The Railroads in Patterson - Part 2

The New York & New England

For Connecticut railroads, a connection to New York City was deemed necessary for survival. 19th century New York City was already a center of finance and commerce, and a ready consumer of goods manufactured in the factories of New England. Passenger traffic to and from New York was also seen to be a money maker.

The New York & New England Railroad was a regional carrier in Connecticut, and had aspirations to be a bigger player in railroad industry. The New York and Harlem Railroad had already arrived in Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties, and provided access to New York City. The New York & New England decided to do more than simply exchange passengers with the Harlem, and its opportunity came when the New York and Northern Railroad began building a line from the Bronx north through Westchester and into eastern Putnam County in the village of Brewster. This is the line that eventually became the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad. The New York and Northern wanted a connection to New England, and the New York and New England wanted a connection to New York. The NY&NE started building west in anticipation of the connection opportunity. Both railroads reached Brewster in 1880, and a connection was built at Putnam Junction, just south of the current Metro North rail yard in Brewster. This connection became an important and popular stretch of track, and was used to carry special trains to the Danbury Fair starting in the 1890s through the 1960s. The Fair was popular with Harlem passengers who were able to travel the short distance from the Harlem's Brewster Station in the center of Brewster Village to Putnam Junction. The New York and New England continued to push west towards the Hudson River. A connection with the Harlem was built at Towners Station. At Hopewell Junction, the railroad purchased track rights to Beacon from the Dutchess and Columbia Railroad. From Beacon, the plan was for passengers to reach Newburgh and points west by first crossing the river via ferry. This line became one of the first east/west lines, but the crossing of the Hudson River by ferry was awkward and difficult.

The answer to the river crossing problem came in the construction of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge in 1888. The bridge became the first railroad bridge to be built between New York City and Albany. The bridge had been planned as a way to move coal from Pennsylvania and Virginia and other areas to the west to the factories of New England. Finished goods would then travel the reverse route. After several false starts and bankruptcies, the first train crossed the completed bridge in 1888, although track work on the western side was not completed until 1889. Without the bridge, the NY&NE line was useless as a freight line. With the trend in the railroad industry increasingly favoring the large and powerful, several small railroads consolidated to form the Central New England. The CNE controlled the NY&NE line to Danbury, and the Danbury-to-Derby tracks were acquired by the Housatonic Railroad.

An early CNE trestle near the Towners Station. (The Patterson Historical Society) The age and poor condition of the photo make it difficult to determine the activity of the men on the freight cars. It may be a wreck. The current Towners trestle, looking down at the Harlem tracks. This bridge is the third to carry the New Haven tracks over the Harlem, and was built in 1906. The first two bridges were built by the Central New England Railroad, and one was a covered bridge. These early bridges were single track bridges, but the current bridge was double tracked until 1961. Two early 20th century postcards show the first Towners trestle, the covered bridge, which was supported by wooden supports.

In 1872, another major consolidation took place that would change the railroading picture in New England well into the next century. The New York & New Haven Railroad was going on a buying binge of its own. In 1872, it acquired control of many small railroads in Connecticut, including the Hartford & New Haven, forming the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co., a company that would dominate New England railroading until its collapse in 1969. The Connecticut portion of the Maybrook Line (from Danbury to Derby) was purchased by the New Haven in 1892.

The New Haven had a reputation of using anti-competitive tactics to force the smaller railroads into capitulation. The New Haven had the very important and strategic connections to New York City and the Massachusetts coast, and the smaller railroads were aware that they could not survive without cooperating with the New Haven in some way. The New Haven became a monopoly in southern New England. Around the turn of the 20th century, J.P. Morgan entered the picture.

The New York Central Railroad had its Cornelius Vanderbilt. The railroad empire that became the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad had its John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan became a dominating force in many American industries at the turn of the 20th centuries, and changed the business environment in the United States. He was considered as cold and ruthless in his business ventures as was Vanderbilt. His early fortunes were made in the banking world, and eventually extended into the steel industry with the creation of the U.S. Steel Co. in 1901, the world's first billion dollar company. He was also busy acquiring and consolidating other industries, such as the fledgling electric industry through his funding of Thomas Edison in the 1870s and 1880s. Morgan further stretched his business empire into coal industries, agriculture equipment manufacturing, and financial and insurance industries. By the early 1900s, Morgan had control of most of the major American business sectors. His holdings had created so much wealth that even the United States government appealed to Morgan to provide financial backing for the sale of government bonds. Morgan died in 1913, but his dominance in so many industries inspired the passing of anti-trust legislation.

