The Unadilla Valley Railway Co.

Utica & Unadilla Valley Railroad Association (1887-1895)
Unadilla Valley Railway Company (1895-1960)

A Brief History

Following the Civil War (1861-1865) the United States was seized with "railroad fever". Upstate New York was no exception, and by the 1880's, the New York, Ontario & Western had built a branch to New Berlin, NY. The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western had built a branch line to Richfield Springs, the line running through Bridgewater and north. The railroad, seen as a stepping stone to economic prosperity, was tantalizingly close.

Colonel Nehemiah Pierce formally put forth the idea of a Unadilla Valley railroad, which would tie the DL&W (Delaware, Lackawanna & Western) in the north to the O&W (New York, Ontario & Western) in the south. At the same time, it served the people and businesses of the valley itself by providing ready transportation of goods to and from other markets.

To raise money for a railroad, communities along the proposed route were asked to pledge money, to be raised by the issuance of town bonds. This would help offset the cost of construction, and show prospective investors in the road that the communities along the line supported the railroad. Early in the process, efforts were made to interest the nearby city of Utica in the railroad. Businesses in the Unadilla Valley had long had ties to Utica, and it was felt the railroad would further strengthen the economic bond between the two. To this end, the initial bond offering was under the name Utica & Unadilla Valley Railroad Association.

After ironing out many difficulties (and removing a scalawag or two) work began in 1889 at Bridgewater. Funding was to be an ongoing problem, and almost at once work stopped while financing was restructured. Efforts were made to interest New York City investors in the road, and by 1892 enough money had been raised to start work again.

Italian laborers were brought in to level the roadbed so the rails could be laid. Some 75 workers, using some machinery, but mostly just pick-axes and shovels, continued toward Leonardsville, reaching the town by December of 1892. By August of 1893, the rails were laid as far as Leonardsville, and the DL&W was running 2 trains a week to the hamlet. A financial panic in that year once again halted work, but by March of 1894 the financial markets had stabilized enough that work once again began, and by September of that year, the railroad had reached West Edmeston. As a celebration, and to re-assure the local investors, an excursion train was run out of West Edmeston; 645 people crowded onto the excursion train, and rode north.

By November of 1894, the railroad reached South Edmeston. In January, the railroad was renamed the Unadilla Valley Railway Company; the name it would keep for nearly 70 years, until the line was finally dismantled. The following month, the first locomotive of the UVRR reached the property. Named "Pendragon" after King Arthur, it was joined 2 months later by UVRR #2, "Merlyn". No longer relying on the DL&W for service, the UVRR was able to maintain its own operations.

In the summer of 1895, the railroad finally reached New Berlin. On July 25, 1895, the railroad officially opened, amid much fanfare, celebration, and merriment; the population of New Berlin nearly tripled for the occasion. Many railroads, large and small, were dreamed of during this era, but the people of the Unadilla Valley, by perseverance, determination and hard work, had turned their dream into a reality.

The Unadilla Valley was still very rural at this time. As provisions of sale of the right of way, the railroad was required to provide cattle fences on many of the properties. Cattle crossings had to be provided in many spots as well, so that farmers could move cattle from one side of the tracks to the other without driving their herds over the rails. This was due in part to the fact that the rail line bisected more than a few farms.

Quite a bit of early freight was agricultural, including milk and dairy products, and hops. Hops was a large part of Otsego County history until the turn of the 20th century, when the hops trade was lost to other markets. But the Unadilla Valley also had some manufacturing. The largest manufacturing client on the road was Babcock Shops in Leonardsville, a foundry operation manufacturing cast iron stoves and such. Babcock received shipments of iron ore and coal, and in turn shipped out stoves and furnaces.

The relationship of the UVRR with the DL&W to the north was very close. This was the shortest way to Utica and the markets there, and cooperation was high. Indeed, the Bridgewater Station, where the UVRR joined the D&LWW, was financed jointly between the two roads, with the DL&W paying for 2/3 the cost of the station (and the station master's salary) and the UVRR paying 1/3. The same could not be said for relations with the O&W to the south at New Berlin, and bad blood would hamper relations between the two for many years to come.

