LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
Walter W. Law truly had the Midas touch.
Despite his lack of experience as
a hotelkeeper, around the turn of the previous century the retired rug company
executive decided to construct a mammoth hotel at the highest point on his vast
Designed by architect Guy King with
sweeping views of the Hudson and the Highlands,
the 225-room Briarcliff Lodge opened in 1902 and quickly became America’s premier
summer resort destination.
network of scenic parkways was still a planner's dream. The new-fangled
horseless carriages were a toy of the rich, and most lodge guests arrived by
train, many to stay all summer. The nearest railroad station was Whitson’s,
named for Charles Whitson, a longtime station agent.
Walter Law considered the tiny station
unsuitable for guests of his luxurious hotel. Placed on a flat car, it was moved
to Millwood, where it can still be seen, painted in garish colors now faded and
peeling--a forlorn relic of a forgotten era. Its hipped gable roof, deeply
bracketed canopies and projecting bay windows are typical of stations along the
line of the original New York & Northern Railroad that had served the
community since 1881.
He replaced it with a station
building he considered more appropriate to the Tudor style of his new hotel and
changed its name to Briarcliff Manor. Larger than most of the original stations
on the Putnam line, it was constructed of concrete with a stucco finish and
applied wood half-timbering. Its wood-paneled interior was furnished with
amenities such as a round center table, chairs and an oriental rug
complementing the traditional passenger benches along the walls.
Following the abandonment of the Putnam
railroad line in 1958, Briarcliff Manor bought Law’s station to house its
public library. Eventually, the collection became hopelessly cramped in its too-small
space. Only after New York
threatened to revoke the library’s charter did the village expand the former
station with an architecturally compatible addition that opened to the public in
Briarcliff Lodge’s own vehicles—first
horse-drawn and then motor cars--met trains at the new Briarcliff Manor station
of the New York Central’s Putnam Division and at the Scarborough
station of the Hudson Division. On arrival at the lodge, guests found a resort
the equal of any at the famous watering holes of Europe
The Briarcliff Lodge was to bring many changes to the sleepy hamlet that became the village of Briarcliff Manor
|Aerial view of Briarcliff Lodge.|
Experienced chefs prepared haute cuisine meals from fruits
and vegetables grown in Briarcliff Farms’ own gardens. Briarcliff Table Water
was on every table. Perhaps the most famous of lodge chefs was European-trained
Maurice LaCroix. Before coming to the lodge, he had worked at the Astor, Belmont, Knickerbocker and Biltmore hotels in New York City.
|The Card Room at Briarcliff Lodge.|
Indoor amenities included a music
room with a pipe organ, a swimming pool, a small theater, a casino with billiard
and pool tables, a library, and a ballroom. Playgrounds, swings and croquet
lawns kept children busy.
Among outdoor diversions, guests could
play tennis on one of the lodge’s 15 tournament-level clay courts or tee off on
the lodge’s nine-hole golf course, later enlarged to an 18-hole professional
course laid out by noted designer Devereux Emmet. The horsey set could choose a
mount from a stable of saddle horses and ride over bucolic back-country roads,
while those who preferred shank’s mare could hike over woodland trails.
For guests who arrived by their
own automobiles, the lodge offered a special dining hall, dressing rooms,
smoking rooms and facilities for patrons’ uniformed chauffeurs. The lodge also
featured a large parking garage (originally the lodge stables) a fully equipped
automobile repair shop. For guests without automobiles, Fiat touring cars and
chauffeur-driven limousines were available for hire.
The list of guests who stayed at
the Briarcliff Lodge reads like a “Who’s Who” of the early 20th century: From
the world of politics, Franklin D. Roosevelt (and Eleanor, of course) and
Alfred E. Smith, when each was governor of New York,
and Senator Chauncey M. Depew, of Peekskill.
From the realm of entertainment, guests included Mary Pickford, Warner Baxter
and Tallulah Bankhead, stage actres Sarah Bernhardt, and Madame Ernestine
Schumann-Heink, operatic contralto.
The Law family ran the hotel until
1923, when Chauncey Depew Steele, former assistant manager of New York’s Algonquin Hotel, signed a 20-year
lease for the property. After he added year-round operation, including winter
sports, Briarcliff Lodge was advertised as “America’s
St. Moritz.” In
a snowless January in 1924, gondola cars full of snow were transported from the
Adirondacks for a skiing exhibition by the U.S. Olympic team.
