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Potsdam, NY 13676
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Locomotion


LOCOMOTION

A History of Trains and Railroads in Northern New York

Dec 6, 2009 to March 20, 2010



Potsdam’s first train station was built in 1854, shortly after the establishment of the Potsdam railroad branch. It was placed at the end of Depot Street, which had been cut through from Market Street, and next to the Elderkin Street Cemetery.  The building measured 50 by 100 feet and was made out of wood with a tin roof.  It was large enough to accommodate passengers and baggage facilities. There was also a freight depot located to the north of the passenger station which was used exclusively for freight trains. The old passenger depot was in service until 1914.



New York Central decided to replace the first train station in 1914 with a new passenger depot; the one which we are familiar with today. The new train station was originally built at the end of Willow Street, 150 feet northwest of the old depot, and was made out of durable sandstone. The construction was completed June 1, 1914, and the grand opening was the following day. While Potsdam’s residents were pleased with the design of the newer depot, they regretted the destruction of the old one. On June 1st a 12:03 northbound was the first passenger train to stop at the new station.


The last passenger train stopped at the new depot in 1960, when New York Central discontinued all passenger service north of Syracuse.  The baggage office that once stood behind Van Ness Co. was later used by Potsdam Feed and Coal Co. and in 1962 Railway Express began its occupation of the baggage section of the depot.  In the 1980’s the freight station was used by Montgomery Wards as a storage warehouse. 

A Potsdam Relief Route was proposed in 1978 which would connect Route 11 to Route 56.  The train station, called the Depot Restaurant at that time, was planned to be demolished in order to clear a path for the relief route.  These plans instigated protests by many Potsdam residents to save the depot including a rally in front of the depot.  It was recommended that the depot be considered for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) so that it could remain where it stood and the relief route would need to be rerouted. The Department of Transportation replied that the former passenger station had to be either demolished or moved.  The 1914 passenger station was deemed eligible for inclusion in the NRHP, however, village officials decided that the depot be relocated onto Constitution Street where it would be safe from the relief route’s traffic.  In 1980 the depot was put onto rollers and wheeled to its current location.  It is currently an Italian restaurant known as Mama Lucia’s.

Image: "Old Betsy No. 2" was a famous steam engine that was used on the Hannawa Falls Power Company Railroad. According to Robert Leete, Black River.  According to the archives at the Potsdam Public Museum, this locomotive was built in Vermont in 1872 for the Central Vermont Railroad. It later served on the Rutland Railroad and was the first engine owned and operated by the Norwood and St. Lawrence Railroad. It was sold to the Hannawa Company in 1911 and chugged back and forth between Potsdam and Hannawa Falls, carrying passengers and freight until 1915.

When the railroad was abandoned, "Old Betsy" was sold. Since then, all track of her has been lost. Potsdam has heard that she was eventually shipped to Russia.

In 1850, the first trains came to St. Lawrence County on the Northern Railroad, which extended from Ogdensburg east to Rouses Point. It passed north of Potsdam through Norwood, which was formerly known as Potsdam Junction. At this time, railroad access to a town meant economic prosperity. The citizens of Potsdam were unhappy that the railroad had bypassed them, and in 1852, they organized to create their own railroad, the Potsdam and Watertown Railroad, which connected the Northern Railroad with the Watertown and Rome Railroad. In the prospectus, the directors optimistically predicted that the new railroad would “form a connecting link in the great line of railway extending from the Atlantic Seaboard... to the Far West.” Construction on the new tracks began on May 4th, 1854. Three years later, on February 5th, the first train traveled the line with railroad officials on board. For several years, Potsdam saw heavy train traffic, because the railroad was the only significant form of transportation available.

Nevertheless, the Potsdam and Watertown Railroad began failing financially, and in 1860 the directors were forced to sell it to the Watertown and Rome Railroad, which became the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. The RW&O extended the tracks to new locations and ran an express line from Niagara Falls to Portland, Maine that was so successful it frequently required two locomotives to pull its many cars. The president of the RW&O, Charles Parsons, decided to challenge the New York Central line for dominance, planning to build tracks parallel to the Central’s main line in the Mohawk Valley. The owner of the New York Central, William Vanderbilt, responded by surveying a route parallel to the RW&O in northern New York and offering money to take over the RW&O. In 1891, the New York Central Railroad obtained a long-term lease of the RW&O and began providing sleeper car service from Ogdensburg through Potsdam to cities such as New York and Pittsburgh. Eight years later, the Northern Railroad, now known as the Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain, became part of the Rutland Railroad.

