," Westchester," "Knickerbocker," "Niagara," "Isaac Newton," "Armenia," "Alida," "Kosciusko," "Washington," "Curtis Peck," "Wave," "Portsmouth," "General Jackson," "Illinois," "Metamora," "Iron Witch," "Roger Williams," "Confidence," "New Jersey," "Sun," "Express," and "Columbia."  The "Rip Van Winkle" was a favorite boat, and was commanded by Captains Abell, George Riggs, and Roe, now in command of the "Dean Richmond."

    One of the most notable steamboat disasters upon the Hudson river occurred in the evening of the 7th of April, 1845, in the Athens channel, opposite the city of Hudson.  The Hudson Rural Repository of April 12 gave the following account of the calamity:

    "On Monday evening, April 7, the steamboat 'Swallow,' Captain A. H. Squires, was on her passage from Albany to New York, and when opposite this city, in the Athens channel, ran upon a little, rocky island, broke in two, and in a few minutes sank.  The alarm was immediately spread in Athens, and a large number of citizens soon rallied to the scene of disaster, and happily succeeded in rescuing many lives.  Soon after the steamboats, 'Express' and 'Rochester' came down and promptly rendered what assistance was in their power, taking many passengers with them to New York.  The 'Swallow' had on board a large number of passengers, but the exact loss of life is at present unknown [the number lost proved to be about fifteen].  The night was excessively dark, with a heavy gale, snow and rain, and very cold.  Our citizens are yet busy about the wreck."

    On the morning of July 4, 1861, the "New World," from New York for Albany, was sunk off the Stuyvesant shore, but without loss of life.  She was soon after raised, towed to New York, put in order, and used as a hospital boat in the vicinity of West Point.  The steamboats now running through between Albany and New York are the magnificent night-line, the "St. John" and "Dean Richmond," and the day-line, composed of the "Drew" and "C. Vibbard," which make stops at all the principal landings.  The lines having their termini within the county are elsewhere mentioned.

RAILROADS.

    In the matter of the location and construction of railway lines, at a period when such projects were regarded by many as of doubtful expediency, if not absolutely chimerical, Columbia is entitled to take rank among the pioneer counties of New York, as we think we shall show in the brief account which we here give of the building and opening of the various lines within her domain.

THE HUDSON AND BERKSHIRE, AND BOSTON AND,

ALBANY, LINES.

 

    As early as the year 1826 a few enterprising men, with a boldness which ever yet seems amazing, conceived the idea of uniting the valley of the Hudson with the Massachusetts capital by means of a railroad track, which must climb the acclivities of Taghkanic and surmount the forbidding summits of Berkshire.  It is not strange that the scheme was freely ridiculed, and denounced as a manifestation insanity, but, nevertheless, it had no lack of enthusiastic supporters, and from the very first was received with especial favor in the county of Columbia, and in the neighboring portions of the adjoining State.

 

    The Legislature of Massachusetts, at its June session, in 1827, appointed commissioners "to cause the necessary surveys, plans, and estimates to be made on the best practicable route from Boston to the New York line, and thence (with leave obtained) to the Hudson river at or near Albany," and $10,000 was voted to defray the expense of the survey.

 

    Through the summer and fall of 1827 the "railroad agitation," as it was termed, continued to increase, until, in Columbia county at least, opposition to the enterprise was nearly extinct; and at a railroad meeting held at Canaan, Jan. 25, 1828, the attendance was so large, and the enthusiasm so boundless, that it was said that if an authorized corporation had then and there asked subscriptions for the construction of a road from Hudson to West Stockbridge, the entire amount of stock would have been taken upon the spot.

 

    In April, 1828, the New York Legislature passed an act authorizing the survey of a route or routes from the Hudson to the Massachusetts line, and pledging that if Mass-[page 131]chusetts should build her road to that point from Boston, this State would continue it to the river, or authorize and incorporate a company to do so.

 

    In due time the commissioners of both States reported surveys to their respective Legislatures.  Through the territory of New York two routes had been considered and surveyed, one from Troy to the Massachusetts line, near Adams, and the other to consist of two branches, starting respectively from Albany and Hudson, to unite at Chatham, and proceed thence to the Massachusetts ine, near West Stockbridge.

