Saturday, May 2, 2009

Following the old electric railway from the Valatie depot to Hudson

Valatie Depot in winter

In Valatie the Albany & Hudson third rail electric line switched to overhead wires, probably due to the crowded nature of this factory village during the thirty years the railway was in operation (1899-1929) The present day power line marking the route of the Albany & Hudson indicates that the tracks went from the depot across the parking lot of Valatie Medical Arts and down a right-of-way between River St. and state route 9. Passing through posted land, the line emerges at Trolley Lane behind the Lutheran church.

Trolley Lane

line then crosses Route 9 just to the north of the Stewarts shop on an easily traversed trail onto Railroad Avenue and past the private home that was once the Kinderhook depot.

Kinderhook depot, now a private home

The line then proceeds past Samascott Orchards and the Little League field and out of the village.

Route passing Samascott Orchards

Having read in Edward Collier’s History of Kinderhook (1914) that there was an old African-American graveyard in the vicinity, we did a little exploring near the route. Pausing to view the Vanderpoel house, now owned by the Columbia County Historical Society, we recalled Collier’s words:

“While the Vanderpoel place was owned by the somewhat erratic John Rogers, he set apart a portion of his land for the free burial of our colored people. It was thus used until every available inch was taken up; in some cases, it is stated, with coffin piled upon coffin. It was then, as it now long has been, closed against additional burials."

The Vanderpoel mansion, where an
African burial ground reportedly exists

We looked across the empty field, recently the scene of a well-attended Easter Egg Hunt, and thought about the unmarked graves of so many people who worked to build this county, and were saddened to find no reminder of their lives. Doubtless, the simple markers were of wood and have long since vanished, although it seems that in 1914 the site was still recognized as a cemetery.

Gravestones near the Rothermel Avenue
Little League field in Kinderhook

Near the Little League field on Rothermel Avenue, we found a very neat quadrangle of gravestones. So neatly arranged, in fact, that it was obvious that they were moved here from another location. One stone bears the single name “Sylvestes,” which strongly suggests that he was born as a slave.

According to the website Slavery in the North New York had the largest slave population of any colony north of Maryland. Slavery in New York State, where it was gradually abolished beginning in 1799, was the most widespread here in the Hudson Valley, where huge estates rivaled Southern plantations in their reliance on slavery. Our textile industries also, as detailed elsewhere on Upstate Earth, relied on cotton produced by slave labor in the South.

Many burial grounds for slaves and free African Americans have been obliterated and hidden by later development, but that practice is no longer acceptable in America, and certainly not in Columbia county. The most well-known discovery of such a forgotten burial ground occurred in Lower Manhattan in 1991. During excavation for a new federal office building, workers discovered the skeletons of over 400 men, women and children. Construction was halted and researchers revealed that during the 17th and 18th centuries, free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6 acre burial ground outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam. Over the decades, the unmarked cemetery was covered over by development and landfill. The African Burial Ground site is now part of the National Park Service.

There is much work to do if we are to provide a similar recognition to the memory of free and enslaved African Americans in our own county, but fortunately the land where Collier says the cemetery is located is free of any later building and is already owned by Historical Society.

Update - June 15, 2009

A group of young archeologists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst is currently doing some very careful excavations on the Vanderpoel property, under the auspices of the county historical society. Thus far, they have uncovered some interesting small artifacts from the early 19th century and evidence of early foundations and roadways. In the area near the house there are no signs of a burial ground.

U. Mass archeologists at work on Vanderpoel
grounds, June 15, 2009

The most probable location for the lost burial ground, in my view, is a forested quadrangle on the northwest corner of the Vanderpoel property. The area presents an anomaly among the yards and gardens characteristic of the block, due perhaps to a respect accorded to the small parcel of land by earlier property-owners of the neighborhood. The land evidently belongs now to the historical society.

Possible gravesite in the old African burial ground?

Resuming our journey south, we found access to the railway's path blocked by private land past Eichybush Road, and followed Route 9 southf rom Kinderhook to where the line crosses back over the state road just north of county route 26.

The route south from Sunnyside Road

The line then goes across Sunnyside Road to Stuyvesant Falls, where the Albany & Hudson generated its own electrical power. The power plant built by the railway company in 1899 is once again a busy scene as a team from Albany Engineering readies the plant to produce hydroelectric power after being closed for many years. In a February conversation with Jim Besha, president of Albany Engineering, I was told that the preparation work could take from a year to two years.

