In Delaware and Hudson Railway: Gone But Not Forgotten – Part 1 we discussed mostly the northern portion of the D&H. In Part 2, we are going to address the question of “What Does Edna Ferber Have To Do With the D&H?
Little background first. In Nice, France there is a section of the city known as “Ferber”. This is where she vacationed (on the Promenade des Anglais between the airport and the downtown).. Quite a while ago we picked up some booklets including Edna Ferber, at the Saturday morning booksellers fair. Most interesting was an account of the building of the railroad between Binghamton and Albany which is printed below. Basically the same document was recently published in the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin.
From before the outbreak of the Civil War, the development of the railroad brought tremendous change to the United States. New businesses and towns developed alongside of the newly laid tracks. During the war itself, the railroad played an essential role in moving both troops and supplies to the battlefields.
Power of the tracks meant power to control the movement of goods, people and money, but especially money. Railroads continued to develop well into the 1870s throughout the northeast. The new railroad lines brought new life to older communities and spurred growth in small hamlets and villages along those lines.
In Broome County, the New York & Erie Railroad arrived in 1848, and completed their line in 1851. By the end of the Civil War, several other lines had helped to make the Binghamton area into a transportation hub. But one more line was to be added to the list.
In 1869, Joseph H. Ramsey completed his vision of bringing his Albany and Susquehanna Railroad through this area. The line ran from the coalfields of Pennsylvania to Albany. It was not the longest of the railroad lines, or, maybe, the most impressive; but it was an essential link to the profits of the coalfields and the major lines in the capital of New York.
One problem with this railroad line was a major hill in the Town of Colesville. Rather than taking the tracks around or over this geographic impediment, the owners decided to carve out a tunnel to run the tracks through the mountain. It took months to complete the work, but by the late summer of 1869, the tunnel was open for trains to run through on their way to new stops along the way.
It was an engineering marvel, a tunnel that was five-eighths of a mile in length. People were amazed at its completion which brought the attention of more than just the local residents. It also brought the envy and ire of the owners of the Erie Railroad: Jay Gould and Jim Fisk. Both were robber barons, who waged a war against the smaller railroads to control the lines that brought them millions.
They had begun to buy up shares of the Albany railroad hoping to seize control in that manner, but were unsuccessful. Ramsey actually buried his minute books and ledgers in an Albany cemetery to prevent them from being stolen by thugs of Fisk and Gould. One way was left to the two Erie owners to grab control of the Albany railroad tracks.
On August 10, 1869, Fisk and Gould sent a train down the line from Albany loaded with men carrying all sorts of handles and weapons. Not to be outdone, Ramsey sent his own train up from Binghamton to stop the rival owners. The trains met head on in the tunnel in the Town of Colesville. The impact was so strong it pushed the Albany trained off the tracks and onto its side. And with that crash, the battle began.
Men from both trains piled off and fought to gain the upper hand. Handles hit heads, rocks were thrown; sides pushed forward and then were thrust backward as the other side tried to gain ground. The fight raged for three days until the state militia was called out to end the fight. By the time the state troops arrived at the site, Ramsey’s forces had gained the upper hand. Not too bad considering that the Erie men outnumbered their opponents by two to one.
Despite the fierce fight, there were no casualties; except a loss of face for the Erie side. Realizing that he was fighting a giant, Ramsey leased his railroad line to the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co. for 99 years. The D & H would buy out that line in 1945.
Our local battle made national headlines, and it was adapted by Edna Ferber in Saratoga Trunk, as well as used in the movie by the same name. After all that, the only words left to describe this whole mess could have been uttered by Gary Cooper as the protagonist in the movie: “Yup.”
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