An early New York & New England locomotive, typical to those that ran on the Maybrook Line when it was owned and operated by the New York & New England Railroad. The Maybrook Line is still operating as the Central New England Railroad in this excerpt of a New Haven, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad System map, c. turn-of-the 20th century. The 1907 schedule shows daily service from Chicago with stops in Patterson.

In the 1880s, Morgan turned his attention to the railroad industry, acquiring many smaller railroads, and eventually, at the turn of the century. the New York, New Haven, & Hartford. Under Morgan, the NYNH&H acquired the New York & New England, and leased it to the Philadelphia & Reading. The P&R and the Philadelphia, Reading, and New England, along with their subsidiary railroads, consolidated to form the Central New England Railroad, which operated the Maybrook Line through Putnam County. The New Haven had already acquired trackage that extended west from Hartford to Poughkeepsie, but had its eye on the route over the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. Under Morgan, the New Haven set out to acquire 43 miles of track from Hopewell Junction to the Bridge and into Maybrook. To do so, the New Haven purchased over 200 miles of tracks from the Central New England. After the acquisition, the New Haven was determined to make the Maybrook line a major east/west freight line. The Maybrook line traversed a lower grade than the northerly route, making it more advantageous for use by heavy coal trains. Prior to the acquisitions by the New Haven, the line was in five parts, traversing 100 miles to Devon: the CNE, the NY&NE, the Housatonic mainline, a Housatonic branch line, and the Naugatuck. After acquisition, the New Haven began many major improvements on the line.

With the construction of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, freight could move freely across the Hudson River. In Maybrook, a large yard and engine house was constructed. The New Haven also invested a significant amount of money and effort rebuilding the entire Maybrook Line. The Maybrook's run had many hills, cuts, and curves, making construction a challenge. The period from 1904 to 1906 saw much new construction, including the construction of a second track between Maybrook and Danbury. The right-of-way was expanded, grades were improved, bridges were strengthened or rebuilt, cuts were widened, highway crossings were eliminated, and automatic signals were installed across the entire line. The final portion was completed in 1926.

The Maybrook Line was intended by the New Haven to handle heavy freight tonnage, and unusually powerful locomotives were purchased to haul the freight. Even up to the 1969 collapse of the Railroad, there were 6 daily trains traveling in each direction. In Maybrook, the New Haven exchanged freight with several smaller regional carriers. By the mid-20th century, Maybrook had become one of the largest rail yards on the east coast. By 1947 the Maybrook Line was almost completely diesel powered, and the New Haven dismantled the extensive maintenance, coal, and watering facilities required by the older steam locomotives. One of the advantages of the line was its greater clearances compared to other routes. The GE plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for example, shipped its large equipment to Danbury and then to Maybrook, where the cargo was then routed to westerly destinations via the Erie Railroad.

The New Haven continued to improve other portions of its empire. It undertook a pioneering electrification project that included the main line (the "Shore Line" across coastal Connecticut) and even the spur line to Danbury, running its first electric train in 1904. The completion of the Hell Gate Bridge across the East River in the 1920s provided a direct connection to New York City and the end of its fleet of barges that floated rail cars across the river. At its peak in 1929, the New Haven Railroad owned more than 2,000 miles of track in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

A New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad schedule from 1921. Passenger service on the Maybrook Line was still available at this time, and station stops in Patterson are listed. A 1930 postcard pictures a westbound freight train on the tracks east of Towners. A New Haven Railroad poster celebrates the power of steam.

