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Harry Yates - Orchard Park Businessman
By: Greg Jandura

Harry Yates - Portraits of Harry Yates from “Men of Buffalo” (left) and from his obituary in the Buffalo News, Feb. 11, 1956 right. (50K)         In 1912, Howard A. Taft was U. S. President. Other world events that year included the sinking of the RMS Titanic, admission to statehood for both Arizona and New Mexico, and the Olympic Games held in Stockholm, Sweden. (1)

         Among the local and most important area news stories of 1912, was the opening of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway's beautiful passenger station and freight house set atop a well-manicured lawn with flower beds of great beauty in Orchard Park, New York. This was due to the fore sight and generosity of Harry Yates, who left a legacy for a growing community.

         Harry Yates wed Mary Theresa (Mamie) Duffy in late 1892 in Rochester, New York. Mamie was the daughter of Walter Bernard Duffy, and his first wife, Theresa O'Dea Duffy, his first wife. Mamie came from no less a stellar business dynasty then her husband Harry Yates. Both their fathers were enormously influential in the Rochester, New York community. (2)

         They moved to Buffalo twenty years later in 1912... They would have four sons and three daughters; Robert L., Harry D., Richard G., Walter A., Theresa (the wife of Mr. More, and later, of Harvey Sherahan; Virginia (the wife of Henry Erb), Elizabeth (the wife of William MacGreal). (3)

         This union brought about an intertwined business dynasty in Rochester and Buffalo between the Duffy and Yates families. In addition to Mamie Yates, Walter Bernard Duffy had two other daughters, Constance Duffy married Jeremiah Hickey in 1905, President of the Hickey Freeman Company; a manufacturer of quality men's clothing. Harriet Jane Katherine in 1907 married William T. Noonan, General Manager of the BR&P Railway. (2)

         "When Walter Bernard Duffy died in 1911, he had amassed a fortune through a variety of business investments. Among which were Duffy's Whiskey. and the Duffy-Mclnnerney (later Duffy-Powers) Department Store in Rochester, New York, built 1906-1907. The store went bankrupt in 1932. He has also made his mark in the civic arena, having donated, in concert with George Eastman, more than 150 acres to Highland Park. He also served as a City of Rochester Parks Commissioner." (2)

         Arthur Gould Yates was Harry Yates father. He believed that his fortune would benefit from diversification and became influential in Rochester's banking community, and during his later years, invested in hotels and a theater.

         "Arthur Gould Yates was heavily invested in the coal industry. In 1876 he helped establish Bell, Lewis and Yates in Rochester, which was a coal mining and shipping concern that shipped more than 3 million tons by year 1893. The company owned seven coal mines in Pennsylvania alone and had recently acquired the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Company, Walston, Adrian, Eleanora and Beechtree mines. The Pennsylvania mines employed 4,000 men and there were 1.140 coke ovens in use at the Walston site." (4)

         In a candid interview of Harry Yates in the 1950's given to Richard Brennan who married Isabelle, one of the many Yates grandchildren, he stated "We refused to pay the New York Central Railroad an increase of five cents a ton on our shipments, so we built our own railroad." (4)

         An article appearing the "New York Times" In 1892, and the book "The Historical Guide To North American Railroads" detailed the development of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway largely controlled by the Yates family,."Rochester, New York in 1869 had a well-developed flour milling industry. The Genesee River furnished power to drive the mills; wheat came from the fertile Genesee Valley south of Rochester to boats on the Genesee Valley Canal. This provided better grain transportation and, more importantly, to bring coal from Pennsylvania. The BR&P Railway originated in 1869 with the opening of the 108-mile-long Rochester & State Line Railroad to build up the Genesee Valley to the Pennsylvania state line. This line went only as far as Salamanca, New York. In1878. This railroad served small rural towns between Rochester and Salamanca; due to meager earnings from a mostly rural constituency, it went bankrupt in 1881 and was sold at auction to Walston H. Brown. Most of the stock was owned by William H. Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad. He lost interest in the line and sold his stock to a New York Syndicate.

         The railroad was reorganized that same year as the Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad. Mr. Brown extended the railroad to Bradford, and Punxsutawney PA and entered into a new contract with Bell, Lewis & Yates. A contract with the Pennsylvania Railroad was also obtained for access to Pittsburgh. The railroad expanded to DuBois, in 1882, about the same time the Rochester and Pittsburgh Iron and Coal Company was formed.

         At that same time the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad was organized to build a branch to Buffalo. Several other railroads were also chartered. 1883, the railroad was extended to the Pennsylvania mining district, Another leg was built between Ashford Junction and Buffalo, completing the line's "Y" shape, with Buffalo and Rochester in the north and the Pennsylvania coal fields in the south. Due to a downward price in coal, the Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad was sold to New York City financier Adrian Iselin in 1884 and after some corporate manipulations consolidated the various railroads as the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway in 1887.

