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The procession marched down Stone Street to the passenger depot of the new railroad where the special train from Rome arrived at a little after eleven o'clock and was greeted by a salvo of seventy-two guns--one for each mile of completed line. There it reformed, with its accessions from the train and returned to the Public Square where there was unbridled oratory for nearly an hour. After which a return to the depot in which a large collation was served, before the return to the special train for Rome.
So came the railroad to Watertown. By an odd coincidence, the Hudson River Railroad from New York to Albany was finished in almost that same month.
It was with a good deal of pride that the resident of Watertown contemplated the fact that he might leave his village by the morning train at five o'clock and be in the metropolis of the New World by six o'clock that same evening. Such speed! Such progress!
In the meantime the Watertown & Rome Railroad had sustained a real loss; in the death, on the morning of Sunday, April 6, 1851, of its first President, the Hon. Orville Hungerford. As the son of one of the earliest pioneers of Watertown, Mr. Hungerford had played no small part in its development. Merchant, banker, Congressman, he had been to it. And to the struggling Watertown & Rome Railroad he was not merely its President, but its financial adviser and friend. It was due to his personal endorsement of the project, as well as that of his bank, that hope in it was finally revived. Then it was that foreign capitalists had their doubts as to its final success dispelled and gave evidence of their faith in the new road by substantial purchases of its securities.
Mr. Hungerford was succeeded as President of the Watertown & Rome by Mr.
W. C. Pierrepont, of Brooklyn, who, while in one sense an alien to Jefferson County, was in another and far larger one, not only one of her chief residents but one of her most loyal sons. He, too, had been a powerful friend and advocate of the new road, had worked tirelessly in its behalf. It was his rare opportunity to stand as its President when the locomotive first arrived at Pierrepont Manor, the center of his land holdings, and a very few months later in the same enviable post at Watertown. It was his patient habit to go down to the depot at the Manor evening after evening and with a spy-glass in hand watch the track toward Mannsville for the coming of the evening train. There was no telegraph in those days, of course, and the locomotive's smoke was the only signal of its pending arrival. Neither was there any standard time. Finally it was Pierrepont, himself, who fixed the official time for the road, ascertaining by a skillful use of his chronometer that the suntime at Watertown was just seven minutes and forty-eight seconds slower than that of the City Hall in New York. And so it was officially fixed for the railroad.
Under Mr. Pierrepont's oversight the Watertown & Rome Railroad was finished; through to the village of Chaumont in the fall of 1851, and then in April of the following year to Cape Vincent, its original northern terminal. At this last point elaborate plans were made for a water terminal. Even though the harbor there was not to be protected by a breakwater for many, many years to come, the town was recognized as an international gateway of a very considerable importance. A ferry steamer, _The Lady of the Lake_, which had attained a distinction from the fact that it was the first upon these northern waters to have staterooms upon its upper decks, was engaged for service between the Cape and the city of Kingston, in Upper Canada. Extensive piers and an elevator were builded there upon the bank of the St. Lawrence, and the large covered passenger station that was so long a familiar landmark of that port.
[Illustration: THE CAPE VINCENT STATION A Real Landmark of the Old Rome Road, Built in 1852 and Destroyed by a Great Storm in 1895.]
For forty years this station stood, even though the span of life of the large hotel that adjoined it was ended a decade earlier by a most devastating fire. But, upon the evening of September 11, 1895, when Conductor W. D. Carnes--best known as "Billy" Carnes--brought his train into the shed to connect with the Kingston boat, a violent storm thrust itself down upon the Cape. In the rainburst that accompanied it, the folk upon the dock sought shelter in the trainshed, and there they were trapped. The wind swept through the open end of that ancient structure and lifted it clear from the ground, dropping it a moment later in a thousand different pieces. It was a real catastrophe. Two persons were killed outright and a number were seriously injured. The event went into the annals of a quiet North Country village, along with the fearful disaster of the steamer _Wisconsin_, off nearby Grenadier Island, many years before.
With the Cape Vincent terminal completed, the regular operation of trains upon the Watertown & Rome began; formally upon the first day of May, 1852.
Six days later the road suffered its first accident, a distressing affair in the neighborhood of Pierrepont Manor. A party of young men in that village had taken upon themselves to "borrow" a hand-car, left by the contractor beside the track and were whirling a group of young women of their acquaintance upon it when around the curve from Adams came a "light"
locomotive at high-speed, which crashed into them head-on and killed three of the women almost instantly; and seriously wounded a fourth.
