Skaneateles to Skaneateles Junction

The Skaneateles Short Line Railroad

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This view is looking North along the Skaneateles Short Line Railroad about 1.5 miles north of the Village of Skaneatlas itself. This was the beginning of the Skaneatles & Jordan Railroad Comapny before the name was changed to the SSLR in1866. All of the SSLR became part of the New York State Rails to Trails Program. Photo by Brendan Kelly.

Construction of the Skaneateles & Jordan Railroad Company started in 1836 at a cost of $1,500 dollars with plans to connect the small village of Skaneateles, NY, with the Erie Canal. It originally used wooden rails at the time due to a lack of sufficient funds to purchase iron rails; the railroad did find the money to buy iron rails in 1845. Starting in Skaneateles, at its depot on the Skaneateles Lake (at the location of present-day Sherwood Inn), it ran just five miles North to Hartlot, NY (later renamed to Skaneateles Falls, or "Skaneateles Junction" by the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad). Harlot was the home of the line's engine house and car shop, just off Fenal street (P&C now sits on the present site). The S&J had deep financial difficulties and was sold on Augest 24, 1850 - the first attempt to build a railraod had failed.

It was not until after the Civil War that the village and local industry requested that service be restored due to the expansion of plants along the Erie Canal. With roads being as primitive as they were, a new railroad, the Skaneateles Short Line Railroad, with help from the community and industries, gathered $100,000 and began reconstruction on April 18, 1866. With the help of men hired on immediately from the New York Central, total construction of the railroad was $88,877.29. The SSLR opened a steam boat operation for dinner cruises and mail boats sailed along Skaneateles Lake. The SSLR struggled for years with finances getting worse after 1930. The line lost some industries but kept plugging away. After WWII, passenger service fell to the point that the conductor was the only person on the train during its 2 daily trips from Skaneateles Junction to the town of Skaneateles proper. Abandondments took place when industries started to drop service in favor of trucks. The tracks had seen no maintenance from the 1930s to the mid 1970s. On tracks still in use, the ties and ballast had just about disintegrated and derailments were common, sometimes within 1-2 feet from where they had just rerailed a car. By 1974, Stauffer Chemical was the only operating customer on the line and to ensure its rail traffic, it purchased the line and started an immediate rehabilitation program of the line which included new ballast several thousand ties. The railroad kept its own name through the Stauffer years.

On Monday, July 13, 1981 the SSLR delivered its final shipment to Stauffer Chemical and the line was cleared later that night. Ironically, returning from its last shipment to Stauffer, the small GE 44-tonner #6 derailed at a switch. Crews tried to put the locomotive back on the track using a bar and a jack. The jack broke and was smashed like a beer can after a few hours of trying to get the engine back on the tracks. A pay loader was called in to reset the engine back on the rails and that was the end of the ill-fated 5-mile short line...

The Skaneateles Short Line served 17 industries from 1836-1981 and had a fleet of 6 steam engines, all retired by 1950, and 2 GE-Erie 44-tonners which were sold to New York State Electric & Gas in 1981. From 1831-1901 the railroad also operated the Skaneateles Steamboat & Transportation Company and operated 8 boats mixed of mail and dinner boats. The boat company still lives on and runs a dinner cruise weekly. The railroad employed 12 engineers, 9 firemen, 5 conductors, 6 brakmen, 8 management staff, and 14 yard staff.

Thanks to Brendan Kelly for contributing information about this route.

The SKSL owned one GE 44 Ton - No. 6 which went to the Lowville & Beaver River Railroad as their No. 1951. The second locomotive was No. 7 and was a late model GE 45 Ton. Not sure of the disposition of that locomotive. When abandoned, the line was about 2 miles long, operating from their enginehouse in Mottville to Skaneateles Junction. Photos of the locomotives (including steam) along with maps can be found here: http://web.me.com/gino.dicarlo/ginospage/SSL/index.html

Regards

Ed Vasser
Frankfort, KY
1/25/2010

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I have a photo of a Mr. Schulty's office. He must have had something to do with the shortline RR because there is a rr map and many photos/calendars of railroads. The photo was taken in 1932. Are you interested in having it?

Bob Snyder bobs28ford@hotmail.com

Robert Snyder
Spencer, NY
1/16/2011

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I wrote the book on the Skaneateles Shortline and wonder on what documentation Mr. Kelly wrote this article. Not in 100 years of operation did the railroad employ 12 engineers, nine firemen, five conductors, six brakemen, 8 management staff, and 14 yard staff - at least not all at once! In the 20 years I was familiar with it, it had one manager, one engineer, one fireman and one shop man.

Locomotive #6 was sold in 1981 to the New York State Electric & Gas Corp. for use at its electrical generating plant at Dresden, N.Y. No. 6 was sold to the Lowville & Beaver River Railroad and I believe is now owned by Genesee Valley Transportation. To say the line had no maintenance in a period of 40 years is a figment of Mr. Kelly's imagination. Of course it was not maintained as a Class I railroad.

To get the real story and not the fiction, read "Short Lines of Central New York" by me, Richard F. Palmer, published by the Central N.Y. Chapter, N.R.H.S.

Richard Palmer
Syracuse, NY
2/2/2011

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I lived in Hartlot from 1945 until I joined the Army in 1959. My Mother worked in the station in Hartlot reporting to Charlie Nye the station master. I'd be interested in Richard Palmer's book. Yes, I remember the steam locomotive, Ed Chapel was the engineer.

John Moorehead
Hartlot/Skaneateles Jct, NY
10/27/2011

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Interesting reading. If anyone has seen Brendan Kelly's article he also illustrates a picture of a concrete bridge abutment in Mottville (off of crow hill rd. ...now gone) He claims that was part of the original skaneateles railroad However that is incorrect. At one time in history skaneateles creek was diverted in that area to feed the splint mill located on the north west side of the creek and a new road bridge was built over the creek essentially decommissioning the old stone bridge currently still there. Mottville paper company's mill was located on the south west side just south & east of where that concrete abutment was. The original skaneateles railroad path through there took it diagonally across the creek on a wood trestle from a point just south of the former Mottville chair works it went directly across the west wing wall of the stone bridge currently there and continued across the creek via wood trestle past the Mottville paper company mill it then skirted along the west side of the creek some distance before joining into it's existing path. At some point in time the creek was rediverted back to it's original route once again utilizing the stone bridge and the skaneateles railroad relocated to the east side of the creek. References: Sue Ellen Woodcock's book Skaneateles, Arcadia Books: Photo of Mottville paper company looking south east with the original Skaneateles RR trestle in the backround. In the distant backround you will note the relocated line on the east side with fresh ballast. Further evidence is found on the west wing walls both north and south at the old stone bridge. There is evidence of stay bolts which held the woodwork for the railroad trestle in place. I had done a lot of on site research on the subject. Also according to old Sanborn maps of Skaneateles Falls there was a short spur just north of current Welch Allyn (the old woolen mill) that went up the east hillside to an old stone crushing facility. By the time the Sanborn map came out what was left of the stone crushing facility was labled a ruin but both the ruin and the spur were shown on the map. This did not appear on any later maps.

Duffy Hoyt
Hart lot, NY
11/11/2013

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