 

    Earnest disputes and much rivalry ensued between the advocates of the northern and the southern routes, and this was even more the case on the east than on the west side of the State line.  But all of middle and southern Berkshire was united in the resolve not to wait for a final decision upon the route of the through road, much less for the distant event of its completion.  If it were commenced at once, weary years must be spent in its construction, and meanwhile a short and comparatively inexpensive line might be built over a familiar route to their old and favorite mart of trade, the city of Hudson, from whence the river offered its noble highway to New York; and at that day none thought of questioning the superiority of the steamboat over the railway as a means of travel and transportation.

 

    The people of Hudson had been awake and active in the promotion of this enterprise.  In January, 1828,  they had sent delegates to the interested Berkshire towns, and on the 31st of that month a meeting attended by the principal citizens of both counties was held at West Stockbridge, and resulted in the presentation of petitions to the Legislatures of New York and Massachusetts asking for acts of incorporation.  New York responded by an act, passed May 1, 1828, incorporating the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad Company, with a capital of $350,000.  Massachusetts delayed, and finally refused to charter the portion of the line within her jurisdiction,---a course of action doubtless prompted by the fear of diverting trade to New york, but in marked contrast with the prompt co-operation which this State extended to Massachusetts in authorizing the extension of her proposed line to the canal at Albany.  This, however, did not discourage the friends of the project in that State, and they continued to press the matter with so much vigor and persistency that their Legislature at length yielded, and granted the charter in 1831.

   

    No organization was effected by the Hudson and Berkshire company until 1835; their charter in the mean time having expired and been renewed by the Legislature.  On the 5th of May, 1835, the following announcement appeared in the Hudson Gazette in reference to the opening of the books:  "Hudson and Berkshire Railroad.---The books for subscription for stock were opened yesterday at the Hudson River Bank, and we are happy in having it in our power to state that when our paper went to press the sum of $217,550 had been subscribed."  The entire amount subscribed during the three days the books remained open was $746,550; this being more than double the sum required.  The allotment of stock was immediately made, and the company organized May 27, electing the following board of directors, viz:  John Delafield, Robbins Kellogg, Oliver Wiswall, Rufus Reed, Silas Sprague, Robert A. Barnard, William A. Dean, Gouverneur Kemble, James Mellen, Elihu Gifford, John W. Edmonds, Samuel Anable, Ambrose L. Jordan.  The final survey was commenced at once, and the work was placed under contract during the following autumn.

 

    From the letter of a correspondent of the American Traveller, published in that journal in May, 1837, while this road was in process of construction, we make the following quotation, as showing the expectations which were then based on the opening of this pioneer line.  Those portions which refer to the probable establishment of a travelers' route between New York and Boston, to make the journey in twenty-one hours, by way of the city of Hudson, and of a through route from Boston to the great west via Catskill and Canajoharie, read strangely enough at the present day.  This correspondent says, "This road passes through a beautiful valley embracing one of the richest farming districts in the State.  At Stockbridge it will connect with the great Western railroad from Boston, and at Catskill with the railroad leading to Canajoharie, and thence to Buffalo.  Through this avenue the east may be supplied with the produce of the fertile west, and the latter with the manufactures of the east.  It will also afford a new route for travelers from the 'Commercial' to the 'Literary Emporium.'  They may then leave the city of New York at five o'clock p.m., reach Hudson at four a.m., and arrive at Boston at two p.m. of the following day.  But independent of all travel and eastern and western transportation, it is estimated that the county of Berkshire will support the road and more than pay the interest of the capital. . . .Individuals acquainted with the marble business have offered to contract to deliver to the company at Stockbridge, from the quarries of beautiful marble in that village, 100 tons per day for nine months in the year, and to insure the sale of the same amount when delivered at Hudson.  But for safety I will assume but half that amount at $2 per ton for transportation, where they now pay $5; say 50 tons per day for 240 days, pays $24,000.  The other tonnage to and from the Hudson river was ascertained two years since to exceed 25,000 tons, which, at $2, would amount to $50,000, giving a total of $74,000.  To secure the marble business to this company an association of the railroad stockholders have purchased nearly all of the principal quarries in the vicinity of Stockbridge.  The marble of which the Girard College at Philadelphia is built was transported from the quarries over a hilly road to be shipped at Hudson.

