CHAPTER XIX.

THE NEW YORK AND ERIE RAILROAD.

    In the first years of the present century, there was a project for opening a national road from the Hudson to the great West. It was originated by General James Clinton, and was favored by many leading men of that period. It was known as the National Appian Way. One of its proposed routes was across Mamakating, Thompson, Liberty and Rockland, and from thence westward through Oxford, in Chenango county. In June, 1807, the citizens of Newburgh dispatched John DeWitt, Francis Crawford, Samuel Sackett, and Daniel Stringham to explore this route, and raised 30 to pay their expenses. These gentlemen commenced their labors at the Blue Mountain on subdivision 4 of the Fourth Allotment, and followed very near the route of the Midland railroad until they reached the Delaware county line. It was then deemed that the country was too weak in its resources to engage' in works of such magnitude, and the failed. But it is believed that to the bold and comprehensive views then expressed by General Clinton may be traced the birth of Dewitt Clinton's love of internal improvements.1
    Subsequently the Appian Way was received under a new name. The State canals were constructed to the manifest injury of the southern counties of New York, whose people, nevertheless, acknowledged their general importance and were proud of the distinction acquired by the State in consequence of its enterprise. The effect of these improvements on our county is worthy of brief consideration. Before they were consummated, our region attracted men who were searching for cheap homesteads. Of what the superficial esteem wealth they had but little; but in muscle, energy and industry, they were rich. Our land was productive. Wheat was a common crop. On soil largely occupied by stumps and rocks, forty bushels of lye or buckwheat per acre was the usual yield This resulted from the humidity of the atmosphere caused by extensive forests; the protection against severe winds afforded by the woods which surrounded almost every field, and the large amount of potash--one of the best fertilizers--which was made by burning fallows. Grain was then exported not only from Sullivan, but from regions more remote. The lofts of our country-stores literally groaned beneath the breadstuffs which were stored in them. Our county was gradually acquiring a most valuable population, because here land was cheap and productive, and not too remote from a great avenue of commerce. The Erie canal was proposed. Far-seeing and sagacious men saw that it was practicable, and its construction sooner or later certain, and thenceforth the tide of population tended to Central New York, and the fertile regions beyond. Public opinion formed a phalanx of such determination as to defy opposition, and not only the Erie but the lateral canals were completed in a time which surprised their projectors. These works were a blessing to the State at large, and especially to the region in which they were located. Farm-lands in their vicinity which, in 1804, commanded a less price than ours, forty years later were worth from seventy-five to a hundred dollars per acre, while ours decreased in value from four to two dollars. This was the case even in the neighborhood of the county-seat. How could it be otherwise? To the interior of our county there was but one route, which surmounted two dreary mountains, and which afforded no flattering prospect to the immigrant. By the time he overcame them, he disliked the country. Frequently he did not reach the Neversink river; but, retracing his steps, took a steamboat on the Hudson for Albany; from thence a canal-boat, at an expense of one cent per mile, and reached the productive West almost without expense or fatigue.2
    These facts were patent to every intelligent resident of Sullivan, and while no one complained of the burthens which these improvements caused to be imposed, it was claimed that the State should contribute a fraction of its bounty to promote the welfare of the secluded regions. Hence when McAdam demonstrated that a stone-road was superior to all others then in use, and it was apparent that there could not be a continuous water-communication through the "Southern Tier," the State was urged to build a McAdam road from the west to the Hudson. A controversy ensued as to the eastern terminus, which led to an unfavorable result in the Legislature, and while the scheme was in abeyance, it was discovered that an iron-road was better than any other, and that steam could be applied on it as a motor. Thenceforth Appian Ways and McAdamized roads were dismissed from the minds of our citizens, and they clamored for a railroad from Lake Erie to the Hudson through the southern counties.
