Thursday, April 23, 2009

Following the old railway from Valatie to Electric Park

Before beginning our walk along the route of the Albany and Hudson electric railway, we looked at a timetable from February, 1906. Trains left Albany (24 State Street, opposite Post Office) daily at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:30 p.m.

Trains left Hudson (N.Y.C. Passenger Station) daily at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:10 p.m.

Locals stopped at all 17 stations, which were no more than one to three miles apart, except for six miles between Hudson and Stottville and four miles between North Chatham and Nassau. The cars took two hours to traverse the entire route, which is not surprising considering the frequency of the stops.

The following stations were listed in the timetable:

Stockport Center
Stuyvesant Falls
Electric Park
North Chatham
East Schodack
East Greenbush
Clinton Heights

An express train left Hudson at 9:30 a.m. and returned from Albany at 4:30 p.m. daily, making stops at Stottville, Kinderhook, Valatie, Electric Park, and Nassau, and stopped if signaled at Stockport Center, Roseman, Stuyvesant Falls, Niverville, North Chatham, East Schodack, East Greenbush, and Clinton Heights.

We decided to walk the route in stages, starting in the middle at Valatie. Directly behind the Valatie depot can be found a dirt road which follows the powerline that marks the entire route. This can also be accessed from Rathbone Avenue, behind the Cumberland Farms store.

Nearly hidden in the woods, about a hundred feet from the depot, are the ruins of Nathan Wilde's 1828 mill. The dam which once supplied waterpower to the village's many industries is now broken, and the water rushes from the mill pond down toward Kinderhook creek a few hundred feet to the south.

One of the first artifacts of the railway that we found was a spike, one of many scattered when the rails and ties were torn up sometime after 1929.

A little further on, we saw evidence that National Grid has been hard at work felling trees which threaten the lines. After we passed the Ichabod Crane Schools property, we found the road crew and had an interesting conversation about the old route and took a look at the electric line maps that the crew used.

Our pleasant stroll was interrupted when we found that the railway bridge over Valatie Kill had long since been destroyed. This required extensive backtracking and we went to Niverville on the other side of the creek. Here the route remains very visible and we headed toward the location of Electric Park, two miles away, according to the timetable.

The amusement park, opened by the railway company by 1901, was on the shores of Kinderhook Lake, which was formed by a dam across Valatie Kill. The lake is surrounded by private homes and summer camps, and is not accessible to the public except by a state fishing site at the dam on route 28.

On Electric Park Road, by the side of the lake, we met a woman walking her dog who pointed out the location of the park's carousel in the middle of a pond. She said that when the water was low, the pilings on which the carousel stood are clearly visible.

She also directed us to a stone archway that was once part of Electric Park.

We imagined the happy throngs who poured through this arch a hundred years ago, amid the music of the carousel and the dance hall. There is an interesting little history of the park, published in 1990 by The Kinderhook Lake Corporation, Box 53, Niverville, NY 12130, and also available at the Columbia County Historical Society. According to the book, which contains many photos of the park in its heyday, the carousel and a roller coaster were built on piles in the lagoon. There were also two ferris wheels, a bowling alley, a bathing beach, and a chute into the lake similar to those found in water parks today.

Alcohol was prohibited at Electric Park, but boats were rented, which could be rowed out to taverns on two nearby islands. The theater "began by featuring opera but soon changed to refined vaudeville shows, in keeping with the lighter entertainment of the park."Then we remembered the terrible tragedies within the first few years of the park's existence which took seven lives and left scores injured.

It is easy to be nostalgic for a past of carousels and crackerjacks, not to mention carbon-free transportation, but the reality is that our pleasures are often mixed with pain and loss, a hundred years ago no less than today. Within the first few years of the park's existence, two wrecks on the electric train line took seven lives and left scores injured, and in both cases on weekends when crowded and frequent trolleys carried hundreds to Electric Park from Albany and Hudson.

An old postcard of Electric Park

Update May 12:

Last year the Town of Kinderhook formed a Trail Committee to pursue development of recreational trails in the town, including a section along the National Grid right-of-way between Valatie and Niverville, the section described in this article. The trail would require rebuilding the old railway bridge across Valatie Kill, pictured above.

A public information session on the proposed trail will be held at the Ichabod Crane Middle School Learning Center on May 19, 2009 at 7:00 pm.

Update June 5:

Governor Patterson’s office issued a press release on April 2, 2009 announcing funding of more than $81 million in federal funds for non-traditional transportation projects. These funds derive from the Obama administration’s recently passed Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP), with some additional funds allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

The initiative will provide $552,936 for the Kinderhook Recreational Trail, Phase II, in the Town of Kinderhook, Columbia County, which will encompass the section of the old Albany & Hudson route described in this entry of Upstate Earth.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice tour of the area. I say let's bring back the Electric Park. We could use the income and the whole region could use the levity!

    We live near the entrance to Pachaquak, another all too obscure lost historical tidbit.

    Thanks again.