“It takes a little imagination on a quiet day to make yourself hear the rumble of a train and its whistle blowing as it passes through Stephentown, heading toward Bennington, Vermont from Chatham, NY.
The railroad line ran through Brainard, the Lebanons, Stephentown, North Stephentown Center, Cherry Plain, Berlin and on to Bennington. The voice of the conductor was heard calling out the names of the stations along the way.
A charter for the railroad was granted by the New York State Legislature in 1851. In 1852 a group of men got together and formed the Lebanon Springs Railraod. They had just enough money to go from Chatham to Lebanon Springs. In 1853, an attempt was made to persuade Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt to invest in this project, as all they needed was enough money to extend the railroad from Lebanon Springs to Bennington. He refused, saying that in his estimation it wouldn’t last three generations (about 100 years). Shares in the railroad sold at $10 a share.
This railroad operated for several years. At Lebanon Springs the train had to turn around and go back. Many visitors came to the Springs for the curative waters there.
In 1869 another group of men put up the money and the railroad was finished all the way to Bennington, where it connected with the Bennington and Rutland Railroad. The two lines consolidated in 1870 and were called the Harlem Extension Railroad.
In 1877 the Bennington and Rutland Railroad backed out of this merger and the Harlem Extension reverted to its original 57 miles. It finally went broke in 1893. The name was changed in the hope of getting more response, but it lasted only three more years.
After repairing it as requested by the State of New York, the railroad ran out of money again and was foreclosed. A new company called the Chatham and Lebanon Railroad Company was formed in 1896, which then ran the rail line until about 1901.
It changed hands again. This time the Rutland Railroad bought it and operated a passenger service until 1931.
Town Board minutes from 1923 showed that on August 17, the Board ordered the Rutland Railroad to install a danger signal light at the crossing near the depot.
High water damage to the railroad on November 3, 1927 caused it to shut down. By December 16 all trains were back on schedule except the 6:25 a.m. trains numbered 202 and 205 leaving Stephentown and Chatham respectively.
Finally the railroad became a freight line and lasted until 1952. It was called “The Corkscrew Division”. Well known trains on this line were #401 and #31.
People shipped their milk, vegetables and other produce to New York City. There were many landslides between Cherry Plain and Berlin along the line. Rocks, dirt, and rubble slid down onto the tracks after snows and heavy rains and held up the trains until the tracks were cleared.
Many interesting stories have been told and still can be recalled by the older generation of today. The younger generation has missed the sound of the whistle blowing and the rumble of the old steam engine chugging along at all hours of the day and night.
The passenger service was never a paying proposition for the railroad, but it provided communities service along the line such as transporting students to high schools and for those working in Albany via transfers for Boston or Albany. Freight and milk were transported and it brought the vacationers to the area.
In 1951 the operators of this railroad sent in a request to the Interstate Commerce Commission to completely abandon the Railroad’s Chatham Division running the 57 miles between Bennington, Vermont and Chatham.
With the closing of the stations along the line the services of four station agents, two section foremen and six trackmen were terminated. Lewis Putnam, who was the chief executive officer of this road, said this would help the railroad deficit of $205,097 during 1951. The last piece of track was removed in 1953.
(Article was printed in the Stephentown Historical Society Bicentennial Album 1784-1984)
Below are newspaper articles printed in the North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle, recounting various activities of the ever changing railroad.
September 28, 1899
“It is expected that the old Lebanon Springs railroad will be reopened under the name of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley road within sixty days. Three engines and the roadbed are being put in repair.”
September 29, 1899
REVIVING A RAILROAD
Lively Scenes Along Line of Old Lebanon Springs Road
“Mention was made yesterday of the fact that the old Lebanon Springs railroad was expected to be opened for traffic within 60 days as the Chatham and Lebanon Valley road. William C. Roberts of New York, who purchased the road for $100,025, has placed H. McGonigle, a mechanical engineer, in charge of the work of putting the old road in shape again.
The latter began immediately the work of getting the road ready for the resumption of operations along the entire line from Chatham to Bennington. He established temporary headquarters in the old passenger station at Chatham. John Fearon, the former section master at that place, was reinstated in his old position and he was furnished with a gang of men to clean up the yards and shops, while others were set at work overhauling the rolling stock. New ties will be laid and new rails are expected shortly.
Of course time will be needed to place in first class conditions a road that has been absolutely wrecked until it is nothing more than a “double streak of rust.” It will be accomplished, however, for there is now brains, energy and money to back the enterprise. Temporary repairs only will be undertaken at present to enable the company to open the road about December 1, for freight traffic. The freight trains will make slow time in order to ensure their safe movement, but they will be a great accommodation to the farmers along the Lebanon Valley. A passenger coach will be attached to these trains.”