Walter Law did nothing by halves. Converting
the lake near the lodge into a tiled “Roman pool” holding six million gallons
of water, he created the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. Johnny
Weissmuller tried out for the 1924 Olympics and demonstrated his freestyle
prowess in the Briarcliff Lodge pool.
At the summer games in Paris that
year, the 20-year-old Weissmuller, who would later make a career out of playing
Tarzan roles in films, won three gold medals and a bronze (as a member of the
American water polo team). In 1928, at the summer Olympics in Amsterdam, he went on to win two more gold
Gertrude Ederle, daughter of a Bronx butcher, also tried out for the 1924 Olympics in
the lodge’s pool. Not yet 18, she would win one gold and two bronze medals in Paris. The following
year, she turned professional. In 1926 she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, in the process breaking the existing
record held by a male swimmer.
|Greenhouses at Briarcliff Lodge.|
Wounded by the Great Depression, in 1936 the lodge was
leased to Dr. Matthew H. Reaser to operate the Edgewood Park
, a college prep
school for girls. The following year, the school bought the lodge and grounds.
Failing to meet a mortgage payment in 1954, the Edgewood Park
closed its doors.
After an abortive attempt by
investors to open the lodge again as a hotel, in 1955 the King’s College, a
Christian liberal arts college, bought the Briarcliff Lodge for use as the main
building of its campus. Several other area buildings were also purchased. Severe
financial problems caused the King’s College to close in 1994. It traded the
school property in Briarcliff Manor for a lot twice its size in Orange County
but never occupied it.
Today, the King’s College unusual campus
consists of three floors rented in the Empire
building at the corner of Fifth Avenue
and 34th Street
in New York City
. With a
total student body numbering about 300, its students occupy residential dorms in
nearby buildings on Sixth Avenue
Plans to develop the lodge as a
senior citizen facility fell through, and it and other associated campus
buildings built by the King’s College remained shuttered, attractive targets
Sad to say, nothing remains of the
Briarcliff Lodge today. On Saturday morning, Sept. 20, 2003, a fire broke out
in the wood-timbered portion of the massive, sprawling building under
suspicious circumstances. The conflagration spread rapidly, causing a major
portion of the 101-year-old structure to be destroyed.
The remaining portion of the lodge
and other campus buildings were later demolished. With the exception of its
foundation, all traces of the once-proud Briarcliff Lodge are gone. Walter
Law’s stone mansion, which had served as a 30-room men’s dormitory, was
restored and sold as a private residence.
A Mystery Solved
According to a notice in The New York Times of Jan. 19, 1924, “Walter W. Law died on Thursday, Jan. 17, in Somerville, North Carolina. At the time of his death, Mr. Law was attended by only his nurse and doctors as he had gone south for a rest cure and was expected home shortly.”
Funeral services were to be held on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the Briarcliff Congregational Church. Mr. Law was survived by two sons, Walter W. Law, Jr., former chairman of the State Tax Commission in the early 1920s, and Henry H. Law, and three married daughters.
The only mention of Walter Law’s burial place to be found anywhere was in A History of Briarcliff Manor, by the Rev. Robert B. Pattison, reprinted in 1939 from The Briarcliff Weekly. In it, Pattison wrote that Law and his wife who predeceased him in 1910 were buried in Woodland Cemetery.
Unfortunately, there is no community named Somerville in North Carolina and no Woodland Cemetery locally. Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, however, holds the ornate mausoleums of many American retail tycoons, such as F.W. Woolworth, J.C. Penney, S.H. Kress and Franklin Simon. Wouldn’t Woodlawn be a logical burial place for a kingpin in the Sloane retail empire? Moreover, changing only one letter transforms Woodland into Woodlawn.
A phone call to Woodlawn Cemetery elicited a positive response. “Yes, Walter W. Law, deceased in 1924, is buried here. We show his last address as Summerville, South Carolina. He’s buried in the Prospect Plot.”
The Prospect Plot turned out to be as big as two football fields.
Walter W. Law’s last resting place is no elaborately impressive mausoleum. Instead, in the shade of a large tree stands a modestly sized rectangular gravestone on which is chiseled the single word “LAW.”
