|In 1890 the New York Central & Hudson River R.R. published a book entitled “Health and Pleasure on America’s Greatest Railroad.” It was a listing of summer resorts and excursion routes that were available. The book not only listed the routes and prices, but contained maps and vivid descriptions of the resorts. This undertaking was engineered by the Central’s advertising guru – George H. Daniels. Daniels was the road’s General Passenger Agent and ranks as one of the greats of American advertising. This ex-patent medicine salesman has been credited with turning the Thousand Islands into a resort area.
The book opens with an overall description of the railroad and where it goes. What better an opener than a description of the railroad’s role in the Hudson River? The Hudson is referred to as the American Rhine. It is interesting to note that all the ferry connections of 1890 have since been replaced by bridges located at roughly the same spots.
Railroad connections along the Hudson were numerous. Between Cold Spring and Fishkill at Dutchess and Columbia Junction was the connecting point with the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut Railway. This connection survives today with Conrail’s secondary track to Danbury and Derby, but it no longer serves such places as Millbrook and Pine Plains. At Poughkeepsie was the now-derelict bridge which was described in 1890 as unsurpassed by no other completed bridge in the world. Connections were made at Poughkeepsie with the New York & Massachusetts Railroad and at Rhinebeck with the Central New England. Neither of these connections survive today. A ferry at Rhinebeck connected with Kingston with its Ulster & Delaware and Walkill Valley railroads. The Boston & Albany had a branch from Chatham into Hudson. The stub of this old branch serves as industrial trackage today.
Grand Central Station is discussed at length. Don’t forget – this is still the OLD one that is being discussed. It was an immense building – almost a city in itself with everything but sleeping accommodations. As well as accommodating tens of thousands of travelers daily, it contained the general offices of the railroad. It also contained the offices of New Haven, the Harlem, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central and the Canadian Southern. There was also a police precinct in the basement. Across the street were the general offices of the West Shore Railroad and the Wagner Palace Car Company. In addition to the three railroads in the building, the station was served by the Third Avenue Elevated Railway and several surface lines.
The equipment in use was modern for its day. Drawing room and sleeping car service was operated by the Wagner Palace Car Co. Cars were heated by steam and lighted with Pintsch gas. The American Express Company was in charge of the express facilities on the New York Central.
Albany was a big commercial center because its position on the river and the railroad connections going north to Canada (Delaware & Hudson), east (Boston & Albany and Fitchburg), south and west (New York Central) and southwest (Albany & Susquehanna Division of the D&H).
Schenectady had 22,000 inhabitants in 1890. The Locomotive Works was the major employer. General Electric was not mentioned. Amsterdam was about the same size and was described as “being located in the midst of romantic scenery”. Herkimer, noted for its cheese, made a connection with the Herkimer, Newport & Poland Railroad. Utica had 40,000 residents and six large hotels. Railroad connections were with the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, the New York, Ontario & Western and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western.
At Canasota, connections were made for Oneida Lake over the Elmira, Cortland & Northern (later part of the Lehigh Valley). At Syracuse, travelers for Auburn, Geneva, Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen and Canandaigua changed from the mainline to the Auburn Branch. Connections were made at Lyons for points in northern Pennsylvania via the Fall Brook Coal Company’s Railroad (later to become the Pennsylvania Division of the New York Central). At Rochester, travelers could choose between: the mainline to Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago; the Niagara Falls Division to the Country’s “greatest wonder”; a branch to Charlotte with its popular beach; or the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh for Le Roy and Salamanca.
Those travelers opting for the Auburn Road found popular resorts at Skaneateles, Owasco Lake near Auburn (on the Lehigh Valley), Cayuga, Seneca Falls and Geneva. At Geneva, connections were made for Penn Yan, Corning and Watkins Glen.
The Adirondack Mountains were presented as a sportsman’s paradise. Through sleeping car service ran from New York City over the New York Central, Delaware & Hudson and the Adirondack Railway from Saratoga to North Creek. Some of the popular resort areas off this line were Blue Mountain Lake, Lake Luzerne and Schroon Lake. Another line which penetrated the Adirondacks was the Chauteaugay Railroad which connected with (and later became a part of) the D&H at Plattsburgh. Lake Placid could be reached from the D&H by changing at Port Kent to the Keesville, Au Sable Chasm & Lake Champlain Railroad. The rate from New York was only $14.50. Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Paul Smith’s could be reached from the New York Central by traveling over the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh (still an independent road in 1890) and the Central Vermont (later Rutland) to Moira Junction. At Moira Junction, travelers changed to the Northern Adirondack Railroad (later the New York & Ottawa). Note that at this point what later became the New York Central’s Adirondack Division had not yet been completed.
Niagara Falls was the object of many a rail excursion. Suspension Bridge was the junction of the New York Central and the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. The suspension bridge was more than eight hundred feet long and two hundred fifty feet above the water. Three hundred feet away, in the full view of the falls of Niagara, was a cantilever bridge built by the Michigan Central in 1883. It was a new and radical engineering development in 1890. This bridge was actually two separate huge beams supported near their centers by towers. The gap between the two bridges was filled by an ordinary truss bridge. The total length of the structure was 910 feet.
The Thousand Islands were served by the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh Railroad. Numerous excursion trains ran from New York to Clayton or Alexandria Bay for a rate of $15.75.
The Catskills were a popular destination. A round trip from New York to the Hotel Kaaterskill only cost $8.30 if traveling via Rhinebeck, Ulster and Delaware, Stony Clove & Kaaterskill Railroads. It only cost $5.75 via Catskill Station (Hudson) and Catskill Mountain R.R.
Accommodations featured not only resorts and hotels, but also boarding houses, guest houses and farms offering lodging. One of the hotels still on the scene is the Adelphi in Saratoga Springs where rooms cost $21/week in 1890.
There were short trips for example to Poughkeepsie by rail and return by steamer for $2.00. North Adams, Massachusetts was $7.00 going either via Troy and the Fitchburg Railroad or via Hudson and the Boston & Albany. There were numerous excursions to Saratoga. Some even returned through Boston via the Fitchburg Railroad then to New York over the Old Colony Railroad and the Fall River Line steamers.
Numerous steam boat schedules were in the book. For instance, a connection existed between Cooperstown NY and Richfield Springs NY. Cooperstown was on the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley RR. It was an $11.05 trip from New York City going the New York Central to Albany and the D&H to Cooperstown Junction. The steamer “Natty Bumppo” plied between Cooperstown and Island Cottage, where connection was made with “tally-ho” for Richfield Springs, 7 miles away. The steamer stopped at Three Mile Point and Five Mile Point where there were hotels. It made stage stops at Springfield Centre and Warren. Fare, including boat and tally-ho was $1.25 and took an hour.
The book contained many advertisements which are fascinating to read. Several were for the railroad’s own trains. Friendly railroads such as the D&H and the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh advertised too. The Catskill Mountain House, Keeler’s Hotel in Albany and the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George had full page ads. The Sagamore charged $4 per day and involved two railroads (Central and D&H) plus a steamer of the Lake George Steamboat Company to connect with New York. Wagner Palace Cars even advertised private cars for hire for a summer vacation.