Today, the New York Central Adirondack Line runs from Remsen to Lake Placid with passenger service in summer and fall by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The Adirondack Division was originally a branch on the New York Central that ran between Remsen, New York and Malone, with a branch diverging at Lake Clear Junction which ran to Saranac Lake and connected to Lake Placid. The tracks going north from Lake Clear were removed in the early 1960s. There are extant stations in Lake Clear Junction, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid; the Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs a tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The Saranac Lake Union Depot was built around 1904 by the Delaware and Hudson Railway. The name Union Depot refers to the fact that it was shared by the D & H and the New York Central Railroad. 1
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad provides service on this line between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, and on the southern end from Utica to Thendara and on to Carter; starting in fall 2012 it is expected to operate to Big Moose.
Structures that are part of the District that lie within Historic Saranac Lake's region include the following:
|Clear Pond Outlet Bridge, 1914||Single span metal deck plate girder w/ open timber deck, concrete abutments cast w/ 1904 date, 30 feet. Milepost 129.94|
|Lake Clear Junction Passenger Station, 1909||Rectangular one story, hip roofed, shingle on frame building w/ overhanging eaves, exposed rafter ends, projecting one story, semi-hexagonal bay window on trackside elevation, 85 X 22.5 feet. Milepost 131.68|
|The R.E.A. building is a one story, concrete masonry utilitarian 51 x 20.5-foot warehouse, built between 1916 and 1924. It has flared overhanging eaves, stone window sills, sliding freight door at trackside elevation. Milepost 137.78|
Rectangular, 1-1/2 story, 125 x 30-foot random ashlar stone building, hipped roof with broad sheltering eaves supported by curved steel brackets, center cross gable, stone piers supporting entrance portico, corbeled chimney (built by Achroid & Son, Albany, for the Delaware and Hudson). Milepost 137.76
|Saranac River Bridge, 1903||Single span metal deck plate girder w/open timber deck, concrete abutments,100 feet. Milepost [9.62]|
|Chubb River Bridge, 1903||Single span metal deck plate girder w/open timber deck, 59 feet. Milepost [5.96]|
|One story, hip roofed concrete block building with separate baggage and passenger waiting rooms, projecting trackside semi-hexagonal bay window, corbeled brick stove chimney—built to replace shingled wood frame station burned, 1928. Milepost [5.76]|
Begun in 1891 and opened the following year, the New York Central Railroad Adirondack Division was constructed to join several regional branch lines in a trunk route to the principal east-west track of the New York Central main line at Utica. In its final configuration, the railroad traversed 142 miles from Utica to Lake Placid, through mountains and bogs, across numerous rivers and streams. Constructed in the short span of 18 months through rugged terrain, the railroad was a significant engineering accomplishment of the late Nineteenth century, reflecting sophisticated design solutions to the problems of building through a wilderness environment. The line was instrumental in opening the Adirondack region to commerce, transporting passengers and supplies into the mountains, hauling industrial products out of the area. Formally absorbed by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad as its Adirondack Division in 1913, the line remained a significant regional transportation artery until it went into decline after the Second World War. With its collection of historic bridges, stations and ancillary buildings, the Adirondack Division reflects the construction and operation of an important regional railroad between 1891 and c. 1940, and retains a high degree of integrity to its period of significance.
The Adirondack Line was the most successful railroad of a number developed between 1870 and 1900 to link the industries, natural resources and vacation resorts of the Adirondacks with urban centers such as New York, Buffalo, and Utica. As a conduit for industrial and domestic supplies, bulk products from the region, and passengers traveling to and from the Adirondacks, the railroad played a significant role in stimulating and fostering the development of a large, thinly settled area of New York State.
The history of the rail line that ultimately became the Adirondack Division is integrally associated with the career of its chief financier and developer, William Seward Webb (1851-1926). Educated in medicine at Columbia University, Webb remained a practicing physician for only a few years before joining a Wall Street investment firm, which by 1888 had become the W.S. Webb Company. Soon after his marriage to Eliza ("Lila") Osgood Vanderbilt, youngest daughter of William H. Vanderbilt of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, Webb himself became active in railroading. In 1885, he became president of the Wagner Palace Car Company, which he transformed into one of the foremost coach manufacturers in the railroad industry. In addition to his direct role in founding and overseeing construction of the Adirondack line, Webb was president and chairman of the Rutland Railroad, as well as a director of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern and the Central Vermont Railroad. Webb established the Adirondack line in part for his personal convenience: traveling in his private palace car, Webb used the railroad as his personal route to Nehasane Park, his vast wilderness summer estate at Lake Lila in Hamilton County.
