Saturday, March 5, 2011

When the Trains Almost Came - I – Everything Looks Favorable

The first attempt to bring trains into Bovina was in the 1870s when the Delhi and Middletown Railroad was created. Though railroad wouldn’t have come into the hamlet of Bovina Center, the line would have passed through the town as it connected Andes with Delhi. Some construction started, but the project ultimately failed. Over twenty years later came the most serious effort ever to bring the railroad to Bovina. The Delaware Railroad Company was created 1898 and while the main goal of this railroad, as with the previous attempt, was to connect Andes and Delhi, it had the added feature of a three mile spur off the main line that would have come to Bovina Center. This attempt came amazingly close to succeeding, with actual construction taking place in the fall of 1898. The construction moved along quickly for a few weeks in September and October, but it stopped abruptly, leaving over 1000 Italian laborers and a number of local contractors unpaid for their services – and leaving citizens in Bovina very disappointed.

This is the first of four blog entries I will be doing over the next month about this most serious attempt to bring the trains to town.

In February 1898, the Delaware Gazette (Delhi) reported that “Everything Looks Favorable” for the railroad. The Gazette continued to provide progress reports almost weekly. During the winter and spring of 1898 and right into early summer, survey workers worked out the best route, making frequent changes to deal with some challenging terrain. A key element was getting the approval of Commodore Eldridge T. Gerry for the line to go through his property. He met with interested parties in early July and agreed to let the railroad run through his lands so long as there was no depot constructed at The Hook.

Meanwhile, the main contractor was chosen, Thomas Murray from Newark, N.J. who claimed that “he has capitalists who have the money ready.” On July 6, the Delaware Railroad Company was chartered. The New York Times reported that the railroad would run for a distance of about 15 miles. The company was capitalized at $200,000. Directors were Herbert Sewell of Walton, T.E. Hastings and Alexander Hilson of Bovina Centre; James F. Copp and W.C. Oliver of Andes; S.P. Wilbury, Henry Honeywell, Henry Davie, and G.W. Youmans of Delhi.

The Delaware Gazette continued to champion the railroad in frequent articles throughout the summer. On August 3, the paper included the following:

It has been from the beginning and continues to be a surprise to everybody, that there seems to be so much substantial progress in the enterprise that proposes to build a railroad to Andes and Bovina. It is but natural that the lack of confidence should be so general, for our people have so often been disappointed. One project after another has been exploited only to lengthen the list of failures. But from the start that was made only a few months ago there has been a steady advance, and it really looks now as if the people here were soon to see the work of construction actually commenced.

Some folks then, as now, may have wondered why such a short spur was being built to a town that had seen its population fall over the previous half century. David Murray, in arguing the case for the spur to Bovina before New York State Board of Railroad Commissioners, noted that while the town’s human population was smaller than earlier in the century, there were more cows. The object of the railroad would have been to get fresh milk down to New York City. Bovina farms at this stage were doing a booming business in milk and butter from which the Delaware Railroad Company would have benefited.

And by the end of August, construction was underway. That chapter of the story - "The Dirt is Flying" - will be the feature of this blog on March 9.

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