The Chateaugay Railroad (or Railway) was created by the Chateaugay Iron Company in 1879 to build a narrow-gauge rail line from Lyon Mountain to Dannemora to move ore and charcoal for its iron-making operations. The line was extended to Standish in 1885, to Loon Lake in 1886 (Robert Louis Stevenson rode the Chateaugay to Loon Lake), and to Saranac Lake in 1887. The Delaware and Hudson railroad financed the section to Saranac Lake, and then organized the dual-gauge Saranac and Lake Placid Railroad in 1890, opened in 1893; the standard-gauge section was run as a branch of the New York Central.
The D&H took control of the railroad in 1901, and in 1903, combined the Lake Placid line with the main line as the Chateaugay and Lake Placid Railway, and converted the entire line to standard gauge. The Saranac Lake to Lake Placid section was sold to the New York Central in 1946, and finally abandoned in 1972.
Plattsburgh Republican, September 3, 1887
The new railroad from Loon Lake to Saranac Lake village is being pushed to completion, over two hundred men now being employed on it. The whole distance is 19 miles, four and one half of which across the Oregon prairie is on a perfectly straight line and for a distance of 9 1/2 miles there are only two or three slight curves. The line will undoubtedly be in operation the whole distance before Christmas.
The Chateaugay Railway Company have located their extension from Loon Lake to Saranac Lake village. It runs on the west side of Mud Pond, crossing to the island near its head and crossing Round Pond at its root skirts along its east shore, past Buck Pond, Oregon Pond, &c. and leaving Rainbow to the right runs across the “Oregon” prairie passing two miles west of Bloomingdale and within about four miles of Paul Smith's.
Plattsburgh Republican, December 17, 1887
Saranac Lake Village. The Adirondack Sanitarium, &c .
Taking advantage of the completion of the Chateaugay Railway to Saranac Lake, we made a trip over the line last Monday for the purpose of gathering material which might interest our readers. The entire length of the road from its Lake Champlain terminus at Plattsburgh is seventy-two miles. At Loon Lake 1,730 feet above sea level, and 54 miles from Plattsburgh the road emerges into an opening after running for sixteen miles through a dense and almost unbroken forest. Thence keeping a southerly course it traverses the base of Loon Lake Mountain by an almost unbroken series of curves, winding in and out of the dark evergreen forest, and reaching Round Pond four miles beyond, at an altitude of 1,677 feet. Here at the foot of Round Pond (famous for monster trout) it crosses to the south side of the North Branch of the Saranac and skirts along Round Pond, bringing into fine view the densely wooded Sable range of mountains and winding past Buck Pond on the left and Oregon Pond on the right strikes off nearly south towards its destination at Saranac Lake. Rainbow Station, at present consisting of a guide board, two miles from Wardner's at the head of Rainbow Lake, is passed at a distance of three miles from Round Pond, altitude 1,673 feet; three miles across a level uninhabited country reaches Vermontville, at the edge of the prairie where there is no station yet. The first settlers here were from Vermont, hence the name. The broad plain which stretches across the country here, comprising an area of thousands of acres is what is known as "Oregon." It is level and reaches nearly from one branch of the Saranac to the other. It is an easy country to build a railroad through and wherever the surface is cut for ditching or grading it shows white sand, with a very thin scurf of vegetable mould on the surface, on which little grows that is of much value. At no very distant day in the past there must have been a lake here, reaching nearly across from the north to the south branch of the Saranac river. On this plain little attempt at cultivation has been made. The inhabitants say the land is so "frosty" that it is worthless, but it also seems too sandy to ever be of much account, without heavy expense for fertilizers. Along the west border of this prairie rises a range of low hills, and here the land is excellent, the native forest being maple and beech, of which fine groves yet remain, maple sugar being one of the important productions, while the fields and buildings bear indications of good crops. Beyond Rainbow station the line crosses "Nigger Brook," a small stream,the water of which is nearly black, and the road runs down this brook, crossing it four times. Beyond Vermontville the road strikes a straight line, and holds it for four miles, across what is known as the Toof Marsh, a swamp of a thousand acres or more, soundings of fourteen feet down into the muck or sand having been made with poles by the engineers. One of the natural curiosities is a ledge of rock which rises out of this swamp, and just beyond the only rock cut on the road between Standish and Saranac Lake is reached and that is a very small one. At Bloomingdale station two miles and a half beyond Vermontville and six miles and a half this side of Saranac Lake a station house for freight and temporary offices is nearly finished. From this point the distance is six miles to Paul Smith's and two miles to Bloomingdale and thirteen miles to Prospect House. South of this station the roads runs along the border of Colby Pond, a fine sheet of water a mile or more long with pleasant wooded shores.
On a fine piece of upland to the westward is the handsome home farm of Leonard Nokes, the old pioneer pathfinder and road-builder, who superintended the building of the plank road from Saranac to the Chateaugay Ore Bed in 1874, an enterprise which constituted the first vigor-step [sic] by the Chateaugay Ore & Iron Co. in developing their great iron mine, which has since turned out so many hundred thousand tons of the best steel ores, building up a village at Lyon Mountain second in population to only one in Clinton county, and transforming what was before a trackless wilderness into a busy locality. The old road builder doubtless lives over his past life as he sits in his pleasant home and sees the trains of cars pass and re-pass on the plain below , and we hope he will live many years yet to see the boom which this railroad enterprise is destined to introduce into his own region...
Malone Gazette, December 19, 1890
The Plattsburgh Republican is authority for the statement that the Chateaugay railroad is to be extended next spring to Miller's Hotel, at the foot of Lower Saranac Lake, where it will connect with a steamer running through the new lock to the Bartlett place on Round Lake, and thence by portage with a steamer on Upper Saranac Lake.
Newspaper clipping, Dec. 5, 1907, from the Ralph Kelly scrapbook, Adirondack Collection, Saranac Lake Free Library
Twenty Years Ago.
On Dec. 5, twenty years ago, the first railway train was operated over the lines of the Chateaugay Railroad into the village of Saranac Lake. The conductor was Timothy Long and the engineer Edward Hewitt, A. D. Manning was in charge of the Saranac lake station. Mr. Long was the conductor in charge of the train which made the anniversary run on Thursday last and Mr. Manning greeted him in the same capacity that he did on that memorable trip of twenty years ago. Mr. Hewitt is still in the railroad business, but is no longer on this run while Mr. Manning and Mr. Long continue to be very important and reliable parts of the human organism of the Delaware & Hudson, which is the successor of the Chateaugay. It would be interesting to compare the conditions of twenty years ago with those of today. As all know the Chateaugay was a narrow gauge road and Saranac Lake was a small settlement in the wilderness. The railroad today is standard gauge and the track and the excellence of the rolling stock compare very favorable with that of any railroad in the world. The railroad has been improved as the village has progressed, but its managers have had to hurry to keep pace with the growth of the town.
- Hilton, George W., American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Stanford University Press, 1990. ISBN 0804717311