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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

Chapter VII.
The First Roads - How the Pioneers First Reached their Settlements - The Early Stages - Early Stage Drivers - The Cayuga Steamboat Company - Its Various Boats - Busy Scenes on the Lake - The Celebrated "Smoke Boat" - Modern Steamers and Yachts - The Sodus Canal - Other Canal Projects - The First Railroad - Some of its Peculiarities - Other Railroads.

The first settlers of Tompkins county, notably those who came in by way of Oswego, were compelled to cut their way through the forest, and along the path thus created, teams were driven and transportation of goods and merchandise commenced 1786-89. The story of making the first paths through a trackless wilderness by the adventurous pioneer is always an interesting one, if the reader can imagine the condition of the face of the country at that time. Where now the vision of the observer sweeps over a cultivated landscape, showing all the familiar evidences of occupancy by closely associated and busy people, the cleared fields presenting an area far greater than that of the woodland, the pioneer might at any given point in his toilsome journey try in vain to see more than a few rods from his position, unless it were heavenward. Hemmed in on every side by the monarchs of the wood, he would, without having learned the mysteries of woodcraft or without a guide in man or compass, be as much lost as if in mid ocean. Yet by the exercise of patient industry and unflinching perseverance, the pioneer found his way through the wilderness and while hie heart was light and his spirits exalted he laid the foundation of his home.

One of the very early and prominent roads terminating at Ithaca was that which was cut through from Oxford, Chenango county, by Joseph CHAPLIN in 1791 - 93, under contract. This road came into Tompkins County from the east via Dryden village, Etna and Varna. Many of the early settlers passed over this highway in the latter part of the last and the early years of the present century.

In 1804 a charter was granted for the construction of the Bath and Jericho Turnpike, by a company bearing this name. This highway was laid out through the present towns of Caroline, Dryden, Ithaca, Enfield, Hector, and thence on westward by the head of the Seneca Lake to Bath. Its eastern terminus was Richford, Tioga county.

In 1807 a charter was granted to the Ithica and Owego Turnpike Company, and under it, in 1811, the road authorized by its provisions was opened. This was one of the more important early highways. In the same year the Ithica and Geneva Turnpike Company opened a road between these two villages. From that date to the year 1820, all general travel was confined to these turnpikes.

In the early years of the county public passenger traffic was carried on wholly by stages. Edmund H. WATKINS was the pioneer stage manager in this locality, and came to Ithica in January 1, 1825. He was connected with stage lines as owner or agent down to 1857. The first stage drivers who regularly mounted the box and sounded their horns were John BARTLEY and John MC QUEEN, both vividly recollected by older inhabitants. Jesse GRANT and Son owned stage lines to Newburg, Geneva and Auburn in 1827, and competition was so spirited at one period that the fare from Ithica to New York by way of Catskill, was only $1.50.

In 1834 Cahuncey L. GRANT & Co. were proprietors of stage routes to Catskill, 160 miles, Newburg 175 miles, Jersey City, 206 miles, Auburn forty miles, Geneva forty-five miles, Bath fifty-two miles, Elmira forty-eight miles. Joshua CUMMINGS controlled the routes to Albany and Utica. The three principal hotels in Ithica were stage offices. Full lines of four horse thorough-brace coaches ran from Jersey City, Newburg and Catskill to Ithaca. The former came over the Owego turnpike and latter by the Bath and Jericho route, all going west to Geneva and Buffalo. Full lines of stages ran from Ithaca to Auburn and also to Utica.

A few of the older inhabitants are still left who delight to talk of the coaching days, and the pleasure of bowling along over the turnpike behind spirited horses, guided by a skillful driver, the sharp crack of the whose whip echoed in the forest by the roadside. But time had not acquired the value in those days that is ascribed to it in these times.

The author who well recollects his own experience in " rapid transit" by stage as late as March, 1841. He left Poughkeepsie on Tuesday morning for Fishkill Landing. The ice was moving in the Hudson, and passage across that river occupied the entire day. Leaving Newburg at four o'clock Wednesday morning, all that day and night and Thursday until Friday Morning at 2 o'clock were passed in reaching Mt. Pleasant in Pennsylvania . Leaving there at eight o'clock next morning, Owego was reached at 11 o'clock that night. Leaving Owego at noon Saturday, Ithica was reached at eight P.M. - five full days.

The mail from New York came over the Jersey City Stage Route. In January, 1842, a season of extreme bad roads, no mail was received from the city for an entire week. The stage on Saturday night brought up all arrears, and accumulated mail for the six days was contained in a single leather bag, with handles on either end, and the barn-door opening on the side, secured by a chain and padlock. Letters and papers for the week only equaled three bushels in bulk.

