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The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 4

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It was planned, that January day in Gouverneur, that work should be begun at both ends of the line and carried forward simultaneously, until the construction crews should meet; somewhere between Potsdam and Watertown.

At an adjourned meeting, held ten days later at the American Hotel in Watertown, it was formally resolved that; "all persons who have subscribed toward the expenses of the survey of the Potsdam & Watertown Railroad Company ... shall be entitled to a credit on the stock account for the amount so subscribed and paid." At the same meeting it was decided that a committee consisting of Messrs. Farwell, Holcomb and Dodge be appointed to confer with the officers of the Watertown & Rome in regard to the construction of a branch into the village of Watertown. It will be remembered that in that early day the railroad did not approach the village nearer than what is now known as the junction, at the foot of Stone Street.

Progress was beginning, in real earnest. A third meeting was held on February 26--again at Gouverneur, at Van Buren's Hotel--and the following officers chosen:

_President_, EDWIN DODGE, Gouverneur _Vice-President_, ZENAS CLARK, Potsdam _Secretary_, HENRY L. KNOWLES, Potsdam _Treasurer_, DANIEL LEE, Watertown

Mr. Lee was also Treasurer of the Watertown & Rome. His Potsdam & Watertown compensation was fixed a little later at $600 annually. Four years later he was succeeded as Treasurer by William W. Goulding, of Potsdam, who was engaged at a salary of a thousand dollars a year.



At that same Gouverneur meeting a memorial was prepared for the Trustees of the Village of Watertown. It asked, as an important link of the pathway for the new railroad, the use of Factory Street for its entire length.

Factory Street, as we have already seen, was one of the most aristocratic, as well as one of the prettiest streets of the town. So great was Watertown's appreciation of the advantages that were to accrue to it by the completion of the line steel highway to the north that the permission was finally granted by the Trustees, not, however, without a considerable opposition.

So was our Potsdam & Watertown fairly started upon its important career. A fund of something over $750,000 having been raised for its construction, offices were opened at 6 Washington Street, Watertown, and definite preparations made toward the actual building of the road. The breaking of ground was bound to be preceded by a stout financial campaign. Money was tight. And remember all the while, if you will, the real paucity of it in the North Country of those days. And yet early in 1853, it was found necessary to increase the capital stock to $2,000,000, in itself, an act requiring some courage; yet after all, it might have required more courage not to take the step. For, of a truth, the company needed the money.

Gradually committees were appointed, not only to look after this and other vexing financial questions, but also to supervise the location of the line as well as to provide suitable station grounds and buildings. There were many meetings of the Board before the road was definitely located; there must have been much bitterness of spirit and of discussion. Hermon wanted the road, and so an alternative route between Canton and Gouverneur was surveyed to include it. In 1853 the Chief Engineer was directed "to cause the middle route (so designated in Mr. Brodhead's report) in the towns of Canton and DeKalb to be sufficiently surveyed for location as soon as practicable, unless upon examination, the Engineer shall believe the railroad can be constructed upon the Hermon route, so called, as cheaply and with as much advantage to the company, and that in such case he cause that route to be surveyed, instead of the middle route." But stock subscriptions were light in Hermon and engineering difficult on its route, and finally the "middle" and present route by the way of DeKalb and Richville was selected. Similarly local discouragements turned the line sharply toward the North, after crossing the Racket River at Potsdam, instead of toward the South, and, a more direct route originally surveyed, toward Canton.

The location of the station grounds was another source of fruitful discussion. In this regard, Gouverneur seems to have given the greatest concern. Many committees wrestled with the problem of its depot site. In the old minute-book, rival locations appear and, upon one occasion, the matter having simmered down to a choice between the present station grounds and prospective ones on the other side of the river, the Chief Engineer was directed to survey out both locations and set stakes, so that the whole Board could visit the village and see the thing for itself.

By 1854 distinct progress had been made. At a meeting held on February 4th of that year, Messrs. Cooper, Brainard and Holcomb, of the Directorate, were authorized as a committee to enter into negotiations for the purchase of iron rails for the road, and to complete the purchase of 2500 tons of these, by sale of the bonds of the company, "or otherwise." The financial end of the transaction was apt always to be the most difficult part of it.

Yet somehow these were almost always solved. The Watertown & Rome road guaranteed some of the bonds of the Potsdam & Watertown and Erastus Corning, of Albany, and John H. Wolfe, of New York, loaned it considerable sums of money. Construction proceeded, and on May 4, 1854, the Directors decided to send 650 tons of the new iron to the easterly terminus of the road; the remainder to the westerly building forces.