Embedded in the ground in front of it are four small, flat stones. These mark the graves of Walter Law, his wife Georgiana Ransom Law, his daughter Caroline, and a son, Arthur, born in 1876 and died the following year. The infant’s brief existence is not mentioned in any source. On his grave marker are inscribed the name “Arthur” and the dates 1876-1877, followed by the New Testament verse, “Suffer little children to come unto me.”
At long last, the forgotten last resting place of Walter W. Law and members of his family had been found, another piece in a tantalizing historical puzzle. But his definitive biography and an in-depth history of his many enterprises still remain to be written.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
Many communities in Westchester
owe their existence to a quirk of geography--a protected harbor on the Hudson River
, a former aboriginal campsite or the
junction of two major stagecoach roads.
The village of Briarcliff Manor
owes its existence to one wealthy patron: Walter W. Law.
Law, the father of Briarcliff
Manor, was born in 1837 in the English town of Kidderminster
. In the 19th century, the name Kidderminster
and carpets were synonymous. Its carpet weaving
began as a cottage industry, but the introduction of steam power paved
the way for the huge carpet mills that would make Kidderminster a center of
carpet manufacture in Britain
One of ten children of a dealer in
carpets and dry goods, Walter William Law left school and began working at the
age of 14. In 1859, he decided to immigrate to the United States
with a few letters of introduction from his father to friends in the American
carpet trade and with enough money to last him only about two weeks, Walter Law
arrived in New York
on January 22, 1860. It was a Sunday, and the passengers could not clear
customs until the next day.
Talk of abolition of slavery and secession was
in the air. “With another passenger or two,” he later recalled, “we went over
, and heard Henry Ward Beecher
preach, and it was the first and only time I heard him.”
Young Walter Law landed a job as a
traveling carpet salesman. It lasted until he discovered his employer
was misrepresenting domestic rugs as imported and charging premium prices for
them. His next employer folded when the Civil War caused a general business
A call on William Sloane, head of the
firm of W. & J. Sloane, resulted in his being hired, more out of kindness
than need. Sloane, his new employer, had started his working life as an
apprentice weaver in Edinburgh.
In 1834, after his employer failed to reward him for inventing a new method of
weaving tapestry rugs, Sloane had immigrated to New York.
With his brother John, they
established a carpet business as W. & J. Sloane. Their little store on
Broadway across from City Hall prospered. William Sloane’s sons took over the
business from their father on his death in 1879. Seven years earlier, one son,
28-year-old William Douglas Sloane, had married Emily Thorn Vanderbilt,
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s 20-year-old granddaughter.
According to newspaper reports,
the groom “got $15,000,000 by the performance. Mr. Sloane himself is worth many
millions in his own right.” Seventy years later, her granddaughter, Alice
Frances Hammond, would marry jazz musician Benny Goodman.
In 1882, the Sloane store moved uptown
to an ornate six-story building on the southeast corner of 19th Street and
Broadway, where the firm sold carpeting, oriental rugs, lace curtains and
upholstery fabric, later expanding to furniture. Fittingly, the Sloane building
today again houses a carpet store, ABC Carpet. Across Broadway from W. & J.
Sloane was the massive Arnold Constable dry goods establishment.
Opposite Sloane’s on 19th Street was the
eight-story retail building housing the Gorham Manufacturing Company, famous
for its silverware and metal work. A block north, at the southwest corner of
Broadway and 20th Street,
was the Lord & Taylor dry goods store.
The neighborhood of fashionable
dry goods stores and other landmark buildings lies roughly between 14th and
27th streets and 5th and 7th avenues. Called the “Ladies’ Mile Historic
District,” its 440 memorable buildings are now preserved and protected.
Young Walter Law increased the
business of Sloane’s wholesale department by securing the account of the
Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Company in Yonkers for the manufacture of moquette
These tufted, high-pile carpets produced
on power looms invented by Halcyon Skinner quickly displaced the popular
flat-weave, reversible carpets. They also undercut pricier hand-knotted
The giant Alexander Smith carpet
mills in Yonkers
along Nepperhan Avenue
were named the Moquette Mills. Their architecturally important workers’ row
housing was built in stepped fashion on the hill adjacent to the factory.