 

    "The Lebanon Springs are only seven miles from the [page 132] line of the road, and as soon as the main road is completed a branch will be made to that place.  That the Berkshire and Hudson railroad will materially advance the prosperity of this rising city (Hudson) I do not entertain a doubt. . . .The whole line, extending from Hudson to West Stockbridge, thirty-two miles, is under contract for grading, and nearly or quite completed.  The rails will in all probability be laid this summer, and by September of the present year the work will be completed."

 

    The road was opened for travel September 26, 1838, and the event was celebrated at West Stockbridge with boundless enthusiasm by a great concourse of the citizens of Columbia and Berkshire.  The construction and equipment of the line were not of the best, nor indeed were they such as would be regarded as even passable at the present day.  The track was formed of ordinary flat bar-iron, five-eighths of an inch in thickness, laid on wooden stringers; and the grades of the road, for four miles of its length, varied from seventy-one to eighty feet per mile.  The cars were short and box-like, and were mounted on springs which were scarcely springs at all; so that, in such vehicles and over such a frail and uneven track, passengers found very little of the comfort which attends railway travel at the present day.  Still it was a railroad, and its vast superiority over the old methods of freight transportation was apparent from the first, while for the surging and jolting of the trains, travelers were more than compensated by its speed, which then seemed almost marvelous,---for the idea of the employment of animal-power which had at first been entertained was abandoned, and locomotives (such as they were) were used instead.

 

    An extension of the road beyond West Stockbridge (known as the Pittsfield and West Stockbridge railroad) having been opened in May, 1841, and all links having been joined beyond Pittsfield during the succeeding five months, the unbroken route between Hudson and Boston was opened, and amid great rejoicing, Oct. 4, 1841.

 

    The Castleton and West Stockbridge Railroad Company was incorporated by the Legislature of New York in May, 1834.  The line, so authorized, to run from Castleton to the Massachusetts line, on a route to West Stockbridge.  In 1836 it was re-chartered as the Albany and West Stockbridge Company, and with a corresponding change of western terminus, making it identical with the northern branch of the southernmost of the two routes considered and surveyed by the commissioners appointed by the Legislature in 1828, and nearly the same as the New York portion of the present Boston and Albany railroad.  The company was composed principally of citizens of the State of New York, but the construction and operation of the road was afterwards, by agreement, assumed by the Western Railroad Company of Massachusetts.

 

    It had first been proposed to use the wooden track, capped with the flat bar, but the inferiority of this method had been so clearly demonstrated upon the Hudson road that it was rejected here, and a serviceable iron rail was used instead.  This line was vigorously pushed to completion, and was opened to Chatham Four Corners on the 21st of December, 1841.  Eastward from Chatham the Western company continued to use the tramway of the Hudson and Berkshire road, but were obliged to exercise the greatest care in passing their heavier trains over the frail and dangerous track; but meanwhile they were diligently at work upon the independent line, which would obviate the necessity of their using the Berkshire road.  This was completed and opened Sept. 12, 1842.

   

    Columbia county had now achieved direct railroad communication with the capitals of both New York and Massachusetts; but proud, and justly proud, as she was of this communication, her roads of that day bore but faint resemblance to those of her present system, with their rock-ballasted beds, steel tracks, superb equipment, and ceaseless traffic.

 

    The Hudson and Berkshire road was not prosperous, and eventually those who had so freely and generously subscribed in aid of the enterprise lost the entire amount of their investment.  The road received State assistance in 1840 to the amount of $150,000, secured to the State by mortgage, and in December, 1847, was further authorized by law to issue $175,000 in bonds, which should take precedence of the State's claim against the road, on condition that the stockholders should raise an additional $50,000 by assessments on their stock; the object of the raising of these sums by loan and assessment being the laying of a new T-rail in place of the old strap-rail.  This was done in 1848, and new locomotives and cars were purchased, in the hope that the road might prosper; but these hopes were not realized.  In January, 1853, it was leased to George H. Power and Shepherd Knapp; who operated it until Nov. 21, 1854.  It was then sold by James M. Cook, comptroller of the State, on foreclosure, for non-payment of the loan received from the State.  The road and its appurtenances were purchased by Chester W. Chapin, president of the Western railroad of Massachusetts (now the Boston and Albany railroad), for $155,000.  The road was soon after re-organized, placed under the same management with the Boston and Albany railroad, and has been successfully operated by that corporation until the present time.