    The earliest proposition to build a railroad through Sullivan was made in the fall of 1829, when the railroad men of Baltimore invited Members of Congress to ride in cars furnished with masts and sails, and moved by wind. This proposition was in a pamphlet, in which the writer advocated the making of a railway from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. We have no more than a few extracts from this pamphlet, which were copied into a newspaper at that time, and do not know the name of its writer; but he who wrote it had a resolute and comprehensive brain, and an eye which saw in the future the results of a wonderful invention, which was then like an infant Hercules in its cradle. He pointed out the route of the proposed railway from the vicinity of New York city, across Sullivan to the Delaware river, up the latter to where the Erie now crosses to the Susquehanna; thence to the Tioga, Lake Erie, the State of Ohio, etc. His arguments to show that it was of national importance would not be appropriate in a local work like ours; at we cannot refrain from copying the following sentences, because, when they were first given to the public, they seemed like the fumes of a diseased brain; but less than half a century has proved them the essence of wisdom:
    "The Atlantic and Mississippi Railway would, when completed, be far more beneficial in its effects on the intervening country, and on our national prosperity, than to turn the Mississippi itself into the same course. Free from the inundations, the currents, the rapids, the ice, and the sand-bars of that mighty stream, the rich products of its wide-spread valley would be driven to the shores of the Atlantic with greater speed than if wafted by the wings of the wind; and the rapid return of commercial equivalents would spread life and prosperity over the face of the finest and fairest portion of the habitable world."
    To accomplish the work he claimed among other things, that it should be undertaken by incorporations, aided by grants of money or lands from the general government, the very plan adopted more than forty years later, to secure the construction of the Pacific road.
    On the 27th of August, 1831, a meeting was held at the house of S. W. B. Chester, in Monticello, to consult in regard to the survey of a railroad from the Hudson river to Ohio. This meeting resolved that the survey was worthy of attention, and then adjourned to the 30tli of the same mouth. In the published proceedings the name of no person who attended it appears. At the adjourned meeting, there was a declaration in favor of a road as far as Elmira, and John P. Jones, Platt Pelton, Hiram Bennett, Randall S. Street and Archibald C. Niven were appointed a committee to promote the project.
    On the 20th of December, 1831, a convention of delegates from all the southern counties except Orange and Rockland, was held at Owego. George Morell, of Otsego, was president. This body took ground in favor of a railroad from Lake Erie to the Hudson, and resolved to apply to the Legislature for a charter. From that time the people of the counties bordering on Pennsylvania took definite action in regard to a communication through their territory by railroad.
    During the Legislative session of 1832, the company was incorporated. Among the corporators were three citizens of Sullivan---John P. Jones, Randall S. Street and Alpheus Dimmick.
    The original intention was to make it a railway suitable for the use of horses, so that the inhabitants who lived on the route could employ their own cars and motive power. "Animal power," said the managers, "may be considered the natural power of the country and on long routes, where great inequalities in the amount of transport and travel will occur; where the commodities to be conveyed, instead of presenting a regular supply, will probably amount to many times as much some months as others, the use of horses may be expected, for a time at least, to be practically cheaper than steam." A road for locomotives, it was agreed, would cost from $12,000 to $14,000 per mile, while one for animals could be made for $5,000 or $6,000, and on the latter the company would be at no expense for engines, carriages, &c.
    On the 9th of July, 1833, books were opened for subscription to the capital-stock to the amount of one million of dollars. This amount, it was believed, was enough to complete a single track from the Hudson to the Susquehanna, with a sufficient number of turn-outs to render the desultory movements of the horse-cars of farmers and others practical. The managers anticipated embarrassment from excessive subscriptions, and published a proviso showing in what manner they would reduce the total amount to one million.
    In the light of ripe experience, their plans were all puerile and childish. Nevertheless they were approved by Benjamin Wright, whose reputation as a civil engineer was pre-eminent.