But, the New Haven teetered on the brink of bankruptcy several times in the 20th century, and its financial distresses were only one reason for its decline. Two World Wars and the Great Depression took their toll. The Railroad's ruthless attempts to acquire everything that moved by rail in New England left it with a collection of unprofitable small rail lines and interurban trolley lines that were financial drains and distractions from its core business, while also instigating a series of state and Federal government anti-trust lawsuits. Even its ambitious modernization programs had a negative impact on capital.

The New Haven was taken over by the Federal government during World War I and operated by the United States Railroad Administration (USRA). An infusion of cash by the government, as well as steady work transporting troops and war materiel, kept the Railroad solvent. In the 1920s, many unprofitable lines were eliminated, and the Pennsylvania Railroad provided some much needed cash when it bought an interest in the New Haven. In March, 1926, the freight operations had become so busy at the Towners Station, that the Central New England, which operated the freight service on the Maybrook Line, added two additional clerks to handle night service. Things looked good for a while, but the New Haven fell into bankruptcy in 1935. Freight revenues were dropping, the cost of running a commuter service was increasing, taxes were rising, and government regulation had increased sharply in response to the abuses of the railroads in the early part of the century.

Patterson, and particularly Towners, seemed a magnet for train mishaps and wrecks. In June, 1911, a spectacular derailment involved 18 of 36 freight cars and caused $25,000 in damage. The early afternoon wreck occurred east of the Towners Station as "Extra # 441", heading eastbound from Hopewell Junction for Danbury, was traveling down the steep grade before the Towners Station at a speed of 35 mph. Two hundred feet west of the station, a problem occurred in the wheel assembly of a gondola car filled with coal. The car was fifteen cars back from the engine. The car derailed on a switch for a siding, dragging the following boxcar with it. The box car then broke free of the gondola car, splitting the train in two. The gondola was dragged by the front half of the train, destroying the track bed. The rest of the freight cars followed, led by the derailed box car. The front portion of the train passed over a 35 foot long bridge carrying the tracks over the road now known as NYS Route 164, about 100 feet west of the Towners Station. The gondola car went over the side of the bridge and tumbled onto the road below. The rest of the train followed, with some cars falling off the bridge into the roadway or down the embankment, while others smashed into each other. Some boxcars were pierced by rails. Patterson resident James E. Towner had just passed under the bridge moments before the wreck occurred and escaped injury. Four men stealing a ride aboard a boxcar escaped injury after the boxcar they were in tumbled down the embankment. Towners Station Agent William Raymond also escaped uninjured as the debris rained on the station platform. Raymond had just stepped off the platform. 300-400 feet of track were destroyed. Dozens of freight trains were delayed by the wreck, and passenger traffic was routed around the wreck, with passengers required to walk a half mile around the accident site.

A train wreck along the Ice Pond between Towners and Dykemans brought out curiosity seekers on August 26, 1893. (The Patterson Historical Society) A turn of the 20th century Towners station appears to be a rail coach perched atop a cement foundation.

On January 18, 1914, one of the most serious accidents occurred when train BO 1 rear-ended train "extra" #448, which had been stopped while waiting for another train to clear the track ahead of it. The accident occurred in Towners at 9:45 AM on a Sunday morning one-quarter mile east of the Towners Station. All trains were westbound for Maybrook and were carrying freight. The Central New England tracks west of Towners Station begin an upgrade and a sharp curve. At Towners Station, engineer Marcy of train BO 1 was given a "close in" order, but was not stopped at the station. The "close in" allows the engineer to approach the train in front of him. Marcy could see a train farther down the track on the upgrade. What he did not know was that train #448 was between them. Not being able to see 448 because of the curve, Marcy opened the throttle to get speed to get up the hill. BO 1 had a heavy load of 31 cars. Marcy and Head Brakeman Boyd of BO 1 suffered cuts and steam burns, but survived the collision. Miraculously, no one else was injured. Engine 162 and two freight cars of BO 1, along with ten freight cars of train #448 were derailed and went down the embankment. Engine 162 was one of the largest used by the CNE, and typically was utilized to pull heavy freight loads. The engine landed upright when it settled at the bottom of the embankment, and work crews were able to place it back on the tracks. The freight cars were destroyed, and their contents were strewn over a wide area. Both tracks were torn up, and were blocked for over three hours. The eastbound track was cleared first, but the westbound track was not in service until Thursday morning.

