A TRAIN RIDE NORTH FROM HERKIMER
WITH A GLIMPSE OF NEARBY PROPERTIES
(An original article written by Betsy Voorhees in January 2000)
Trains were an essential mode of delivering goods to factories, stores, etc. and also beneficial to it's passengers going north before the invention of automobiles, trucks, etc. The first railroad built through the Kuyahoora Valley was the Narrow Gauge railroad, built in 1881 and travelled from Herkimer to Poland. Trains made routine stops to deliver merchandise to such places as the Library Bureau, National Furniture, Standard Furniture Co., Hales Manufacturing Co., Horrocks Desk Co., all of whom were furniture manufacturers for many years in Herkimer. Also, dependent on trains were H.M. Quackenbush Co., H. Munger Dept. Store, grocery stores, etc. There were many other numerous businesses in the area serviced by the trains delivering their goods to our area.
After trains left Herkimer with passengers and supplies they would proceed up the track heading north parallel to the West Canada Creek. Before it was known as West Canada Creek the Indians called it "Teugh-teugh, ra-row." This section of the tracks runs parallel to what is now known as Route 28.
At the time the railroad went into operation there were not very many roads going out through the country.
After the horrific blizzard of 1888, nearby people were grateful to have their snowshoes like their ancestors had, to get through drifts in order to reach the train. Another similar snowfall was in 1925 which paralyzed traffic, downed utility company's lines, closed stores and factories. However, the result of the storm was profitable for hotels as they filled their rooms to capacity with guests unable to continue their journeys by train.
Located in Herkimer was the Standard Desk Company which was one of the several desk factories in this area. At one time Herkimer was known as the leading desk manufacturer for the entire United States.
Leaving Herkimer could be seen on the left about a 1/2 mile up on what is German Street the Jacob B. Weber Store. This store opened about 1800 at the head of Main Street, where Jacob amassed a fortune from his goods and dealing with the purchase of pelts from the Indians and others.
A little further down the track and about 1/4 mile distant to the west was the National Desk Company. It was located a short distance from an egg-carton factory.
On the left side as the train headed north could be seen Mirror Lake, which was a source of fun for ice skating, boating, swimming, etc. Mirror Lake is still there but is not a public attraction at this time. A little further down in town is the Petrie development of homes which were constructed in the mid 1940's and named for a Mr. Petrie. These homes are still looking as good as new in the year 2000.
Looking across to the other side of the track could be seen the Sherwood Estate. After the owner passed away a major portion of the estate was torn down and made into an elderly citizens complex with many apartments. One of the original buildings still remains on the property.
A short distance up on the left side of the highway can be seen the brick one-room schoolhouse, on Farber Lane, in excellent condition, where many students were taught in the past. It is now owned in the year 2000 by Douglas Anderson and his wife. The former one room schoolhouse is now known as "The Old Phony Shop" which boasts approximately 200 phonographs of all different types and styles from the late 1800's and early 1900's. This collection is Mr. Anderson's hobby after retiring as an industrial arts teacher. This is a public attraction and Mr. Anderson is pleased to show his display.
When the new highway was put through in 1965, doing away with many curves, the homes on Farber Lane had their fronts facing the road. After the new road went through, the front of their house is what used to be their backyard, with the road going through their yard. These residents now have to cross the highway to get to the other side of their property which overlooks West Canada Creek and the old railroad track.
Traveling down the road north a little further, the train would go past Shells Bush Road, named for the famous Shells who endured a hectic fight with the Indians in 1781. A few of these Shells managed to survive these scoundrels and flee to Canada. One day, after the bloody attack had past, John Christian Shell was working in his cornfield and was shot and killed by an Indian who had been hiding among the corn field.
Colonel Willett chose to cross the West Canada Creek about October 29, of 1781 near the Shells Bush Road area on a wearisome march north. (Colonel Willett made his journey from Fort Dayton in Herkimer with 400 of his best hand-picked men and 60 Indians up through the West Canada Creek in pursuit of the British who he heard were camping in Ohio, NY. They continued on to Middleville and followed the Maltanner Creek to Fairfield and by way of the Jerseyfield road met up with Major Ross and Butler's forces, who had now moved forward near Hinckley at which time there was a running battle. Butler was shouting insults to his enemies about their families and giving them hand signals. An Oneida Indian scout took his shot at Butler, which went through his head, ridding the Americans of one of their most hated enemies of that time.)
It was not too far from Shells Bush, in the year of 1781 when a party of rangers or scouts under Lieutenant Woodworth, stationed at Fort Dayton, were surrounded by Indians and all Woodworth's backers were killed. This encounter took place in a deep ravine about three miles from Herkimer, on the east side of West Canada Creek. This little band of patriots were all buried in this area with a huge mound of dirt marking their grave.
