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Great Railroad Stations - Geneva, NY

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Geneva, NY

When the Lehigh Valley RR extended its line to Buffalo in the 1890's, Geneva was chosen as the place for the railroad's largest, most ornate station between New York City and Buffalo.  Geneva at the close of the 19th century, was a bustling railroad junction.  Several Lehigh branches fanned out from here.  At the same time as the Geneva station was being built, a low grade freight line from Van Etten, NY (just north of Sayre, Pa.) was constructed to Geneva.  This double tracked line ran high above the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, and bypassed the stiff mainline grades in each direction out of Ithaca, NY.  With a well groomed Buffalo line complete, the Lehigh Valley Railroad slowly shifted from primarily a coal hauler to that of a fast merchandise route between the Buffalo gateway to midwestern connections and the New York / Philadelphia tidewater markets.  Bridge traffic became the railroads' primary function, and fast, modern 4-8-4 steam power, T-2-B class Wyoming's, headed the war year freights in the mid 1940's.

In the 1930's, streamlined steam locomotives were introduced to haul the Valley's crack passenger schedules on the Black Diamond, Asa Packer, and John Wilkes. Always an underdog when compared to more well heeled roads like the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western or the New York Central, the Lehigh Valley was quick to adopt diesel power.  The brilliant Cornell red paint scheme on its road units, the Alco black & white "Snowbird" scheme and the ubiquitous Lehigh flag are fondly recalled by many railfans.  As a youngster in the early 1960's, I used to watch Lehigh's trains along the Niagara Falls branch from my Grandmother's house in what was then still a largely undeveloped part of the Town of Tonawanda, near the abandoned junction with the Central's former "Peanut" line.  To this child, all was right in the world, with long freights pulled by sharp Cornell red locomotives. Lehigh Valley's center cupola cabooses trailed these interesting trains. A friendly wave from the crew would always be delivered.

The Geneva station, located on the northwest side of town at Sherril St. and Wilbur Ave. (off North Genesee) was built in 1892 and 1893 by railroad workers under architect, Aldah B. Wood of Ithaca, NY.  The railroad created a station like no other on its system.  The Romanesque Revival red brick station features many tall, brick arched, leaded glass windows, and a fanciful roof with several peaks, valleys and miniature towers and dormers.  Nearby, coal, ice, and other small businesses utilized the numerous sidings and small switching yard.  Across the street, stood the Hotel Sterling, no doubt patronized by many a Lehigh crewman.

Anchored at the southeast corner by a tower entrance way to the main waiting room, the station is situated next to an embankment that carried the double track mainline.  The large waiting room featured a huge fireplace, a two story cathedral ceiling, leaded glass windows, decorative spindles and brackets with supporting beams and plaster leaf motifs.  Behind it, a baggage room opened on one side to the tracks and on the other to the station carriage way.  A restaurant (closed in the 1920's) and a kitchen were located to the rear of the building.  Trackside, a large platform canopy was added sometime after the station was built, but no record has been found of when it was removed.  Coal fired boilers in the basement heated this large station, and donkeys were employed to haul coal to the boilers with large scoops.

Train time on the Lehigh Valley RR, Geneva, NY - from an antique postcard dated December 31, 1909

February 6, 1961 marked the end of all passenger service on the Valley, and the Geneva station ceased to be a stop in the Official Guide.  Increasingly fighting for its life, the railroad's freight offices remained until the merger into Conrail.  Deferred maintenance was catching up with the Valley, and the road was in poor physical shape in 1976.  Conrail began eliminating its' excess capacity in New York / Buffalo routes and the Lehigh Valley became sadly not only a fallen flag, but a vanished one as well.  Mainline tracks were systematically removed, bridges and overpasses demolished, and what little remained of railroad structures were turned over to the wreckers.  Almost all traces in New York State of the once mighty "Route of the Black Diamond" were to be obliterated.

Conrail had planned to demolish the abandoned station.  Luckily, it was sold and today, is now undergoing restoration as a historic preservation project.  If you are in Geneva, stop by this unique station.  Listen carefully.  The ghosts of the Lehigh Valley past may well sound their steam whistles for you.

Now under restoration, June 3, 2000. Photo by Jon Rothenmeyer.
(taken on the tour of the Railroad Station Historical Society)

 

 

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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

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