The first employe to lose his life in the service was brakeman George Post, who, on October 13th, of that year, was going forward to lighten the brakes on the northbound freight, as it reached the long down-grade, north of Adams Centre, when he was struck by an overhead bridge and died before aid could reach him.
These men of the North Country were learning that railroading is not all prunes and preserves. They had their own troubles with their new property. For one thing, the engines kept running off the track. There were three locomotive derailments in a single day in 1853 and the Directors asked the Superintendent if he could not be a little more careful in the operation of the line. They also officially chided, quite mildly, one of their number who had contributed twenty-five dollars to the Fourth-of-July celebration in Watertown that summer without asking the consent of the full Board. On the other hand, they quite genially voted annual passes for an indefinite number of years to the widows of Orville Hungerford and of Edmund Kirby as well as their daughters.
It was only two years later than this that there was a change in the Superintendent's office, Job Collamer, who had succeeded its original holder Robert B. Doxtater, being succeeded by Carlos Dutton who was paid the rather astonishing salary, for those days, of $4000 a year. A year later R. E. Hungerford, of Watertown, succeeded Daniel Lee, who was compelled to retire by serious illness as the company's Treasurer and was paid $1500 a year, with an occasional five-hundred-dollar bond from the sinking fund as special compensation at Christmas time. It was about this time also, that John S. Coons, now of Watertown, became station-agent at Brownville, a post which he held for four or five years.
These events were, perhaps, to be reckoned as fairly casual things in the life of a railroad which, to almost any community is life itself. From the beginning the Watertown & Rome played a most important part in the life of the steadily growing territory that it served. Northern New York was finally beginning to come into its own. More than a hundred thousand folk already were residing in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. No longer was it regarded as a vast wilderness somewhere north of the Erie Canal. Horace Greeley had visited it in the fifties, had lectured in what was afterwards Washington Hall, Watertown, and had been tremendously impressed by Mr. Bradford's portable steam engine. And in 1859 the eyes of the entire land were focused upon Watertown and its immediate surroundings.
That was the year of the big ballooning. John Wise, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a well-famed aeronaut, together with three companions--John La Mountain, of Troy, and William Hyde and O. A. Geager, both of Bennington, Vermont--had set forth from St. Louis in the evening in the mammoth balloon, _Atlantic_, with the expressed intention of sailing to New York City in it. All night long they traveled and sometime before dawn La Mountain fancied that they were over one of the Great Lakes--probably Erie. He awakened his sleeping companions and pointing far over the basket-edge told them that they were passing over the surface of a large body of water.
"You can see the stars below you now," he explained.
And so they were, over Erie. They continued to sail between the stars until dawn, and sometime just before noon they crossed the Niagara River, well in sight of the Falls. Winging their flight at a rate that man had never before made and would not make again for many and many a year to come, the _Atlantic_ traveled the whole length of Ontario before four o'clock in the afternoon and finally made a forced landing not far from the village of Henderson.
The fame that arose from so vast an exploit literally swept around the world. Hyde and Geager had had enough of ballooning and returned to their Vermont home. Wise went back to Lancaster, but La Mountain found an intrepid and a fearless companion in John A. Haddock, at that time editor of the _Watertown Reformer_, who once had been into the wilds of Labrador and had returned safely from them. Together these men rescued the _Atlantic_ from the tangle of tree-tops into which it had fallen. On August 11th of that same year they announced an ascension from the Fair Grounds in Watertown, accompanied by La Mountain's young cousin, Miss Ellen Moss. And on the twenty-second of the following September the two men made what was destined to be the final ascent of the great _Atlantic_.
The balloon rose high--from the Public Square, this time--and floated off toward the north in a strong wind. In a little less than three hours it traversed some four hundred miles. Then a quick landing was made, in the vast and untrodden Canadian forest, some 150 miles due north of Ottawa, a region even more desolate then than to-day.
For four days the men were lost, hopelessly. Their airship was abandoned in the trees and they made their way afoot as best they might until they came into the path of a party of lumbermen bound for Ottawa. It was another seven days before they had reached the Canadian capital and the outposts of the telegraph--in all eleven endless days before Watertown knew the final result of the foolhardy ascension, and prepared a mighty welcome for them, whom they had given up as dead.
