Winter 1997

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Rural Rails to Rochester

The Story of the Depot Museum


Donovan A. Shilling

The Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is justly proud of their handsome rural depot located along an historic route to the Southern Tier. The rail line that passes the station was cut through the wilderness more than 140 years ago when steel rails were first crossing the Empire State.

Chartered on June 7th, 1851, as the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad, the line was created to bring coal to our area from the newly-opened Pennsylvania coal fields.

In 1853 the fledgling rail line only reached Avon. There it connected with a major east-west line, the Buffalo, New York And Erie. From Avon coal cars were transferred into Rochester over the new route's 18.4 miles.

By 1859 the route was lengthened to Mt. Morris on right-of-way purchased by the Genesee Valley Railroad. Construction of the line to Mt. Morris included the graceful five-arch stone bridge over the Conesus Lake outlet at Ashantee, south of Avon. In December, 1871, the new owner in dire fiscal need, was forced to lease the route to the ERIE RAILROAD. The line was operated as a part of its Rochester Division.

A Victorian Gothic-style terminal was built in 1887 at Exchange and Court Streets. This station lost its picturesque clock tower about 1939 and was completely razed in 1947.

The Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna And Western on October 17, 1960, becoming the Erie-Lackawanna. On April 1, 1976, CONRAIL became the route's owner connecting with their "West Shore" line near Southtown Plaza. Today its a short-line owned by The Livonia, Avon And Lakeville Railroad.

Twice or more weekly, an L. A. & L. train passes the depot hauling a string of tank cars loaded with corn syrup destined for a pair of sweetener plants in Lakeville. With its purchase by the L.A. & L. of the route called the "Mortimer Secondary" from Conrail, the firm became only the fourth owner on the rail line's 143-year-long history. Last year the L.A. & L. achieved over a million dollars in rail revenue.

From 1853 to the present, a depot has been situated just east of the Genesee River on highway Route 251, some three miles from the Village of Scottsville. Once it served "as the townsfolk's major contact with the outside world." Daily mail, freight, express and passenger service was provided with a horse-drawn onmibus connecting Scottsville with the depot.

In past years it was not an uncommon occurrence for the Genesee River to overflow its banks inundating the flood plain between village and depot. Townsfolk resorted to rowboats to make rail connections. During severe spring flooding the muddy waters often reached within an hundred feet of the depot.

At the turn of the century increased commuter traffic kept the rails shiny and the depot busy. About 1907 the Erie built the present depot, and adjacent to it, a large freight house. Kerosene lamps set atop wooden posts provided the outdoor illumination at night for patrons arriving and leaving by wagons and carriages. On chilly days the station master was warmed by a pot-bellied stove still seen in the station office.

On June 18th 1907, the Erie began a unique rail service. The thirty-four mile route connecting Mt. Morris to Rochester was electrified. This overhead-wire system represented the first single-phase line ever operated over a steam railroad in the nation. Power for operation was purchased from the Rochester, Lockport and Ontario Power Company.

Eight motorized passenger cars, each weighing 98,000 pounds, were designed for this commuter service. Six of the units were built by the St. Louis Car Company while the other two cars were constructed by AFC, Wilmington, Delaware. All the cars were equiped with four Westinghouse 132-8 railway motors, geared to 47 mph., allowing a track speed of 30 miles per hour. These unusual rail vehicles became the forerunners of the Erie electric-powered car now on display in the rail yards behind the depot.

The passenger cars were propelled by their own electric motors, but the freight trains continued to be pulled by steam locomotives.

At its peak period 26 to 30 steam freight trains and electric passenger cars arrived daily at the depot. A trolley covered the route from Mt. Morris to Rochester in just 70 minutes; pretty impressive for 1907. Monthly commuter fare for the round trip cost $13.42 with hourly service provided from 6:00 a.m. to an 11:30 p.m. departure from Rochester for the theater crowd. Some wags called this late hour run the "Whiskey Train." The special electric service continued until November 30, 1934, when gas/electric (doodle-bug) cars took over.

Over the years the depot has been alternately named Oatka, Scottsville, Pixley, and Industry. In 1853 it was called Scottsville for the hamlet it first served, in 1903 it became Pixley after a much-admired station agent. Oatka became its name in 1908. A year later, with the 1909 opening of the new state school, just across from the depot, it was renamed Industry.

Within the station two waiting rooms served the public. The North waiting room became a place for men to smoke, chew, and use the spittoons, while ladies enjoyed a smoke-and-spit-free environment in the South waiting room. In later years the two rooms were used to separate the young men at the State School at Industry from the general public. The last passenger train to stop at the depot made its final run on September 30, 1941. (continued at top of next page)

At that time Mikado-type (2-8-2) locomotives pulled the freight trains to and from Erie's huge freight house maintained adjacent to the Genesee River's west bank on Exhange Street in Rochester. Commodities shipped included milk, machinery, coal, livestock, salt, oil and mail.

After closing its doors to all traffic in 1950, the depot at Industry was used as a storage facility till being abandoned to the elements in 1957. The Society Chapter purchased the derelict building in July, 1971. For the past twenty-five years its members have labored long weekends and numerous evenings to restore the depot to its present mid-1930s splendor as an operating rural depot and museum. Today a two mile rail line, built by Chapter members, links Industry Depot with the New York Museum of Transportation. A collection of vintage rail cars and Diesel locomotives can be seen as a part of the museum complex.

For museum visitors, the track-car-pulled-trailer rides between the two museums allow an opportunity to experience the thrill of being a part of railroading's past glory. Members now strive to keep alive that rich legacy in the Rochester-Genesee Valley area. They plan to expand both the rail and trolley attractions to promote greater public interest and education in the history of this fast-fading era of rail transportation.

© 1997, Donovan A. Shilling
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