In 1904, Dr. Lewis Morris gained control of the UVRR. Whether by coincidence or because of good management (or a little of both) Dr. Morris' reign marked the beginning of a "golden era" for the railroad. The line finally began to show a profit, as it generally would over the next 28 years. Many improvements were made on the road, including converting wooden bridges and trestles to steel and cement. After problems with the turntables at both ends of the road (UVRR locomotives had a nasty habit of falling off the turntables while being turned around) turn-around "wyes" were added at both ends of the railroad. Both freight and passenger service was booming, and the railroad settled down to its newfound prosperity.

By the early 1920's, passenger service started to decline. The American love affair with the automobile had begun, and as automobiles became more prevalent and roads improved, fewer people took the railroad. In an effort to cut costs of passenger service, a Brill gas-powered car was purchased by the UVRR in 1924. Almost from the beginning, bad lucked dogged the car. Just a few weeks after it began operation, it was involved in a fatal collision with a passenger train just south of Bridgewater. A passenger train replaced the Brill car for a while, until the UVRR decided to eliminate passenger service. Public outcry was so great that this plan was dropped, and the Brill car was repaired and put back into service. The car was involved in at least one more accident with an auto in 1929.

In an effort to expand industry along the railroad, Dr. Morris started a gravel mining operation in 1931 near South Edmeston, just off Route 8. Morris' hope was to produce gravel for State road projects, and over half a million dollars was invested in construction and equipment for the plant, considered the second largest such plant in the country at that time. J.F. Paddleford, a local businessman with considerable experience in the field was brought in to run the operation.

Dr. Morris and Paddleford were both staunch Republicans; Dr. Morris was particularly active in local politics. At this time, the Governor of New York was Herbert Lehman, a Democrat. Upon receiving word of Dr. Morris' plans, the Governor and his cronies changed the State specifications for gravel contracts for work on Route 8 to call for "sharp" gravel only. Dr. Morris' gravel pit produced gravel with rounded edges, thus excluding him from bidding on this and ultimately most other State contracts.

If the quarry had succeeded, it would have been a great boon to both local economy and the railroad, providing at least 20 local jobs, as well as freight revenue. Unfortunately, without the prospect of lucrative State contracts, very little gravel was ever produced at the quarry, and within several months the plant was abandoned and the stone-crushing machinery sold off.

The failure of the quarry, in addition to the general world financial condition in the early 1930's, had an adverse affect on the financial health of the railroad. Between 1932 and 1937, the railroad consistently showed a loss. Dr. Morris withdrew from management of the road, and management became lax. The trucking industry made inroads into local milk transportation as well as other areas, and the railroad continued to decline until the death of Dr. Morris in 1936.

Dr. Morris' estate sold off the UVRR to the H.E. Salzburg Company of New York City. Salzburg was a scrap dealer and professional dismantler of railroads, and the news of the sale was received with certain trepidation. However, Salzburg moved quickly to re-assure businesses up and down the road that they planned to continue operation of the railroad.

Salzburg began to aggressively promote the railroad, offering shipping rates competitive to the trucking industry, so that milk shipments went from nothing back to several carloads a day. Relations with the O&W were patched up, and the roads once again began to exchange freight at New Berlin. Such was Salzburgs' efforts that the railroad once again showed a profit in 1938, a trend that would continue through the War years. The railroad was refurbished, and the 55-lb. rail originally laid for the railroad was replaced by 70-lb. rail.

By the 1940's, the O&W was suffering from severe economic woes, and in October of 1941, Salzburg purchased the New Berlin branch from the O&W, including the Edmeston spur. The total track of the UVRR went from 20 miles to 49 miles, with six additional miles to Edmeston. Several new customers came with the deal, including the largest milk station and processing plant on the line, owned by the Dairymen's League at Mt. Upton. Freight exchange with the O&W was now moved to New Berlin Junction, with track use allowed as far south as Sidney.

After World War II, the UVRR entered the diesel age with the purchase of a pair of new GE 70-ton diesel engines. Both were kept for several years, until finally one was sold off, and the other continued on as the prime motive power on the railroad.

In 1956, the milk processing plant at Mt. Upton closed, and the UVRR lost some 35% of its freight traffic. The next year, the O&W closed down operations, and the UVRR lost its southern exchange point. The UVRR was now just a spur line off the DL&W.

In 1960, Salzburg filed a petition to discontinue operations. Several options to keep the railroad alive were discussed, but in the end, the petition was approved. In September 1960 a clean-up train ran north to Bridgewater, taking the last of the UV rolling stock; the rails were pulled up soon thereafter, marking the end of the road.

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