Written by Francine A. Stracuzzi, Grand-daughter of Frank & Frances Boyce
Columbus Avenue, Susquehanna, PA
The New York and Erie were one of the earliest railroad enterprises in the United States. It was on the 29th of July 1831 that the first meeting of the planning board met at Monticello, New York to discuss plans for the New York & Erie to ask for the rights of access through the northeast corner of Susquehanna County. At this time the Tri-village area was being served by the Chenango Canal, a spur of the Erie Canal which had been completed in 1825, so there was a great deal of apathy towards the implementation of a railroad system. On the other hand, people living in the Southern Tier, (the Counties of Broome, Tioga, and Chenango) in New York were anxious to have the railroad:
“Improved transportation had opened the entire northern New York State country and brought it prosperity. The people of the Southern Tier wanted similar benefits for themselves and their Communities. They knew their taxes had contributed a portion of the cost of the Erie Canal and they requested – in fact, demanded some improved form of transportation for them. Surveys had indicated that a canal through their territory was not feasible, but that a railroad was. (10)
A railroad through the Southern Tier would give them a year round, direct, east/west transportation system. The Chenango Canal was a seasonal, indirect north/south system and therefore was limited in what it could to for the area.
The New York State Legislature enfranchised and incorporated the railroad on April 24th, 1832. The first problem arose when the New York and Erie Company started asking for land without a land survey to back-up its request. The railroad had been selling subscriptions to the railway without the survey. People in the Southern Tier felt the railroad was not acting in good faith. The people of the Southern Tier, who were buying shares of railroad stock, wanted the New York State Legislature to adopt a bill that would authorize a survey at the state’s expense, so that the subscribers would pull out if they so chose and so the state could repeal the railroad’s charter if it was deemed prudent to do so. The New York and Erie had submitted a plan to the federal government in June 1832, in hopes of a survey done at government expense. President Jackson approved the measure and put Col. DeWitt Clinton in charge of the survey. By July, President Jackson after being pressured by Erie Canal supporters who did not want competition countermanded his order;
“This gentleman tells me, ‘said the President, ‘that the building of this railroad would make a thoroughfare that would be the rival of the Erie Canal, the effect of whose political patronage would likely to be neutralized by the patronage of the railroad, the later not being under State control thus making it impossible to manage the politics of the state, so well as they are managed now; and surely, as the gentleman says, that is far more important than the railroad to a state already amply provided with means of commercial transportation by its own canal.'” (11)
Apparently President Jackson had not been told that New York State had enfranchised and incorporated the railroad, thereby giving it some control over the rail. $15,000 was set aside by the New York State Legislature for the survey to be done by Benjamin Wright, the chief engineer on the Erie Canal. The funds were not enough to cover expenses, but Wright went ahead with the survey anyway. The original survey route took the railroad from New York City to Lake Erie through the shortest, least expensive route available. Exactly what this route entailed is unclear; it was not used because of disputes between the railroad and communities along the way. Questions arose whether the route should go through Piermont or Newburgh, through Goshen and Middletown or cut the route short and go through Callicoon or Deposit. From Deposit would the route then go on the Painted Post, to Hornellsville and then on to Dunkirk or should it go to Portland before finishing out in Lake Erie? Wright was limited as follows: he had to keep the railroad out of the Erie Canal’s pathway and at the same time New York State forbade the railroad to dip down into Pennsylvania at all. Wright divided the 500 miles that the railroad had to cover into two major sections: one from the Hudson River to Binghamton under the charge of James Seymour; the other half was from Binghamton to Lake Erie, under Charles Ellet, Jr. (12) The decision on which route to take was not made until difficulty arose in the New York County of Broome, when it was found that the mountains were almost insurmountable.
A survey of the tri-village area in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania was made in 1834-35. Subsequently conflict arose in this area over payments of money to the owners of the land that was to be used. The New York & Erie had been issuing stock in the railroad to cover such costs as land and steam engines to use on the line. The people involved wanted cash for the loss of their prime farm lands, which lay close to the Susquehanna River, and from which they would in effect be cut off. There was also a good deal of reluctance on the part of the state of Pennsylvania to allow the rail through. There was fear that it would compete with the floating of lumber down the Delaware to Philadelphia, by drawing off the lumber traffic to New York City instead. This fear added to the local people’s reservations of their own about the railroad coming through; they estimated that they might be trading off real income for something that was not a sure economic gain. Moreover the area had remained a quiet framing community for more that 45 years: surely the railroad would come as no small disruption to the area.
