Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When the Trains Almost Came - II – The Dirt is Flying

By the end of August 1898, the construction of the shanties for the workers building the Delaware Railroad had started.   It was reported in the Delaware Gazette (Delhi) that about “1000 natives of sunny Italy will soon be scattered between Delhi and Andes, at work grading the route,” which was to be 15 miles, including a three mile spur to Bovina Center.  Contractors were working with local ‘grocerymen’ concerning the supplies needed for the workers.  Other local businesses also were benefiting from the work.  “Marshall Gladstone has the contract for erecting two depot buildings, four platforms for milk stations, and the cattle pens needed along the line.” 

On September 7, actual construction on the rail bed itself began, using the Italian laborers for this backbreaking work.  The work moved along quickly.  The Gazette noted that “the largest gang of men are employed at the summit between Bovina and Andes.”  The paper continued to be highly optimistic and reported that many were in agreement:  “Even those who have been building railroads on paper for these twenty years begin to feel that they have no longer any reason to feel ashamed.”

As September progressed, more workers were brought in.  One hundred more Italians laborers arrived on September 27 specifically to work on the Bovina spur, which came off the main line near the Burgin farm on present day Route 28.  Going through what is now the Clarence Burns farm, it ran about parallel to County Route 6 to the edge of the Bovina Center hamlet.  The site for the depot in Bovina was placed in Alexander Hilson’s orchard.  Where this was located is not totally clear, but it likely was somewhere above the site of the Bovina creamery building (though the creamery did not exist in 1898).  Cooke, Currie and Richardson were hired to do the stone work on the depot.  By now, Bovina citizens were getting excited about the project and were thinking of grander schemes.  There was discussion about having the railroad go from Bovina into Arkville. 

By early October, the first rails were being laid so that the materials needed to build the necessary bridges could be more easily transported.  Halfway through the month, it was reported that more than half of the dirt has been removed.  The lumber for the Bovina depot had arrived on the 11th and work was expected to start shortly. 

So with over 1000 Italian workmen, many teams of horses and wagons and numerous contractors and subcontractors all working away, the railroad was being built seemingly with lightning speed.  But on October 19, the Gazette, while reporting construction progress, also reported the first hints of trouble.  “Great anxiety has been felt by everybody because on Saturday [October 15] when the men expected their pay Mr. Davie and G.W. Youmans did not arrive from New York with the money.”  The problem was explained as a technicality with the filing of the papers.  This was possible.  There was an issue concerning at-grade crossings that had to be resolved – and it was on October 13.

On Monday, the 17th, the pay was not forthcoming.  At this point, the entire project fell apart.  This will be discussed in the next installment on March 16.


  1. Outstanding work, Ray! I am interested to learn more about local drive to construct this - and other - infrastructure projects. I believe "go local" must extend beyond foodstuffs if we are extend America's contribution to evolving democracy.

  2. Ben, keep reading the blog for more info on this railroad, but I will also admit that there's still a lot of unanswered questions about who the real drivers behind this were. And while I'm still not totally clear as to why it failed, it seems to me that it wasn't a failure of the community backing the project.

    Did you know that Evelyn Stewart is working to create a not for profit group of Bovina farmers - she's looking at creating a Bovina Farm label.