Law and his wife, Georgiana Ransom Law, moved to Yonkers, making it easier
for him to service the Smith account. Here they raised their two sons and four
In 1890, health problems forced
Walter Law at age 53 to take early retirement from the Sloane firm.
Tuberculosis was given as the cause. Unhappy with the prospect of inactivity, he
sought a new venue for his talents and ambition, and turned his attention to northern
Then as now, the benefits of fresh
air and outdoor living were recognized as important weapons in fighting
infectious diseases like tuberculosis. The newly-retired executive found the
236-acre farm of James Stallman between Old Briarcliff Road and Pleasantville Road for
He snapped it up in 1890 for
$35,000. The Stallman farmhouse, originally used by Walter Law as an office, later
became the rectory of St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church.
When he bought the Stallman property,
it was already named Briarcliff Farm. The term Briarcliff came from “Brier
Cliff,” a name applied by the Rev. John David Ogilby, professor of
ecclesiastical history at the General Theological Seminary in New
, to his Westchester
Once when traveling in England
, Dr. Ogilby had come upon the parish
church at Bremerton
, near Salisbury
. Desiring to improve property he
owned near Ossining, he donated the land to the community and retained
architect Richard Upjohn to design a church inspired by the church Ogilby had
seen in Britain
Upjohn was the architect of many churches in New York City
the best known of which is Trinity
at the head of
Construction of All Saints Church in
Briarcliff Manor began in 1848, but Dr. Ogilby died in 1851, well before its
completion in 1854. The original structure, illustrated in the Rev. Robert
Bolton’s 1855 History of the Protestant
Episcopal Church in the County of
Westchester, was a simple rectangular building with a steep, gabled roof and
a small, open, wood belfry.
Swiftly adding additional acreage,
Law made some 40 purchases in the next ten years. By the turn of the century he
owned more than 5,000 acres in Westchester
Walter Law was acutely aware of
the connection between milk and the spread of infectious diseases like
tuberculosis. His Briarcliff Farms would specialize in the production of
certified milk from tuberculin-tested Jersey
cows. Other farm animals included chickens, pigs, sheep, pheasants and even a
At its height, Briarcliff Farms
boasted some 300 workers. Law’s Briarcliff Dairy processed 3,000 to 4,000
quarts of milk each day, as well as quantities of cream and butter, shipped to New York
by an early
morning milk train on the Putnam Division.
Briarcliff Farms had its own farm
store in the Windsor Arcade at Fifth
and 46th Street
in the city. Later, Law
opened another store at 2061
near 125th Street
. This uptown location was
intended to tap the burgeoning new fashionable neighborhood of aristocratic
apartment houses and popular single-family brownstones springing up in Harlem
, linked to downtown by elevated and subway lines.
Walter Law had the Midas touch.
Indeed everything he touched turned to gold. With so much land available for
cultivation in Briarcliff Manor, it was inevitable he would turn to the
raising of flowers. Erecting steam-heated greenhouses that eventually covered
75,000 square feet, he undertook the growing of American Beauty roses and other
flowers on raised beds for the florist trade.
A greenhouse foreman discovered
and propagated the pink Briarcliff Rose, an improvement over the existing
strain. It was registered with the American Rose Society and became extremely
popular. Flower sales eventually reached $100,000 a year.
It was an easy next step from
certified milk to pure water. Law’s Briarcliff Table Water Company’s wells
tapped aquifers 250 feet deep, and it offered bottled water in individual bottles
and large jugs complete with office-style dispensers. The water was available
in Briarcliff Farms stores in New York City
at food markets throughout Westchester and as far away as Lakewood, N.J.
As Walter Law’s “empire” grew, the need for municipal
services became obvious. He proposed incorporation. One problem: The village would
lay in two towns, Ossining and Mount Pleasant, a permissible spread under law,
and in two school districts—a requirement of state law. He got signatures from
25 freeholders on a petition requesting approval for the proposed
On September 2, 1902, the
supervisors of the two towns met with the freeholders to discuss the details of
the incorporation. An election followed ten days later. Everyone who voted was
indebted to Walter Law, either for a house or livelihood or both. The result
was resoundingly favorable.
