Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Thanks to Judy Dolanski, typing volunteer.

From an old newspaper of unknown origin



It's an old story, that of the first passenger railroad in the United States but, because of our growing youth and the new citizens who are constantly coming to this section of the states the history of the pioneer system, the beginning of the great New York Central lines, needs to be repeated now and then through the years.

The Mohawk and Hudson Company that was chartered in 1826 to build the road began actual construction in 1830 and two years later in 1832 in September, the first passenger train in all America was run over the sixteen miles from Albany to Schenectady. The capital to build the road was furnished by monied men from New York City.

John B. Jervis, C. E., who was superintendent of construction, made his headquarters in Schenectady. The contractors who laid the rails and made the roadbed and furnished other equipment, were John Littlejohn, Colonel Barker and James Myers. One of the workmen, John Elphick, born in England, who later became the brakeman, was employed at 37 1/2 cents per day. He lived till May 1909 passing away at Poolville, N. Y. at the age of 97 years.

There were other railroads previously built in the United States, shorter or longer than this one in New York, but they were freight roads, where horse or gravity were the means of locomotion. In England a tramway was built for carrying coal as early as 1672, running from Newcastle on the Tyne to the sea. Iron rails were used as early as 1738, while the first English passenger train dates back to 1830. All sorts of so-called locomotives were being brought out, but most of them were impractical. In 1829 a road was built between Baltimore and Elliott's Mills (Md.) where horse power was used and when the Bunker Hill monument was erected in 1827 a temporary line was laid down to carry stones from the Quincy quarries. In the Albany-Schenectady railroad both steam and horse power were used--the latter to carry the passengers from the top of the inclines at both ends of the road into the business part of the two cities.

Stationary engines were at the top of both terminals which eased the train down to the level of the road bed. The rails, straps of iron on heavy wooden pieces, were strapped to large granite blocks, which were left in the highway until the trolley lines were later built. The first engine, "John Bull" was imported from England, but this was soon replaced by the DeWitt Clinton, an engine built at West Point and which has been shown in the Grand Central for many years and often exhibited in various parts of the country. There is a picture of this first passenger train in the rooms of the Schenectady County Historical Society. Another picture, the original owned by the New York State Historical Society is also in the rooms at Schenectady, which shows the large concourse of people waiting to see the train make its initial start. The house used as the original station stood on Crane street till recently. It was a pity not to have preserved it. At South Center street, opposite the old Frog Alley bridge, stood a "round house" where the wood used for firing the engine was sawed. Among the relics to be seen at the Schenectady Society's room is a piece of the iron strap rail, a spike puller, time table and tickets.

The first president of the company was the Hon. John I. DeGraff, then the mayor of Schenectady, and formerly a member of Congress. About the time the road was completed the other DeGraffs, Andrew and Ira, distant relatives of the mayor, but also of Schenectady, began their career as railroad builders of the line running from Schenectady to Utica. Later they went west and settled in Minnesota where they entered the same work.

The first train (of Albany) bound for Schenectady, on Sept. 24, 1832. It was drawn by a reconstructed English engine, weighing about four tons, and resembled a Baroni steam wagon more than it did a locomotive. There was a small platform car that was used as a tender on which were barrels of water and wood. Behind this were the two passenger cars. The latter were made by taking stage coaches which were reinforced with heavy wooden braces and removing them from their wheels, replacing them on four car wheels. The engineer (and fireman) was John Hampson, an Englishman.

A picture of this train was made by a local artist who cut paper to represent it and from this outline engravings were later made, that are extant. The conductor of the train was Billy Marshall, a former Schenectady liveryman, often patronized by Engineer Jarvis, who persuaded him to quit his stable and become a railroad conductor. In the picture Marshall is shown as seated outside in front of the first coach. The passengers on this first train were Joseph Alexander, Lewis Benedict, Erastus Corning, Edwin Crosswell, Capt. H. G. Cruttenden, John L. DeGraff, Charles John Townsend, Thurlow Weed, S. I. Dudley, Jacob Hayes, John Meigs, Wilcox, Billy Winne and Joseph C. Yates who, with the conductor, engineer and brakeman, made eighteen persons. Wilcox was the proprietor of the Western Hotel at Albany; Alexander was president of the Commercial Bank there; Hayes was high constable in New York City; Meigs was the sheriff of Albany county; Crosswell was the editor of the Albany Argus; Winne was the famous penny postman of Albany and Weed was the editor of the Albany Journal.

The train made three daily round trips. Passenger tickets were at first sold in the stores and shops and when the stages began to cut the prices, the railroad met these ridiculously low prices. The conductors' duties were many and varied--looking after the sale of tickets, seeing to the transferring of the baggage in Schenectady and taking charge of the train on its daily trips. During his fifteen years of service Billy Marshall settled the authority of railroad conductors for all time, as in supreme command of trains. When later, closed cars and engine cabs came into being, Marshall rigged up a contraption from the train through to the engine to signal the engineer, a rope running cab at the end to which was attached a chunk of wood, the signals of which were in raising and lowering the same. But the engineer objected to Billy's assumed authority and tossed the stick into the fire. On the next trip the conductor attached another stick and told the engineer if the sticks were not used somebody would get a licking at the end of the run. At the end of the trip it was missing, and the engineer and the conductor had it out and Billy won the fight, and ever since the conductors of railroad trains have given orders to the engineer. Later the stick of wood was replaced by a bell.

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