The Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad

Back in 1886, a group formed the Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad to service the mills on the Seneca River in the village.  This bit of history of my hometown of Baldwinsville, New York fascinated me.  I grew up hearing trains within a few miles of my home as they stopped to drop off supplies and get loads of flour from a large mill.  The mill no longer exists.  The tracks are still there but trains do not stop in town anymore.

The historical photos and captions in this post are from the collection owned by the Shacksboro Schoolhouse Museum  and found in Sue Ellen McManus’ book, Greater Baldwinsville.

Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad Bridge, Than and Now. See text for full caption.The Seneca River was the largest obstacle between the north and south end points of the Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad.  A bridge 350 feet in length was constructed south of the existing vehicle and pedestrian bridge to carry the line across the river. Limestone was used for the five supporting piers and two abutments.  Weather in the fall of 1886 was severe but work continued. More than 100 men and 50 teams of horses were grading and laying track.  Most of the laborers were immigrants from Italy and Hungary.  On November 24th, the last spike was driven. That accomplishment prompted engineer Morris Finch (pictured standing on the engine) to christen the new road.  The engine and nine cars filled with workmen entered the new bridge from the south to be greeted by cheers, church bells, factory whistles and the roar of a canon (Source: Greater Baldwinsville (page 70) by Sue Ellen McManus).

As you can see in the bottom photo taken last weekend, the only thing left are the limestone piers which have withstood the constant flow of the Seneca River for the last 125 years.  There has been talk about using the piers to create a fishing pier but so far no progress has been made in that direction.

Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad Engine No. 3.The Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad Engine No. 3 is photographed heading east across Syracuse Street on the spur that served riverside industries. The Baptist church is in the background. The private railroad fell into bankruptcy in 1891 (Source: Greater Baldwinsville (page 71) by Sue Ellen McManus).

The spur in the upper photograph is now Water Street and the location of the engine is about where the blue truck is in the bottom photo I took last weekend.  I was at a loss where the historical picture was taken at first until I read the caption saying the bell tower seen behind a tree was the Baptist Church.  The church still stands some 125 years later unlike the building just behind the engine which is no longer there.  Nice to know the village ancestors also had to deal with long, snowy winters.

Due to safety fences and modern traffic, I could only get close to where the original photographer(s) set up with their large view cameras of the era.  It made me appreciate  the modern camera I held in my hand weighing and sized a fraction of what was used in the 1880’s and giving me instant previews of the scenes I photograph.  We live in astounding times.  Yet, someday, someone may use my “old” photos and marvel at the large and outdated digital camera used. 🙂

This is my submission to the Hometown History assignment.

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16 Responses to The Syracuse and Baldwinsville Railroad

  1. montucky says:

    Interesting history and a great perspective provided by your photos!


  2. Gerry says:

    I love this stuff. The then and now photos are a great answer to the eternal question: What the heck is that???

    I’ll bet it was Civil War veterans from the local GAR post who shot off the cannon when the bridge was christened. No surprise that a rail line would go bankrupt in the 1890s either. Those were some rough economic times.


    • The railroad continued on as a larger company bought up the rails. My town even had trolley service in the early 1900’s which ended as the automobile became more popular.

      I tried to find out more about that canon but this was the only reference to it. There was photos of a long line of men signing up for Civil War duty in Baldwinsville’s downtown of the times.


  3. Anna says:

    Wow! What a neat perspective of before and now. I enjoy these type of photo comparisons. Those locomotives from back then are really something and I enjoyed seeing the shots. I love trains. 🙂


    • I know you have photographed your trains out in Kansas a time or two, Anna. I had a lot of fun delving into my town’s past. There was even another canal around when I was little but do not remember it as it was filled in by the time I was 6.


  4. Very nicely done, and history of the area that I didn’t know before. Great shots as well; thanks for the lesson.


  5. Krystal says:

    So neat! I never knew those piers were the remnants of a railroad bridge – I always meant to read up more on Baldwinsville’s history – I found it fascinating when we talked about it in 4th grade along with New York State history. I think I even wrote a play about John Baldwin and Otis Bigelow coming into the area (wow – I am impressed I still remember those names!)


  6. truels says:

    Interesting story and photos. Was your home city, Syracuse, also expanded because of the railroad? So was my hometown, Mårslet. Had they not built a railway this way, there had not been much town here today! I must tell that story later on another occasion….


  7. Kathy says:

    Thanks for sharing your own hometown history, Scott. I can almost hear the long lonesome call of the train. It is fascinating looking at old pictures and trying to determine exactly where they were taken. Not always easy.


  8. Pingback: Assignment 13 Recap | Views Infinitum

  9. I love this post, Scott ! It brings you back to past times in a click ! Amazing how things change or remain. I like how the limestone piers stayed in the Senecca River through the centuries, strong, steady, even decorated with greenery, mighty witnesses of a great accomplishment. Wonderful picture of now and then. Thank you.


  10. Nye says:

    Scott, time has changed things and I’m surprised that they didn’t rebuilt the bridge. I like your comparison of the old and new photographs and shots from the same angle.


  11. Remo Bianco, Emily Ekross's grandfather says:

    I am a railfan. My daughter and granddaughter are the 4 corners mural project principals. I reversed the photo of S&B No.3 and am using it in the mural (and I kayak around the crumbling RR bridge supports when I can).


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