To these really tremendous events in the history of the North Country the Watertown & Rome and the Potsdam & Watertown railroads--of this last, much more in a moment--ran excursions from all Northern New York. Vast throngs of people came upon them. The effect upon the passenger revenues of the two railroads was appreciable upon the occasion of the balloon ascension, just as it had been three summers before, when the first State Fair had been held in Watertown--in a pleasant grove very close to the site of the present Jefferson County Orphans Home. At that time the Rome road had taken in nearly $11,000 in excursion receipts and the Potsdam road, although at that time only completed from Watertown to Gouverneur, more than $5,000. This was used as an argument by the promoters of the second State Fair at Watertown--held on the present county fair grounds in the fall of 1860, for a subscription of a thousand dollars from each of the roads--which was promptly granted.
Yet the Watertown & Rome Railroad needed no excursions for its prosperity.
It had prospered greatly; from the beginning. Its four passenger trains a day--two up and two down--were well filled always. Its freight train which ran over the entire length of the line from Rome to Cape Vincent each day did an equally good business. Already it had the third largest freight-car equipment of any railroad in the state. Its success was a tremendous incentive to all other railroad projects in the North Country. From it they all took hope. We have seen long ago the serious efforts that were being made to build a road direct from Sackett's Harbor up the valley of the Black River to Watertown and Carthage and thence across the all-but-impenetrable North Woods to Saratoga. Yet nowhere was it more obvious that a railroad should be builded than between Watertown and some convenient point upon the Northern Railroad, which already was in complete operation between Lake Champlain and Ogdensburgh. Such a railroad presently was builded; taking upon itself the appellation of the Potsdam & Watertown Railroad. And to the consideration of the beginnings of that railroad, a most vital part of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, that was as yet unborn, we are now fairly come.
THE POTSDAM & WATERTOWN RAILROAD
A very early survey of the Northern Railroad which, as we have already seen, was the pioneer line of the North Country, projected the road between Malone and Ogdensburgh through the prosperous villages of Canton and Potsdam. This survey was rejected. The sponsors of the Northern--almost all of them Boston and New England men and having little personal knowledge of Northern New York and certainly none at all of its possibilities--thrust this preliminary survey away from them. They decided that the road should run between its terminals with as small a deviation from a straight line as possible. So, from Rouse's Point to Ogdensburgh, through Malone, the Northern Railroad ran with long tangents and few curves and both Canton and Potsdam were left aside. Through traffic from the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River was all that the early directors of the line could see. Their vision was indeed limited.
Canton and Potsdam began to feel their isolation from these earliest railroad enterprises. They were cut off apparently from railroad communication, either with the East or with the West. The Watertown & Rome Railroad, as planned from Cape Vincent to Rome, would, of course, pass through Watertown, but no one seemed to think of building it east from that village.
So, practically all of St. Lawrence County and the northern end of Jefferson was left without railroad hopes. Dissatisfaction arose, even before the completion of the Watertown & Rome, that so large a territory had been so completely slighted. Potsdam, in particular, felt the indignity that had been heaped upon it. And so it was, that, as far back as 1850, fifty-eight of the public-spirited citizens of that village organized themselves into the Potsdam Railroad Company and proceeded to name as their directors: Joseph H. Sanford, William W. Goulding, Samuel Partridge, Henry L. Knowles, Augustus Fling, Theodore Clark, Charles T.
Boswell, Willard M. Hitchcock, William A. Dart, Hiram E. Peck, Aaron T.
Hopkins, Charles Cox and Nathan Parmeter. Among the stockholders of this early railroad company were Horace Allen and Liberty Knowles, whose advanced age debarred them from active participation in its work, but who responded liberally to frequent calls for aid in its construction.
Soon after the incorporation of the Potsdam Railroad, it was built, primarily as a branch of some five and one-half miles connecting Potsdam with the Northern Railroad at a point, which, for lack of an immediate better name, was called Potsdam Junction. Afterwards it was renamed Norwood. An attractive village sprang up about the junction, which finally boasted one of the best of the small hotels of the whole North Country; the famed Whitney House, with which the name and fame of the late "Sid"
Phelps was so closely connected for so many years.
The success of Potsdam with her railroad and the consequent prosperity that it brought to her stirred the interest and the envy of the neighboring village of Canton; the shire-town of St. Lawrence. Gouverneur spruced up also. The St. Lawrence towns began to cooperate. To them came a great community of interest from the northerly townships and villages of Jefferson as well--Antwerp, Philadelphia and Evan's Mills in particular.
The demand for a railroad between Watertown and Potsdam began to take a definite form.
