Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When the Trains Almost Came - III - Our Supposed Railroad is at a Standstill

In the late summer and early fall of 1898, citizens of Bovina were excited that their ability to travel to and from town was on the verge of being enhanced by the building of the Delaware Railroad Company.  Over 1000 Italian laborers had been digging the railroad bed, while local contractors were supplying materials, food for the workers and teams of horses.  There was talk in Bovina about extending the railroad beyond Bovina over to Arkville.  So imagine the disappointment when on October 17, all work on the railroad ceased.  Neither the laborers nor the contractors had been paid a dime since starting work September 7.   So the Italian workers went on strike.  The October 22, 1898 Stamford Mirror reported that the Italians shouted “Noa Mon, Noa Work.”  Now whether the paper was being sarcastic or reflecting the workers limited English is not clear.  But the facts were that these workers had done their work and they were not being paid.

The Mirror reported that the Knickbocker Trust Company would not take the bonds that had been sold to fund the railroad and provide the money.  They argued that the bonds were given securing completion of the railroad first.  The other problem appears to be related to the original contractor, Thomas Murray, sub-contracting the work.  The trust company claimed that the bonds are not backed by the responsible parties.  The Delaware Gazette was more inclined to blame the middleman, a Mr. Hillyer, who was working between Thomas Murray, the chief contractor and the trust company. 

Whatever the cause, the workers wanted to be paid.  Some of the workers went back home (mainly to New York City) but on October 22, about 150 workers tried to find the directors in Delhi, while another group did the same in Andes.  In Delhi, the sheriff, concerned about the safety of one director, Mr. Davie, took him to his home.  One of the workers then made “an apparently inflammatory speech” to the other workers.  While in Italian, those who could not speak it still understood the gist of it.  The workers tried to find another director, Mr. Youmans, without success.   In Andes, the workers missed director James F. Scott but found W.C. Oliver in his barn.  The workers surrounded it for over an hour but Oliver managed to talk his way out of the situation and left unharmed. 

Most of the Italian workers accepted an offer of train tickets back to New York City and left, but not before about 300 of them filed liens against the property of the company, averaging about $25 each.  Beyond the Italian laborers, there were others who also filed claims for having provided lumber, supplies and team work.  The Gazette understood that the amount of indebtedness was around $20,000.  (These lien filings still exist today.  Go to http://www.dcnyhistory.org/rr1898.html to see a list created by Shirley Houck of all the claimants against the company. )

The Gazette admitted when things settled down that “the conduct of the Italians was as good as could be expected under the circumstances.  They had done their work faithfully and needed their pay.  Many of them have families, it is said, who require their wages for their support.”

The Delhi paper continued to be optimistic that the railroad would continue, though their Bovina correspondent simply noted the departure of the workers and that “our supposed railroad is at a standstill at present.”  In early November, the paper noted that a lot of misinformation was being passed around that it would not publish, except to say that a meeting will be called in the near future of the directors, contractors and other parties.  The paper concluded this November 2 article with this paragraph:

Whatever difficulties now in the way the one fact remains.  Too much has been done to make it likely that the project will finally be abandoned as the road will be a paying institution.  It will unquestionably be built, and all claims paid.  It is conceded by all that neither the company nor any of its officers are to blame for the temporary set back. 

The Gazette’s continued optimism did not pan out.  Though there were some further efforts, the railroad never was built and no further construction ever took place.  The concluding installment will cover further efforts to bring the trains into Bovina.

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