Lebanon Springs Road
October 26, 1899
The work of putting the Chatham and Lebanon Valley railroad in running order is being pushed as rapidly as possible. Supt. Hiram McGonegal is working hard to get it in a condition that will warrant the running of trains over it within the sixty days after the beginning of rehabitation in order that the residents in the towns along the line may be able to move their produce and to receive their winter supplies. Much difficulty is being experienced in securing a sufficient number of ties, although a fair price is offered for their delivery at the different stations. People who doubted that the road would be opened are now convinced that the new company means business.
December 28, 1899
ROAD WILL START JANUARY 1
The Chatham and Lebanon Valley Railroad Company has posted a notice that January 1, it will begin to carry passengers. The news is welcomed by the people located on the line of this once popular railroad. A large force is daily employed in putting the new ties and rails and soon the road will be in first-class condition. With a good railroad and a state road from New Lebanon, NY to Pittsfield, residents expect a dawn of better days in the New Lebanon Valley.
February 4, 1900
AUCTION SALE OF ROAD
Six Miles of Lebanon Springs Road For Sale
It appears from an advertisement in a Bennington paper that the portion of the former Lebanon Springs railroad in Vermont, which is about six miles long from the stateline in Renssealer County to Bennington, is to be put up for sale at auction in Bennington February 28.
When the New York end of the road was sold in Troy last August, it was supposed that that was the end of the long litigations with which the road has been involved and which had lasted nearly thirty years. The purchasers at the sale in Troy orgainzed the Chatham and Lebanon Valley Railroad with a strong directorate, including Russell Sage, the presidents of the Broadway National Bank and the Chatham National Bank of New York, the secretary of the plant system of railroads, former Governor Black and Hon. Louis F. Payn. The new company has made extensive improvements on the old road, having in fact, made it practically new from Chatham to Petersburgh Junction. The company commenced operating the road January 1 and the people of that section of the country for the first time enjoyed the luxury of modern cars, beautifully decorated and railway stations which are an ornament to the towns in which they are placed. It was then supposed by the people along the line that they would have facilities for through freight and passenger traffic from Chatham to Bennington.
William C. Roberts, president of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley railroad was in Troy yesterday and when asked concerning the sale at Bennington said: “The Chatham and Lebanon Valley railroad is not concerned in that sale at all, We run only in Petersburgh Junction, although we own the road to the state line in the town of Hoosick. That sale relates to the Vermont end of the old Lebanon Springs railroad. Our company acquired and is now operating the New York end, which is practically the whole of the road. The sale in question is under a decree recently made by the Supreme Court of Vermont in an action which has been pending more than ten years.”
April 26, 1900
RAILROAD SALE HELD
Vermont Section of Old Lebanon Springs Sold to Lebanon Valley
That part of the old Lebanon Springs railroad in Vermont, six miles long, was sold at auction in Bennington, VT, yesterday morning to the Chatham and Lebanon Valley Railroad Company for $21,000. Another bidder was the Rutland Railroad Company, which desired to control a terminus of the road.
It is stated that the road will be immediately ut in order for the running of trains to Bennington. That portion of the road has not been operated in nearly four years.
May 15, 1900
The force of men at work in re-opening the 12-mile strip of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley Railroad between Bennington and Pertsburgh Junction is being increased almost daily, and it is now thought the road will be ready for the running of construction trains within three weeks. Men began this week to repair the trestle near the Dewey Crossing in Bennington.
May 21, 1900
BERLIN STATION CLEANED OUT
Burglars made a clean haul of everything portable at the depot of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley Railroad at Berlin, NY, last week Thursday night. It was supposed they gained entrance by means of skeleton keys, for the doors were found locked yesterday morning. D.H. Johnson, general passenger agent, is at Berlin investigating, but there is no clue to the robbers.
The iron safe belonging to the express company was carried down the track a distance of twenty rods and blown open. A revolver, the only thing of value it contained, was taken. This is the third time the depot has been broken into in the past few years.
November 19, 1900
TO BUILD FIVE CREAMERIES
Robert E. Westcott of the Produce dispatch is about to establish five creameries on the line of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley railroad. They will be located at North Petersburgh, Berlin, Stephentown, New Lebanon and Brainard. Good buildings will be erected and will afford farmers excellent facilities for disposing of milk.