The first disruption was to come in 1835, when work was begun on the line in Deposit, New York just 10 miles over the state border. It was only the beginning of the many changes that were to follow.
“When the movement toward the construction of the Erie began, Missouri was the only state west of the Mississippi; Chicago was a small village clustered about Fort Dearborn, and yet unnamed; Buffalo was a Western village, Detroit a frontier post. (13)
Before ground had even been broken to start the line, the New York and Erie had already purchased engines:
“New York and Erie had a curious system, or rather lack of system, in buying its motive power. It bought here and it bought there, from this builder and from that, as best befitted its mood and its pocketbook. In 1849 the road had but fifty-five locomotives; but in 1851,the year of its opening through to Dunkirk, this fleet had increased to 123; four years later to 203. By 1870, when the road had 440 engines, there were not less than eighty-three distinctly different types among them. The golden age of standardization seemed a million miles away.” (14)
In order to keep so many different makes and models of engines up and moving the railroad was going to have to hire a number of very skilled mechanics and machinists.
Building of the Railroad 1840-1865
Railroad Land Acquisition
In 1841, the dispute over land acquisition, was still going and a new survey was made moving the railroad somewhat out of the originally planned area. On the 16th of February 1841, Pennsylvania Legislature granted authority to the New York & Erie to extend their tracks through a portion of Susquehanna County for approximately fifteen miles running along the level Susquehanna Valley. The railroad was given the right to lay tracks, as it felt necessary for the extension. (15) The first section of the railroad was completed from Piermont to Goshen, New York in 1841.
Pennsylvania Legislature Act #17 stated that the New York & Erie would compensate landowners for any land they decided to use. A court system was developed to deal with disputed that arose as to usage or worth of private lands. This act also stipulated that after the railroad had paid the landowners for any infringement, the railroad then held the right-of-way. (16) The New York and Erie advanced the line from Goshen to Middletown in 1843 in preparation of moving on to Deposit and down into Pennsylvania.
The Railroad Begins to Build and Grow
In 1846 the New York & Erie began using its rights of access to the case study area. Land was bought in Broome County, New York and in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, so those tracks could be laid on a route from Deposit, New York into Lanesboro, Pennsylvania. The land was purchased from the original landowners, which were Henry Drinker, John Hilborn, William H. Sabin, William B. Stoddard, Joel Salisbury and William B. McKune. (17) The route was completed in 1848, but not without many problems for the New York & Erie. The people of the Susquehanna County area took the New York & Erie to court several times in disputes over land usage, rights-of-way and payments for land, which left the railroad with some financial problems. As part of the agreement between New York State and Pennsylvania, the railroad was kept on the south bank of the Susquehanna River, at a point approximately two miles west of Lanesboro. This riverbank area became known as Susquehanna Depot and would become the main operating point of the New York and Erie, for this section of its railroad.