Legend has it Briarcliff
Manor owes the “Manor” in its name to a remark made by Law’s friend,
industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who called him “the Laird (lord) of Briarcliff
The incorporated village of Briarcliff Manor
officially came into existence on November 21, 1902, with William DeNyse
Nichols as president. (This title for the heads of incorporated villages was
later changed to mayor.) Successive mayors who were long-serving members of the
Law family included Walter Law’s son, Walter W. Law, Jr., who served from 1905
to 1918, and Henry H. Law, who served from 1918 to 1936. The hamlet of Scarborough
was annexed to Briarcliff Manor in 1906.
From the beginning, an unusual
system was employed for selecting candidates for the village’s public offices.
The system, now formalized by law as the “People’s Caucus,” allows any eligible
citizen over 18 years of age to seek nomination for office. Effectively keeping national politics and
national party names out of the system, candidates chosen by the caucus are
almost guaranteed election.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
opening of the Erie Canal
in 1825 brought
unanticipated results beyond its planners’ dreams.
a year, 42 barges were towed eastward each day, carrying a thousand passengers,
221,000 barrels of flour, 435,000 gallons of whiskey and 562,000 bushels of
costs from Lake Erie to New York City
fell from $100 a ton to only nine dollars.
undercut commercially and facing economic catastrophe, rival cities on the East
Coast desperately attempted to retaliate by exploring the possibilities of
digging their own canals to compete with the Erie
’s canal would have been prohibitively expensive because
the city was even farther from the wheat fields of the West. Its capitalists
shifted their investments into manufacturing.
routes through the rugged Appalachians that would match New
’s easy access through the Mohawk
to the fertile West, Philadelphia
's investors put
their money into coal mining.
actually closer to Western agriculture than any other city, the cost of digging
a canal still proved to be unaffordable. In 1827, the Maryland
legislature chartered a railroad to be called the Baltimore & Ohio, making
it the first
chartered railroad in the United
July 4, 1828, Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of
Independence, broke ground for the B&O in a celebration that included
fireworks, floats and speeches.
the B&O planned to use horses as motive power, even though locomotives had already
demonstrated their superiority in England
for a quarter-century. When
horses proved to be impracticable, the B&O turned to a New Yorker for help.
An Inventor to the Rescue
Peter Cooper, whose ancestry
included Dutch, English and Huguenot roots, had grown up in Peekskill, N.Y.
After helping his father with at hatmaking and brewing, young Peter moved to New York City
to become a
coachmaker’s apprentice. Next, he invented and sold a cloth-shearing machine.
1821, Peter Cooper bought a glue factory at Sunfish Pond, a sylvan setting of
clover fields and buttonwood trees between today’s Fourth and Lexington
avenues and 31st and 32nd streets, near the village of Kip
Bay. After cattle yards and slaughterhouses opened nearby and produced a steady
supply of cows' hooves, Cooper set about devising new methods for using such
soon became the principal supplier of glue, gelatin, household cement,
isinglass and neat’s foot oil to the city’s factories and merchants. He also became
the city’s largest polluter. Sunfish Pond had to be drained and filled in 1839.
the new B&O railroad would cause real estate values to skyrocket, Cooper
purchased 3,000 acres near Baltimore
In the course of draining swamps and leveling hills to develop his property, he
found iron ore. Ever enterprising, he built furnaces and a foundry with the
intention of forging rails to sell to the new railroad.
the B&O encountered problems with motive power, Cooper, who had his money
invested in the railroad and who had several inventions already to his credited,
offered to create his own engine.
believed I could knock together a locomotive which would get the trains
around,” he later recollected for the Boston
in 1882, a year before he died, “so I came back to New
and got a little bit of an engine, about one horsepower, and
carried it back to Baltimore
got some boiler iron and made a boiler about as big as an ordinary wash boiler
and then how to connect a boiler with the engine I didn't know. I had an iron
foundry and some manual skill in working it. But I couldn't find any iron
pipes. The fact is that there were none for sale in this country.
I took two muskets and broke off the wood parts, and used the barrels for
tubing to the boiler. I went to a coachmaker’s shop and made this locomotive,
which I called the Tom Thumb
it was so insignificant. I didn't intend it for actual service, but only to
show the directors that it could be done."
a blazingly hot August day in 1830, with Cooper at the controls the Tom Thumb
hauled a coachload of officials
on a 13-mile demonstration trip to the end of the B&O track at Ellicott’s
Mills (today called Ellicott City
). A measured
mile was covered in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, which translates into s speed of 18
miles an hour.
the return trip to Baltimore
a horse-drawn coach was encountered plodding along the adjoining double track.