William Seward Webb began his Adirondack railroad enterprise in 1891, purchasing the existing Herkimer, Newport & Poland Narrow Gauge Railroad and proceeding to reincorporate it as the Herkimer, Newport & Poland Railway, with authority to change the gauge to standard. In the spring of 1891, the survey for Webb's new railroad occurred; simultaneously, Webb purchased the lands for the right-of-way and began building north from Remsen. In June, 1892, the incorporation of the Mohawk & Malone Railway (M&M) under Webb's leadership consolidated all the small railroads from Herkimer north. At the same time, the Adirondack & St. Lawrence (A&StL), incorporated in 1890, was building south from Malone. The Mohawk & Malone met the Adirondack & St. Lawrence on October 12, 1892, when the last spike was driven north of Twitchell Creek Bridge. Despite the harsh environment of the western Adirondacks and the difficulty of transporting construction materials to the work site, this ambitious engineering and construction feat was accomplished in just 18 months.
Soon after constructing his trunk line, William Seward Webb took further steps to expand service through connections with other railroads. In the process, he gained access to several important new terminals. At Remsen, the Adirondack line connected with the Utica and Black River branch of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. By 1893, Adirondack trains originated at the busy union station in Utica. At the north end of the line, a branch ran from Lake Clear Junction to Saranac Lake where it joined the three-foot gauge Chateauguay Railroad from Plattsburgh, at that time under Delaware and Hudson control. The line between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid (also operated by the Delaware & Hudson as a narrow gauge line) was a profitable, heavily traveled passenger route used by resort and health seekers. Under an arrangement with the Webb interests, this line was converted to dual gauge in its early years to allow operation by both companies. In 1903, the D&H standardized the right-of-way. Until 1946, the New York Central ran between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid on trackage rights.
The legal name applied to Webb's railroad changed at various points in the history of the line. The Mohawk and Malone combined with the Adirondack and St. Lawrence at an undetermined date, although both were still known by their earlier names. In 1913, the line was absorbed as a branch of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad system, from which point it was designated the New York Central's Adirondack Division.
The Adirondack Division line had a significant economic and social impact on the region. Before the advent of highways through the Adirondacks in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the railroad was the only reliable mode of travel through the region. All significant commodities for survival—fuel, building materials, and food—arrived by freight train. Passengers also were transported via buggy or buckboard to the various resorts from stations along the railroad. The railroad stimulated the development of many communities along its route, bringing tourists, lumbermen, sportsmen, and resort workers into the mountains. Many short branches and connecting lines served the local industries and small communities of the western Adirondack region. Lumber mills, paper and pulp mills and mining companies relied on the Adirondack Division as both a source of industrial supplies and a means for shipping finished products to markets outside the region. Included in this nomination is the former office building of the Champlain Valley Realty Co., a regional logging company of the early Twentieth century. The intact vernacular frame structure is significant as the last extant commercial building associated with industries served by the Adirondack Division during the period of significance.
Through its junctions with through routes at Remsen and Lake Clear Junction, the Adirondack Division also provided the only direct rail link between central New York and Canada. The history of the freight and passenger service so significant in the development of the Adirondack region during the period 1892-1940 is reflected in the extant stations that survive along the Adirondack Division right-of-way. Ranging from utilitarian freight houses at Old Forge/Thendara, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, to shingle-clad passenger stations such as those at Forestport and Woodgate, to the stone-trimmed stations of the Lake Placid branch, the buildings of the Adirondack Division embody the architectural features and native materials that characterized the line.
During the last quarter of the Nineteenth century, the Adirondacks became a destination for those seeking a rustic retreat from life in the bustling and polluted cites of the East. Hunting and fishing expeditions led by Adirondack guides drew scores of wealthy urbanites to the mountains, where many acquired extensive landholdings for their private use. The introduction of a railroad through the middle of this rugged wilderness opened up new recreation destinations in the era of the Adirondack "Great Camp". Regular patrons of the Adirondack Division traveling in their private railroad palace cars included such notables as President Benjamin Harrison; railroad developers Thomas C. Durant, Collis P. Huntington, and Chauncey DePew; financier J. Pierpont Morgan; industrialists Harry Payne Whitney and Marjorie Post. The great majority of travelers to the region's secluded wilderness estates and inns entered the Adirondacks via this railroad line, dubbed "the Golden Chariot Route".
The Adirondack Division played a significant role in support of the 1932 Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid. With few highways into the region, the railroad transported many contestants and spectators to the games. Many special trains were run to Lake Placid from Utica and New York. Since housing was at a premium, the railroad constructed special sidings for Pullman sleeping cars to accommodate approximately 500 visitors. The winter of 1932 had an unusually light snowfall, and Lake Placid lacked sufficient snow at the time the games were to begin. Boxcars of snow were rushed from Old Forge to Lake Placid along the Adirondack line so that the Olympic Nordic events could take place.
The Adirondack Division Historic District is a distinctive collection of railway buildings, structures, and infrastructure reflecting engineering design and practice during a transitional period when wood, stone, and iron were replaced by concrete and steel. The extant passenger and freight stations, maintenance-of-way buildings and metal bridges of the Adirondack Division are intact, representative examples of their type, period and method of construction, and display a remarkably high degree of integrity despite lack of maintenance and the ravages of a harsh environment. From track and right-of-way construction and maintenance to passenger and freight operations, the historic features of the Adirondack Division Historic District represent a rare and significant collection associated with the opening of a vast wilderness region of New York State at the turn of the century.
