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Great Railroad Stations - Perkinsville, NY

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Great Railroad Stations

By John C. Dahl

 

Perkinsville, NY

Many years ago an article in Trains magazine delved into "Whatís Left of Lackawanna". This explored the late Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, the "Road of Anthracite" and "Route of the Phoebe Snow". Now we visit a ghost railroad, an abandoned depot, a right of way stripped of rails and ties but a place not without memories of the glory days. What was the DL&W? Let us journey to Western New York and Perkinsville, NY to seek an answer.

In itís heyday the Lackawanna was a strong, well run operation. After several decades in the late 19th Century as a sleepy provincial operation, (the railroad didnít even run Sunday passenger trains) the railroad in 1899 assumed a new president, one who would lead the company into the new century. William Haynes Trusdale is credited with making the DL&W one of the great railroads of North America. His leadership brought forth an amazing modernization and building program that few railroads, if any, were able to match. Trusdale oversaw almost a complete rebuilding of the DL&W from New Jersey to Buffalo. The railroad became known as "Mile for Mile the most Highly Developed Road in America".

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western began life in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. Like oil is today, coal was the energy source of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The industrial revolution was maturing and a reliable source of fuel was at hand in the mountains to be found in the coal regions. Anthracite coal in particular was a preferred fuel source after a way of efficiently burning it was perfected. The clean burning properties were much touted by the DL&W and the road did much to promote itís use as a locomotive fuel. Mark Twain once remarked on a journey he took aboard the DL&W: "donned white duck suit this morning in Buffalo and am now arrived in New York and it is white still". All this in the days of open window coaches!

Scranton, Pa. became the focus of many railroads, and the DL&W eventually grew into a New York City to Buffalo route that serviced the heart of the industrial east. Itís rivals included the Erie and Lehigh Valley, but they were really poor cousins to the kingly, well heeled "Road of Anthracite". The railroad expanded first east to New York tidewater by acquiring the Morris & Essex. This line would eventually become part of the mainline and would be heavily rebuilt in the early 20th century. Magnificent passenger stations would rise all along the road, and complemented the massive grade separations and road re-alignment projects that positioned the DL&W as a superior property.

DL&Wís western extension to Buffalo would be constructed in the late 1870ís. Although there were many examples of DL&W modern depots, western New York is still fortunate to retain several of the originals as well. Perkinsville station, (originally called Portway, but officially renamed in 1935) was built in 1882. Railroad maps place it at milepost 313.2. A family appearance to DL&W wood depots on the Buffalo line is very common. Typical details include a curving roof overhang, board and batten siding, and tall multipane windows. The graceful support brackets and typically Victorian details made for a very pleasing depot. Original paint colors of many DL&Wís depots were a rich green. Avoca, NYís restored DL&W depot is a good example of the color scheme. Perhaps Perkinsville also followed suit.

For many years fast freights headed by Pocono class 4-8-4ís highballed past the depot on the superbly maintained right of way. Passenger service on the railroad was among the finest in the east, with the Phoebe Snow as the flagship service. After World War II, the diesels arrived and so did a revived Phoebe Snow, sporting the famous tavern lounge observation car on itís streamlined consist.

Traditional railroading underwent dramatic, if gradual, changes in the late 1940ís through the 1950ís as steam gave way to diesel, freight traffic began to slip and more and more passengers forsake the railroad in favor of the automobile and air travel.

In 1960, DL&W merged with rival Erie Railroad. The combined railroad began to rationalize, and DL&Wís Buffalo mainline was downgraded and then eliminated as a through route. Eventually, the right of way would be abandoned altogether and the tracks rails and ties would be scrapped. Somehow the Perkinsville depot survived while many of her sister stations would disappear.

Today the right of way can still be seen, especially in the winter months. In the hush of a quiet winter afternoon, as the sun becomes low on the horizon, we visited the Perkinsville station. Perhaps some would say it forlorn and an eyesore and that it would be better off torn down. Nature is slowly but relentlessly tugging at the right of way, now used by snowmobilers. But step onto the former platform area and listen carefully. A ghost train whistle sounds down the line for the station stop. The clatter of countless trains and panting steamers passing the old depot can be conjured up, and Miss Phoebe herself can be imagined waving from a turn of the century open platform car rounding the curve past the depot.

The small town of Perkinsville was well served by Miss Phoebeís railroad during the heyday of the DL&W. Photo by Jon Rothenmeyer, New Yearís Day, 1999

More photos of Perkinsville

 

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