In the fall of that year, a considerable amount of track having been laid down, the Directors looked toward the purchase of rolling stock. At their November meeting they decided to buy the engine _Montreal_, and its tender, from the Watertown & Rome, at a cost of $4,500; also two baggage and "post-office" cars, at $750 each. Which provided for the beginning of operation at the west end of the road.

[Illustration: EARLY RAILROAD TICKETS Including an Annual Pass Issued by President Marcellus Massey, of the R. W. & O.]

But the east end needed rolling-stock as well--a considerable gap still intervened between the rail-heads of each incomplete section. So toward the East, the Directors of the Potsdam & Watertown turned their attention.

They found some rolling stock in the hands of a man in Plattsburgh; "Vilas, of Plattsburgh" is his sole designation in their minutes. This Vilas, it would appear, was a hard-headed Clinton County business man who seemed to have but little confidence in the financial soundness of the Potsdam & Watertown. Nothing of the gambler appears in Vilas. He did not believe in taking chances. He had a locomotive and two cars that he would sell--for cash. Eventually, he sold them--for cash. Some of the Directors of the P. & W. bought them, themselves, paying out their own hard-earned cash for them; and recouping themselves by accepting pay in installments from the company.

Yet the possible danger in a continuance of such practices was recognized even in that early day, and in order to avoid similar situations arising at some later time, I find in the old tome a resolution reading: "Whereas in raising money and carrying on the operations of our company for the completion of the road, the unanimous cooperation of its Directors is necessary, particularly in matters involving personal pecuniary liability, therefore: Resolved; That each Director now present pledge himself to endorse and guaranty all notes and bills of exchange required by the committee on finance to be used in accordance with the preceding resolution ... and that we hold it to be the duty of all Directors of this company to do the same."

From time to time a note of pathos creeps into these old minutes and one catches a glimpse of the trials and struggles of the little company. For instance: "Resolved: That in our struggles for the construction of the road of this company, we have not failed to appreciate the liberal spirit with which we have been met and the encouragement and aid often freely afforded us by Hon. George V. Hoyle, Superintendent of the Northern Railroad, and we avail ourselves of this occasion to express to him, individually and as Superintendent, and through him to those associated with him the management of that road, our sense of obligation, indulging the hope that we shall yet be able in the same spirit to reciprocate all his kindness, and that the interest of Mr. Hoyle and his road may be abundantly promoted by our success."

And then, finally, success! In the faded minutes Secretary Knowles triumphantly records that "On the morning of the fifth of February, 1857, a passenger train left Watertown at about nine o'clock a. m., with many of the officers of the company and invited friends, passed leisurely over the entire road to its junction with the Northern Railroad, thence with the Superintendent of that road to Ogdensburgh, arriving at Ogdensburgh at about four o'clock and returned the next day to Watertown."

This is not to be interpreted, however, as meaning that the Potsdam & Watertown was immediately ready for business. There remained much work to be done in completing the track and the roadbed, station buildings, equipment, and the other appurtenances necessary for a going railroad. The contractors, Phelps, Mattoon and Barnes, who also had builded the Watertown & Rome, had unpaid balances still remaining. There had been numerous and one or two rather serious disagreements between the company and its contractors. Finally these were all settled by a final cash payment of $100,000, in addition, of course, to what had been paid before.

In order to make this large payment--for that day, at least--it became necessary to bond the property still again; this time by a second mortgage--which was made around $200,000, so that the road might be made completely ready for business.

Details which indicate the rapidly approaching time of such completion soon begin to appear in the minutes. A committee is appointed to procure a Superintendent--George B. Phelps, of Watertown, was appointed to this post. Freight agents are directed to turn over their receipts to the Treasurer weekly, ticket agents daily. The Board took its business seriously and several meetings about this time were called for seven, half past seven and eight o'clock in the morning, although, of course, this might mean that the railroad business was gotten out of the way early, leaving the day free for regular occupations. The vexed question of the station grounds at Gouverneur was settled definitely early in 1857, and the executive committee was instructed to erect on the "station grounds at Gouverneur a building similar to the one at Antwerp in the speediest and most economical manner." To this day the Antwerp building survives, but Gouverneur, like Potsdam, for more than a decade past has rejoiced in the possession of a new and ornate passenger station.