It was not an easy task to which the towns and men of St. Lawrence and of Jefferson had set themselves. Its financial aspects were portentous, to put it mildly. The money for the Northern Railroad had come from New England. That for the Watertown & Rome also had come with a comparative ease. Watertown even then was a rich and promising industrial center and there seemed to be genuine financial opportunities for a railroad that would connect it with the outer world. But St. Lawrence County, there at the beginning of the fifties, was poor and undeveloped. Necessarily, the money for its railroad would have to come from its own territory.
Nevertheless, undaunted by difficulties, these men of that territory set about to build a railroad from Potsdam to Watertown. They dared much.
Theirs was the spirit of the true pioneer, the same spirit that was building a college at Canton and had built academies at Gouverneur and at Potsdam, and that was planning in every way for the future development of the North Country.
These men knew more than a little of the resources of their townships.
They whispered among themselves of the wealth of their minerals. Along the county-line between St. Lawrence and Jefferson, in the neighborhood of Keene's Station, there stand to-day unused iron mines of a considerable magnitude. Flooded and for the moment deserted, these mines house some of the greatest of the untouched treasures of Northern New York; vast deposits of red hematite, exceeding in percentage value even the famous fields of the Mesaba district of Lake Superior. In the course of this narrative I shall refer again to these Keene mines. For the moment consider them as a monument--a somewhat neglected monument to be sure--to the vision and persistence of James Sterling.
It was largely due to the enterprise of this pioneer of Jefferson County that mines and blast furnaces sprang up, not only at Keene's but at Sterlingville and Lewisburgh as well. He built many of the highways and bridges both of Antwerp and of Rossie. Yet, in the closing days of the fifties, he was doomed to bitter disappointments. The great panic of 1857 and the inrush of cheap iron that followed in its wake were quite too much for him, and the man who had been known through the entire state as the "Iron King of Northern New York" died in 1863, from a general physical and mental breakdown, due in no small part to the collapse of his fortunes.
I anticipate, we were talking of railroads, not of men. Yet, somehow, men must forever weave themselves into the web of a narrative such as this.
And no fair understanding can ever be had of the difficulties under which the railroads of the North Country were born without an understanding of the difficulties under which the men who helped give them birth labored.
To return once again to the main thread of our story, the agitation for the building of a railroad between Watertown and Potsdam followed closely upon the heels of the completion of the Northern Railroad and the branch Potsdam Railroad, from it to the fine village of that name. Stock in the Northern Railroad had been sold both there and in Canton, even though the road when completed had passed each by. The men who held that stock wanted to come to the aid of the newer project. With their money tied up in the elder of the two, they were quite helpless. Eventually their release was brought about, and the money that came to them from the sale of their securities of the Northern was reinvested in those of the Potsdam & Watertown Railroad, just coming into being.
A meeting was held in Watertown in July, 1851 (the year of the completion of the Watertown & Rome Railroad) and E. N. Brodhead employed to make a preliminary survey of the proposed line; which would be followed immediately with maps and estimates. He went to his task without delay, and rendered a full report on the possibilities of the road at a meeting held at Gouverneur on January 9, 1852. There were no dissenting voices in regard to the proposed line. So it was, that then and there, the Potsdam & Watertown Railroad was organized permanently, with the following directors:
Edwin Dodge, Gouverneur Zenas Clark, Potsdam Samuel Partridge, Potsdam E. Miner, Canton A. M. Adsit, Colton O. V. Brainard, Watertown W. E. Sterling, Gouverneur Joseph H. Sanford, Potsdam William W. Goulding, Potsdam Barzillai Hodskin, Canton H. B. Keene, Antwerp Howell Cooper, Watertown Hiram Holcomb, Watertown
The old minute-book of the Directors of this early railroad has been carefully preserved in the village of Potsdam. It is a narrative of a really stupendous effort, of struggles against adversity, of undaunted courage, of optimism and of faith. It relates unemotionally what the Directors did, but between the lines one also reads of the grave situations that confronted them; not once, but again and again. And there lies the real drama of the founding of the Potsdam & Watertown.
The first meeting of the Directors was held, as we have just seen, on January 9, 1852. Most of the men, who were that day elected as Directors, had gone on that day to Gouverneur--many others too. Watertown, Gouverneur, Canton and Potsdam were present in their citizens, men of worth and distinction in their home communities. Their families are yet represented in Northern New York, and succeeding generations owe to them a debt of gratitude for their unselfish work in that early day. For what could there be of selfishness in a task which promised so much of worry and responsibility, and so little of any immediate financial return?