The New York & Erie paid the State of Pennsylvania the sum of $10,000 a year for these rights (18). Pennsylvania would also grant permission for the New York and Erie to pass through Pennsylvania in Pike County in the eastern part of the state. He final route the railroad would take is as follows: Jersey City to New York City to Port Jervis to Matamoras in Pennsylvania:
“There were, as might have been expected, a good many strings tied to the permission on the part of that commonwealth to enter Pennsylvania. One of the first of these was the express provision that the Erie must erect a bridge over the Delaware from Port Jervis to the borough of Matamoras, just across the river. The Provisions laid down for the construction of this bridge was definite. It was to consist of two ‘tracks’, one floored for animal and wagon Traffic, the other provided with a pair of rails for the main line of the New railroad which was to use it for the crossing from New York into Pennsylvania.” (19)
The railroad then proceeded on to Deposit, New York; then to Lanesboro in Pennsylvania; Binghamton in New York. From Binghamton it proceeded to Painted Post, then back into Pennsylvania where negotiations had to again be made at Waverly, then back into New York at Hornelsville. The railroad then proceeded to Salamanca and finally on to Dunkirk, New York. (Map 3 ) (2)
An article called “Sketch of the Early Years of Susquehanna County” by J. W. Chapman, of Montrose, Pennsylvania gives the following descriptions of the New York & Erie;
“The New York & Erie, now called the Erie Railway, was constructed through a portion of this county in 1848. It enters this state near the northeast corner of county, from the summit between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers, crossing the deep ravine of the famous Cascade Creek, (formerly by an immensely high wooden structure arching the stream 120 feet below, but recently by filling the ravine At this point,) and descending the slope of the mountain side into the Valley of Susquehanna, passing over the Starrucca Creek near its mouth at the village of Lanesboro by a stupendous stone viaduct nearly 1/4 of a mile long, with 15 arches and 95 feet above water. (21). It passes Susquehanna Depot, crossing the river just below, and follows the north bank of the river out of the state below Great Bend.” (22)
The Starrucca Viaduct played an important role in the decision t takes the New York & Erie Railroad into Pennsylvania. When it was discovered that the cost would be too great to dig tunnels through the mountains of Binghamton, the decision was made to dip down into the Lanesboro area and build the Starrucca Viaduct and Bridge. There seems to be some discrepancy in the height and number of arches the bridge has depending on which source is used. The following is the best information currently available about the bridge: the bridge was built by a Scotsman named James O. Kirkwood, after three other contractors tried and failed to do so. It is on the main line of the Erie, 12,000 feet in length, 110 feet high, with 18 arches. Each arch has a span of fifty feet and carries a double track with a thirty-foot clearance. The bridge cost $320,000 and employed 800 men when it was finished in 1848. The first engine to cross the bridge was the “Orange”. Officials of the Erie were sent to ride across on the first trip, but no one dared for fear of the train falling off. So the engine was geared up with just enough steam to cross alone, where a crew would pick it up on the other side if the trip were a success. The people of the tri-village area still believe that:
“To this day the Starrucca Viaduct stands as an engineering marvel”. (23)
“The Starrucca stands as a monument to the artistry of its architects and the skill and industry of its builders.” (24)
The first time a manned train ran the entire length of the bridge it was three years old. The railroad had extended its line from Middletown to Port Jervis in 1848, to Binghamton in 1849, and finally to Dunkirk in the spring of 1851. (25) The legislative session of 1852 brought further stipulations on the rights of the New York & Erie. Section 9, Legislation Act No. 296 reads as follows:
“That the titles to certain lands heretofore purchased by the New York and Erie Railroad Company, for the purpose of obtaining the right-of-way, water privileges, and of erecting machine shops, buildings, Fixtures, in Susquehanna, and Pike, is hereby confirmed and made Valid; the said company is hereby authorized, empowered, and required to sell, and convey such portions of said land as may not be necessary for legitimate purposes: Provided, that the number of acres land which it shall be lawful for said company to hold and possess, from and after the first day of January, 1854, next, shall not exceed fifty acres in any one county.”
Why this stipulation was enacted is not clear. There is no reasoning given in the above act of legislation. (26)
The New York and Erie were opened on May 14, 1851, with much fanfare. Specially designed railroad cars carried the President of the United States, Daniel Webster, and a large company of the most distinguished citizens of America as guests.
“Two trains decorated from locomotive to rear cars, were in readiness for the guests. … The weather being fine and pleasant, Daniel Webster rode on a flat car at his own request, a big easy rocking Chair having been provided for him to sit in. He chose this manner of riding so that he could better view and enjoy the fine country through which the railroad passes. … Although there is no record to the effect, The probabilities are that the rocking chair was lashed to the flat car and Daniel Webster to the rocking chair. At least, it is to be hoped that this was done, for the celebration was a heavy and continuous one and Daniel Webster, no longer a young man needed to be taken care of. It is not in the record either how long he rode in this regal state:” (27)
Several stops were made for the purposes of speech making, banquets, and sleeping. Dunkirk was a full two or three days travel from Piermont, depending on how fast the train was traveling. With Daniel Webster traveling as he did, it is not hard to imagine that the train traveled slowly and stopped often. Daniel Webster did make the complete trip, giving a speech from the window of the Loder House. He must have been exhausted from the length of the trip and the celebrating done along the way.