On the 15th of December, 1819, two years after the origination of Tompkins county, the Cayuga Steamboat Company was formed, having as officers David WOODCOCK, president and Oliver PHELPS, James PUMPELLY, Joseph BENJAMIN and Lewis TOOKER, directors for the ensuing year. The company thus formed resolved : "That a steamboat should be built to run from one end of Cayuga Lake to the other."

It may be worth recording that this was only twelve years after Robert FULTON launched his steamboat, of which he has been falsely credited with the invention, on the Hudson River. At a subsequent meeting of the directors of the before mentioned company, additional officers were chosen as follows: Charles W. CONNOR, treasurer; Charles HUMPHERY, secretary; Oliver PHELPS, agent for the building of the boat. The keel of the "Enterprise" was laid march 18, 1820, and the hull was launched on the 4th of May. The machinery was manufactured in Jersey City and brought to Ithica by teams.

On the first day of June a trial trip was made, with about 150 women and men on board. Eight hours were consumed in reaching Cayuga.1. 1. In connection with the first steamboat W.T. EDDY, son of Otis EDDY, has written: "In the year 1819 the first steamboat for Cayuga Lake was built on the west bank of the inlet and it was launched May 4, 1820, amid much rejoicing. There was some difficulty in sliding down to the water, and one end started first, and it was intended that it should go sideways, but the delay was only short and the launching was a success. After the boat was finished there was a crowd of ladies and gentlemen that had a pleasant time on the trip. It was all going well when David WOODCOCK, who was president of the company, came to my father and said the engineer was drunk and him to take charge of the engine. He did it, although it was his first effort in that capacity and was engineer for three weeks until they could send to Albany for another engineer." The landing at Ithica was at the southeast corner of the lake, then known as Port Renwick. Stages ran from there to the village of Ithica for transportation of passengers. About the year 1827 the steamboat landing was changed from Port Renwick 1. To Greens Landing the present terminus. 1. On the 16th of April a charter was granted by the Legislature for the Ithica and Port Renwick Railroad. On the 8th of May, 1835, this company authorized to build a canal from Fall Creek to the Lake and collect tolls thereon. In 1836 the time for building the Railroad was extended two years. The boat was eighty feet long, with thirty feet beam and 120 tons capacity. The Journal of June 7, 1820 made the following announcement:

The "Enterprise" is connected with the line of stages from Newburg to Buffalo, and thus furnishes to travelers from New York, and others going west, one of the most expeditious and pleasant routes in the State. The stage runs from Newburg to this village in two days. Thus travelers may leave New York at 5 o'clock P.M. in the steamboat on the Hudson; the second day arrive at Ithica; go on board the steamboat "Enterprise" the same night; receive good accommodations and rest in comfortable berths during the passage, resume the stage next morning at Cayuga Bridge, and the same night arrive at Buffalo; making the whole route in three days-one sooner than is performed by way of Albany.

Early boating on Cayuga Lake was a success. Success in almost any direction is always followed by competition. In 1852 PHELPS & GOODWIN built the "Telemachus," which although larger and swifter, was not a perfect specimen of water craft. The "Enterprise" then became a towing boat. In 1827 Elijah H. GOODWIN, Richard Varick DE WITT and S. DeWitt BLOODGOOD purchased the interests of all other parties in the company. In 1829 the " De Witt Clinton" was built. She ran as a passenger boat and the "Telemachus" was used for freight.

Capt. T.D. WILCOX had been connected with connected with steamboat navigation on the Hudson since 1818, having been employed on the "Paragon," the third of FULTON'S boats. After remaining there four years he was employed on Long Island Sound, where he was captain of the "Fulton," in 1831-32. He came to Ithica in 1840 and purchased the steamboats building, the "Simeon DeWitt" and the " Forest City." In 1855 the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad Company purchased the entire steamboat interest. The "Simeon DeWitt" was rebuilt and named the "William E. Dodge" and was commanded by William H. LEONARD. Captain WILCOX repurchased the boats from the railroad company, and was sole or partial proprietor until May, 1862, when Alonzo B. CORNELL purchased WILCOX's interest and sold out to Edward HIMROD, of Aurora, in 1863. HIMROD sold to Charles M. TITUS, of Ithica. WILCOX then repurchased of these parties, and was sole owner until his death, April 20, 1884. His heirs sold to the Cayuga Lake Transportation Company, consisting of Warren HUNT, H.L. HINKLEY, Horace M. HIBBARD and Linn VAN ORDER. In 1982 HUNT purchased the whole, and since run the boats. Captain WILCOX built the "Kate Morgan" in 1855, the "Sheldrake" in 1857, the "aurora" in 1859, the "T.D. Wilcox" in 1861, the "Ino" 1864, and the "Frontenac" in 1866. The "Sheldrake" is now the "Cayuga" and it is used as a freight-towing steamer. The "Frontenac" is a regular passenger boat, and the "Wilcox" is used for excursions.