    The amount required was subscribed; but a large part of the stock taken was by a nominal arrangement with a man named William G. Buckner, who, on the last day and at the last moment, took all that was not secured by others. Another year passed, during which the company did not receive enough from its stockholders and others, to make necessary surveys. In 1834, the people directly interested again appealed to the Legislature, which granted $15,000 to enable Benjamin Wright and his subordinates to examine the route, and report the result. This was done, and his report may be found in the Assembly Documents of 1835. It established the fact that a practicable route existed even through Sullivan, which, until this time had been considered the most unfavorable region.
    Mr. Wright's labors did not give vitality to the project. The company lacked material resources, and capitalists were unwilling to venture an amount adequate to the magnitude of the undertaking. In 1835, the State was petitioned to become a stockholder; but declined to grant further aid. In 1836, the application was renewed, when au issue of State-stock to the amount of $600,000 was authorized on the completion of a track of the road, within the State, from the Hudson and Delaware canal to Binghamton; of $700,000 when it reached the Alleghany river; of $300,000 when it extended to Lake Erie; of $400,000 when completed from the Hudson to the Hudson and Delaware canal; and of $1,000,000 when a double hue was made within the State from one terminus to the other.
    The act of 1846 did not exert a salutary influence on capitalists. Men of wealth still refused to promote the enterprise by liberal subscriptions. It is alleged that their financial costiveness resulted from a lack of confidence in those who had the affairs of the company in charge. However this may be, in 1848, further legislation was solicited and a more liberal act passed, by which the State agreed to invest one dollar for every two expended by the company, the State appropriation not to exceed $3,000,000.
    It is said that the passage of this act was due to the unwearied and persistent efforts of Hon. John P. Jones, one of the founders of Monticello, who was then in the Senate, and that his action was enlivened by a pledge of the company that, if he succeeded in securing the passage of the act, they would locate the road on what was then known as the Brownson route. This route was the most favorable to Monticello, to the interests of which he was ardently attached until his death. Some may doubt that he was a man who could influence a legislative body, as he was of slow and hesitating speech, exceedingly dull and tiresome, and without a spark of magnetic power to excite favorable action. Yet he was shrewd, and had some qualities nearly allied to cunning and craft. In saying this of him, we disclaim any imputation on his character for integrity and honor. We believe he was influenced by justifiable motives, and wished to secure to the county an important and vital interest.
    Still there was but little if any progress. The resources of the company continued to be limited, and small as they were, were squandered in paying large salaries, in making extensive and incomplete surveys, and in partially constructing here and there useless fragments of their road.

