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AREA RAILS NOT ALWAYS WELCOME

By Bob Kostoff

Railroads proved an economic benefit in the formative years of Niagara County but did little to endear themselves to the residents who had to live near them.

Residents and businessmen of Lockport rejoiced when the county's first railroad, the Strap Railroad between Lockport and Niagara Falls, left the Lowertown area when an improved railroad chose a different route.

A celebration was held even by businessmen of Lowertown who didn't realize moving the railroad route to the upper portion of Lockport made that part of the city the commercial center.

Residents out in the rural areas also did not care for the belching smoke and sparks coming from steam engine smoke stacks. The noise of trains scared their cows and other farm animals.

The Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, which bought out the old Strap Railroad, had mapped out two routes in 1841, one along Ridge Road and the other along the canal. Because of town objections, mainly from the Town of Hartland, the canal route was selected which put the rail line through the upper portion of Lockport.

The Hartland Town Board passed the following resolution on July 21, 1841, according to late County Historian Clarence O. Lewis: "Whereas the quiet of this community has of late been somewhat disturbed by the survey of a railroad from Lockport to Rochester under the Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad company; Therefore, be it resolved as the sense of this meeting that a railroad on the above mentioned route is wholly and totally against the interests of this community."

Lewis said four other organizations in Hartland passed similar resolutions, so the railroad avoided going through Hartland.

One rural area, however, that recognized the economic benefit of rail transportation was Barker, more specifically the village founder, David Barker. He induced a railroad to pass through Barker by giving them land to build the railroad station. This action moved the business center of the Town of Somerset from Somerset Corners to Barker.

In 1852, a group of Buffalo and Lockport businessmen organized a rail line from Lockport to Buffalo through North Tonawanda. In 1853, the New York Central Railroad purchased this line. However, an incident occurred nearly 20 years later when a new group of businessmen wanted to build a better rail line between Lockport and Buffalo. The incident had its beginning in 1871 when the Lockport group petitioned the state for a franchise to construct the railroad.

The petition was to build 14 miles of railroad from Lockport to North Tonawanda to connect there with the Erie Railroad, which was being built from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. Twenty-five prominent Lockport and North Tonawanda businessmen signed the petition for the new Buffalo and Lockport Railroad.

New York Central officials did not appreciate the competition and objected to the new track crossing its track near North Tonawanda. They tried to impede the workers laying the new track and the sheriff had to be called out with a posse to make sure the work was completed.

The Village of Newfane was originally called Charlotte until a rail line went through there and a station was constructed.

The village then became known as Newfane Station and later as the Village of Newfane. Railroad lines also brought some impressive station buildings. Niagara Falls sported a fine station, but the location at Falls and Second Streets left much to be desired. While it was in the heart of the tourist and hotel area, rail lines to it cut the city in half, making many an annoyed motorist late for appointments waiting for a train to pass. But the rail lines have been relocated and the station torn down for Urban Renewal.

Lockport also had a fine station that later was turned into a first class restaurant. It was destroyed by fire and restoration plans of the partial building shell have been long stalled, as have been plans to preserve Buffalo's old railroad station.


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Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades and is the author of three books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com January 21 2003