Extending from Piermont on the Hudson to Dunkirk, the Railroad would soon be extended more, being heralded as “the Lion of the Railways”. The motto of the railroad would become from “the Atlantic to the Great Lakes” (28). By the end of 1851, the New York and Erie would extend from Hudson southeastward to Jersey City, New Jersey. It would also extend northwest from Dunkirk to Buffalo, New York the same year. In 1859, dock laborers at Piermont, who had not been paid for three months went out on strike.
In 1861, the New York and Erie experienced financial trouble. New York State, which owned a part interest in the company, no longer wanted to be associated the road and its economic problems:
“The Erie was financially unstable right from the start. Before its construction it was estimated to cost three million dollars, before it was finished it cost over fifty million. … By the time the first report was made the estimate had increased to six million, and the work of construction was actually begun on the strength of stock subscriptions of a million and a half, and a loan of three million from the state (of New York). In 1842 the estimated cost had increased to twelve million and a half, and both means in hand and credit were wholly exhausted. Subscription books were opened, but no names were entered in them; the city of New York applied to, refused a load of its credit again the legislature (of New York) was besieged, but the aid from this quarter now hampered with inadmissible conditions… in 1859 it (the New York and Erie Railroad) could not meet the interest on its mortgages, passed into the hands of a receiver. In 1861 an arrangement of interests were effected, and a new company organized. The next year the Old New York and Erie Railroad Co. disappeared under a foreclosure of the fifth mortgage, and the present Erie Railroad (Railway) Co. rose from its ashes.” (29)
The Erie Railroad
The New York and Erie Railroad was financially restructured emerging as the Erie Railway, (30) a privately owned and operated corporation. To cement its relationship with the people in the tri-village area, the railway went ahead with the expansion of the shops in Susquehanna Depot. (31) Pages of the attached appendix shows photos of the shops, Main Street in Susquehanna at the height of the railroad and the first engine built in the shops. (32)
“The Erie shops (were first) located here in the summer of 1848. James B. Gregg, the first Burgess, (33) was also the first Master Mechanic of the Erie Railroad shops at Susquehanna. He drew the plans and specifications for the buildings, which were to compose the permanent locomotive repair shops. Construction of the shops was begun in 1863 and completed two years later at the cost of $1,250,000. Tools and machinery cost an additional $500,000. The buildings, covering eight acres, were acknowledged to be the most extensive and complete of their king in the country. This included the first all-brick railroad station in America. This housed a 2400-volume circulating library (34), a reading room and a lecture room. Since in those days there were no diners or Pullmans on trains, there was also a 75-room hotel with a find dining room so people could stop en route to eat and sleep.” (35)
These shops had originally employed 350 men doing work for the first 316 miles of track. Once the new shops were completed subshops were also opened in stations at: Canandaigua, Owego, Hornellsville and Port Jervis. All of the shops were under the supervision of Mr. Gregg. The main shops in Susquehanna had sixteen departments, each with its own foremen. Each foreman had absolute control over his department of the shops, subject only to Mr. Gregg. The shops employed some 700 men in 1865, paying an overall salary of $38,000 per year. The number of men working the railroad line as; engineers, firemen, switchmen, clerks, etc. were not included in the number working for the shops. These men added several hundred to a thousand more men to the railroads’ payroll. The large circulation library, which the railroad employed, grew on the average of 400 volumes per month; this was due to the success of subscriptions. Subscriptions could be made on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, costing about $120.00 per year. In the early 1860’s, even greater improvements were made in the shops. Because of the fear of fire, money was allocated to rebuild the wooden structures in stone.
Land the railway owned, that the Pennsylvania Legislature had ruled must be sold under the 50 acres provision was sold to railroad employees starting in 1864-65. Mr. Gregg in addition to being in charge of the shops had been authorized to sell off the said lands. The following is his account of how it was accomplished:
“By being careful to employ none but men of exclusively temperate habits and of good moral character aside from being good workmen, and by holding out to these men encouragement to purchase lots and build houses for themselves, every lot of (the) 300 acres is sold and deed (ed), in addition our men have purchased largely of adjoining lots.” (36)
Now people who worked for the railroad were neighbors, churchgoers and taxpayers. At this point, anything besides acceptance would have seemed unfair to people trying so hard to make a permanent settlement out of a railroad. And who were trying so hard to make positive improvements for Susquehanna Depot and the other two villages. In the beginning most of these improvements were bought or made with railroad moneys. This may have been done to promote further good will and to give the railroad a more modern and positive image.