In 1863 A.P. OSBORN, of Trumansburgh, built the "Cayuga" which was run as a freight boat between Ithaca and Syracuse. She was taken to Saginaw and plied on the Saginaw River.

In 1864 HOWLAND and ROBINSON, of Union Springs, built the "Howland" placing her on the Ithaca and Syracuse route, but after a short time she was withdrawn and used as a freight boat wherever opportunity offered.

Capt. Abram VAN ORDER had a steam freight boat in 1856. In 1862 H.C. TRACEY, of Kidder's Ferry, built a steam ferry boat. The "Ithaca" built at Union Springs for a ferry; the "Beardsley," a small sidewheel steamer, and the "Emily McAllister," a propeller were purchased by the steam boat company and used for a short time. Capt. Abram SCHUYLER now runs the "Elfin" as a freight steamer.

Charles KELLOGG, the wealthy bridge builder of Athens, Pa., has built several fine steam yachts. First the "Kellogg" then the "Horton," and last the "Clara." He transferred the "Kellogg" and the "Horton" to Henry STEVENS, and sold the "Clara" to parties on the Hudson River. He then built a still finer boat, and named her the "Clara." The "Bradford Almy" and the "Undine" are owned by Capt. John VANT, and there are many other yachts in commission at the present time. Robert L. DARRAGH, of New York, with a summer residence at Sheldrake, has had two fine passenger steamers constructed which are to ply on Cayuga Lake, commencing early in the season of 1894.

In this connection it will be interesting to speak of Phineas BENNETT and his great invention, the "Smoke Boat." Mr. BENNETT was connected with boating here between 1835 and 1840, and conceived the idea of producing power almost wholly by the combustion of smoke. He patented his invention and an engine was built at B.C. VAIL'S machine shop, which stood on the ground now owned by John FUREY, on the north west corner of Cayuga and Green streets, and was burned in 1840. One who saw this engine and witnessed its operation, speaks of it as having a wooden balance wheel which was increased in weight by iron plates bolted upon it. This bolting was some what insecure and the motion of the wheel, detaching the weights, through the pieces of iron fully a hundred feet to the imminent danger of passers by. BENNETT impressed some persons in New York with the practicability of his invention, and a large steamer was built and BENNETT'S engine placed therein. On a trial trip as related by one of the passengers, the boat started down towards Staten Island with the tide. Attempting to stem the tide on the return trip, the engine failed entirely and the boat was towed back to the city and dismantled.

Belief that navigation was to be revolutionized by BENNETT'S idea was prevalent in Ithaca. There were 320 shares issued by the company, and these were for a long time quoted at 10,000 dollars each.

The Sodus Canal- from 1828 to 1838 the whole of this section was deeply interested in the construction of the Sodus Canal, which was to form a great waterway between Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake. Locks were to be constructed Erie Canal at Clyde to the bay, in a canal to be built. Vessels were to be brought east on the Erie Canal and locked down into the Canandaigua Outlet and thence sail up Cayuga Lake. It was an attractive scheme. Meetings were held, the Legislature appealed to for aid, and some work was done in clearing out a channel at the head of the bay. In 1836 Henry WALTON, and artist of some note painted views of Ithaca from South, West and East Hills. That from South Hill Cayuga Lake covered with large square rigged vessels, suppose to have reached this locality through the Sodus Canal. The charter for this ship canal was first granted March 19, 1829. The Stock was 200,000 and the work was to be finished in ten years. In 1861 the charter, after repeated amendments and extensions, expired by limitation. In 1862 a new act for the construction of the canal was passed, and it was provided that if the general government should furnish money to complete the work, perpetual right of transit for government vessels free of tolls or charges should be granted. This canal appears on Stone & Clark's, published in 1840-42.

