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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Road of the Century

Alvin F. Harlow

Creative Age Press, Inc.,
New York, 1947

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p138  Chapter VII
The Hudson River is Beautified

The Harlaem had long since acquired a rival which was giving it plenty to think about. It was a predestined development. The towns up along the Hudson shores — Yonkers, Tarrytown, Sing Sing, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Hudson, not to mention such west-bank villages as Haverstraw, Newburgh, Kingston and Catskill — through eight or nine months in the year, wouldn't have swapped places with any railroad town in America. By 1840 there were five regular steamboat lines sending some of the largest, swiftest and handsomest craft in America daily between New York and Albany, not to mention numerous local boats. Vanderbilt's and Drew's liners were among the rest, and at times the rivalry was so fierce that the floating palaces cut rates between New York and Albany to 50 cents or even 25 cents, including meals!

But when frosts began to whiten the landscape, then the black shadow of the winter of their discontent fell over the river towns. The upper river would be frozen from shore to shore, often so that teams and wagons could drive across it; or it was so full of floating ice that boats could not navigate. Then the river-bank citizens began to wonder whether those railroad fellows didn't really have some argument on their side, after all. Now, in the early 1840's, you could travel or ship goods through from Boston to Buffalo in a few hours by rail, and an orator at Hudson urged his auditors to go up to Albany and look at the trains departing eastward, "loaded down and groaning" under the weight of New York state and western products, as well as "carrying our merchants and the merchants of distant States, that formerly thronged to New York, rapidly and en masse to the city of Boston."

The river towns didn't care so much about New York City's  p139 losing business to Boston, but they did care about their own welfare. Now in 1840, here were both the New York & Albany and the New York & Harlaem threatening to run lines up through Westchester and Putnam Counties to Albany, several miles east of the Hudson River, and worse still, the Harlaem had actually begun construction. A few of the wiser heads along the river, especially in Poughkeepsie, began to fear that Harlaem road, to fear that they were going to be left in an eddy. It is an interesting fact that a railroad from New York to Poughkeepsie had been spoken of in the latter place in a more than half joking way, even before 1832. The river had closed early in the fall of '31 and froze in several boatloads of Dutchess County pork destined for New York, with unpleasant results for the shippers. The New Year address of the carriers of the Dutchess Intelligencer of January 1, 1832, carried a poem beginning:

Railroads are all the rage of latter years —

They talk of one to go from here to York,

To quell the city people's anxious fears

And carry down the Dutchess County pork.

The cars are wondrous things to load our trash on,

And tho' our boatmen starve, 'twill be in fashion.​1

During the year 1832, a group of Poughkeepsie boosters calling themselves the Improvement Party planned the Dutchess Railroad, to extend eastward into New England, and incorporated it, but got no farther. They reincorporated in '36, but the panic of '37 dealt their project a lethal blow. Poughkeepsie was a live town which had sent whaling ships to sea in earlier days. William Chambers, the English traveler, who saw it in 1854, found it "a delightful town" of 14,000 population, with not a public house in the place. One cannot help suspecting that Mr. Chambers didn't look very closely; one just can't picture an American town of that size in mid-nineteenth century without a tavern — especially when one of the most thriving industries of the place was a brewery.

Anyhow, that some people in Po'keepsie — as it was frequently abbreviated in print in those days — were railroad-minded, is proven by the fact that on April 6, 1838, a coterie of optimists and forward-lookers incorporated the Poughkeepsie Locomotive Engine Company, and built a $90,000 factory, 250 feet long; and all  p140 this before there was an inch of railroad track within 70 miles of the place. The Family Magazine called it "much the most extensive of the kind in America, being capable of producing from 75 to 100 locomotive engines annually." But it was too far ahead of its time; it was bankrupt within a year. It had turned out only one engine, which is said to have run for several years on the Long Island Railroad, to which it of course had to be delivered by water.

And so, when you glide along the Hudson, over the most nearly gradeless 142‑mile stretch of track and past one of the loveliest scenic panoramas on this continent, remember that that road was brought into being largely through the vision and determination of a small number of men in Poughkeepsie, the town which lies almost precisely halfway between New York and Albany. In 1841, when the Harlaem began to creep northward through Westchester County, Matthew Vassar, the brewer — later founder of perhaps our most famous college for women — Isaac Platt, editor and publisher of the Eagle, and the others in the town who could see more than an inch beyond their noses began to express fears that the country trade would be diverted to the more easterly towns.

They employed an engineer to make a cursory survey of the eastern bank of the river, and he reported a railroad there as a feasible thing. He addressed a meeting at the Poughkeepsie Hotel in February, 1842, at which it was said only a few people would listen to his arguments. The same objections first voiced in a letter to the American Railroad Journal in 1832 were voiced; the Harlaem course had all the advantages; a railroad along the river-bank could never compete with the boats, etc. As against this, some boatmen gloomed that a railroad would ruin their business. The Eagle and Telegraph kept hammering away at the thought — and how valuable an earnest editor can be in such a situation! — and the optimists, about a dozen in number, decided to go ahead. They applied for a charter, but the steamboat lobby was there in full accoutrements, and the Poughkeepsians were held in such contempt that "those who undertook to call attention to them in the legislature were hardly treated with decent courtesy."