June 8, 1901
RAILROAD CHAIN COMPLETED
Meaning of the Purchase of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley Road
The announcement that the Chatham & Lebanon Valley railroad, formerly the Lebanon Springs line, has been purchased by Dr. W. Seward Webb, managing director of the Rutland system, as published in yesterday’s Transcript, caused a good deal of excitement along the line of the road.
December 21, 1949
Bert Simmons, agent at the Stephentown railroad station, is ill with pneumonia at this home in Petersburgh, NY.
April 9, 1952
Following the winter season at the Stephentown Railroad Station, Fuller Hewitt has returned to the Berlin Station as station agent. Bert Simmons of Petersburgh is now at the Stephentown station.
November 22, 1901
STRAIGHTENING THE ROAD
Lebanon And Chatham Valley Railroad Being Improved by Rutland Road
The Rutland Railroad, which recently acquired the Chatham and Lebanon Valley railroad, is making many improvements, straightening the line and doing other things that make it evident that it meant business when it said that the road would be made part of a through line from New York to Montreal.
A party of surveyors and engineers are now at work making a survey of the proposed short route from North Bennington to a point on the line of the Chatham and Lebanon Valley division in the town of Hoosick. The distance is about three miles and the “cut off” route will be used by the Rutland road in handling the through trains. As soon as it is completed it is understood that the line from Bennington that now runs around the base of Mt. Anthony will be entirely done away with. There will be quite a deep fill on the spur, and one bridge over the Walloomsac. The bridge engineer has been on the ground this week making plans and measurements. The grade will be comparatively slight and a well known railroad man says that the cut off ought to be completed within four months after the work is fairly commenced. A distance of some nine miles travel, besides the steep grades and sharp curves, will be saved.
by Tina Ordone
When I was a young girl, I lived in Lebanon Springs, on Old Post Road. Next to where we lived, there was a “road” of cinders. I used to walk on that old road, and never knew that there had been a railroad that had once passed through there. I lived in the house that was owned by Arthur Clark. He lived upstairs and rented out the bottom of the house, the same one that his parents moved into in 1890. Next door to the house was what we called “the old bake shop”, though we didn’t know why it was called that, because at the time we lived there, it was an old greasy garage. In its day, though, it was a bakery, making bread to be transported on the railroad to Bennington, VT, and points in between. See “The First Bread Wrapper” for the whole wonderful story.
The Rutland Railroad’s Corkscrew Division
The following article appeared in the “Eastwick Press, in the September 13, 2001 issue:
“The Lebanon Springs Railroad Company, chartered in 1852, consolidated with the Bennington & Rutland Railroad Company in 1870 to form the Harlem Extension Railroad Company, with Bennington to Chatham service. A succession of mergers and acquisitions involving the New York, Boston and Montreal Railroad Company, the New York, Rutland & Montreal RR, the Lebanon Springs RR and the Chatham & Lebanon Valley RR, ended in 1901 with the “Chatham Division” now part of the Rutland Railroad. The New York Central company assumed control of the Rutland in 1904.
Derailment of the Rutland railroad train known as the “Corkscrew Run.”
The first milk train ran from Ogdensburg to Chatham in 1909. By 1938 better roads and motorized transportation had reduced the need for trains and the Rutland went into receivership for the first time. The company recovered and attempted with equipment upgrades to win back freight business. Passenger traffic on the Chatham or “Corkscrew Division” ceased in 1926. The company then provided bus service up until 1931. Passenger excursion trains ran once a year for four years starting in the fall of 1948. In 1952 the Interstate Commerce Division granted the Rutland permission to abandon the Chatham branch and 50 years ago, on August 7, 1953, the last rail on the line was taken up. Then years later, the Rutland Railroad ceased operation altogether. The State of Vermont later purchased some sections of the railroad.
Many stations were on the Corkscrew Division. They included: North Bennington, Bennington, Mt. Anthony, Bee Hive Crossing, Petersburg, Petersburg, Berlin, Center Berlin, Cherry Plain, North Stephentown, Stephentown, Wyomanoc, Lebanon Springs, New Lebanon, Center Lebanon, Adams Crossing, Brainard, Riders, Old Chatham, and Chatham.
The Stephentown railroad station building is one of the few that remain, but it is in a sad state of decay. Inquiries have been made in the past as to the purchase of the building and it seems that when this was done (1983), the parties were worlds away in terms of price.
Rutland Railroad – Interactive Map
Rod Doty is creating an interesting page, which is a history of the Rutland Railroad as well as an interactive map of it’s route. This page is definitely worth a look. Lots of hard work has been done on this. Hats off to Rod!