This blog entry is written by volunteer Hannah Hamilton.
Prior to the invention and development of “Iron Horses” in Europe, Americans as late as the early 19th century were still accustomed to travel by foot, wagon or waterway. Following the importation of this new technology to the Western Hemisphere, businessmen could not wait to see the popularization of the railroads. State governments, however, were not so keen to encourage the growth of the railroad, especially when it came to their funding!
As far back as 1811, Colonel John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey was petitioning for the institution of railroads as a means of transporting goods in the Americas. Caught up in the excitement of this new and, what he recognized as revolutionary, steam engine, he published pamphlets to enlighten the general public, as well as urging Congress to consider railroad construction as a national endeavour. Stevens even went so far as to build a small locomotive and a track to boot, and to the astonishment of all who saw it, he let it complete a number of trips around his Hoboken estate.
Such zeal for innovation was not widespread, however, especially in Schenectady County and New York State. “One of the last of the pioneer railroad enterprises to get started was the New York & Erie Railroad. The people of New York had the Erie Canal, with excellent facilities for water-borne traffic, and were consequently very apathetic toward Railroad construction,” (Alexander Norton, pg 34 Iron Horses).
Even after congress had approved of railroads and entrepreneurs had begun the national and interstate construction of the railroads around 1835, upstate New York was still rather late in adopting the new means of transportation.
The Niskayuna Train Station of the Troy-Schenectady Railroad was constructed in 1843, and ran between 10-12 trains, carrying tons of cargo and between 75-100 passengers daily for around one hundred years. Throughout the century and a half of its existence, it has seen great change following economic and social development.
The train station remained popular and well-used into the 20th century. However, as other industries such as that of the automobile became more fashionable, railroads slowly fell out of use as far as public transportation went.
The Niskayuna train station was described as “the nicest on the whole [Troy-Schenectady] line” by the late S.T. Gilroy, who was a New York Central Engineer that knew the station in its golden days. However, by the 1950s the tracks had been removed for the most part, and passenger traffic had come to a complete halt. The Niskayuna line was no longer the center of travel that it had once been for Niskayuna residents. Instead, it became a home.
In the early fall of 1953, a curious event took place when the Parks family moved into the Niskayuna Railroad Station and turned it into a tiny home for their family of four and pet dog, cuddles. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Park were described as “an enterprising couple from Carman” (Old Railroad Station Put to Modern Use, Niskayuna Railroad File), who turned the station into not only a home, but a boat livery and a lodge for hunters. The Parks resided here for a number of years, but inn-keeping must not have proved as ample a livelihood as they had imagined, for by the mid 1960s, the station was abandoned.
After the departure of the Parks Family, The Niskayuna Aqueduct Train Station fell into a sorry state of overgrowth and disrepair. It was almost entirely forgotten, except for by the newly formed Niskayuna Historical Society, whom petitioned for state grants and strove to gain recognition for their cause of restoring the historical building, and having it added to the Historical Register in the 1970’s.
Finally in the 1970’s, SETA acquired the funds to repair the roof, walls, and foundations. With a group of only 50 people, they hacked back the overgrowth and turned The Niskayuna Railroad Station building into a lovely historical landmark in a small, quiet park along the banks of the Mohawk. With the aid of the Niskayuna Historical Society as well as the dedication of Niskayuna inhabitants, the Niskayuna Aqueduct Railroad Station was saved from becoming a forgotten ruin and crumbling down the bank into the river.
Today, the railroad station is a small historical museum which also occasionally serves as an art exhibit overlooking the Mohawk River. The surrounding park is enjoyed by the young and elderly alike, much as it was during the early days of the Iron Horses.