On March 20, 1918, an estimated $20,000 in lost equipment and freight cargo occurred with the derailment of nine freight cars in Towners. A broken wheel supporting a heavy load of cargo caused the wreck that saw two coal cars spill their loads, other cars overturned, and others thrown down the embankment. The accident occurred at 9 PM on a Tuesday night on the downgrade before the Towners Station. The engineer felt a jerk, and that was followed by an air hose that burst, making it impossible to apply the brakes. The engine and coal tender remained on the tracks, as did most of the train, with the derailed cars towards the rear of the train. Debris was strewn over a wide area, but the boxcars did not break open, and their cargo was salvaged. A frantic call for help was made to Poughkeepsie from the stationmaster's house, and a work crew of 50 men arrived within 90 minutes. Both tracks were blocked. Central New England Railroad officials arrived from Poughkeepsie via special trains. At midnight the work crew was fed a meal of 100 loaves of bread, coffee, and a few boiled hams sent from Poughkeepsie. The work crew worked through the night by lantern light. The work crew was increased to 60 men by Wednesday afternoon. Mail bound for Poughkeepsie was sent to either Chatham, NY, or New York City to be routed over other rail lines.

During World War I, the Federal government operated the New Haven Railroad and its subsidiary railroads. While some thought that the government could manage the trains better than the private owners, many did not. One such individual was Gilbert B. St. John, a farmer from Patterson. In April, 1919, St. John sued the U. S. Director General of Railways for injuries suffered by cattle that he had shipped from Maybrook to West Patterson on the Central New England. A normal trip for livestock would take twelve hours, but this trip took forty-eight hours when the cattle car was not left at West Patterson, but continued with the train to New Haven, Connecticut. The car had to be brought back to West Patterson from New Haven, causing injuries to the cargo of six dairy cows, according to St. John's negligence suit. The case was heard in a Poughkeepsie courtroom, and St. John claimed damages in the amount of $610. It was the first ever case against the Federal railroad administration to be heard in Dutchess County.

The 1920s saw the return of the control of the Maybrook Line to the CNE. The 1920s also saw a number of serious derailments in the Towners portion of the Line. In April, 1920, a broken journal box caused a derailment of fourteen rail cars of the CNE's "Extra 3223" AT 2:15 AM on a Wednesday morning. The train was headed eastbound from Maybrook to New Haven. Most of the derailed cars remained upright and were placed back onto the tracks. Two cars crashed through the side of the bridge carrying the tracks over the state highway (presumably NYS Route 311) and landing on the road below, blocking traffic. Other cars tumbled down the embankment and broke open, leaving a debris trail for a considerable distance. Both tracks were blocked, and wrecker crews were dispatched from Maybrook and Waterbury to repair the damage. No one was injured, and one track was reopened in time for an afternoon passenger train from Poughkeepsie to pass without delay. Only a few freight trains were delayed before both tracks were reopened in the afternoon.

At about 9 AM on Sunday, November 28, 1920, ten cars of a freight train derailed just west of the Towners Station. The Central New England Railroad freight train, "Extra 3212", was traveling eastbound from Maybrook to New Haven, when a broken wheel flange caused the derailment. A long stretch of track was torn up, and both tracks were blocked for several hours. Nine of the cars were carrying coal, and the tenth carried bottles. One car was so badly damaged that it had to be scrapped, but the other cars were placed back on the track. Work crews were dispatched from Maybrook and Waterbury, Connecticut, to repair the damage. Two passenger trains to and from Poughkeepsie were blocked, and passengers on those trains, one morning train and one evening train, had to transfer trains around the wreck. The westbound track was reopened shortly after 6 PM, and the eastbound track was reopened at 9 PM.