Susquehanna Depot Borough
Susquehanna Depot was the village that experienced the greatest change. The village of Susquehanna Depot was built on 118 acres of land originally belonging to Marmaduke Salisbury, William B. Stoddard and William B. McKune and was sold to the New York and Erie Railroad. In 1848, the village was as yet unnamed and there was only one farm being worked on the land. Susquehanna Depot became known as “the City of Stairs”, because of the way the village was originally laid out. The village was arranged with one long street that ran parallel to the Susquehanna River, other parallel streets were reached by steep grades, or by long stairs between the blocks of buildings. (42) Susquehanna was seen as a logical stopping point on the line. The trains, still using steam engines, had to have pushers put on in Susquehanna. (43) This was done to make the steep grade going into Gulf Summit on the eastbound tracks. The pushers were stored in the shops in Susquehanna; it was also a stop for reloading of coal. Thus it became a stop for passengers also. The Starrucca House was built in response to this need. It could feed 200, while it also had rooms for 200. Susquehanna was incorporated in 1853, Lanesboro in 1870 and Harmony Center has never been incorporated. As part of the original Borough Charter of Susquehanna, the railroad was never to have to pay taxes. When the borough was incorporated Susquehanna had a High Constable as it police. The railroad had its own detectives, with offices in the shops. These detectives would be part of a homicide investigation in Susquehanna in the early years of the railroad. (44) There remained a High Constable and the railroad detectives in a loosely structured Department of Police for years. There is no exact date of the Department of Police forming separately from the railroad, but this did occur. The railroad maintained their own force until the railroad finally closed down.
Relative Stability – 1866-1899
The years from 1863 to 1869 were years of stability for both the railroad and the tri-village area. The railroad was busy laying more tracks leading as Far West as Chicago was and the tri-village area dealt with this growth as it affected itself. The Erie shops were busy building both engines and passenger cars for use on the line. In 1871, the Jefferson Railroad began to run trains through the eastern part of Susquehanna County. The Jefferson’s main purpose was to carry freight from Brandt down to New York City, the principal market. A large chair factory had opened in Brandt village to give the new road business. Since the Jefferson had passenger service as well it gave the Erie Railroad some competition in that traffic also. J. W. Chapman, of Montrose gave the following description of the Jefferson Line: “The Jefferson from Carbondale up the Lackawanna and down the Starrucca to Lanesboro was completed and opened for travel through the eastern townships of Susquehanna (county) in 1871.” (52)
The Jefferson Railroad emerged in the tri-village area during one of the “waves in railroad cycles.” Cycles of expansion alternated with economic depressions in the railroad industry:
“…independent disturbances in finance: railroad finance was then more or less the sole business of Wall Street. By default such depressions appear to have been driven by waves of optimism about future growth followed by recognition of over building and contraction until the economy had grown enough that it seemed that shipping by rail was a railroad’s and not a farmer’s market. Such waves must have been difficult to absorb. Each wave required expansion (in order to relieve it)… (53)
Local competition for services, complaints by farmers and lumbermen over shipping prices and an inability to pay its employees promptly, created serious financial stresses for the Erie Railroad in 1874, the mechanics at the shops in Susquehanna went out on strike. During the winter of 1873-74, one quarter of the more than 1000 mechanics had been laid off. None of these men had been paid during the winter months. The railroad made promises to pay the mechanics for the months of February and March. When the railroad failed to pay the workers, the situation went from bad to worse and culminated in a refusal of the men to work. Soon there was a general strike by all the men in the Susquehanna shops. The railroad strike in 1874, brought a great many hardships for the tri-village area, none of the men were paid while on strike. The results of the strike were disastrous, federal troops had to be called in to break the strike. The shop workers were not easily swayed:
