Story Walk: railroad

Story Walk: "railroad"

Rochester and its Railroads by Mary Hamilton-Dann

Rochester was once a railroad center. For many years the 'Democrat and Chronicle' masthead pictured a locomotive.

The city's location on falls of the Genesee River provided water power which made it a center for light industry. This in turn led to a need for transporting products. Eventually seven railroad companies competed for space for space in the city core. Tracks and depots sprouted in quick succession as travel-by-rail joined the flow of freight.

Early on, depot construction became an art form, led by two railroad competitors: the New York Central and the Erie. Public image superseded utilitarianism. The Central's magnificent station was matched by that of Erie. Erected on the river's west bank, Erie's clock tower and luxurious facilities dwarfed nearby depots whose owners lacked the means to build in similar fashion. Single tracks were laid,private homes converted to depots and small RR yards were extended into neighboring residential areas.

However, there were two notable examples of "artistic" and "utilitarian" structures. The Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroads settled for massive utilitarian buildings on West Main Street, while the Lehigh Valley built a miniature French chateau and tracks suspended over the river's east side. Both structures are now restaurants the only survivors of the railroad "golden years."

Certain local people speak with nostalgia about the days before AMTRAK and CSX. One regret is often heard: demolition of the of the New York Central on Central Avenue. Designed by noted architect Claude Bragdon, its style reflected the Central's affluence, as well as providing service unmatched by competitors.

A local question now dominates the discussion of railroading (in August,2010)--- what to do about the stark little depot on Central Avenue. With money in short supply and public addiction to autos, a Bragdon revival is unlikely. However, its legacy continues unabated. Meanwhile, depot artistry awaits the money and talent to produce it.