This "right of way and track map" dated 1915 was prepared for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company. The legend at the lower right indicates that this section of track was operated by Central New England Railway Company. The tracks of the New York Central Harlem line are also shown. The lower right section of the map shows a list of adjoining property owners with familiar Patterson names such as "Towners". The Central Dairy Company plant is shown alongside the New York Central tracks. A penciled note on the lower left indicates that the structures were revised in December 1938. The rest of the note is too faint to be legible. (Kevin McConnell)

This map is in PDF format and requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. The map will be displayed in a new browser window. (639k)

The CNE/Maybrook tracks curve sharply from Pecks Corner on the left as they approach NYS Route 164 on the right. The tracks are hidden in the left of the photo and lay behind the Baptist Church, not seen in this photo. The Towner house is visible on the extreme left, and is situated just south of the Church. This section of track was the scene of many derailments and accidents, partially due to the curve and the steep grade.

The Towners area known as Peck's Crossing at Towners Four Corners was the location of many derailments and wrecks. In December 1926, gunpowder being shipped in a freight car exploded, destroying several houses in the area and creating an explosion that could be heard for miles. The wreck started at 11:00 on a Sunday morning with the derailment of 24 cars of a 70 car CNE freight train bound for Danbury and originating in Maybrook. The derailment resulted in a pileup that measured as high as 25 feet as the derailed cars piled atop one another. The train stretched from several hundred feet northwest of NYS Route 311, across Route 311, and southeast towards Towners. The train carried a mixed load, including coal, syrup, gasoline, linseed oil, general merchandise and provisions - and 300 kegs of gunpowder. As the wreck caught fire, the train crew, realizing the danger, sprang into action. The front part of the train, consisting of 10 freight cars and the locomotive, was uncoupled from the damaged section, and moved to a siding near the Towners Station. Crew members contacted the Danbury depot, and an emergency crew was quickly assembled. 20 miles west in Hopewell Junction, a pusher locomotive and crew was dispatched to Patterson in the hopes that some of the rear cars could be pulled away from the wreck. Fire crews from Patterson, Pawling and Carmel were dispatched, but could do little. The fire trucks could not get close enough to the wreck to use chemicals, and the tankers dispatched from Pawling and Carmel could not find a water source. High winds fed the fire, and the linseed oil ignited. As the fire spread, the likelihood of the gunpowder kegs igniting became apparent, and residents closest to the tracks were told to evacuate. At 1:15 PM the gunpowder exploded, leaving a wide path of debris. The result was 18 injuries and one eventual death, three farmhouses destroyed, damaged homes and farm buildings in a one-third mile radius, and an explosion felt up to 30 miles away. Airborne debris from the railcars rained for a considerable distance. The Towners Baptist Church, now the Patterson Baptist Church on NYS Route 311, suffered major damage, as did the Towner House next door. The stained glass church windows were shattered on two sides of the building, and the church bell was blown from the belfry onto the grounds below the church. The bell struck one of the iron rails in front of the church, and the bent rail is still visible today. Lawsuits against the Railroad dragged through the courts for years until settlements were reached.

In April 1929, about 500 feet south of the 1926 wreck, a fast westbound freight train hit a broken rail, derailing the second of two locomotives pulling the heavily loaded freight train. The Locomotive left the tracks 300 feet southeast of the crossing over NYS Route 311. The first locomotive broke away, but its coal tender fell off the crossing onto Route 311, just missing a passing automobile, and closing the road to traffic. The remaining 22 freight cars then derailed, blocking both tracks. Many were destroyed. A few of the cars fell down a twenty foot embankment and settled behind the Towner House. By luck, only one person, a trainman, was hurt. New Haven crews worked throughout the day to clear enough debris to open one track. Over 100 feet of track was torn apart. Route 311 was reopened to traffic six hours later after the tender and its load of coal was cleaned from the road. In June, 1936, 26 freight cars of an evening freight train en route to Boston derailed. Most of the freight cars were refrigerator cars carrying perishable fruits and vegetables. Both mainline tracks were blocked and a section of track was torn up. The New Haven dispatched repair crews immediately, and normal traffic was restored in 24 hours.

A 1920s passenger ticket for passage between the West Patterson and Towners stations on the Maybrook Line. After passenger service ended, the Maybrook Line became an important part of the New Haven Railroad's freight network. This ad dates from January, 1947.