It was not until June, 1857, that a definite passenger service was established upon the line from Watertown, where it connected with the trains of the W. & R., and thus to the present village of Norwood, seventy-five miles distant. It is worth noting here that a few years after this was accomplished a branch line was constructed from a point two miles distant from the old village of DeKalb, and destined to be known to future fame as DeKalb Junction, straight through to Ogdensburgh, but eighteen miles distant. DeKalb Junction also had a famous hotel which for many years "fed" the trains and "fed" them well. In its earlier days this tavern was known as the Goulding House; in more recent years, however, it has been the Hurley House, so named from the late Daniel Hurley, one of the most popular and successful hotelmen in all the North Country.

The passenger trains of the Potsdam road were operated out of the new station in Watertown, just back of the Woodruff House--which we shall see in another chapter. For a time there was no train service for travelers between its station and that of the Rome road at the foot of Stone Street, the transfer between them being made by stages. But soon this was rectified and the one o'clock train, north from Watertown, allowed considerably more than an hour for connection after the arrival of the train from Rome, which gave abundant time for the consumption of one of Proprietor Dorsey's fine meals at the Woodruff. It was a good meal and not high-priced. The charge per day for three of them and a night's lodging thrown in was fixed at but $1.50.

The early train which left Watertown at sharp six o'clock in the morning--afterwards it was fixed at a slightly later hour--made connection at Potsdam Junction with the through train on the Northern for Rouse's Point and, going by that roundabout way, a traveler might hope to reach Montreal in the evening of the day that he had left Watertown--if he enjoyed good fortune. Whilst upon the completion of the short line a few years later between DeKalb Junction and Ogdensburgh, one could reach the Canadian metropolis in an even more direct fashion, by the ferry steamer _Transit_ to Prescott, and then over the Grand Trunk Railway, just coming into the heyday of its fame. Watertown no longer was cut off from rail communication with the North.

The Potsdam & Watertown though now fairly launched, operating trains, and, from all external evidences at least, doing a fair business, nevertheless was grievously burdened with its grave financial difficulties. On May 16, 1857, a special finance committee, consisting of Messrs. Phelps, Cooper and Goulding, was appointed with power to carry along the company's growing floating debt, and in October of that selfsame year the President joined with them in their appeals to the creditors to have a little more patience. In the following spring the Directors discussed the propriety of asking the Legislature for an act exempting from taxation all railroads in the state that were not paying their dividends.

The Potsdam road certainly was not paying _its_ dividends. Not only this, but, on May 26, 1859, interest on the second mortgage, being unpaid for six months, the trustees under the mortgage took possession of the property and the Directors in meeting approved of the action. Such a step quite naturally agitated the first mortgage holders, who began to protest.

In August, 1859, the P. & W. Board disclaimed any purpose whatsoever to repudiate the payment of principal or interest upon its first mortgage bonds, or its contingent obligation to the Watertown & Rome Railroad. It invited the Directors of that larger and more prosperous road to attend a joint meeting wherein the earnings of the Potsdam & Watertown might be applied to the payment of the coupons upon its first mortgage bonds. There was a growing community of interest between the two roads, anyway. The one was the natural complement to the other. Such a community of interest led, quite naturally, to a merger of the properties. In June, 1860, it was announced that the Watertown & Rome had gained financial control of the Potsdam & Watertown. Soon after the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh was officially born and a new chapter in the development of Northern New York was begun.

CHAPTER V

THE FORMATION OF THE R. W. & O.

That the Watertown & Rome and the Potsdam & Watertown Railroads would have merged in any event was, from the first, almost a foregone conclusion.

Their interests were too common to escape such inevitable consolidation.

The actual union of the two properties was accomplished in the very early sixties (July 4, 1861) and for the merged properties--the new trunk-line of the North Country, if you please--the rather euphonious and embracing title of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh Railroad was chosen. It was at that time that the branch was built from DeKalb to Ogdensburgh. A combined directorate was chosen from the governing bodies of the two merged roads--I shall not take the trouble to set it down here and now--and Mr.

Pierrepont was chosen as the President of the new property, with Marcellus Massey, of Brooklyn, as its Vice-President, R. E. Hungerford as Secretary and Treasurer, H. T. Frary as General Ticket Agent, C. C. Case as General Freight Agent and Addison Day as General Superintendent. Whilst the general offices of the company were in Watertown, its shops and general operating offices, at that time, were in Rome. It was in this latter city that Addison Day was first located. Day was a resident of Rochester. He refused to remove his home from that city, but spent each week-end with his family there.