 

    Under the management of Messrs. Power and Knapp the business was doubled in less than two years, and during the period from 1852 to 1873 the coal traffic of the road had increased from 500 tons to 250,000 tons per year; but in consequence of the general depression in business, and the establishing of other lines, the yearly coal tonnage had fallen off from the amount named in 1873 to 190,000 tons in 1877.  But the road is still prosperous.  It is well managed, and is of great advantage to the city of Hudson and to the county.

 

THE HUDSON RIVER LINE.

 

    The merchants and business men of this State, being fully conscious of the advantages which the opening of the Western railroad from Albany to Boston would give to the last-named city in the contest for commercial supremacy, began as early as 1830 to canvass the project of connecting by rail the cities of Albany and New York; but it was thought necessary to lay the route at a distance from the [page 133] river, and to depend considerably on the traffic to be gained from western Massachusetts and Connecticut.  The ideas which then prevailed on that subject are made apparent in the proceedings of a railroad convention of several Berkshire towns, held Oct. 10, 1831, and presided over by Lemuel Pomeroy, and which adopted a preamble and resolution as follows:  "Whereas, the citizens of New York and Albany, with characteristic enterprise and intelligence, already appreciate the wonderful advantages which within a few months have been practically developed by the railway system, and are now about to make a railroad from the city of Albany to the city of New York; and whereas, it is well understood to be the true policy of the cities of New York and Albany, if it shall be found practicable, without materially increasing the distance, to establish a road so far east to the Hudson as to avoid competition with the steamboat and sloop freightage thereon, but at the same time to secure to the railroad all the travel and transportation which demand greater expedition than can be obtained on the river, and also to open to those cities the rich resources of the county of Berkshire, parts of the counties of Hampshire and Hampden, and all the western counties of Connecticut, and that such a route will combine much greater resources than one on the banks of the Hudson. . . . Resolved, that measures of co-operation should be speedily and cordially adopted by the citizens of Massachusetts and Connecticut."

 

    At that time, and for years after, the idea of building a railroad along the banks of the Hudson, from city to city, was thought to be absurd and unworthy to be for a moment entertained; for it was argued and believed that even if such a road could be built through the highlands at anything like a reasonable expense (which was by no means thought possible) it could never hope to compete successfully with the safe, swift, and elegant steamers which plied upon the river and monopolized its trade.

 

    But at length even this project began to be considered as possible, afterwards as practicable, and finally as imperatively necessary; this last conviction being forced by the stern logic of the opening of the Boston road in 1841.  To the building of the inland route as proposed in 1831 the people of Hudson had been wholly opposed, as tending to divert trade and population from their city; but they heartily concurred in the new project of a river-road, and joined with the lower towns in their meetings held in its interest; the first of these to which Hudson sent delegates being at Poughkeepsie, on the 17th of March, 1842.

 