Other Canal Projects. - A canal was built by private enterprise form Six Mile Creek to BEEBE's Flouring mill on the west side of the Spencer road, just south of the Cayuga street bridge. Boats were to be locked up in this creek and thus floated to the mills. The mill building burned in 1840 and the proposed canal was never used. A company proposed to build a canal from the steamboat landing to the Cayuga street bridge over Cascadilla Creek. The lot occupied by the brick store on the southwest corner of Cayuga and Farm streets, then occupied by a narrow rope walk, carried on by Aaron CURTIS, was to be excavated and used as a canal basin. Happily for the projectors, but little money was spent on the project.

In connection with this subject it may be noticed that much work has been done on the Inlet for the improvement of water communication, and for the establishments of ferries across Cayuga Lake. As early as April, 1829, J. MC LAFLEN was authorized by act of Legislature to establish a ferry from Frog Point (in Covert) to "lot number 68 in Lansing, at or near WOODARD's or COUNTRYMAN's landing," and was given its monopoly for fifteen years. He was empowered to charge a ferriage of $1 for a four-wheeled coach or pleasure carriage with two horses; and 25 cents for an additional horse or mule; for a sulky or chaise with one horse, 62 1-2 cents; four-wheeled lumber wagon, 75 cents; one horse wagon, 50 cents, and for footmen, 25 cents.

On the 7th of April, 1834, the canal commissioners were directed by act of Legislature, to survey the Inlet and report on the feasibility of removing, obstructions therein at the bar and adapting it as an appendage of the Erie Canal (in the language of the act). A collector's office was to be established at Ithaca. On the 2d of May, 1835, an act was passed making it the duty of the canal commissioners to dredge out the Inlet channel across the bar so that boats drawing five feet of water could pass. Under this act all property passing through the Inlet from the Erie Canal was to pay a toll. In 1869, $15,000 was appropriated by the State for dredging the Inlet, building a pier on the west side of Inlet channel, etc and in 1870, $1,000 were appropriated for building a lighthouse. In 1871 an appropriation of $1,250 was made by the State to finish the work at the head of the lake, "under direction of William W. WRIGHT, commissioner in charge."

The pier on the east side of the Inlet, being the main one, was built by Wm. MOTT 2d, in 1836, at a cost of $10,000. It has since been enlarged at the head and otherwise improved.

Railroads--The Ithica and Owego Railroad was incorporated January 28,1828, and was the second railroad chartered in the State of New York. The officers were Francis A. BLOODGOOD, president; Richard Varick DEWITT, treasurer; Ebeneezer MACK, secretary; S. DeWitt BLOODGOOD, Andrew D.W. BRUYN, Cornelius P. HEERMANS, Myndert VAN SCHAICK, James PLUMPELLY, and Alvah BEEBE, directors. The flat strap rail was used, laid upon timbers running with the rail. The road was twenty-nine miles long and at the Ithaca end used two inclined planes to reach the flat from the hill above. These inclined planes were operated by horse power, a separate power for each plane. The upper one was 2,225 feet long with a descent of one foot in twenty-one feet. The lower one was 1,733 feet long with a descent of one foot in four and 28-100ths feet, and the total descent on this 405 feet. Cars were drawn on this road with horses from the date of its opening, in April 1834 to 1840, when an engine built in Schenectady was brought to Ithaca and placed in service. It was not equal to the required duty, and a train of cars to attend a mass meeting at Owego arrived there by the efforts of the passengers pushing both the engine and the cars.

The engine was afterwards rebuilt in Schenectady and its weight and power greatly increased. It proved too heavy for the bridges, and breaking through one, was so broken as not to be again used.

The original gauge of the road was six feet and was changed in September, 1878, to four feet eight inches. The State loaned its credit for the construction of this road to the amount of $300,000. There was, of course, default in interest and on May 20, 1842, the property was sold by the State comptroller under the default, and was bought in by Archibald MC INTYRE and others.

On the 18th of April, 1843, the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad Company was incorporated. In 1849 the road was sold to New York parties and relaid with heavy rail. January 1, 1855 it was leased to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western road for ninety-nine years.

The Catskill and Ithaca Railroad was chartered April 28,1828, with a capital of $1,500,000. No work was ever done under this charter.

The Ithaca and Auburn Railroad was chartered in May, 1836, but no work was done under the charter. The proposed route was up the south bank of Fall Creek to a point just east of Etna, and thence northward to Auburn.

The Auburn, Lake Ontario and New York Railroad was the successors of the Ithaca and Auburn, and a large amount of work was done on it in 1850 and 1851. The road bed was partially graded from Auburn to Asbury, and between the latter point and Fall Creek about two miles were finished. The route was to cross the creek on a high bridge nearly on a line with the present University reservoir and Cascadilla Creek near Dweyer's mill, thence direct to the present E.C.& N. depot. The heavy cut at BESEMER's and end fill at Brookton, with the cut beyond, so far as it extends, was the work of the old company. The E.C.& N. track is on the old grading from Ithaca depot south for about seven miles.