He was a conspicuous figure upon the property, coming as the successor to a number of superintendents, each of whom had served a comparatively short time in office--Robert B. Doxtater, Job Collamer and Carlos Dutton, were Addison Day's predecessors as Superintendents upon the property. These men had been local in their opportunity. To Day was given a real job; that of successfully operating 189 miles of a pretty well-built and essential railroad. Yet his annual salary was fixed at but $2500, as compared with the $4000 paid to Dutton. Later however Day was raised to $3000 a year.

The main shops of the company, as I have just said, were then situated in Rome. They were well equipped for that day and employed about one hundred men, under William H. Griggs, the road's first Master Mechanic. A smaller shop, of approximately one-half the capacity and used chiefly for engine repairs and freight-car construction, was located at Watertown, just back of the old engine house on Coffeen Street.

[Illustration: WATERTOWN IN 1865 Showing the First Passenger Station of the Potsdam & Watertown. Taken from the Woodruff House Tower.]

But Watertown's chief comfort was in its passenger station, which stood in the rear of the well-famed Woodruff House. Norris M. Woodruff had completed his hotel at about the same time that the railroad first reached Watertown. It was a huge structure--reputed to be at that time the largest hotel in the United States west of New York City; and even the far-famed Astor House of that metropolis, had no dining-salon which in height and beauty quite equalled the dining-room of the Woodruff House. Mr. Woodruff had given the railroad the site for its passenger station in the rear of his hotel, on condition that the chief passenger terminal of the company should forever be maintained there, which has been done ever since. Yet the chief passenger station of the R. W. & O. of 1861 was a simple affair indeed. Builded in brick it afterwards became the wing of the larger station that was torn down to be replaced by the present station a decade ago. It was not until 1870 that the three story "addition" to the original station was built and the first station restaurant at Watertown opened, in charge of Col. A. T. Dunton, from Bellows Falls, Vt. After the fashion of the time, its opening was signalized by a banquet.

In front of me there lies a very early time-table of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh Railroad. It bears the date, April 20, 1863, and apparently is the twelfth to be issued in the history of the road. It is signed by Addison Day, as Superintendent.

On this sheet, the chief northbound train, No. 7, Express and Mail, left Rome at four o'clock each afternoon, reaching Watertown at 7:05 p. m., and leaving there twenty minutes later, arrived at Ogdensburgh at 10:30 p. m.

The return movement of this train, was as No. 2, leaving Ogdensburgh at 4:25 o'clock in the morning, passing Watertown at 7:10 o'clock and reaching Rome at 10:35 a. m. In addition to this double movement each day, there was a similar one of accommodation trains; No. 1, leaving Rome at 2:35 o'clock each morning, arriving and leaving Watertown at 6:20 and 6:40 a. m., respectively, and reaching Ogdensburgh at 10:10 a. m. As No. 8, the accommodation returned, leaving Ogdensburgh at 4:30 p. m., passing Watertown at 8:20 p. m., and arriving at Rome at 12:20 a. m. Apparently folk who traveled in those days cared little about inconvenient hours of arrival or departure.

There were connecting trains upon both the Cape Vincent and the Potsdam Junction branches--the branch from Richland to Oswego was just under construction--and a scheduled freight train over the entire line each day.

Yet there, still, was an almost entire absence of mid-day passenger service.

Gradually this condition of things must have improved; for in Hamilton Child's _Jefferson County Gazetteer and Business Directory_, for 1866, I find the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh advertising three fast passenger trains a day in each direction over the entire main line, in addition to connections, not only for Cape Vincent and for Potsdam Junction, but also over the new branch from Richland through Pulaski to Oswego. Pulaski, humiliated in the beginning by the refusal of the Watertown & Rome to lay its rails within four miles of that county-seat village, finally had received the direct rail connection, that she had so long coveted.

In that same advertisement there first appears announcement of through sleeping-cars, between Watertown and New York, an arrangement which continued for a number of years thereafter, then was abandoned for many years, but, under the bitter protests of the citizens of Watertown and other Northern New York communities, was finally restored in 1891 as an all-the-year service.

Upon the ancient time table of 1863 there appear the names of the old stations, the most of which have come down unchanged until to-day. One of them has disappeared both in name and existence, Centreville, two miles south of Richland, while the adjacent station of Albion long since became Altmar. Potsdam Junction we have already seen as Norwood, while nice dignified old Sanford's Corners long since suffered the unspeakable insult of being renamed, by some latter-day railroad official, Calcium. A similar indignity at that time was heaped upon Adams Centre, being known officially for a time as Edison!

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