The Sodus Bay & Southern Railroad was conceived about 1853 when train service on the Canandaigua & Elmira Railroad provided passenger & freight service into Canandaigua, the location of the land office of the Pultney Estate. At that time Colonel Elias Cook, the Civil Engineer who built the Sodus Piers, took the contract to build the Sodus Bay and Southern RR to meet the Canandaigua & Elmira at Stanley, a few miles southwest of Geneva.
The planning and early phases of the construction had many setbacks, and after several years of frustrating difficulties, the project collapsed due to insufficient funds, at considerable loss to Colonel Cook. The project was subsequently refinanced and completed by a second contractor after nearly 20 years of delays. The Sodus Bay and Southern began operation on July 4th, 1872, and created an access to the area which greatly enhanced its commercial and private development. Just as the line was opened in the fall of 1872, the Northern Central Railroad bought the Canandaigua & Elmira line to which the SB&S connected at Stanley.
The railroad's first years were unprofitable and the line was poorly managed. In the 1870s, Sylvanus J. Macy from Rochester built and operated a Bank near the west end of the Bay and began supporting the financial needs of the area. This location became known as Macyville and was the site of the railroad station, the malthouse of E. B. Parsons, and eventually the coal trestle. In 1881, Edward Harriman arrived at Sodus Point. He was a son-in-law of the Averell Harriman banking and railroad family of Ogdensburg, with business interests in northern New York. Harriman and Macy and other associates purchased the ailing railroad with the idea of selling it either to the Northern Central or New York Central improved the line's facilities and tracks, and in 1884, after some clever negotiation by Harriman, sold it to the Northern Central. This deal was the beginning of Harriman's career as a railroad baron. He left the area to become heavily involved in the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads.
The Northern Central then financed the construction of the first coal loading pier at Macyville and, in 1886, began the shipment of Pennsylvania coal from Sodus Point. The line carried farm products, ice, grain, and other goods as well as coal to and from the area it serviced. It also provided full passenger service and, during the summer brought vacationers from Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania to cottages and resort hotels at Sodus Point.
The Macyville area became an industrial center for Sodus Bay and eventually contained a large malthouse built by Mr. E. B. Parsons, several ice houses, the railroad station, and the switching yards for the trains and cars of the Northern Central. Part of the malthouse complex, four large grain storage elevators and a loading pier with tracks, just north of the coal trestle, were part of the shipping complex there at the end of the Bay in 1890.
In the cove of the town harbor northeast of the trestle, another shipping pier with tracks for railroad cars where various products including iron ore could be transferred to ships for transport to other ports on the lake. The town docks were located in this area within walking distance of the foot of Bay Street where it meets Sand Point. From this dock the passenger steamers transported vacationers to their lodging hotels and resorts around the bay. These enterprises depended upon the railroad for their viability. From about 1885 to 1925, the railroad connection to Sodus Point attracted settlers and vacationers to the area. In the 1880s and 1890s many of the wealthy friends of Harriman, Macy, and Parsons came to vacation and to sail their private yachts on the waters of the Bay and Lake. Many vacationers from the Rochester area also made Sodus Bay their favorite recreational area, and traveled the 30 miles on the interurban electric cars which brought them to the Sodus Point stop overlooking the foot of Bay Street.
In the late 1880s the Northern Central rebuilt the entire line with heavier rail and replaced the lines wooden bridges with iron structures such that large locomotives of up to 48 tons could be used on the line. The Sodus Point coal pier was enlarged in 1894, At that time, passenger traffic supported four passenger trains daily each way from Elmira to Sodus Point.
The Northern Central was merged into the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1913 through a 99 year lease, and this line became known as the Elmira Branch. In the 1920s the line was rebuilt with heavier 130 pound rail and stone ballast. Several of the iron bridges were replaced with steel ones, and this allowed significantly larger and more powerful locomotives to be used on the line. During 1927 and 1928, a new coal trestle replaced the old one, and the switching yard was significantly expanded in size and capability.