The Chemung and Ithaca Railroad was chartered in May, 1837, with a capital stock of $200,000. Its route was on the east side of the Inlet valley to Spencer. No work was done on the road.

The Ithaca and Athen's Railroad Company was organized as the Ithaca and Towanda Railroad in 1867, with a capital stock of $1,250,000. This road, with the Ithaca and Towanda, changed to the Ithaca and Athens, were consolidated April 10, 1874, and afterwards acquired by the Lehigh Valley organization. This consolidated line is now known as the Geneva, Ithaca and Sayre Railroad. The Ithaca and Cortland Railroad, organized under the general law, was opened for travel over nine miles of its length between Ithaca and Freeville in December, 1870; was opened to Cortland, twenty-one miles in all, December, 1871; extended from Ithaca to Elmira and opened for travel in 1874. To form a through line the old Midland track was utilized from Cortland to De Ruyter, the link thence to Cazenovia was built and the Cazenovia and Canastota road used to reach the New York Central at the latter place. The name of the through road was made "Utica, Ithaca, and Elmira Railroad." After passing through a receivership and being sold, the property was acquired by Austin CORBIN and his friends, and the name changed to Elmira, Cortland and Northern. The line has been extended to Camden, on the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburg road. Its entire length from Elmira to Camden is 134 miles.

The Southern Central Railroad, organized under the general law, was opened for travel between Owego and Auburn in December, 1869. It was subsequently extended to the southwest to Sayre, Pa. and northward to Fairhaven on Lake Ontario. The line is now owned and operated by the Lehigh Valley Company.

The Cayuga Railroad Company was organized in 1871, under the general law, for the purpose of constructing a road along the eastern shore of the lake between Ithaca and Cayuga Bridge. Work on the road was begun late in the same year. The rails were laid in the winter of 1872. In the spring of 1873 many miles of the road were washed out. The company was reorganized in 1874 as the Cayuga Lake Railroad Company: the road was reconstructed, and trains began running in the fall. The road passed to the control of the Lehigh Valley Company in 1877. In 1890 a branch was built from Union Springs to Auburn, which is now the main line, the branch to Cayuga Bridge being still in use.

The Midland Railroad, which reached Cortland from De Ruyter, utilized the track to Freeville, and thence built north to Scipio, when work was suspended in 1872. In 1880 the road was finished to Auburn and operated until 1889, when it was sold and the rails between Freeville and Genoa were taken up. In 1890 the road was dismantled between Genoa and Dougall's but was used from there to Auburn as an extension of the Cayuga Railroad in 1891, when the line between Union Springs and Auburn was constructed.

The Pennsylvania and Sodus Bay Railroad Company was organized under general law to construct a road from a point in the town of Spencer where connection was to be made with the Ithaca and Athens road, through Newfield, Enfield, Ulysses, Covert, Ovid, Varick, to Seneca Falls. Rights of way were procured, the track graded, and many culverts and some bridges built. Towns on the route were bonded in its aid, but the enterprise was finally abandoned, There have been changes in ownership and lawsuits innumerable in regard to the property.

Six of the nine towns of Tompkins county issued bonds in aid of railroads as follows: Ithaca, $300,000, in the aid of the Ithaca and Athens road, and $100,000 in the aid of the Geneva and Ithaca road. Ithaca village, $100,000 in aid of the Ithaca and Cortland road. Lansing, $75,000 in aid of Midland road and the same amount in aid of the Cayuga Lake railway. Groton, $15,000, in aid of the Utica, Ithaca, and Elmira road. Enfield $25,000 in aid of Pennsylvania and Sodus Bay road. Newfield, $52,000 and Ulysses, $75,000 for the same road. There now remains due as principal the following sums:

			Ithaca for Ithaca and Athens road $75,000
			Ithaca for the Ithaca and Geneva road $30,836.19
			Ithaca city for the Ithaca and Cortland road $29,509.55
			Groton.. $15,000
			Enfield for Pennsylvania and Sodus Bay road $16,800
			Newfield $45,800
			Ulysses $54,200


At the termination of an extended lawsuit the bonds issued by the town of Lansing were declared invalid and ordered canceled.

Landmarks - Chapter VIII

Thank you Vanda Greenwood for transcribing this data into digital format.

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