Someone proposed a race. It turned out to be a disaster when the leather belt
powering the auxiliary blower fanning the locomotive’s fire slipped from its
drum. The horse-drawn coach won the informal race, but results of this doleful
contest was quietly hushed up.
new of the successful locomotive test was announced, investors rushed to purchase
B&O stock and bonds
. The railroad used the proceeds to buy Peter Cooper's
iron rails, earning him his first fortune. From the start,
the B&O was a commercial and financial success and devised many
new managerial methods that would become standard practice in railroading and
modern business. The B&O Railroad Museum
in Baltimore is
a mecca for train buffs from all over the world.
With the Tom
Thumb, the B&O became the first railroad to operate a locomotive built
to earn passenger revenues and to publish a timetable (May 23, 1830). It built
the first passenger and freight station (Mount Clare in 1829). On
December 24, 1852, it became the first rail line to reach the Ohio
River from the eastern seaboard.
Railroads Come to the New York Area
Railroad construction in New York City began
in 1831 when John Mason, president of the Chemical Bank, and two Harlem landowners, Benson McGowan and Thomas Addis Emmet,
were granted a charter for a New York & Harlem Railroad. The Common Council
granted the NY&H the right to operate horse-drawn cars over a double track
from City Hall to the Harlem River along Fourth Avenue.
Construction began in February of 1832. Rails were not nailed to wooden ties
but bolted to one-foot-square granite blocks. Because the rails were well above
street level, crosstown traffic became a nightmare.
Horses pulled coaches up the Bowery from Prince Street
to 14th Street and then along Fourth Avenue to 27th Street, where the NY&H
built a passenger depot, plus a produce terminal and stables for the line’s
horses. By the autumn of 1833, the tracks had reached 32nd Street, where they encountered a
major obstacle: a hill of dense, unyielding black mica schist. The tunnel
through it—still in existence--took until 1837 to complete.
The NY&H operated its first steam locomotive
in June of 1834. It exploded on the 28th of the month, causing railroad
management to return to horse-drawn cars for the next three years. The line
resumed the use of steam motive power in 1837.
In the meantime, tracks were laid on wooden ties through
the town of Yorkville
near 86th Street.
In 1836, another tunnel had to be cut through the hill called Mt. Pleasant,
between 92nd and 94th streets. Here the railroad opened a hotel in hopes of attracting
visitors to the bucolic surroundings.
A 658-foot-long timber viaduct allowed the line’s rails
to reach its northern terminus at the Harlem River in 1837.Three years later,
the NY&H constructed a bridge across the Harlem River at 131st Street and began
its push northwards through Westchester County. A new kind of train passenger,
the commuter, now came into existence.
Tuckahoe was reached in July of 1844; White Plains on December 1 that same year; Pleasantville
in October of 1846; Mount
Kisco the following
February. The line plodded on through Putnam and Dutchess
Counties, reaching Croton Falls
on June 1, 1847 and Dover Plains on December 31, 1848. It reached its new
northern terminus, Chatham Four Corners (now Chatham), 131 miles from New York City, on January
idea of a direct, water-level railroad along the east bank of the Hudson River
had been suggested as early as 1832 and
rejected. It was inconceivable a railroad could compete with the luxurious
steamboats offering low fares and fast travel. The success of the NY&H
changed the climate of opinion.
Hudson River Railroad was granted a charter by the legislature on May 12, 1846.
Its success owed much to English-born merchant and banker James Boorman, who
proposed hiring John B. Jervis, of Croton Aqueduct fame, as the chief engineer.
usual controversy over motive power ensued. The city finally authorized in 1847
the operation of trains and the laying of track north from Canal Street
and from Spuyten Duyvil.
Construction of the Hudson River
progressed at a fast pace, thanks to the money and talent behind it.
segment extending from Canal
was opened on December 31, 1849. Builders reached East Albany on June 12, 1851,
and regular service was offered on October 8, although passengers had to cross Spuyten Duyvil Creek
on a ferry until a bridge was opened
in 1853. The total cost of the line came to $11,328,990.
of continuing steamboat competition and despite its superior design and many
innovations, especially in motive power, the Hudson River Railroad failed to earn
a profit until 1865, one year after a rapacious Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had
enough money to match his ambitions, acquired control of the company.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
So much attention is paid historically to the Hudson as an artery of commerce and travel we often forget the Hudson Valley was the birthplace of the American railroad.