         The BR&P built branches into the coal fields of Western Pennsylvania and constructed a line north from Rochester to the shore of Lake Ontario. The addition also ensured delivery of coal to ports on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario via facilities owned by the BR&P Railway at Charlotte and Buffalo. The railroad also operated two car ferries to Coburg, Ontario. Trackage rights and connections were also obtained over the New York Central Railroad, the Reading Railroad and Pittsburgh & Western (Baltimore & Ohio) Railroad.

         The Ontario Car Company was formed in 1905 as a joint venture between the BR&P Rwy and the Grand Trunk Railway. The Grand Trunk Railway wanted a faster and cheaper route for coal from the United States while the BR&P Railway was interested in a further outlet for northbound coal. The BR&P was acquired by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on January 1, 1932. Years later in 1973, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, and Western Maryland Railroad merged, to be now known as the Chessie System. (4)(5)

         In 1897, the BR&P Railway purchased the land on which the Springville Country Club is presently located, developed it into "Cascade Park." Boat rides, tennis, croquet, baseball, dancing in a huge pavilion and picnics attracted thousands of excursionists. (6)

         Arthur G. Yates, father of Harry Yates assumed the presidency of the BR&P in 1890. He commenced an aggressive policy, which was to put the road as rapidly as possible into better conditions as to rolling stock and track facilities. Arthur G. Yates served as BR&P president from 1890 until his death in 1909. Adrian Iselin assumed the presidency, and Harry A. Yates was elected to the board of directors. During their tenure, both father and son worked to maintain a vibrant and profitable railroad that carried not only coal, but also oil, lumber, bricks, steel, farm produce and passengers.

         Harry Yates who married in 1892 lived in the City of Buffalo for the next two decades. During this time he was named president of the Silver Lake Ice Company and the Silver Lake Railroad which merged into the BR&P Railway in 1910.

         In 1951, Harry A. Yates, now age 82, recalls a lifetime of achievement, was asked why he settled in Orchard Park? "Back in the Pan-American year of 1901, I was in the coal and ice business. I had 125 horses hauling coal. I needed a farm out in the country for lame horses. He came to Orchard Park and said. "I like it." (4)

         Harry Yates subsequently dammed a portion of Smoke's Creek to form Green Lake, as and a source of ice for packing meat and produce from his farms for shipment over the BR&P Railway.

         The name Orchard Park is can be credited to school teacher Donna Byance Taylor who upon observing the fruit orchards on and near Potter Brook Farm, and throughout the community, Donna Byance Taylor thought "it looked like a park of orchards." (2)

         In 2012 we celebrate not only the life of Harry Yates and his legacy, but also the centennial of the Orchard Park Depot at the foot of South Lincoln Street. "Although the BR&P Railway had just over 600 miles track, it was a high quality railroad and took great pride in its motto, "Safety and Service.'" Passenger service was the most modern available. The sleek trains each day carried passengers between Buffalo and Pittsburgh ...From Buffalo virtually any point could be reached by rail or steamship. Between Buffalo, Orchard Park and Springville, in the early 20th" century, eight BR&P Railway commuter trains were run every day, taking shopper's and the businessmen into the city."

         Harry Yates donated the land for the construction of the "exceptionally attractive" train station which replaced the original wooden structure on Bank Street. "He wanted the travelers arriving here to experience open space, fresh air, elegance and leisure. The depot was based on a identical station designed by H. H. Richardson at Auburndale, MA. on the Boston & Albany (New York Central) Railroad. The landscaping and flower beds were influenced by Frederick Law Olmstead.

         The depot located close to a separate freight house, featured separate men's and women's waiting rooms and wooden wainscoting.

         A promotional piece in 1912 noted, "Not in New York State is there a more superbly appointed and architectural complete suburban station as this one, and its beauty is further enhanced by the magnificently parked grounds, laid out with attractive winding roadways and cement walks bordered with flowerbeds and shrubbery" (6)


Passenger service ended in 1955.

Harry Yates passed away in 1956.

Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio and Western Maryland Railroads
merged together forming the Chessie System in 1973.

A freight agent remained at the Freight House until 1977. The railroad line running past
The Orchard Park Depot was acquired by the Buffalo & Pittsburg Railroad in 1988.

The Orchard Park Depot is a railroad museum owned and restored by
the Western New York Railway Historical Society since 1995.

The Buffalo& Pittsburgh Railroad abandoned the line past Orchard Park
in 1999, having acquired trackage rights over a former Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad) in 1999.

The Orchard Park Depot was placed on the National Register of Historical Sites in 2007.

The former Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad tore up the trackage and
structures past the Orchard Park Depot starting in May 2010.


1. 1. Carruth Gorton, "What Happened When" New York, Penguin Books 1991
2. Kulp, Suzannea and Bieron, Joseph F. "Images of America, Orchard Park." Chicago Arcadia Press. 2003
3. Gibbons, Chris, "Mamie Yates Also Came From A Business Dynasty," The Orchard Park Press, January 20, 2012
4. Gibbons, Chris, "Involvement In Railroad Helped Yates Succeed," The Orchard Park Press, February 24th, 2012
5. Druhy, George H, "The Historical Guide To North American Railroads," Milwaukee Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1988
6. Sprague Terry L., "A Brief History Of The BR&P Railway," The Orchard Park Press, February 24, 2012.

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