“The Company (Erie) refused the demands of the men, and they proceeded to compel acquiescence by practically stopping all traffic on the road. They took possession of the trains as they came into Susquehanna, dismantled the locomotives, and refused to permit any trains to go either East or West. All the Company’s efforts to break the blockade were useless, and by the end of the month there were many disabled engines in the roundhouse and 1,000 cars idle on sidings…The Philadelphia troops, 400men, arrived at Susquehanna on the 29th (of April). On the 30th, General Osborne’s command of 1,000 men arrived. Martial law was declared… the strike had been broken. (54)
In time a resolution was found and most of the men went back to work. Some men were transferred to other shops; still others were displaced, as part of an economic restructuring that eliminated their jobs. In 1877, there was another strike – this time the general strike included all the workers on the line. Again Susquehanna took the lead-workers actually fought troops brought in to bread the strike:
“A strong detachment of the twenty-third regiment left New York…No trouble was met until the train was met at Susquehanna. From that point on, the train had to fight its way.” (55)
On the 26th of April 1878 the Erie Railway wan once again reorganized. It emerged as the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad. This new corporate organization allowed the railroad to expand without actually setting more tracks or hiring more men. It also brought New York State back into the financial structure of the railroad. The Company completed branch lines as far as Chicago in 1880. (56). The years from 1878 to 1895, were a period of stability for the railroad. When the railroad once again felt the stresses of economic instability they restructured. According to Robert L. Emerson, a historian at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, it was not uncommon for financially troubled railroads to do so. This restructuring, and new name, afforded them protection from creditors, much the same way bankruptcy did in later years, affording them a new financial start. The railroad became the Erie Railroad on the 13th of November 1895. (57)
The Beginning of the End 1900-1955
The Great Erie
The turn of the century marked the closing of an era. The days of the great railroad companies were gone. Most of these companies had been mismanaged from the start, and the Erie had been no exception. In 1903, the Starrucca House was closed. It had stood as a symbol of luxury and graciousness, that was now gone. Because trains could not travel at night facilities such as the Starrucca House had been necessary in the 1860’s when it was built. The building housed a dining room, a first class hotel and the offices for the Erie. In some ways the Starrucca had out lived its purpose years earlier, the first Pullman car appeared on the Erie line in 1872. Many other facilities of the same nature had closed their doors years earlier. The Starrucca was the last vestige of a dying breed.
The first two decades of the twentieth century went very poorly for the already ailing railroad. There were and finally all-crafts’ strike in 1922. B. F. Skinner wrote about the effects the 1922 strike had on the lives of workers and that of his own grandfather:
“…a strike, called in 1922 was not going well, and pressure was put on the foremen to join it and walk off their jobs. In the past the foremen had been assumed to be part of the company and kept to their places. Now all of them left except my grandfather, who stubbornly stuck to tradition and was made to suffer…one day when I drove him toward the Shops through the Italian section of the town, he was obviously frightened and urged me to drive as fast as possible. The strike came to an end, but I doubt whether he ever again enjoyed his work.” (71)
World War I brought a whole new set of problems to all railroads in the United States. President Wilson nationalized all the railroads to transport supplies. The lines were under Federal control for 26 months, during the years 1918-1920. After the war was over and the railroads were once again under private ownership, the government expected the railroads to pay for the improvements that had been made to their lines. For many this signaled the end, they could not afford to pay for the improvements that had been made, along with the pay increases that had been given during the war years. Only 2/3 of the U. S. railroad system would remain solvent, the rest went into bankruptcy.
In 1928, the locomotive repair shops were transferred from the Susquehanna Depot to Hornell, (formerly Hornellsville) New York. The Erie said this was to centralize operations of the repair shops. By the end of 1929, the other shops were moved out, leaving over 1,000 without work. The depression of 1929 hit the tri-village area very hard, because so many had been laid off. On March 10, 1930 the Coach Shops were established in Susquehanna, but they would only employ 300 workers.
In September 1933, Train #8 was involved in an accident just outside Binghamton, New York. Nine residents of Susquehanna were killed. It was to be a tragedy that would be remembered for a very long time.