Passenger service through Potsdam reached its height in the early 20th century. Four trains ran south on weekdays and two on Sundays, while five trains ran north on weekdays and three on Sundays. Over time, competition from automobiles began to slow the passenger traffic on the railroad. The war years brought more trains to Potsdam with military troops, but the days of the passenger railroad were numbered. By 1960, a single “Beeliner” train carried the few remaining passengers, sometimes outnumbered by the crew, to Potsdam. The last passenger train passed through Potsdam on February 15, 1964, ending more than a century of passenger service on the line. The Rutland Railroad also failed in 1963, and the tracks from Norwood to Rouses Point were torn up. Freight trains continue to pass through Potsdam, now managed by the government Consolidated Railroad program, known as “Conrail,” which took over the New York Central after it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968.

New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Engine #988

In 1892, the fastest steam locomotive engine in the country was NYC&HRR Engine #999, because of its speedy high wheel equipment. Engineer Van Bockus and conductor Finnimore decided to challenge its record with their own engine, #988. They took Engine #988 the fifty-three miles from Philadelphia Junction to Potsdam in only fifty-five minutes. This rivaled the speed of the 999, and on a "much less favorable roadbed." On August 1st, 1893, Bockus ran the first train on the Gouverneur and Oswegatchie Railroad, a branch line of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg. Although he used Engine #316 for this historic run, he was using #988 again when this picture was taken in 1898. Bockus later told his grandson that of all the engines he handled during his more than forty years working on the railroad, his favorite was #988.

The “Lou B. Cleveland” of Watertown

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most engines had both a number and a nickname. This engine was named for Lou B. Cleveland, a citizen of Watertown. His father, Stephen Richardson Cleveland, was a civil engineer, working on railroads and canals in the north for twenty-five years before becoming a prominent local banker. After graduating from Cornell with a degree in civil engineering in 1907, Lou B. Cleveland also worked as a civil engineer and contractor in Watertown. In 1912, he was contracted by the New York Central Railroad to build overhead crossings at Gedis, Cole's Crossing in Calcium, and Black River. The engine may have been named for Cleveland in honor of his service to the railroad, or he may have contributed financially to its purchase.

1889 Barnum and Bailey Circus Wreck

On August 22, 1889, a Barnum and Bailey Circus train on its way to Montreal crashed two and a half miles north of Potsdam. As the train ran downhill into Clark's Crossing, an axle broke in a car near the engine of the train, leading to a six-car pile-up. The attendants struggled to free their panicking animals from the wreckage. Remarkably, none of the passengers or the elephants died, but two camels, a trick mule, and twenty-eight horses perished. The surviving animals were housed at a local farm, and the villagers flocked to see them. It was calculated that the wreck cost Barnum and Bailey $58,000.


1896 Dynamite Wreck

In 1896, a passenger train coming over the Racquette River bridge towards the Potsdam Depot hit a spread rail and tumbled off the tracks. One of the wrecked cars was carrying more than three tons of dynamite. When this news reached the people waiting with coaches and wagons at the station to meet the approaching train, they panicked and ran. Eyewitnesses said that the people outran the horses in fleeing the scene of danger. Later, experts said that if the dynamite had exploded, most of the town of Potsdam would have blown up.

1910 Hannawa Bridge Wreck

The short Hannawa Railroad pulp line was constructed in 1899 using substandard techniques: the tracks were laid on any available support, and the trestles leaned crookedly in the marshy river bottom. The tracks often sank below water level from the weight of the trains passing over them. It is hardly surprising that in 1910, a train wreck completely demolished a length of track through the river near Oak Island. The directors of the Hannawa Railroad evidently repaired the damage, because it lasted another seven years before an advertisement in the Potsdam Herald Recorder in 1917 ran: "FOR SALE: TIES and TIMBER NOW in HANNAWA RAILROAD. If you want ties for a railroad, now is your chance."