The New Haven had another resurgence during World War II, as increased passenger and freight traffic once again provided a steady revenue flow. The Railroad streamlined its operations to lower costs. But wartime needs and parts shortages also wore out equipment. The New Haven was able to emerge from bankruptcy after the War, but its need to rebuild its infrastructure soon hurt it financially. 1948 began a downward spiral for the Railroad. A bad economy, labor problems, poor management, and deferred maintenance combined to set the stage for the final collapse of the New Haven.

The New Haven's worsening condition in the 20th century was evident on the Maybrook Line. The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge rail route had strategic value for passenger service heading to points west of New York City. The route provided a way to bypass the awkward barge floats to get passenger service into and out of Manhattan. The construction of the Hell Gate Bridge across the East River in New York City, tunnels under the East River and Hudson River into Manhattan, and the construction of Pennsylvania Station, provided new transportation alternatives. Passenger service on the Maybrook ended in 1927. In 1956 the second track was removed from Poughkeepsie west. In 1961 the second track was removed from Poughkeepsie east to Derby Junction in Connecticut, except for a five mile stretch in Danbury and three sidings.

The news was not better for freight service. The economy of New England was changing as the 20th century progressed. The large, traditional, manufacturing industries that had been the incentive for maintaining the Maybrook Line were disappearing as the region converted to high technology and service industries. The need for freight service declined. The Maybrook freight service was becoming increasingly a one-way service, with full trains heading into New England, but the trains simply returning with the empty freight cars. The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge itself, once a marvel of engineering, was proving to be a weak spot in the New Haven's modern freight needs. The bridge had been built with 19th century trains in mind, and even then corners were cut as the project fell into cost overruns and bankruptcies. The bridge was reinforced, but was still too weak to handle the heavier trains of the 20th century. As a safety precaution, the second track was removed, causing some scheduling problems. A very low speed limit was also set to prevent the bridge from swaying under the weight of a fully loaded train. This proved especially tricky on the western approach to bridge, where a steep down slope allowed trains to pick up speed. Train crews were required to apply the brakes while on the down slope to avoid having the trains enter the bridge at a high rate of speed.

The lines that interconnected with the New Haven at Maybrook were also hurting due to the decline in freight and passenger revenue. The New York, Ontario & Western shut down in 1957. The Lehigh & New England shut down in 1961. The New Haven itself finally collapsed in 1970, and the newly formed Penn Central Railroad was forced by the Federal government to absorb the New Haven. The Penn Central was formed by the financially ailing New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. Penn Central was poorly financed to continue its own operations, let alone assuming the bankrupt New Haven.

The Penn Central continued to operate the Maybrook Line, but it was no secret that it wanted to abandon the now old and inefficient Maybrook yard and concentrate its freight operations in the more modern yards in Selkirk, New York. The Selkirk line included a modern railroad bridge to get trains across the Hudson River. In 1974, a disastrous fire destroyed the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. Fires had always been a problem on the bridge, and sparks from passing locomotives often caused fires in the bridge's wooden decking. There has been conjecture over the years that Penn Central, desperate to abandon the bridge, "allowed" a fire to destroy the bridge by removing the fire fighting equipment that had always been in place along the rails. Whatever the truth, Penn Central was able to abandon the Maybrook yard and the bridge. After the 1974 fire, Penn Central refurbished the ex-New Haven Beacon Line to connect the Hudson Division tracks to the Maybrook. One daily freight train then ran on the Maybrook line, starting at Selkirk, heading south on the Hudson Line, and connecting to the Maybrook Line at Beacon to terminate at Cedar Hill.

Conrail assumed responsibility for the Penn Central freight operations in 1976, when the Penn Central Railroad went into bankruptcy and ceased operations. In the 1980s and 1990s, Conrail shed many unprofitable lines. The Maybrook Line in Connecticut was eventually sold to the Housatonic Railroad, which continues to provide freight service on that portion of the line. Metro North Commuter Railroad purchased the New York portion of the line, and currently uses it to shuttle equipment among the Hudson, Harlem, and Danbury lines. The Maybrook yard no longer acts as a freight switching operation.

Next: The Maybrook Line is replaced by Bus Service
Previous: The New York and Harlem Railroad