On January 1, 1938 the Erie Railroad went into bankruptcy once more until December 22, 1941. He line emerged from bankruptcy under the same name: Erie Railroad. (72)
The Erie would again carry freight and men to war during World War II. Trains ran day and night. The Erie was a wide-gauge railroad with wider clearance that on other eastern lines, shipments that could not be shipped because of their size were shipped via the Erie. (73) During the war years, with a healthy flow of capital, many leased subsidiary lines were merged in the Erie. Between 1941 and 1943 absorbed:
:…The Arnot & Pine Creek RR, Buffalo, Bradford, & Pittsburgh RR, Erie & Wyoming Valley RR, Jefferson RR, Moosic Mountain & Carbondale RR, N.Y, L.E. & W. Coal & RR Co., Tioga RR and The West Clarion RR.” (74)
The Erie absorbed even more lines as the war continued.
On July 28, 1947 passenger train #6 was the first locomotive through Susquehanna pulled by a diesel engine. The engine was No 800. By 1953, all the engines used by the Erie were diesel, thereby elimination the need for the great steam “pushers” used to push the trains up the hills going into Gulf Summit, going eastbound out of Susquehanna. It would also mean the loss of more jobs. Without the need to maintain the “pushers”, or to hook them up to other trains, more men found themselves without work. In 1953, it was estimated that the Coach Shops still employed some 300. The Coach Shops were still dismantling and completely rebuilding coaches for the entire Erie line. Some small repairs, freight yard inspections, freight car repairs and servicing of locomotives were also being done at the Susquehanna Shops in the early fifties. (75)
The End Of The Road – 1956-1992
From the mid-1950’s on the Erie, like all the other remaining railroads, experienced repeated economic troubles. On October 17th, 1960 the Erie once again reorganized. This time it merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, emerging as the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. The use of steam had been discontinued in the 50’s; trains were now powered by the more efficient diesel engines. (89) This along with the restructuring of the rail caused even more job loss. It would only be two years after the restructuring the failing Erie would seek to sell off parts of the line in order to remain open. The effects were felt in Susquehanna as well as other shops:
“In Hornell, New York, the little city prepared for the end. Its main industry had always been the Erie shops. If Chessy (Chessie Systems-Chesapeake and Ohio combined with Baltimore and Ohio 12/17/62) had taken over they were going to keep them open. Conrail was not. Other towns were going to become familiar with Hornell’s plight – factories would shut down; the young people would move; the towns would die.” (90)
The last passenger trains ran on Erie’s main line in 1968. With the easy availability of automobiles and planes for everyday use passenger trains were no longer necessary. Route 171, the east/west road between Oakland, the village just over the river from Susquehanna, and Great Bend had been in use from the early 1800’s. Now the road was paved, providing easy access to Route 11 and Interstate 81, which both ran north & south. The tow, east-west lines would stop full passenger service in January 1970, keeping open only the commuter service from Port Jervis to the Port Authority. (91)
The Erie-Lackawanna tried to keep the freight service they had going and for awhile they were successful. But in June of 1972 the end came:
“Erie-Lackawanna fell in June 1972, done in by Hurricane Agnes, which tore out 135 miles of main line between Elmira and Salamanca, New York including 11 bridges. The Norfolk and Western, which controlled Erie-Lackawanna through the Deneco Holding Company (92) did nothing.” (93)
What little hope there had been for the Erie-Lackawanna and the tri-village area was gone. It would only take another three years for the final blow:
“On January 5th, 1975, Erie-Lackawanna notified the Association (94) that it would no longer be able to reorganize on its own and would enter Conrail.” (95)
The shops at Susquehanna were now closed; the end of an era had finally come. Marion Selitto, local Tax assessor in 1979, estimated that no more than twenty people worked for the railroad. (96)
In 1979, the once great shops at Susquehanna were torn down. It was a very sad time, especially for all the old railroad retirees who still lived in the area.
Today trains run through the tri-village area, but they do not stop. The Starrucca House has been refurbished and people come from miles around to eat in the historic dining rooms. It is disorienting to look out the windows to see a train go by. Not so much because it is an odd sight, it isn’t. For over 120 years such a sight was common. It is odd because the whistle that once blew the town to a halt no longer blows and because the trains going by don’t stop and because the container-boxcars on the train carry the names of so many different forgotten lines.
83 Erie Blvd., Suite A
Susquehanna, PA 18847