The coal shipping business increased and continued to flourish into the 1930s despite the effects of the depression and became the major traffic source during that period, which saw the steady decline of passenger revenues caused by replacement of public transportation by the automobile. In 1940 the Coal Business took a big jump when the power plant at Oswego began receiving coal that was tariffed to move through Sodus Point, and transloaded into boats for the 30 mile trip east on the Lake. The World War II years saw a tremendous tonnage of coal shipped to all points on the Lake, and it was common in those years to see two coal boats at the trestle loading and several more anchored in the Bay waiting their turn. This situation continued and there was another upsurge of coal traffic in the 1950s that required an extensive enlargement of the switching yard capacity. At its final expanded size, the yard had room for 1,237 forty-five foot coal cars; enough to assemble a train more than 10 miles long. To break the loading bottleneck, the pier loading chutes and equipment were enlarged and improved and in 1956 mechanical shakers were added to the pier to reduce, by three or four, the number of crew members needed to operate the dock. In 1957, a season of about nine months, 2.5 million tons of coal were shipped from the Sodus trestle. The previous record year was 1951 when 2.1 million tons were shipped.
A wide variety of ore ships were used to transport coal from Sodus Point to other points on the lake. A large number of these were operated by Canadian Steamship Lines and were the ones most frequently seen on there loading at the trestle. Almost all of the coal shipped was bituminous, which was very dusty and dirty compared to the anthracite coal most used to heat their homes at the time. For more than 20 years one of the most frequent visitors was the Fontana, a self-unloader, that spent her time sailing between Sodus Point and Oswego, 30 miles to the east. Each trip she deposited 4, 500 tons of coal at the Niagara-Mohawk Corporation power plant just inside the west pier of the Oswego Harbor. The Fontana was a moderate-sized ship, about 400 feet in length, and could make a round trip to Oswego every 14 to 16 hours. She placed more than a million tons of soft coal in Oswego in a single season, making over 250 round trips in that time. The Fontana held the equivalent of from 80 to 90 hopper cars of coal when filled to capacity. So the season's delivery to the Oswego steam plant totaled more than 21,000 carloads. This amounted to a requirement for one 80 car train per day from the from the Pennsylvania coalfields to Sodus Point for the entire shipping season, just to fill the requirements of the Oswego station.
Other regular visitors to Sodus Point were the Bayfax, Coalfax, Midland Prince, Calcite and Stadocona. These ships accounted for the other 60 percent of coal tonnage shipped from the Sodus Point trestle. Coal shipments remained strong from the late 1950s through 1963, when the Erie-Lackawanna secured the coal delivery contract to Oswego. This change was accompanied by a significant decrease in the use of coal by the industries around the lake and their conversion to oil and other power fuels. In only four short years, coal shipments from Sodus Point were reduced to zero, and on December 11, 1967 the trestle was shut down by Penn-Central shut down with the loading of the last boat. This spelled doom for the Elmira branch of the Pennsylvania RR as well, effectively shutting it down. In only a few short years the tracks to Sodus Point lay unused and in disrepair. The lack of the racket from the trestle shakers remained the only pleasing factor to residents in the passing of this long and nostalgic part of 20th Century Sodus Bay history. After the trestle had remained unused for three years, a local businessman purchased the property with the idea of dismantling the structure and using the lower section as Marina with 125 slips for pleasure boats, The dismantling project progressed well for period of three weeks. Then, on a windy November 5, 1971, while men were working with acetylene torches near the outer end of the trestle, a red-hot bolt dropped onto a coal-dust covered timber below. It ignited a fire that virtually destroyed the trestle. Demolition work continued, however, and is presently the site of a marina.
A timetable of mileposts within Sodus Point proper, with mileage from Stanley:
|33.2||Sodus Point Shop|
|33.2||Coal Trestle #|
|33.4||Judson Snyder #|
|33.4||A.H. Shufelt +|
|33.4||Storage Track #|
|33.8||(AH. Fleld) +|
|34.0||Lake Shore Station *|
|34.3||(F.C. Wickham) +|
|End of Track|
|# Telegraph Office|
|+ Private Sidings|
|* No siding|
For a personalized account of operations and further history of this line, see memoirs of a Pennsylvania Railroad trainman.