From the Port Jervis Union.

MONTICELLO AND PORT JERVIS RAILROAD.

Stairwa Brook, Jan. 31, 1869.


    D. HOLBROOK, ESQ.,---Dear Sir :---In your issue of Jan. the 22, you have a long article in relation to the Port Jervis and Monticello railroad, I would like to make known some facts to you which ought also to be known and acted upon by all of the people interested in that road.
    In the winter of 1835-6 the Erie Railway company asked from the State of New York a loan of one million and a half of dollars. The bill was introduced in the Legislature at Albany, by John P. Jones, of Monticello, at that time member of the Senate, and with indefatigable perseverance and determination on his part, the bill was carried through and became a law. While this bill was pending the managers of the road gave their plighted faith to Jones that they would locate and put under contract that portion of the line between Cuddebackville and the forks of the Mongaup, by way of the Brownson route, passing one and a half miles east of Monticello. And I was ordered to get the line ready with as little delay as possible, which I did, fixing the maximum grade at 68 feet per mile. This steep grade extended for a distance about five or six miles, commencing near Clow's Bridge or what is now called Oakland, and extending in the direction of Monticello. The line was got ready but was never put under contract in consequence of some wrangling between the people of Monticello and Thompsonville, In consequence of which this one million and a half dollars, together with one million and a half more from the Company was squandered on other portions of the line between Binghamton and Dunkirk by building it on piles which cost about as much as a graded road, and which in the end proved perfectly useless and was abandoned altogether. So you will perceive that the people of Monticello as well as other portions of the county have been wronged out of what their Senator labored so long and ardently for. Now if this road is to be a tributary to the Erie road it is but just, and they have a right to ask and demand their assistance and aid in the building of the Monticello railroad. It is but just and the people should look into it and act accordingly. If the Erie road can lease or buy hundreds of railroads out west, they ought at least do something for this road where their plighted faith has been given, and especially where they have received one and a half millions of dollars. I would add that this one and a half millions was afterwards given to the company, out and in full.
    My object in writing this is that the people may know these facts, and perhaps they may act in such a way as to get the assistance of the Erie railroad in the construction of their own.
Very respectfully yours, &c.,