The thriving sloop and steamboat traffic on the river had one significant disadvantage: It came to a halt in the winter when the river froze.
The power of steam was first demonstrated in England, where steam-driven pumps had long kept British coal mines free of water. And in 1803 Richard Trevithick had built and demonstrated the first locomotive on the tracks of a tramway in southern Wales.
Several railroad pioneers played key roles in bringing steam locomotives to the Hudson Valley early in the nineteenth century. The first was Col. John Stevens, a visionary engineer and inventor, and a distinguished veteran of the Revolutionary War.
Colonel Stevens’s “Steam Wagon”
In 1812, Stevens published a pamphlet with a ponderous title, Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Railways and Steam Carriages over Canal Navigation.
This first-published American work on railroads predicted locomotives could be built that would reach speeds of 50 miles per hour and perhaps even twice that speed. According to Stevens, rail transportation costs would one day be cheaper than those of canals.
Stevens was no stranger to steam propulsion. He had already built two successful steamboats: the Phoenix in 1809 successfully ventured out on the open ocean, and the Juliana in 1811, a steam ferry for the New York to Hoboken run.
In 1815, Stevens obtained from the New Jersey legislature a charter to build a steam railroad from New Brunswick to Trenton. Unfortunately, he was a better engineer than salesman. At a time when U.S. policy was to invest a growing government surplus in canal-building projects, Stevens could not raise the necessary capital for a rail line.
When Stevens learned in 1825 that a 26-mile-long railroad had been built between Stockton and Darlington in England, he became convinced of the soundness of his idea. On his estate in Hoboken--now the site of the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology--he constructed a 630-foot circular track. Over this he ran an experimental one-cylinder steam engine that powered a cog wheel meshing with a centered toothed rail. The two wooden running rails were covered with strap-iron.
Stevens's engine, called by him a "Steam Wagon," traveled over the track at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. Its vertical boiler's pressure reached an astonishing 500 pounds per square inch.
His railroad idea was a case of bad timing. At that moment some 500 cannon, spaced within earshot of one another, were poised to relay news from Buffalo to New York City that the Erie Canal had been completed.
The Delaware and Hudson Canal
During the country's canal-building mania, promoters conceived the Delaware and Hudson Canal to link the Hudson with the Delaware River.
The impetus for this venture was New York City's desire to replace wood as a source of fuel with anthracite coal from northeastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite burned cleaner and cost half as much as wood. The problem lay in getting the shiny black chunks over the Catskills to the Hudson River.
The company was set up on March 8, 1825, with Philip Hone as president, Benjamin Wright, builder of the Erie Canal, as chief engineer, and John B. Jervis as his assistant. Jervis had begun his career as an axman clearing brush for surveying parties on the Erie Canal but quickly assumed more responsibility. He would succeed Wright as chief engineer of the Delaware and Hudson two years later.
On July 13, 1825, citizens of Ulster, Orange and Sullivan counties met at the summit of the watershed along what is today Route 209, between Ellenville and Wurtsboro. With enthusiastic songs, prayers and speeches, canal digging began. Canal company president Hone was the featured speaker. Later that year, after being appointed Mayor of New York City, he resigned as president under the pressure of mayoral duties.
After some three years of labor by 2,500 workmen, the canal was completed. To conserve scarce capital, it terminated at Dyberry Forks in Pennsylvania, seven miles short of the originally planned terminus. The mines still lay 16 miles to the west, behind the formidable barrier called Mt. Moosic. Jervis devised an ingenious system of inclined planes to bring the loaded coal cars over the mountain.
The community that sprang up at the canal terminus took its name, Honesdale, from Philip Hone, who in April of 1823, with several investors from Orange and Sullivan counties, had formed the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
When novelist Washington Irving visited the burgeoning settlement, he suggested that it be named Honesdale to honor his friend. In return, Hone playfully gave the name Irving Cliff to a steep ledge of rocks overlooking the town.
. By the time the canal was completed, the company's funds were nearly exhausted. The directors sought aid from New York State. Its canal-friendly legislature granted the Delaware and Hudson a loan of a half million dollars, taking a mortgage on the canal right of way and voting the company the privilege of borrowing $300,000 elsewhere.