    At a similar meeting, held at the same place, July 28, 1846, "to advance the progress of the Hudson River railroad," Mr. William H. Grant, a civil engineer, who had for years been engaged on the public works of the State, set forth in glowing language the necessity of the work and the danger arising from delay in its prosecution.   He said that the Boston road had been in a great degree an experiment tried by the enterprising people of that city, but that its result had surprised them, as it had also amazed the thinking ones in New York; that the steady and rapid annual increase which New York had before enjoyed had not only been entirely checked but changed to actual retrogression by the opening of that road, and that by the same cause Boston had realized a gain almost exactly corresponding to the loss inflicted on New York during the four years in which it had been in full operation.  "Look," said he, "at the trains of the Western railroad as they depart from the depot at East Albany, and see if they are not loaded down and groaning under the burden of our own products and the products of the west; carrying our merchants and the merchants from distant States, that formerly thronged to New York, rapidly and en masse to the city of Boston.  See them returning with similar burdens, sending them far and near, and scattering them broadcast throughout the country, to the exclusion of the legitimate trade of New York; and this too when the channels of competition are all open, and the Hudson river is offering its superior navigation of one hundred and fifty miles, against two hundred miles of railroad over mountains and on unparalleled grades.  But, more than all, see this only avenue to New York closed and hermetically sealed during one-third of the year, while the whole trade of the interior and the west, without stint or diminution, concentrates on the city of Boston.  . . . 'Our grand canal'  truly!  Why, it has been made subservient, with our whole canal system and our railroads from Albany to Buffalo, to the city of Boston.  Our internal resources, industry, and capital, and even our merchants, mechanics, and farmers, have become tributary to her.  Look at the manufacturing establishments springing up from Massachusetts capital, and even railroads projected and carried into operation by it, upon our own soil. . . . There may be some resources upon which New York relies, not palpable to an unimaginative eye, but to plain, practical common sense there is no other than the construction of the Hudson River railroad.  With this road well constructed and fairly in operation, she will not only be placed in a defensive position to protect her commerce from the aggressions that have been committed upon it, but she will have opened an iron avenue with the illimitable west, that will draw to her again the lion's share of its treasures.  That she will build it, it would be folly to doubt; and that she will do it speedily, I most confidently believe.  The city of Hudson, the villages of Rhinebeck, Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie, Fishkill, and Peekskill, have, besides their local interests, a reciprocal interest with the city of New York in this road, and they have evinced thus far an intelligence and energy in regard to it which New York herself has not surpassed."

 

    The estimate made by John B. Jervis, Esq., C. E., of the cost of the road (143 miles) was $9,000,000, of which $3,016,500 was obtained in subscriptions to the stock, other sources being depended on for the remainder.  Mr. Jervis' estimate of annual earnings was as follows:  in summer, 200,000 through passengers at $1.50 each,** $300,000; 400,000 way passengers at $0.50, $200,000.  In winter, [page 134] freight and passengers estimated at $412,000; U. S. mail, $40,000.  Total, $952,000.

 

    The work was vigorously prosecuted from the opening of the season of 1848, and it was promised that the road should be completed in two years, which, however, failed of accomplishment for various reasons, the principal of which was lack of funds, and another of which was the prevalence of cholera as an epidemic among the laborers upon the line.  The road was opened for passenger travel to Peekskill on the 29th of September, 1849, and to New Hamburg, twenty-three miles farther, on the 6th of the following December.  There were great rejoicings at Poughkeepsie when, upon the last day of the year 1849, the line was opened to that point; but to the cities and villages lying farther up the prospect was not a cheering one, for no work had been done and no contracts awarded above Poughkeepsie, and, what was still worse, the treasury was empty.

 

    In January, 1850, an act was passed authorizing an addition of $1,000,000 to the stock of the company, and a further issue of $3,000,000 of bonds; and the work was resumed in the following season, the commencement being made at the Albany end of the line, and passengers and mails being in the mean time conveyed by stages from Poughkeepsie to Hudson, and thence by rail, via Chatham Four Corners, to Albany.

 

    On the 16th of June, 1851, the northern end of the road was opened from Albany to Hudson, where, temporarily, the trains made connection with steamers for the lower terminus and for New York, the through fare being placed at $1.50. Next, the road was opened to Oak Hill, and on the 4th of August to Tivoli.

