The New York, Ontario and Western Railway started out as the New York and
Oswego Midland Railroad, running from Oswego on Lake Ontario southeast to
the New Jersey border at Unionville, where the New Jersey Midland Railroad
continued to Jersey City. After the reorganization in 1880 of the New York
and Oswego Midland (and the New Jersey Midland), the newly-organized New
York, Ontario and Western built a new route in New York, from the old route
at Middletown east to Cornwall on the Hudson River. The opening of the West
Shore in 1884 gave the New York, Ontario and Western trackage rights from
Cornwall south to Weehawken, which it kept through the reorganization and
buyout by the New York Central.
York & Oswego Midland Railroad, the O&W's predecessor, was the grandiose
vision of Dewitt C. Littlejohn, a dynamic politician bearing an uncanny
resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. His concept of a direct rail route northwest
across New York State, serving virgin territory not reached by any existing
line, seemed logical.
Thus in 1868 the "Midland" began
building, meandering this way and that to reach the towns which
had put up money for its construction. Its twisting route was
built "at right angles to the mountains" requiring
steep grades, high bridges and enormous fills. Construction costs
far exceeded estimates, and within a month of completion the
Midland was bankrupt. But it survived, and was reorganized in
1880 as the New York, Ontario & Western Railway.
Shortly after the
O&W was incorporated, its owners became involved in the promotion
and construction of the New York, West Shore & Buffalo, a
route that eventually would parallel Cornelius Vanderbuilt's
New York Central & Hudson River all the way to Buffalo via
Albany, N.Y. Naturally, NYC&HR viewed the West Shore as a
nuisance or blackmail scheme.
Complicated financial arrangements existed
between the O&W and the West Shore which were detrimental
to the corporate health of the former. However, this was mitigated
by the West Shore's construction of a branch from its main line
at Cornwall, N.Y., to Middletown in 1883 and by opening terminal
facilities in Weehawken, on the Hudson River across from New
York City, in 1884. These projects provided the O&W with
a more-reliable and more-direct route to the metropolitan area
than had been available with the NJM connection. The O&W-West
Shore combination was dissolved when the later entered bankruptcy
in 1884 and was subsequently leased by the NYC. The Middletown
Branch became part of the O&W, and NYC permitted O&W
to continue using the West Shore between Cornwall and Weehawken.
The O&W underwent an administrative
reorganization after its involvement with the West Shore came
to an end. Thomas P. Fowler, a talented lawyer formerly with
the NYC's legal department, became the new president.. He is
reputed to have said that he wondered why the O&W had been
built and why, after entering bankruptcy, it hadn't been allowed
to stay there. Regardless of his comment, he must have seen some
potential in the line, and with the American economy in a period
of expansion, he set out to make a respectable property of the
During Fowler's term, the railroad significantly
aided in, or undertook the development of, several industries.
It firmly established itself as a tourist carrier to the resort
hotels and camps in the mountains of Orange, Sullivan, and Delaware
counties (often referred to as the "lower Catskills").
The road expanded its operations in the haulage of milk and dairy
products and, most importantly, it became a carrier of anthracite
coal by tapping the northern Wyoming Valley coal field in northeastern
Pennsylvania through the railroad's most-ambitious expansion
program: the construction in 1889-90 of the 55-mile Scranton
Although the coal business wavered in the
1920's, it remained strong into the early years of the Great
Depression and it permitted the O&W to continue paying dividends.
Nonetheless, petroleum fuels, natural gas and electricity were
making ever greater inroads into coal markets. Coal was losing
ground, but it definitely was not out. O&W handled only about
four percent of the anthracite shipped out of Pennsylvania, but
in the early 1930's, this one commodity still accounted for over
50 percent of the railroad's income. But this was an unhealthy
situation, one of too great a reliance on one industry.
