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The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company

Although not the first railroad into Scranton, the Delaware and Hudson operated the first railroad in the area. This canal and gravity line system grew from the ambitions of two Philadelphia dry goods merchants. In the period following the War of 1812, Maurice and William Wurts often made hunting and fishing trips into the sparsely settled area of northeast Pennsylvania. While in that region, the encountered anthracite coal outcroppings. Hoping to profit from their find, they purchased some of the land on which this fuel is located and in 1822, hauled 100 tons of anthracite to Philadelphia. This venture did not succeed since the market in there home town was oversupplied with anthracite from the more southerly Lehigh coal fields. The Wurts decided to try the New York market, but getting coal there was not east. A canal seemed to offer the best means of transportation. They chose a 108-mile route from a site in Pennsylvania, which became the borough of Honesdale, to Rondout, New York, on the Hudson River. From the latter location they could ship the coal both south to New York City or north to Albany and Troy.

The Wurts brothers organized their venture in 1823. On March 13 of that year, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized a canal and in the following month, on April 23, the New York Legislature granted them Incorporation for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. Construction, however, did not begin on the canal until July 13, 1825. Since the canal terminus at Honesdale did not reach to the coal fields near Carbondale, Pennsylvania, company officials decided to build a gravity railroad to cover the Mountainous sixteen miles between the two towns. Permission to build the line was received from the Pennsylvania Legislature on April 5, 1826. It was completely finished October 8, 1829; one year after the canal.

By 1843 the Delaware and Hudson directorate purchased coal property down the Lackawanna River Valley. As a result, in that year it extended the gravity road seven miles from Carbondale southwest to company owned land at Archbald. Further land purchases in the 1850’s brought the tracks from Archibald through Olyphant to Valley Junction in 1858. Two years later, rails were laid another four miles to Providence on the north side of Scranton. Steam locomotives were used to move the cars on the four-mile length of track. In 1863 a short extension brought the railroad into Scranton where a depot was established on the corner of Vine Street and Franklin Avenue. That station served until 1894 when a new depot opened on Lackawanna Avenue near Mifflin Avenue.

Shortly after the end of the Civil war, the Delaware and Hudson leadership made plans to capture northern coal markets,particularly in New York. To achieve this goal meant continued track construction and hauling agreements with other lines. In September 1868 the company contracts with the Erie Railroad to build a line north from Carbondale to connect with the Erie main line at Lanesboro Pennsylvania, a distance of approximately thirty-seven miles. At the same time the Delaware and Hudson management obtained an agreement from the Erie to have coal hauled from Lanesboro to Binghamton, New York, over the Erie’s track. The Delaware and Hudson leaders also obtained a permanent lease of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, which operated between Binghamton and Albany.

Gaining rail access to Albany, New York, did not end the Delaware and Hudson expansion. That company formalized a lease in May 1871 by which it gained the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad in perpetuity. This line ran from Albany to the head of Lack Champlain at Whitehall, New York. From the latter town it crossed into Vermont where it connected with the Rutland and Burlington railroad at Rutland. The Renssalaer and Saratoga also connected with the Adriondack Railroad in the upper Hudson River valley.

Acquiring the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad with its connects to the Adriondack created an opportunity for the Delaware and Hudson to expand its passenger service. The company had begun a rudimentary service in 1860 between Carbondale and Providence. Passengers however had to ridge the gravity line for part of the distance until 1870 when a locomotive road was opened for the entire route. With the expansion in New York, the Delaware and Hudson began connections with the central Adirondack Mountain resorts where large numbers of the wealthy traveled to places like Saratoga Springs.

The search for more markets brought increases in expansion in the 1870’s and the 1880’s. Between 1873 and late 1875, the Delaware and Hudson managers extended the rails from Whitehall to Rouse’s Point on the Canadian Border. A connection was made at the border with the Grand Trunk Railway, a Canadian firm. The D&H , thereby, had a link to Montreal that expanded its anthracite coal market. By 1880 the Delaware and Hudson operates agreed to a cooperative venture with the Boston, Hoosac tunnel and Western Railway by which a new route would be opened between Boston and Schenectady. When it began operations in 1881 the Delaware and Hudson has access to Boston. In 1886 the Delaware and Hudson obtained the Lehigh and Susquehanna railroad that extended from Scranton to Wilkes-Barre. Finally on July 11, 1889, the D&H purchases the Adriondack Railway that ran from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, New York. The increased numbers of vacationers drawn to the area made it an attractive buy.

An era ended for the Delaware and Hudson in 1891. On November 5 of that year the last coal boat passed down its old canal. The gravity railroad closed on January 3, 1899. As a result, the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company managers received permission in April 1899 to change the firms name to the Delaware and Hudson Company.

The first decade of the twentieth century found the Delaware and Hudson leadership expanding there line into Canada. In 1906 the company purchased Quebec, Montreal, and Southern Railway. Its 143 miles extended to almost Quebec City. Although it has been acquired with the intent to complete the track to Quebec City, that plan never came to fruition. In the spring of 1907 the D&H owners bought another Canadian line called the Napierville Junction Railway. This twenty-nine mile line ran from Rouse’s Point, New York to St. Constant, Quebec on the Grand Trunk Railway. By agreement with the latter railway the D&H used its track to complete the link to Montreal. As a result, the D&H became part of the shortest route from New York to Montreal. The reason for buying the Canadian Railroads was to haul pulpwood south to the paper mills in the upper Hudson Valley and establish new coal markets to the north.

The central focus of the Delaware and Hudson operation came to reside in New York where most of its trackage was located. When several of its shops became obsolete by 1910, including the repair facility at Carbondale, the D&H constructed a huge shop area at Colonie, just north of Albany.

By the mid-1920’s the Delaware and Hudson management began to abandon track in the name of efficiency. With a high of 895 miles under operation, the first track reduction of 12.76 miles took place in February of 1925. Another loss involved 143 miles in 1929 when management sold the unprofitable Quebec, Montreal, and Southern Railway to the Canadian National Railway. This prudence kept the company solvent even in the 1930’s depression years at a time when anthracite tonnage, a main source of freight revenue, had begun to decline. By 1938 the drop in anthracite freight prompted the newly appointed president, Joseph Nuelle, to promote a new transportation mission. By taking advantage of the company’s unique position of connects to Canada, New England, and New York, Nuelle sought to capture more freight by acting as a bridge to haul non-area railroads’ freight to and from those areas. To promote these connections, he saw speed as an attractive selling point, so in keeping with this vision, Nuelle purchased larger, faster locomotives. His efforts produced a significant increase in bridge traffic by 1941. Using his example, succeeding Delaware and Hudson leaders kept the company solvent by continuously adopting advanced technology and using efficient management. As a result the line eluded Financial problems until the late 1970’s. The declining North Eastern industrial base however finally brought economic hardship to the Delaware and Hudson. It entered bankruptcy in 1987.

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