 

    On the 1st of October, in the same year, the first train passed over the entire length of the road.  One week later---Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1851---came the formal opening, inaugurated by the passage from the metropolis to the capital of an excursion train, drawn by the locomotive "New York," and carrying the officers of the road, capitalists, members of the press, and distinguished citizens.  An extra issue of the Albany Evening Journal of that date thus chronicles the event:  "The day dawned auspiciously.  The sun is shining brightly, and the atmosphere is balmy and bracing.  The public were on tip-toe at an early hour to witness the joyous jubilee in honor of the completion of the Hudson River railroad.  It is an event well calculated to awaken enthusiasm.  Few greater enterprises have ever been prosecuted in this country, and none which, in the outset, met more coldness and ridicule.  But the men of iron nerve who conceived the project could not be diverted from their purpose by common obstacles.  They persevered and triumphed.  The great work, commenced under circumstances the most chilling and adverse, is now completed.  The event deserves a jubilee, as the inflexible men by whom it has been accomplished deserve the gratitude of the people of the State.  The road itself will be their perpetual monument."  Concerning the rejoicings at Hudson, a newspaper correspondent upon the train wrote:  "At 10.29 we reached Hudson amid the booming of cannon and the cheering of thousands.  There was more enthusiasm manifested here than at any previous stopping-place.  Banners and flags waved in every direction, and the utmost enthusiasm prevailed."  Even the children of the Hudson Orphan Asylum paraded with a banner, on which was inscribed, in honor of the president of the road, "Boorman, the friend of the orphans."

 

    Arrived at Greenbush, the officials of the road, with their guests, and citizens more or less distinguished,---in all more than fourteen hundred persons,---sat down to a bountiful repast, furnished by the proprietors of the Delavan House.  Speeches, sentiments, and congratulations followed; but these we do not intend to reproduce, save one, the toast offered by President Boorman, "The citizens of Columbia county.  The spirit they have manifested toward this enterprise shows them worthy of the illustrious name they bear."  It was a merited compliment, and one which will not soon be forgotten.

 

    Night closed on the festivities, and the Hudson River railroad was a fact accomplished.  But who, among all the thousands who gathered on that autumn day to celebrate its inauguration, could have dreamed of its future colossal proportions and limitless power?

 

    The length of the Hudson River road within the county of Columbia is 29 miles and 653 feet; the length of its track within the different towns being as follows:

 

  Miles Feet.
Clermont (the lower portion) 2 695
Germantown 3 338
Clermont (the upper portion) 2 567
Livingston 1 730
Greenport (lower part) 4 173
Hudson city 1 448
Greenport (upper part) 1 499
Stockport 4 654
Stuyvesant 8 509

   

    The road received liberal subscriptions to its stock from the inhabitants of these towns, particularly from those of the city of Hudson; notwithstanding that these last-named had had a bitter experience with the stock of the Hudson and Berkshire road.

    The first surveys had contemplated tunneling under the lower part of Hudson, so as to have the railroad pass under Warren Street, between Front and First, but this plan very naturally met with opposition from the citizens, which led to the eventual adoption of the present route along the front of the city.

THE NEW YORK AND HARLEM LINE.

    This railroad enters the county at Boston Corners in Ancram, and passes in a general northwesterly direction through Ancram, Copake, Hillsdale, Taghkanic, Claverack, and Ghent, to Chatham, where it intersects the Boston and Albany railroad at Chatham village.

    The company was formed in April, 1831, and commenced work in New York city in 1832, but did nothing north of Harlem river until after 1840.  After that time the work was prosecuted slowly to Chatham Four Corners (now Chatham village) on the 19th of January, 1852.  It is an [page 135] important line of communication to the eastern towns through which its route lies.

THE HARLEM EXTENSION LINE.

    This road, formerly known as the Lebanon Springs railroad, connects with the Hudson railroad at Chatham village, and passes northerly through the towns of Chatham and New Lebanon into Rensselaer county, of which it crosses a part, and, entering Vermont, connects with the Western railroad of that State at Bennington, 58 miles form its southern terminus.

    The company was organized in 1852, and work upon the line was commenced early in the summer of 1853, but was suspended a year later for financial reasons.  From that time until 1867 little was done, but in that year Cornelius Vanderbilt, Horace F. Clark, and other capitalists became interested in the enterprise and completed the road, so that on the 18th of December, 1869, it was formally opened by an excursion train which passed through to Vermont.

    The road was intended as a connecting link in an inland route from New York to Montreal.  The Messrs. Tilden, of New Lebanon, did much towards completing this line, which, it is said, is now doing a fair business.

THE POUGHKEEPSIE, HARTFORD AND BOSTON LINE.