(ADDITIONAL IMAGES)

Trains



The Depot

P14 Potsdam Depot 1914
P14 Potsdam Depot 1914 (close-up of people #1)
P14 Potsdam Depot 1914 (close-up of people #2)
P14 Potsdam Depot 1914 (close-up of people #3)

 P16 Potsdam Depot c1914
P16 Potsdam Depot c1914 (close-up of people)

P18 Potsdam Depot H J Sanford Grain Elevator #68-30
P18 Potsdam Depot (close-up)
P18 H J Sanford Grain Elevator (close-up)

P19 Potsdam Interior (glass plate negative)

P20 Potsdam Depot 18th August 1913

P221 Old Potsdam Depot
P221 Old Potsdam depot (Horse-drawn American Oil and Gasoline Tank)
P221 Old Potsdam depot (close-up of trucks and crew)

P1898-1 Potsdam Depot Sandstone Building c1916

P2702 Potsdam Feed and Coal
P3751 Depot Freight yard at old depot #94 -11

P3952 Depot waiting horse-drawn buses hacks c1910
P3952 Depot waiting horse-drawn buses hacks c1910 (close-up #1)
P3952 Depot waiting horse-drawn buses hacks c1910 (close-up #2)
P3952 Depot waiting horse-drawn buses hacks c1910 (close-up #3)

P1903-1 Potsdam Depot Postcard (colorized) 1910
P1903-2 Potsdam Depot (Original Image for Postcard) 1910

P2405 Potsdam Depot 1968
P1339 Potsdam Depot 1972
P17 Potsdam Depot c1975 (boarded up)
P17 Potsdam Depot c1975 (close-up)

Moving the Depot (1980)


Train Accidents / Bridge Collapses

P450 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #1)
P450 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #2)
P450 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #3)

P451 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889
P451 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #1)
P451 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #2)

P452 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Horse & Trainer)
P453 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Elephants)
P454 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Horse & Trainer)
P455 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Horse)

P456 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889
P456 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #1)

P457 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889
P457 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #1)
P457 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #2)
P457 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #3)

P3593 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889
P3593 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #1)
P3593 Barnum and Bailey Circus Train Wreck Aug 1889 (Close-up #2)


Miscellaneous photographs


P3615 Pheonix Cheese Co Washington Street
P3615 Pheonix Cheese Co Washington Street (Close-up of workers)

P2731 Horse with sled at station
P1508 H W Fearl coal, wood and American Oil delivery wagon
P1507 O P Benson delivery wagon Potsdam Depot

P409  Potsdam Depot William McCollum Albion House wagon
P409  Potsdam Depot William McCollum Albion House wagon (Close-up)

P2727 construction west end of trestle

P2710 Steam shovel working on railroad tracks
P2710 Steam shovel working on railroad tracks (Close-up of crew)

P1591 Group at Potsdam Depot - no date
P1591 Group at Potsdam Depot - no date (Close-up #1)
P1591 Group at Potsdam Depot - no date (Close-up #2)
P1591 Group at Potsdam Depot - no date (Close-up #3)

P2636 Railroad station with people greeting celebrity

P1258 Senator Depew at Potsdam Depot #770-35
P1258 Senator Depew at Potsdam Depot #770-35 (Close-up)


Maps & Ephemera

Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain Timetable August 31 1868
Central Vermont RR Green Mountain Route July 6 1885
Norwood & St Lawrence Rail Road Co Daily Timetable July 1 1909

Potsdam & Watertown Railroad $10 Share of Capital Stock Nov 17 1852 to H W Knapp
Potsdam & Watertown Railroad $10 Share of Capital Stock Sept 19 1853 to H W Knapp

Moonlight Excursion to benefit Hannawa Union School June 1 1906
Moonlight Excursion to benefit Hannawa Union School June 1 1906 (Close-up #1)
Moonlight Excursion to benefit Hannawa Union School June 1 1906 (Close-up #2)
Moonlight Excursion to benefit Hannawa Union School June 1 1906 (Close-up #3)
Moonlight Excursion to benefit Hannawa Union School June 1 1906 (Close-up #4)

New York Central & Hudson River Rail Road Ticket

Potsdam and Watertown RR Map
Map of the Utica and Black River RR and connections to NY Central & Hudson RR