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Great Railroad Stations - Chatham, NY

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

 

Chatham, New York

The renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson established a style of buildings which bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. Stone structures, expertly crafted, with beautiful park-like settings are a part of his legacy.  Not surprisingly, the railroads were among his clients. In the late 1880ís the Boston & Albany Railroad hired Richardson to design a series of classic stations. Sadly, of the 32 structures that were to be built, only 13 have survived. H.H. Richardson died a young man, but his style was picked up and continued by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. On many of H.H.ís buildings, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted collaborated in the grounds layout. The result were beautiful structures in inspired settings, a far cry from the sometimes grubby industrial settings of railroad depots. 

Built in 1887, Chatham station functioned as an important gateway for turn of the century railroading. A branch line to the south joined the Centralís Hudson River line at Hudson, NY. At Ghent, the Harlem division line joined the branch. To the north, the Rutland railroad to Bennington, Vt. provided important interchange traffic. The mainline, east and west, became a part of the New York Centralís vast empire in 1900. Boston & Albany would retain a measure of independence within the corporate hierarchy however, and throughout the steam era B&A maintained itsí name on the equipment. 

 

  New York Centralís  Boston & Albany station at Chatham, NY seen on a bright Autumn afternoon, October 11, 1997. Jon Rothenmeyer photo

 

Chatham once featured two towers, #65 opposite the depot, and #66 at the wye junction to the Harlem division line. An extensive yard and several on-line businesses made the town a busy place. Passenger trains east and west as well as the branch line service made the place a railfan mecca during the steam era. A 1945 look at the timetable reveals a choice of six passenger trains, with additional Saturday or Sunday only options. Today only Amtrakís Lake Shore Limited traverses the line, and it does not stop in Chatham. The double track has been rationalized into a single line with many long passing sidings. Local business in town is almost gone, with the yard trackage largely abandoned. The Rutlandís Bennington line is no more and the branch to Hudson has been removed. 

With the merger of this portion of Conrail into CSX, it is believed the Boston & Albany line will become even busier.  The Chatham station itself has been acquired by the National Union Bank of Kinderhook, NY which plans to restore this grand structure as offices. 

But for now the Boston & Albany mainline at Chatham is still a place to watch trains. Steam whistles have been replaced by the diesel horn. The tower operator and telegraph key have yielded to CTC, radio, and computer dispatching. The fast merchandise train is todayís double stack and unit train service. On a sunny Autumn afternoon the surrounding hills are a blaze of colors. The old town clock tower overlooks the depot, the railroad, and town center in a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell portrait. In the distance, a diesel horn issues itsí traditional two longs, a short and a long blast. The crossing gate bells sound their warning, and the red lights flash in unison. The low rumble of a stack train in the charge of Conrailís wide cab locomotives approaches and whisks past the depot. All seems right with the world once more.

  Train time about 1910 was an event at Chatham, NY . This scene probably records the arrival of a mainline train and one of the Rutlandís branchline accommodations  from Bennington, Vt.

 

Tower 65 stood opposite the station as seen in this vintage postcard dated August 9, 1924.  

Another ďRoaring 20ísĒ view from a vintage postcard. What a treat it would be to spend an afternoon along the Boston & Albany at Chatham about 1921.

 

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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

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