Views of the 1899 Albany & Hudson power plant in 2009

The power plant is the largest remaining structure from the Albany & Hudson line and it is gratifying to know that it will soon be providing carbon-free hydroelectric power just as it did a hundred years ago.

Since the power line runs largely through private lands in this area, we were not able to locate the exact route from Stuyvesant Falls to Rossman, or Chittenden Falls, where a tragic collision occurred in 1902, and we were not sure if the rails followed the east or west bank of Kinderhook Creek. Further exploration will be on the agenda.

Remains of the 1925 bridge over Kinderhook Creek at Stockport.

We followed county route 26 south but did not pick up clear signs of the old railway until we went through Stockport. Here a new bridge was built for the railway in 1925, as clearly marked on the remaining abutment. Only a year earlier the company had again reorganized, this time as the Eastern New York Utilities Corporation. Evidently, the new company’s owners were optimistic enough to make a large investment in the future of public transport. Within four years, however, the company had failed, and thirty years of interurban rail service in the county was at an end.

National Grid right-of-way marking the old
Albany & Hudson route through Stottville.

In Stottville, the railway’s route is clear, emerging on county route 20 just west of Church Street and once again crossing into private lands. Taking 20 back to 9, we passed a site to the east where Widewaters Group, Inc. is constructing a giant shopping mall. Hopefully, that company’s optimism is not as misplaced as that of Eastern New York Utilities back in 1924.

Construction site for Widewaters Mall in Greenport.
The Albany & Hudson line ran through this property.

We rediscovered the railway’s route in the now busy shopping section of Greenport, just outside of Hudson. Emerging from the fields behind the Staples store, the line crosses 9 at the Taco Bell, goes south of the Walmart, and along a grassy path beside a trailer court to emerge on Joslen Boulevard at the Town of Greenport Park. Here, the railway evidently ran alongside the road down a fairly steep grade toward Hudson.

Albany & Hudson route passes behind location
of Taco Bell on Route 9 in Greenport.

We passed Hudson High School and the Firemans Home and Museum, following the line as it turns onto Harry Howard Avenue until it reaches the bend at Lucille Drive. At this point we ran into a Hudson police officer investigating an abandoned car found on the old train line.

The Albany & Hudson went down this pathway near
Lucille Drive and Harry Howard Boulevard in Hudson

From this point the line follows a trail downhill to Mill Street and ends at the ruins of the great Hudson River (later the Swansdown) Knitting Mill at Front and Dock Streets.

The Hudson River Knitting Mill, built in 1885 and
served by the Albany & Hudson, is now abandoned.

Much of this section within the city of Hudson must have been the original Hudson Street Railway, one of the three lines that merged to form the Albany & Hudson in 1899. Doubtless, the trolleys carried workers for many years to such large employers as the Hudson River Knitting Mill.

The mill now stands as one of the most impressive of the local ruins we have visited. A faded sign advertises the space for rental as “minishops” but that dream must date back to before the collapse of the structure’s roof. The entire area is now fenced off as unsafe.

According to Peter Stott’s Looking for Work, the Hudson River Knitting Mill, built in 1884-1885, was the largest of the city’s knitting mills for much of the last quarter of the 19th century. The Swansdown Knitting Company expanded the mill in 1902 , 1906 and 1923, and was successful for much of the 20th century. After the last knitting firm left in 1965, the structure was used for storage before being eventually abandoned.

The Amtrak Station at Hudson

The Albany & Hudson also advertised a connection to the New York Central line, and almost certainly the streetcars connected with the New York Central depot, now in good repair as a busy Amtrak station. The Amtrak station at Hudson, originally built by the New York Central in 1874, is the oldest continuously operating railroad station in the state.

New York City can be reached in two hours, which makes Hudson a popular second home location and contributes to the city's many restaurants, galleries and antique shops. A few hardy commuters even make daily trips to New York from the old station.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work. Has the A&H/AS/EU Hudson carbarn been torn down as it is not mentioned or photographed as a remaining structure. Last I was there it was used by Niagara Mohawk as a sub-station/service/supply/work terminal, located east of rte 9, opposite Parkwood Blvd. After passing the car barn, between the building and Rte 9, the company had an interchange track connection with the B&ARR then crossed route 9 proceeding into Hudson on a private right of way south of Glenwood Ave. to 7th Street. To the best of my knowledge it was nowhere near Joslen or Harry Howard. For further confirmation see early maps of the area and you may clearly see the ROW using an aerial map provided by any of the various on line providers. Again a nice job putting the article together; trust this additional information and clarification will help. PKL