    This road enters the town of Ancram from Pine Plains, in Dutchess county, and passes in a generally northeastern direction to Boston Corners, where it leaves the county and State.  Its length in the county of Columbia is a trifle more than eight miles.  In its commencement it was called the Poughkeepsie and Eastern railroad, and work was begun upon it in 1868, but it was not completed until the summer of 1872; the first train passing over its entire length on the 1st of August in that year.  Its existence is advantageous to the mines and manufacturing interest of the town of Ancram, with the history of which it is more fully mentioned.

THE RHINEBECK AND CONNECTICUT LINE

passes north from Dutchess county into the town of Gallatin, of which it crosses the southeast corner into Ancram, crosses that town, and intersects the Poughkeepsie, Hartford and Boston road at Boston Corners.  This road has about 12-3/5 miles of track within the county, and it was completed and opened for travel in the summer of 1874.

 

* This post-rider did a kind of express business in small parcels, etc., and was particularly requested by some of the enterprising traders or hair-workers of Hudson to bring in all the "long human hair" which he could collect on his route through the remote settlements.

In 1793, the Count St. Hilary and his wife, the Countess of Clermont, fled from the terrors of the Revolution in France, and found a secluded asylum upon the shores of Oneida lake, in New York.  Here they were found by Chancellor Livingston, who insisted on their accompanying him to his estate upon the Hudson.  This invitation they accepted, and remained at the chancellor's country home until the Reign of Terror had passed.  The estate of Clermont was so named by its owner in honor of the countess.

"A farmer living on the banks of the Hudson hastened home to apprise his wife and neighbors that he had seen the devil going up the river in a saw-mill."  The writer before quoted says, "She excited the astonishment of the venerable Dutch burgomaster, who almost dropped his precious pipe as, with strained eyes, he exclaimed, 'Dunder en blicksen?' "

That little islet had been formerly known as "Noah's Brig," especially among the lumbermen who ran rafts of logs and lumber down the river.  The circumstances from which it derived this name is the following.  One night a large number of rafts were coming down the west channel, one of them being under the command of a man who was known among his comrades by his Christian name, "Noah."  As the rafts neared this point Noah espied in the dim light a dark object riding upon the waters, which he at once decided to be a brig under sail, and as soon as he had approached near enough he hailed it, "Brig ahoy!"  No response.  Again, in stentorian tone, his hail rang out upon the night air, but still no attention was paid, and the mysterious craft kept unswervingly to its course.  This exasperated Noah, and his third hail was "Brig ahoy!  Answer, or I'll run you down!" and, as no reply given, true to his word he did run down the island; two trees standing widely apart having deceived him as to its character.  Probably neither Noah's brig nor his raft sustained serious injury, but the poor "Swallow" met a more cruel fate.  A large portion of the island has been taken away, and the rock material was used in constructing the embankments of the canal through the middle ground.

Until this time, and later, the use of locomotives was not contemplated by the projectors, but all the plans and estimates of the engineers and commissioners were based wholly on the idea of the use of animal power for the moving of trains, "as better adapted to the transportation of the endless variety of loading which a dense and industrious population requires."  Colonel Richard P. Morgan, in his report upon the mountain division of the route in Massachusetts, proposed the construction of inclined planes, along which cars were to be drawn by the power of water-wheels where such power was found available; otherwise by horses, or better than all, by oxen.

The Western railroad of Massachusetts, however, over which this contemplated connection was to be made, was not opened until more than four years after the date of this letter.

The route as originally laid out reached the river at the North bay, upon the north side of the city, but was changed to its present location before the building of the road.

By observations taken during twenty years (1825 to 1844, inclusive), it was found that the river was closed by ice for an average period of one hundred and thirty-give days in each year.

** The number of passengers transported on the river by the day- and night-boats during the year preceding the date of this estimate was 1,200,000.  By the terms of the railroad charter, two cents per mile could be charged in summer and two and a half cents in winter, but not more than three dollars from New York to Albany in any season.

The Hudson Gazette of Dec. 18, 1849, rejoiced in this prospect of a mail service between New York and Hudson, which should make the entire distance in a day, as "by present arrangement, it takes three days to get a letter to New York and back again."

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