C. L. Seymour.

    In 1839, the people of the southern counties feared that the company would never succeed in accomplishing the enterprise, and the company itself seemed inclined to relinquish the undertaking. The State was importuned to assume the work. A bill for that purpose passed the Assembly, but was defeated in the Senate. It was deemed unwise for the State to embark in such enterprises.

    In 1840, the effort to make the road a State-work was renewed unsuccessfully. The State, however, agreed to loan the company $100,000 for every $100,000 previously expended in the construction of the road, and for every $50,000 thereafter paid from the funds of the incorporation, the Comptroller was directed to issue stock to the amount of $100,000. No more than $3,000,000 were to be thus contributed.

    This law was considered highly favorable, and enabled the directors to commence work with apparent vigor. The people of the southern counties who had importuned the Legislature for benefactions to the company, now hoped to witness a speedy consummation of the long-sought improvement; but their hopes were soon dashed to the ground. Everything was mismanaged. The State-stocks were forced upon the market at unfavorable times, and sold for less than their nominal value. The proceeds were wasted in speculation, and in testing wild theories. Among the latter was a crotchety idea that railroads could be made to span valleys and other depressions of the earth's surface, by upholding the track with posts and spiles. Instead of experimenting on a limited scale and at a small cost, the plan was tried on a magnificent basis and at enormous expense, and resulted in a corresponding failure. Three millions received from the State, and all that was paid by stockholders was gone, and but fifty miles of the road in operation, while the company was bankrupt. The State had more than paid for all the work done, and had a prior lien upon it for $3,000,000. The franchise of the company and all that had been accomplished by and through it were not worth that amount, and the difficulty of obtaining further subscriptions, while the road was thus pledged to the State for more than its value, was insurmountable.3 The company affected not to perceive this difficulty; but gave another and unfounded reason to account for their troubles. They pretended to discover in 1841 that the public had no confidence in their work on account of the obstacles to be overcome in Sullivan and other counties adjacent to the Delaware and Susquehanna!
    Previous to this time, there was no pretense that the interior route from the Shawangunk to the Delaware was impracticable, and it could not be said that the line on the banks of that river was even suggested in such a way as to alarm the people of the county. The company was pledged to run the road by the way of Brownson's, and had made the necessary surveys. In 1840, the President of the road informed the citizens of Monticello that it had been determined to immediately file locations of the interior route.
    About this time the citizens of Thompsonville urged the superiority of the route in which they were interested, and this gave the company a very bald excuse for not immediately performing their promise to John P. Jones and others of Monticello. Probably they had never intended to do so. They had done considerable work above the mouth of the Callicoon, but little or none in Sullivan below that point. This is strong proof to establish their falsehood and treachery.
    Early in 1841, our citizens were informed that the company had determined to adopt the Delaware river route, a route which, it was alleged, they had not then even surveyed, and the proposition was made to Monticello that the railroad-managers would contribute ten thousand dollars toward making a turnpike-road from that place to the nearest point on the Erie road. This proposition was indignantly spurned, and a contest ensued in the Legislature of the State which continued several years.
    From 1841 to 1845 the company annually applied to the Legislature for the privilege of constructing a portion of their road on the Pennsylvania side of the river, and made exaggerated statements in regard to the interior route. These statements were warmly combated by the people of Sullivan and other counties. The company also asked to be released from the State-lien. The latter request was finally granted conditionally, and in the same year (1845) the application to carry the road into Pennsylvania was defeated, or rather withdrawn when it was found that there was but a minority in its favor, and a section substituted appointing Orville W. Childs, John B. Jervis and Horatio Allen, engineers, to locate the road through the interior of Sullivan, and if necessary through a portion of Ulster, if they found a practicable route, the adoption of which would not be greatly prejudicial to public interests; but in case they did not so locate, the company were authorized to construct a portion of the road on such route as the directors should decide, through said counties of Ulster and Sullivan.
    The friends of the interior route considered this practically a triumph, and congratulated themselves that it had been won without the aid of the Hudson and Delaware Canal Company, which had co-operated with them until 1845, and then compromised with the railroad-company.4
    The commissioners appointed by the act did not enter upon their duties until late in the fall of 1845, and consequently their labors were not concluded when the Legislature of 1816, convened. This gave the company an opportunity to apply for a modification of the law of the previous session, and an additional act was passed, by which the Commissioners were to decide whether there was a practical route through Sullivan "on which the company could construct their road without great prejudice to the public interests of this State, and the interests of the citizens of this State, who, in their judgment, would be affected by the construction and location of the road collectively considered."- And in case they should decide otherwise, then the company were authorized to locate in Pennsylvania, subject, however, to the reserved power of the Legislature of 1847, to direct otherwise. The act also added Frederick Whittlesey, Jared Wilson, Job Pierson and William Dewey to the Commission.5
    During the ensuing season the Board caused hurried and incomplete surveys to be made through Sullivan, and found that the ascending and descending grades were better than had been reported by the engineers of the company, and much more favorable than the grades east and west of the county; that the distance was about two and a half miles greater than by the way of the more southern route; that the curvature was more objectionable on the interior line than elsewhere; and that the latter could he made for $401,480 less than the other. It was claimed by the friends of the central route, that it was susceptible of improvement as to curvature and distance; but their suggestions were unheeded by the engineers, who naturally were inclined to favor the side from which they could expect a preponderance of employment.
    On the 5th of August, 1846, the commissioners (except Mr. Pierson) met at the court-house in Monticello, to hear what could be said for and against the rival routes. Thomas McKissock of Newburgh appeared for the company, and William B. Wright for the people.
    At this meeting Mr. Wright made a fine exhibition of forensic ability. He had been a needy editor and afterwards a more needy attorney and counselor; had been chiefly remarkable as a caustic writer6 and for a love of ease and the pleasures afforded by gratifying his palate. In conducting trivial law-suits he had been out of his element, and was as ungainly as an elephant attempting a jig among a brood of chickens which he was required not to crush. He had great natural ability; but had had no opportunity, and perhaps had been too inert to exhibit the best phases of his character. His argument before the commissioners was reported in full for the Republican Watchman, and was much admired. From that time his advancement was rapid. He was soon after elected Member of Assembly, then a member of the Constitutional Convention, and at the first election under the third Constitution of the State, was chosen a Justice of the Supreme Court, and held that position until he was made a Judge of the Court of Appeals. While holding the latter office he died.

