Branch ends 84 year's service

Watertown Times, March 14, 1936 entitled "Branch ends 84 year's service"

Line From Rome to Cape Vincent Was Completed in April, 1852. Windstorm blew down Cape station in 1895; 2 killed. First shipment of silk via Canadian Pacific came over the line.


Train 804 Pulls Into Watertown Depot at 12:10 P. M. to End Passenger Traffic Career---Freight Service to Continue---Jeff Wells and George Walker Are Noted Trainmen of Line.


Today the Cape Vincent branch of the New York Central system passed a milestone in its 84 years of history, when at 12:10 p.m. train No. 805 (sic) drew in at the local terminal from that village pulling the last passenger train ever likely to run over the route again.

For the past several years passenger service on the Watertown-Cape Vincent branch has been steadily declining. The system applied to the public service commission to cut out all passenger service on the line. This was recently granted and today the passenger train to and from Cape Vincent rode the rails for the last time. Freight service will continue as formerly on this line.

The Cape Vincent train left here as usual at 8:40 this morning. This train is known as train No. 804. Its return trip was made on time and the service officially ended at 12:10 this afternoon at the close of the return run. Engineman Frank I. Peacor (sic), 446 South Meadow street, was at the throttle. Samuel A. Jones, 440 West Ten Eyck street, was the conductor and John W. Schryver, 413 Coffeen street, was the brakeman.

As far back as the summer of 1847 plans were being made to build the Watertown, Rome, and Cape Vincent railroad. A poster of that date refers to the proposed road as highly important for all citizens from the St. Lawrence on the north to the Erie canal on the south. Subscriptions were being sought. The poster stated: By the charter we have till the 14th of May, 1848, to complete subscriptions, and make an expenditure towards the road.

The venture gained ground rapidly thereafter. A board of directors was organized and on April 6, 1850 the actual organization of the Watertown & Rome railroad designed to connect Rome with Cape Vincent was accomplished at the American hotel in this city. The organization was capitalized at from $1,000,000 to $l,500,000.

Work Began at Rome.

The original officers of the Watertown & Rome railroad were: President, Orville Hungerford, Watertown; secretary, Clarke Rice, Watertown; treasurer, O. V. Brainard, Watertown; superintendent, R. B. Doxtater, Watertown. The directors were: S. N. Dexter, New York; William C. Pierrepont, Brooklyn; John H. Whipple, New York; Norris M. Woodruff, Watertown; Samuel Buckley, Watertown; Jerre Carrier, Cape Vincent; (probably a sentence or two followed which failed to be copied).

Construction soon began at Rome and by the fall of 1850 track was laid for about 25 miles north of Rome. But it was not until May of 1851 that the first engine puffed into Jefferson county. In the summer of 1851 work went ahead on the construction of the road between this city and Cape Vincent. Contractors were at work on the new line throughout the summer and fall.

Line Reaches Chaumont in 1851

Among the first engines that traveled over the Rome & Watertown road were the Lion, the Roxbury, the Commodore, and the Chicopee. It was during this pioneering stage of the railroad that Orville Hungerford died, on April 6, 1851. W. C. Pierrepont, was named president to fill the vacancy, and it was under Mr. Perreponts jurisdiction that the Watertown & Rome railroad was finished.

The line was pushed through to the village of Chaumont in the fall of 1851 and in April, 1852, reached Cape Vincent, the original northern terminus. Cape Vincent was an important point of entrance to the country even in those days and the railroad linked the St. Lawrence river with the interior of the state. With the Cape Vincent line finished the regular operation of trains began formally on May 1, 1852. And so almost ten years before the beginning of the Civil war, Cape Vincent was united with the rest of the world by a railroad.

A ferry at Cape Vincent, The Lady of the Lake, connected the village with Kingston, Ont., and the trains were operated to connect with the ferry. Extensive docks and piers were built and a great wooden-covered passenger station was erected. This was built in 1852. It resembled a great barn with a huge gap of an entrance where the trains ran through. This old station stood from 1852 until 1895.

The end of the station was a tale of tragedy. On the night of Sept. 11, 1895, the train from Watertown arrived on time to connect with the Kingston boat. Suddenly a violet storm swept over Cape Vincent and passengers on the dock sought shelter inside the great station. The wind swooped down on the ancient structure, lifted it off the ground and then dropped it, smashing the whole building in a great crash. Two person were killed and many more were injured.

Old Station a Landmark.

Thus for 40 years that old station stood as a landmark at Cape Vincent. The conductor of the train on the evening of the tragedy was the late W. D. Carnes, city, better known to everyone as Billy Carnes. In 1889 Mr. Carnes moved to Cape Vincent and for twelve years he served on the Cape Vincent branch, having the run from that village to this city.

The late Jefferson B. Wells has been characterized as the commodore of the old fleet. Wells was long in the service of the railroad and spent many years of his life as engineer on the Cape Vincent branch. His skill in handling locomotives is still recalled to this day. His two favorite engines were the T. H. Camp and the Antwerp. As engineer of the old 44 he is also remembered. This engine spent most of the later years of her life on the Cape Vincent route. Many stories are told of Jeff Wells and his railroading days.

"999"Used on Line.

The famous engine, the 999, whose record of 112.5 miles an hour in 1893 has never been equaled, was in its later days assigned to the St. Lawrence division and during 1912 it was placed on the (paragraph truncated in copying).

In the 1870s and 80s when the Thousand Island region was entering palmy (sic) days, the Cape Vincent branch played an important part in the early development and interest of tourists in the St. Lawrence river. Excellent docking facilities were built at Cape Vincent. Besides the great covered station which stood at that time, there were the freight sheds and a huge grain elevator. But passenger service was by no means the only development on the Cape line. Freight of all kinds was unloaded from trains there and placed on steamers to make its way across to Kingston. The first shipment of silk from the Orient over the transcontinental route of the Canadian Pacific railway was made into New York city by way of the Cape Vincent ferry and the Rome and Watertown railroad in the fall of 1883.

The separate corporate existence of the R.W. & O. continued until 1914, when the Vanderbilts made a single corporation under the name of the New York Central railroad.

George B. Walker, 259 Flower avenue west, who retired from the Central last summer, was a veteran engineer of the Cape Vincent branch for many years. Other engineers have at times filled in during the history of the Cape Vincent branch but probably JeffWells and Mr. Walker are the best known of the group.

Heavy Sunday Traffic.

E. N. Lucas, who has been station agent at Chaumont for 30 years, today recalled the great crowds that used to make use of this line. He remembered that 3,000 people came into Chaumont by train on July 4, 1908. He said that three trains were required to draw them and that two of them were doubleheaders. Sunday night traffic before automobiles came into general use also was heavy, it was recalled.

Mr. Lucas said that so far as he knew no one ever lost his life on the Cape Vincent branch of the railroad. No very serious train accidents occurred on the line. It was remembered that about 45 years ago the Cape train jumped the track between Three Mile Bay and Rosiere but no one was killed. The coaches were badly damaged, however, and some passengers were injured.

The passenger agent at Cape Vincent now is C. F. Fairand; at Rosiere, Harry Rainear; Three Mile Bay and Chaumont, E. N. Lucas; Limerick, William Johns; Dexter, Bruce Munson and Brownville, Evan Davis.

The Eastern Greyhound lines announced today that the regular bus service will be maintained on the route. Buses leave Watertown for Cape Vincent at 11 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. and leave Cape Vincent for this city at 7 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The 11 a.m. and 7 a.m. buses do not run on Sunday.

Contributed by Richard Palmer
Russell Nelson
Last modified: Thu Oct 3 22:56:08 EDT 2002