A rail line was surveyed from Carbondale, the town that had sprung up around the mines, to the canal terminus. Like other industrial "railroads," the initial plan called for the use of horses as motive power on level sections of the line.
Coal from mines near Carbondale moved by rail to Honesdale, where it was transferred to barges for the 108-mile journey to the Hudson. In October 1828, the first barge, carrying only ten tons of coal--the channel still needed deepening--began its trip to Kingston. Here it was loaded aboard sloops and transported to New York City.
A New York newspaper reported on December 10, "The sloop Toleration arrived this day from Kingston with a cargo of coal, the first fruits of the Delaware and Hudson Canal." The D and H was a financial success from the start.
The Stourbridge Lion
Farsighted John Jervis was convinced that a locomotive would be better than horses or mules for hauling coal to the canal. In the fall of 1828 he persuaded the directors to send 26-year-old Horatio Allen, a company engineer, to England to inspect and purchase locomotives.
Allen visited Robert Stephenson and Co., in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England and found a four-coupled locomotive, The Pride of Newcastle. Allen purchased it on the spot, asking only that its name be changed to America before being shipped.
At Foster, Rastrick and Co., engine builders in Stourbridge, Allen ordered three locomotives: The Stourbridge Lion and two others to be named Delaware and Hudson.
Shipped from London in November, the America arrived in New York on January 15, 1829. Perplexingly, its name then disappears from company records.
The Stourbridge Lion arrived in New York City on May 13, 1829, aboard the ship John Jay. It had cost the canal company $3,663.30.
A nine-horsepower machine capable of hauling 60 tons at a speed of five miles per hour, it ran on four flanged wheels of oak fitted with heavy wrought iron rims. A picture of a lion’s head had been painted on the front of the boiler.
The Stourbridge Lion was offloaded at the West Point Foundry’s wharf on the Hudson River at the foot of Beach Street in New York City. According to the Morning Courier and New York Inquirer of June 12, 1829, it was set up on blocks and tested by Horatio Allen.
The newspaper reported that it had a horizontal boiler 16-1/2 feet long and two cylinders of three-foot stroke, with the power applied to the wheels about 12 inches from the center.
Having passed Allen’s tests, the locomotive was lashed to the deck of the packet Congress on July 16, and brought up the Hudson to Rondout Creek and then through the canal to Honesdale, arriving on August 5.
The big worry was that the warped and cracked hemlock stringers topped by strap-iron rails would not hold up, nor would a 30-foot trestle support the seven-ton locomotive.
"The impression was very general,” Horatio Allen would later recall, "that the iron monster would either break down the road or that it would leave the track at the curve and plunge into the creek."
"Preferring, if we did go down, to go down handsomely and without any evidence of timidity," Allen opened the throttle. On August 8, 1829, history was made. The Stourbridge Lion became the first full-sized locomotive to successfully run on rails in the U.S. Although he didn't know it, Allen had inadvertently become the first American locomotive engineer.
The fact that all mention of the America, the first locomotive purchased from the Stephensons, had disappeared from company records long puzzled railroad historians. Only recently the truth was discovered. After having been brought to Honesdale, the America blew up while being tested on July 26, 1829. Then as now, stock companies like the Delaware and Hudson tended to conceal unfavorable news that might cause a plunge in stock prices.
Despite Allen’s successful demonstration, the directors of the canal company were afraid to use the new contraption. If the test run had showed anything, it was that the sharper curves and rougher roadbeds in the U.S. were too much for the rigid frames of British locomotives. Horses and mules would pull the heavily laden coal cars from the mines to Honesdale until the canal closed 70 years later.
The historic engine was allowed to rust away in a shed alongside the track. Parts of the original, including the boiler, were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution and are now on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Ohio.
A century after Horatio Allen's short-lived demonstration of steam power, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, the canal’s successor, constructed an exact replica of the Stourbridge Lion in its Colonie, N.Y., shops and exhibited it at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition in 1933.
Today that same Stourbridge Lion is on display at the Wayne County Historical Society's museum in the D and H’s former office building in Honesdale. Quite properly, this attractive little Pennsylvania town calls itself "the birthplace of the American railroad."
Labels: Lower Hudson Valley, Technics