As noted above, the original Adirondack line was completed in just 18 months across the state's most difficult terrain. The railroad was designed by chief engineer W. N. Roberts, who also supervised initial construction. As work progressed section by section, Roberts enlisted the aid of his brother, Herschell Roberts, as assistant chief engineer. The first right-of-way consisted of an earthen embankment, with rails crossing streams and rivers carried on timber bridges with cut stone abutments. At the time the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad formally acquired the Adirondack line in the early Twentieth century, extensive repairs were undertaken to upgrade the rails and bridges. The majority of bridges were replaced with plate girder and metal truss spans in 1912-13, and it is these structures that remain intact on the abandoned right-of-way. Most of the line's typical bridges are the ballast deck type, in which railroad ties are seated in a pan of ballast rock atop the bridge beams. The spans installed on the Adirondack Division were designed with deck drainage systems and set on mortared granite piers and abutments, reflecting a carefully considered engineering design solution to the problems caused by prolonged exposure to extreme Adirondack weather conditions. The durability and high survival rate of trackage and bridges on the Adirondack Division with minimal maintenance attests to the skill of the line's engineering staff.
Passenger traffic and local freight service remained brisk through the 1930s and 1940s. Because the line traversed heavily forested land, fires started by cinders from coal-burning locomotives (chiefly, K-ll Pacifies and H-8 Mikados) destroyed much of the adjacent woodland. In 1909, the New York State Conservation Commission ordered all locomotives operating within the Adirondack Park to burn oil from April through November—the dry season. This practice remained in effect until the Adirondack Division fully converted to diesel power in 1952. Thus, both oil and coal facilities, as well as water cranes, were located along the railway; none remain extant on the present right-of-way.
By the late 1940s, passenger traffic on the Adirondack Division had declined to two trains daily in each direction, with most of the patronage to Lake Placid. Ridership continued to diminish throughout the 1950s. The last passenger train to Lake Placid ran April 24, 1965. The summer of 1965 saw drastic cutbacks in both the plant and personnel of the Adirondack Division. With passenger depots no longer needed, all stations were closed except Tupper Lake, where a freight agency was maintained for a few more years. Agents and operators were transferred to other divisions, track maintenance was cut to a minimum. In mid-summer, a salvage crew removed the majority of sidings along the right-of-way. Minimal freight service continued for the next few years through the merger of the Pennsylvania and the New York Central railroads in 1968. The Penn-Central continued to petition the Interstate Commerce Commission for abandonment of the line. Neglected culverts flooded, washing out sections of track and causing derailments or delays. The number of customers declined to a bare minimum because of sporadic service. The end came in the early spring of 1972, when a washout below Tupper Lake stranded several cars on the upper end of the line. Rather than repair the tracks, Penn-Central placed an embargo on the line and removed the cars by highway truck to Potsdam, its nearest operating point.
The State of New York became interested in acquiring the abandoned Adirondack Division in the early 1970's, and entered into negotiations with the debt-ridden Penn-Central Corporation. In 1978, the state acquired the right-of-way. As the Adirondack Railroad (operated by a private contractor), the line enjoyed a brief resurgence in 1980, providing short-term passenger service to Lake Placid in conjunction with the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. A number of proposals to rehabilitate and operate the line were submitted throughout the mid-1980s; all lacked proper financing or realistic plans of operation. In 1989, the New York State Departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation purchased the remainder of the lease.
The former New York Central Adirondack Division line between Remsen and Lake Placid is currently abandoned. 2 Vegetation, vandalism and the elements continue to take a toll on the neglected roadbed, ties and rails. Despite this lack of maintenance, the Adirondack Division Historic District remains a significant transportation system that profoundly influenced the growth and development of the Adirondack region from the 1890s to the 1940s.
Major Bibliographical References
- Burnett, Charles H. Conquering the Wilderness: The Building of the Adirondack and St. Lawrence Railway. N.p., Published privately, 1932.
- "Dr. Webb's Adirondack Railroad," Franklin Historical Review (1973): 49-61.
- Barter, Henry. Fairy Tale Railroad: The Mohawk and Malone. Utica, N.Y.: North Country Books, 1979.
- Hastings, Philip R. "Pacifies to Placid," Trains 10 (September 1950): 22-26.
- Kudish, Michael. Where Did the Tracks Go? Following Railroad Grades in the Adirondacks. Saranac Lake, NY: The Chauncy Press, 1985.
- Miller, Roland B. "Iron Horses in the Adirondacks, Part I," New York State Conservationist (Oct-Nov 1956): 18-19.
- Miller, Roland B. "Iron Horses in the Adirondacks, Part II," New York State Conservationist (Apr-May 1957): 9.
- Shaughnessy, Jim. Delaware & Hudson. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1967.
1. Kudish, Michael, Where Did the Tracks Go in the Central Adirondacks?, vol II, Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2007. p. 511. ISBN: 1-930098-81-2
2. This is no longer the case: see Adirondack Scenic Railroad