The directory of Hamilton Child Co. of Syracuse, New York for 1869 lists the Herkimer Union Cheese Factory on Shells Bush, which manufactured 135,000 pounds of cheese annually.
Continuing on the train heading north and looking to the east side of the creek could be seen the former Ichabod G. and wife Rebecca Brown's farm. It is located on a smaller portion of the Winne's Patent mapped out in 1741. According to Benton's History, the Winne's patent contained 12,000 acres. Ichabod's father Ichabod, Sr. was born in Hancock, MA in 1775 and married Rebecca Griswold, which was the younger Ichabod's middle name. Ichabod G. and Rebecca Griswold were married May 19,1796 in Herkimer. It is reported Ichabod G., in one will or deed, owned a whiskey distillery near Kast Bridge. Ichabod G. the son married Roxie Metcalf. Several of the Brown offspring
married into the Harter family which lived nearby.
The Brown farm was later owned by the Kasts in the early 1800's, for whom the bridge crossing West Canada Creek is named. The little community surrounding this area is still known as Kast Bridge. Further up the road from Kast farm were located other related Browns who migrated from Massachusetts. Some of these homesteads are still in existence in the year 2000.
As the train was nearing the intersection by Kast Bridge, which is about three miles from Herkimer Village, the sound of its whistle could be heard echoing through the valley between the hills for more than two miles at the crossroad. People would board the train at this flag stop and head north to work. Mail was picked up or dropped off at the flagstops. If a person wanted to board the train, there was a small booth with a green flag and a white flag. The person would have to take the two flags and wave the train to a stop. At night they had a red or green lantern and would have to wave the lantern if they wanted the train to stop. The next flag stop in Herkimer town heading north was at the County Home.
Before the Kast Bridge Inn burned down in the 1990's, it still had the original posts from the old days where horses were tied waiting for their owners to claim them. The tavern was a popular place for the people in the community to sit and chat or have a bite to eat while their horses waited patiently for the continued journey home through the picturesque hillsides. Before the train was introduced to this area, a stagecoach driven by four horses was the mode of transportation for this area. Later, of course, automobiles and trucks took over and it was no longer profitable to run the trains up north.
Several miles east of the track by Kast Bridge is North Creek Road which offered a section called "Flat Rock." With the era of automobiles, Flat Rock was a place well known as the neighboring townspeople could drive their car right onto the flat rocks in the creek, wash their cars in the very shallow stream, picnic on the banks and enjoy a family outing. This area was also a well known "swimming hole" for bathers offering shallow or deep waters, with a diving spot from rocks or the creeks banks. However, this is not a public option for people to visit anymore, since it has been sealed off since about 1980. Across the road from "Flat Rock" can be seen the former Fulmer farm.
Back at Kast Bridge area, the train continued past the former Brown tavern on the left of the crossroad. It travelled on through farmlands, some of which were owned over the years by the Hoffstetters, VanVechtens, Hladysz, the Osbourne family who came from Massachusetts in 1850's, the Farmer family arriving from Massachusetts in the late 1700's, and Peter Smith in the 1840 time frame. Other owners of some of these farms were names such as Shepherd, Hildreth and Coffin. On the border line of the town of Herkimer is the town of Newport, with the Schrader farm just on the other side of the dividing line.
Many of the homes in this particular area were built by the New Englanders who moved to this area. Some of these homes are still in excellent condition in the year 2000 and some are registered in the Register of Historic Homes. These New Englanders who settled in what was a wilderness worked very hard and were very prosperous farmers exercising their extraordinary farming skills.
Moving north a little further is Osborne Road which had a community schoolhouse for the neighbors in that immediate area.
To the west of the train tracks was the VanVechten farm, now owned by Arthur VanVechten Sr. Before he took over ownership of the farm it had belonged to his parents, George and Izetta VanVechten, who purchased the farm in the early 1900's froth Ruth Pronivitch. The VanVechtens moved a house from across the road and merged it together with their orginal home on the opposite side of the highway. Many years later, this portion of the house was again moved down the road a distance of a mile where a family member now lives. In earlier years the elder VanVechtens operated a creamery on the farm and sold the butter they made, along with eggs and milk. In the fall of 1999 the VanVechten family was interviewed by a member of the Herkimer Historical Society and it is believed the person obtained information on an abandoned cemetery.
There was another one room schoolhouse located on the east side of Route 28 on the Hladysz property, formerly part of the Farmer lands. All the neighbors in this local area attended this school from approximately the late 1850's-60's until it closed in the 1950 time frame. When Charles Hladysz was growing up and working on the farm, as well as attending school, it was his chore to run over to the schoolhouse and start the fire so the school would be warm when the teacher and children arrived. This school house was torn down about three years ago.
