SYRACUSE — Retired journalist Richard F. Palmer has released his 30th self-published booklet on the topic of historic railroads in New York state.
His latest publication explores the Sackets Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad, a short-lived route that opened in the summer of 1853.
“It was kind of an obscure railroad,” said Mr. Palmer of Syracuse. “It was designed to try to capture the steam boat business on the lake. They thought the RW&O would want it, eventually, but they didn’t. They built their own line to Cape Vincent.”
The Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg line was built from Rome and reached Jefferson County in 1851. In 1891, the railroad passed into control of the New York Central Railroad Company.
The approximately 18-mile Sackets Harbor/Ellisburg railroad route connected to the RW&O line at Pierrepont Manor.
“I’ve always been interested in railroad history,” said Mr. Palmer, who from 1966-69 worked as a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. He then had a long career with Syracuse Newspapers and Eagle Newspapers.
Mr. Palmer is also the author of, “Old Line Mail: Stagecoach Days in Upstate New York,” published by North Country Books and the co-author of “Brigham Young — The New York Years.”
He’s also written more than 130 articles about Lake Ontario maritime history for the “Inland Seas” quarterly of the Great Lakes Historical Society and since 2009, a weekly column on Lake Ontario maritime history for the Oswego Palladium Times.
Mr. Palmer, a Syracuse native, said that in February of 1964, he was one of the passengers on the final run of the Beeliner, a self-propelled passenger car that connected Syracuse and Massena.
In his new 32-page book, Mr. Palmer documents planning for the Sackets Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad, its difficulties and demise. He writes that Sackets Harbor entrepreneur Elisha Camp was a chief promoter of the line. Mr. Palmer includes a segment of a letter Mr. Camp wrote to his son, Elisha Jr., in January of 1853:
“Our railroad has the iron laid down on my stock farm. From there to the docks, a distance of about a half mile, there is much cutting in the rock to be done which will occupy until spring when I trust our road will be put into operation.”
“There were three bridges with stone abutments,” Mr. Palmer wrote. “One over Stony Creek at Smithville was 40-feet long, the abutments of cut stone still remain. The longest one was two spans of 60 feet each over the north branch of Sandy Creek at Belleville.”
A locomotive, dubbed the Sackets Harbor, ran on the line. “Since no further information can be found about it, it was probably second hand,” Mr. Palmer wrote. “The RW&O usually furnished the locomotives.”
Mr. Palmer in his book highlights one of the first “excursion trains” on the line, which consisted of an engine pulling a flat car with benches.
“The sides had been removed and evergreen trees placed in the stake holes around the car,” Mr. Palmer wrote. “When approaching Sackets Harbor, the wood-burning engine was unable to make the grade. The men aboard jumped off and pushed the train along until the engine gained enough traction to proceed.”
Among facts and figures that Mr. Palmer dug up, he noted that in the first year of the railroad, it carried 9,932 passengers and 25,525 tons of freight, from cattle to lumber. The author found more details on the railroad from a June, 1853 story in the Sackets Harbor-based weekly newspaper The Jefferson Farmer, which documented an excursion:
“We spent the day very pleasantly in connection with a few friends from our village, enjoying an excellent dinner at the Pierrepont Manor House, kept by Mr. Mason. We would suggest to our citizens that they have a very pleasant trip over this road, and, what is better — a good dinner at the Manor, returning in time for their evening recreation or business, as duty or pleasure leads them.”
Mr. Palmer noted that “very little effort was made to try to keep the railroad open in winter months.” But eventually, it faced more shuttered times as financial issues deepened.
“In August of 1863 the directors took it upon themselves to commence scrapping the line,” Mr. Palmer wrote.
Sackets Harbor would later get another rail service.
“The Carthage, Watertown and Sackets Harbor Railroad, an extension of the Utica & Black River Railroad, was incorporated Feb. 5, 1869 and opened in 1875,” Mr. Palmer wrote. “It utilized the original right of way of the never-completed Sackets Harbor and Saratoga and entered the village on the roadbed of the Sackets Harbor and Ellisburg.”
Researcher and railroad historian Russell Nelson, who took photos for “The Sackets Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad” book, said that both railroads had their station where the the 1812 Brewing Company, 212 W. Main St., now is. “Although it wasn’t the same building.” He said the CW&SH Railroad rebuilt the building, probably after a fire. “You can see multiple dates cast into the foundation,” he said.
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Copies of Mr. Palmer’s “The Sackets Harbor and Ellisburg Railroad” can be obtained by contacting the Henderson Historical Society at hendersonnyhistoricalsociety.com. Pickup in Henderson can be arranged, or copies can be mailed. The price is $12.95 plus postage.
A copy of the book, courtesy of the historical society, is also available for researchers at the library of the Watertown Daily Times.
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