    Soon after the Commissioners met in Monticello, four of them decided in favor of the Pennsylvania route, while three (Messrs. Whittlesey, Childs and Pierson) declared themselves for the interior route. This was a sore disappointment to the people of Sullivan, who declared that the decision of the majority had no moral weight, because one of them (Horatio Allen) had accepted an office at the hands of the company, and was in its pay as consulting engineer. A county-meeting was held on the 19th of September, at the Mansion House, kept by Stephen Hamilton, to consider the injustice done the people of the county by the majority of the commissioners. John P. Jones was chairman and C. V. R. Ludington, secretary. On motion of A. C. Niven, a committee was appointed to prepare and publish a notice in the State paper and other journals, setting forth the determination of the people to apply to the Legislature for relief. Daniel M. Angell, Platt Pelton and Edward Palen were named by the mover as such committee.
    William B. Wright was soon after nominated by the whig and anti-rent parties for the Assembly, and his election was rendered more certain by the prominence he had acquired by his argument before the commissioners. His opponent was Jonathan Stratton, a gentleman without a tithe of Wright's talent, but who possessed better qualifications as a successful advocate in a body like the Assembly. Wright could make an admirable speech; but almost any agent of the company could vanquish him in the lobby.
    Without waiting for further legislative action, the Directors put the Delaware section of their road under contract, and the work was in progress while the Legislature was in session. They also published a large edition of the Report of a majority of the Commissioners, to which they added a map of their own, in which the alleged obstacles in Sullivan were greatly exaggerated, and set forth in such a manner as to be an outrage on truth and decency. This they scattered broadcast before the Legislature and the people.
    At this stage of the controversy, the citizens of the river-towns, moved by as good motives, no doubt, as those of the interior, took a lively interest in the affairs of the company. A respectable meeting was held at Narrowsburgh, of which James C. Curtis was president; John Hankins and Samuel Hankins, vice-presidents; and John C. Drake and Chauncey Thomas, secretaries. This meeting emphatically approved the report of the Commissioners, and the conduct of the company.

    The citizens of Bloomingburgh were induced to believe that they would be favored with a branch of the Erie road, and, although warned that they would be disappointed, took an active part against the interior route. When the struggle with the company ceased, their project died from inanition. This Bloomingburgh diversion was engineered by Alpheus Dimmick, T. C. Van Wyck, C. H. Van Wyck, J. O. Dunning, V. E. Horton, C. Wood, E. M. Hunter and others.
    On the other hand, a large and enthusiastic county-meeting was held in Monticello---John P. Jones, president; Platt Pelton, Edward Palen, Stephen Hamilton, Z. Hatch, Eli Fairchild and Arthur Palen, vice-presidents; F. M. St. John, C. V. E. Ludington and G. Wales, secretaries. A. C. Niven, chairman of the committee for that purpose, reported a series of resolutions which were adopted. Meetings were also held at Grahamsville, Neversink, White Lake, Liberty, Fallsburgh, Wurtsborough, Thompsonville, Rockland, and Phillips Port, at all which the proceedings of the company and a majority of the Commissioners were denounced, and justice to the county demanded.
    But the hopes inspired by what was considered the justice of their cause, and the able advocacy of William B. Wright, were of short duration. The Senate approved the Pennsylvania location by a vote of 17 to 1, while the interior route commanded but 24 votes in the Assembly. Thus terminated a contest of years carried on by the citizens of Sullivan against a powerful and unscrupulous company. Subsequent events have proved that the allegations of the latter were unfounded, and there is much on which to base the charge that the final location of the road was intended to subserve private speculations.


1 - Report of Railroad committee, Legislature of New York, 1832.
2 - Platt Pelton, in Watchman, January 3, 1832.
3 - The most shameless frauds were committed. The old stockholders were called upon to pay no more installments. Each contractor was required to take pay in stock to the amount of one-third of his contract, and the company agreed to pay him nearly one-third more than his work was worth. When he had gone sufficiently far with his contract, certificates of stock were issued to him, and affidavits made that the work had been paid for from moneys collected of stockholders. Armed with these affidavits, the managers demanded of the State double the nominal expenditure made. In this way the State paid for nearly all that was done.
4 - The railroad company consented to a perpetual injunction being entered, prohibiting them from making their road on the bank of the river occupied by the canal.
5 - See " Report of the Minority of the Committee on Railroads, in relation to the location of the New York and Erie Railroad." [Assembly Documents, 1847.
6 - While Mr. Wright was the editor of a paper published at Goshen, he assailed a rival with terrible severity. The person attacked was almost immediately prostrated with paralysis, from which he never recovered. Mr. W. believed that the disease was caused by what he had written.
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