Diagonally across the road, just before the schoolhouse, was the Hladysz farm, which in years past had belonged to the Farmer family. When the Farmer family owned the property it was also used as an Inn. The railroad tracks were across the road and down a narrow roadway about a distance of 1/4 mile. The train would stop here to let people on and off who wished to stay at the Inn. When the Hladyzs family purchased the farm they found a gravestone in the vicinity of the barn or by the house with the name engraved "Esther Farmer" with the age remembered as being a four year old. No one knows if there was a grave there or if the stone had been put there. This editor was told that years ago when the road was paved a cemetery sat on the hill of the VanVechten farm and it is possible some graves were moved from the road. It would seem logical that little Esther would be buried on the Farmer property rather on the neighbors property. As mentioned above, it is hoped that a recent interview with the neighboring farmer will bring more information to light concerning a Farmer family cemetery. This original house was torn down in the 1980's and a smaller, more modern home erected on the farm.
In earlier years the three Hladyzs brothers operated their own farm and a milk plant on the farm where they pastuerized and homogenized the milk, bottled it and delivered it around the valley to regular customers. It was known as the Herkimer Valley Dairy.
On the west side of the train track, about a half mile up the road from the above Farmer property, was located the Simon Farmer place, which boasted a cider-brandy distillery with apples supplied from their own well cared for apple orchards.
Some of the Farmer family were leading organizers of the Union Church in Middleville which was dedicated in 1827. Later the Union Church was auctioned off and the Methodists purchased it. In the late 1800's a new church was built next door to the old Union Church. Both church buildings are still there by the entrance to the Middleville Rural Cemetery. (Many of the Farmer family are buried out back of the church in this rural cemetery.) However, the original church building is now used for a home and machine shop.
Slightly past the Farmer place, on the the west side of the track just before leaving the town of Herkimer was the Poor House. Later the Poor House was known as the Herkimer County Home for the Aged which serviced inpoverished people with many afflictions. The old Home was demolished from its former location and replaced many years ago with a modern building on the easterly side of the road. The name of the Home was changed in 1998 to The Country Manor. It is now an adult retirement home for the elderly, covering different categories for eligibility, such as: persons unable to live alone for various reasons, certain handicaps or illnesses, etc. The old County Home had its own private cemetery which can be seen sitting on a small hill on the west side of the highway back of a cement retaining wall and is maintained with perpetual care. Those buried there have stone markers with numbers and these numbers can be looked up at the Herkimer County Historical Society or in cemetery listings to find the name of the person buried there, or vice-versa.
About 1965, when the Route 28 highway was being rebuilt out of Herkimer, one huge house which would have been in the middle of the road had to be moved to the westerly side of the highway. Half the house was moved and is located next to what is now known as the P & C Plaza. The other half of the house was was not salvaged. Further down the highway, a portion of the West Canada Creek was rerouted from the Kast Bridge area. This new route was necessary to straighten the road and do away with bad curves bordering the hillside. In this particular area there was a serious problem at times, caused from mudslides or snowlides blocking the road and making it unsurpassable until cleared of debris, etc. By rerouting the West Canada Creek at this point it permitted an old bridge over the creek to be done away with. After this improvement to the highway, a picnic area was nestled between the hills and now, in the year 2000, there is just a hint of what used to be a main roadway in the background since it has grown over from mudslides, shrubbery, trees and weeds over the years.
Some of the aforementioned areas have seen decreases in farming as competitiveness, retirement, and costly dairy regulations have squeezed some farmers out of their occupations. Apple orchards were abundant in the surrounding areas and their fruit was quite bountiful. In the past these farmers were very fortunate to have abundance of spring water and artesian wells for their main sources of water. Village water coming down from the Hinckley reservoir was offered to anyone on the routes where the water mains travelled through in the late 1920's. Considerable new homes are being built on what used to be farmland. However, our community still has its rural appearance despite its progress and changes over the years.
The use of the train gradually became obsolete as new roads were constructed permitting the use of cars and trucks. It was no longer feasible to operate this railroad without a profit, so in 1973, after more than 90 years of service, the trains stopped running from Herkimer up north.
From: Bill McKerrow
Editor, Newport and Norway Town Pages
Subject: Railroad Story
Hi Betsy. Wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your story of the Railroad.
It returned many memories. As a boy in Newport, it was a special event to
watch the train pull into the station in Newport. And to watch the
activities while it was there. As I grew older, we would hop on an empty or
open door car and ride up to Poland and back to Newport on the return trip.