The decline of coal was not O&W's only
dilemma. Economic activity as a whole in the U.S. was changing
dramatically. Manufacturing activities were moving to the South,
Southwest and West , and the resultant population shifts were
changing the consumer markets and the rural economy upon which
the early O&W and its predecessors had relied.What the OM's
developers had promised the railroad would do had occurred; but
it was Western railroads opening Western lands to agricultural
development that better filled the promise. The decline in the
importance of the small towns and cities, the expansion of the
suburban industrial parks, and the population shifts to metropolitan
areas or to other parts of the country were severely felt by
"rural roads" such as the O&W.
On Feb, 25, 1937, the O&W advised the
holders of it's Refunding Mortgage Bonds, due in 1992, that it
could not pay the interest due on March 1. Two of the three railroad-owned
collieries had earlier defaulted on their loans from the railroad.
This, coupled with an overall decease in anthracite tonnage,
reduced freight rates, increased taxes and other increased expenses
caused the railroad to default on its financial obligations,.
As a result, O&W entered a voluntary bankruptcy from which
it would not emerge.
This aerial photo of the
Middletown Shops was taken to accompany the news of the O&W's
bankruptcy in 1937
The following is an
excerpt from our 1995 calendar:
Naming locomotives was commonplace during
the 1800's. The Oswego Midland named it's locomotives after towns
and counties that gave their financial support to the railroad.
The first Midland locomotive built was delivered by the Rhode
Island Locomotive Works in April of 1869. This 64,ooo pound 4-4-0
(appropriately numbered 1) was named "Oswego" after
the road's northernmost terminus and home of the railroad's President,
the honorable Dewitt C. Littlejohn. The "Oswego" remained
in service on the O&W until October of 1887. A Rogers 4-4-0
originally delivered to the New Jersey Midland in 1870 named
"Passaic" was scheduled to be renamed "Dewitt
C. Littlejohn", but bankruptcy preceded this event and the
locomotive was returned to the NJM in 1874.
The Midland's locomotive roster (between
1869 and 1874) contained some 97 locomotives. Of these, 14 locomotives
became victims of the bankruptcy, several were sold and the rest
were returned to their builders or the NJM. The last Oswego Midland
locomotive to be removed from service by the O&W was Rhode
Island built number 95. This K class 2-6-0 named "Mountain
View" was also among the last groups of locomotives delivered
to the Midland in July and August of 1873. She sold to the Southern
Iron and Equipment Company in August of 1918, ending 44 years
of service and the end of the Midland's motive on the O&W.
Midland's Centennial Cars
( click on each photo below to view larger image )
the dark rainy night of Sept. 27, 1955 train ON-2 rumbled into
Hamilton, N.Y., as it had done so many times before. Engineer
Les Vidler had FT 803 on a 50-car train that night and was making
about 34 mph when he--or someone else in the cab-- noticed that
a mainline facing- point switch was set for a siding leading
up to Leland's coal trestle. The engineer quickly applied the brakes,but the momentum was enough to push the train up the siding,
through the coal-shed doors and the barnlike structure and out the opposite end. After the noise ended and
debris settled, it was found that the 213-ton locomotive had
"flown" 150 feet beyond the end of the coal trestle
after taking off from an elevation of 15 feet. The drawbar between
the A and B units snapped, and four cars had followed the air-borne
FT's. A fifth car hung off the end of the trestle. Two men in
the 803's cab, Road foreman of Engines Fred Lewis and fireman
Oliver Wrench, were seriously injured.
Several theories were advanced as to who
threw the switch,but, so far as is known, a state police investigation
did not result in any arrests. At a dinner honoring the crewmen
for their skill, courage and devotion to duty, Trustee Lewis
D. Freeman said that the men had been air borne for about six
or seven seconds. Each crewman received a plaque and a cast model
presentation F-unit courtesy of EMD. Road Foreman Lewis also
got a special note advising him"...not to try this stunt
again." The 803 returned to service following repairs at
One of the cars involved in the wreck was
loaded with chocolate bars from the Nestle plant in Fulton. Local
people soon found out, and little if any candy was sold in Hamilton
for some time.
©1994 Andover Junction Publications.