I recall that the local cattle feed dealers would receive their products via
the train. They would hire us to unload the 100 pound bags of grain onto a
truck and then unload them at the feed mill. (There is a photo of the Fitch
and Howe Flour, Feed and Grain, Salt Mill on page 144 of "A Glimpse in Passing
Newport, 1791 -1991") All for 50 cents. I especially enjoyed the Kast Bridge
part as this brings back some of my best memories of time spent with my
Grandfather. He had a dairy farm at the end of the West End dirt road in the
West Neighborhood. This was almost directly across the West Canada River
from the County Home. He carried his milk to the Milk Plant at Kast Bridge
with his horse team. I loved to sit on the wagon seat (summer) sled (winter)
and ride to the Milk Factory with him. He had a bear skin on the seat that
we sat on in the summer and wrapped around us in the winter to keep warm.
After the milk cans were back on the waggon/sled he would drive across the
road to the Kast Bridge Bar and Grill (above) and tie the horses to that hitch you
mentioned out front and go in to have one glass of whiskey and visit with the
other farmers. He would sit me up on the bar and announce to his farmer
friends, "this is my grandson, Bill". Many years later before Grandfather
passed away, I asked him to take a ride with me. He was very old then and
not sure he wanted to go, but finally agreed. I drove him to the Kast Bridge
Bar and Grill and walked into the bar and announced to all present: "This is
my Grandfather and he sat me on this bar many years ago and announced this is
my Grandson, Bill". We both had one shot of whiskey and shed a couple of
tears. My great Grandfather lived on the opposite side of the West Canada
from Grandfather. His property adjoined the County Home property. The train
tracks ran along his property. I remember the mud slides in the spring that
would close the tracks and road before it was modified. I have many other
fond memories of the train and tracks. My brother David purchased and still
owns the railroad tracks and property between Newport and Poland. I hope
that you will find the time to continue your story on up thru Middleville,
Newport and Poland. There is a story in the "A Glimpse in Passing" page 145,
entitled: Herkimer, Newport and Poland Narrow Gauge Railroad by, Mrs Vincent
(Olga) Elliott. Again, thank you so much for your wonderful contribution to
the Herkimer/Montgomery Gen Page. I suspect it will bring back a lot of
great memories for many others. Bill
From: Cliff Whitney
Subject: Railroad Story
I just wanted to thank you for the train ride going north from Herkimer.
I've been visiting this site for about three years because my old family lived in and around Herkimer many years ago. I didn't know my grandfather but mom said he was born at a place called Kast Bridge in upstate NY. So that's where I started looking 3 yrs. ago.
With the help of this site and the Herkimer Hist. Soc., I have since learned quite a lot about my family. In fact I have linked us directly to John and Elinor Whitney who arrived at Watertown, Ma. in 1635. Reading about the Farmer family in your article rang a bell. My grandfather's father, Perry Whitney, worked for L. W. Farmer in 1855 and thats where he met his wife to be, Parmellia Pullman when she was only 17 and also worked for Mr. Farmer. They didn't marry right away... not until Perry returned from the Civil War. He had lived in Oneida Co. and joined the 117th VOL. (Oneida Fourth).
Well, thats why grandfather, Frank Douglas Whitney was born at Kast Bridge in June of 1868.
By the way, Perry's father was Phineas Whitney from German Flatts. He was a chair maker and I just put his will on the boards. Thanks again for the ride. You have given me more than you know.
From: Marge Baum, a Farmer family researcher
I certainly did enjoy "the train ride" through your beautiful country. I got
the Atlas out and followed the trip, as best I could, with the map I have.
You certainly did a great job. It made the trip so alive and I could just
"see" it as I traveled with your interesting account. You did a great job,
and all of us are proud of you. You have really taken a lot of time on the
FARMER family and have given us more then I ever would have thought I would
ever have. Thank you Betsy for a job well done.
Your Herkimer county WEB pages are really good. I looked at the marriage info
and found some of the relatives on my grandfather's Babcock family. So many of
the DAVIS, LAWTON, BABCOCK, COON, CRANDELL, etc., left RI and went west into
NY state. It is always so much when I find distant relatives.
I really enjoyed following the train along the route and seeing where my
ancestors lived and the beautiful country side it must have been, in its
pristine beauty. I bet they didn't have much time to enjoy the area very
much, there was too much work to do just to survive. I am glad that the
people of our day can take time to see it and enjoy it. I love the pictures
that you have sent for the cemetery, homes and tombstones. I enjoy looking at the
landscape and knowing that they were there, and imagining what must have
gone through their minds. How lucky I am to see it through your eyes. I would
be honored to have my "thoughts" added to your fantastic train ride. Thanks
again Betsy for writing that great article.
Further tidbit from Betsy: "The train from Herkimer going north
used one and the same track to go up and back."
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