In March of that year a convention of the river citizenry was called at Poughkeepsie, but there were only a dozen or so from out of town, and not more than thirty in the hall, all told. This meeting appointed a "Hudson River Rail Road Central Executive  p141 Finance and Correspondence Committee" (the name seems enough to kill it, but it didn't), made up of the leading enthusiasts, including Vassar and Platt. Financial aid was solicited, and enough money was raised to make a more careful survey and obtain a charter. R. F. Morgan, of Berkshire County, Mass., who had the first vision of a sleeping car before he had ever seen a railroad,​2 made the survey, following the Hudson down to Spuyten Duyvil, then turning in along the shore of the Harlem River to connect with the Harlaem Railroad at Mott Haven. Above Fishkill, he inclined to veer away from the river.

[image ALT: missingALT.]

NYC & HR bridge over Harlem River, 1875.

Again the promoters went to the Legislature, and again "A respectful hearing could not be obtained." The applicants were accused of insincerity, of a mere jealous desire to head off and cripple the Harlaem, and with no intention of building a road along the river at all. "Not a village on the river aided us in the expense," says the Eagle, "and had the exertions stopped here, all would have been lost." Nobody with means in New York City could be induced to listen, and the newspapers there either condemned the project or considered it of little importance.

So the matter lapsed again for three years; but the promoters had merely paused for breath. In 1845 they had another meeting — better attended this time, for the Harlaem was now past White Plains, and Poughkeepsians were beginning to do some pondering — and Morgan's survey was the focus of attention. That gentleman expressed himself in print in the New York papers, and now some New Yorkers began to prick up their ears. James Boorman, a prominent merchant of the city, headed a faction who favored sticking to the river bank all the way. He wanted John B. Jervis employed to make a thorough survey, and Mr. Boorman usually saw to it that he got what he wanted. Only $1,500 was raised for the job, which Jervis thought pretty small; but the project of building that track along a course which many declared impossible, cutting through some of the hardest rock and skirting the deepest river (500 to 1,500 feet in places) in America, fascinated him, and he undertook it, though complaining of the "slender means" which did not admit of "a thorough sounding of the bottoms of the numerous bays crossed on the line."

On January 23, 1846, another promotion meeting was held, and the progress made was indicated by the fact that this one convened in the auditorium of New York University, with ex-Mayor Stephen Allen calling the gathering to order, and Mayor Havemeyer  p142 as permanent chairman. A committee of influential men was appointed to obtain the charter. Opposition was now coming not only from the steamboats but from the Harlaem Railroad and certain owners of large estates along the river, who didn't want the noise and smoke polluting their air, and who further asserted that the railroad would ruin the appearance of the river bank. Every interest, pro and con, sent representatives to Albany, and a lively battle ensued; but there were too many influential New Yorkers on the pro side now, and the incorporation bill was pushed through, but with the stern provision that the $3,000,000 capital stock must all be subscribed by March 1, 1847, or it was no deal. The road was to be permitted to charge 2 cents a mile passenger fare most of the year, and 2½ cents from December to March, inclusive, when the boats would be likely to be tied up.

The subscription books did not open until September, and at first there seemed to be little hope of winning through. But the boosters pounded away relentlessly, using newspaper publicity as never before. On October 19, Poughkeepsie's first telegraph office was opened — its coming not unconnected with the fact that Inventor S. F. B. Morse lived just south of town — and the promoters there and in New York could now keep in touch with each other. Some subscriptions were picked up at Albany, Hudson, Hyde Park, Peekskill, Sing Sing and Dobbs Ferry; and on February 27, 1847, with only two days to spare, the quota was completed — and then what high jinks there were in Poughkeepsie! — bonfires, cannon salutes, eating and drinking, skylarking in the streets.

On March 4, 1847, the Hudson River Railroad was organized. Jervis was offered the presidency, but he preferred the billet of chief engineer, and William Chamberlain was made president, at a salary of $4,000 a year. Among the directors were Boorman, Allen and other important men of New York and Poughkeepsie, though oddly enough, Vassar's name is not found among them. By July they were ready to ask for contracts for the first fifty-three miles, and these were quickly let.

Because of the Harlaem's antagonism, it had long since been decided not to connect with that railroad, but to build right along the river bank down the west side of Manhattan to the lower part of the city. The Common Council in May gave the company permission to "lay a double track of rails," from the corner of Chambers and Hudson Streets, up Hudson, Canal, Tenth and  p143 Eleventh Avenues and along the river "to the Spuyten Devil's Creek," now artificially made a part of the Harlem River. Locomotives might run as far south as Thirtieth Street, and the company began erecting a passenger station between Thirty-first and Thirty-second. Another was placed at the corner of Chambers and College Place, now West Broadway, facing up Hudson Street. From there up to Thirty-second, only horses might be used as motive power.

Jervis drove ahead at his best speed, and even tried for a 24‑hour day, but reported that "The contractors cannot induce men to work at night." His solemn, humorless reports are often unconsciously comical. In one of January 12, 1848, he argues against those who claimed that the railroad would mar the landscape:

To a very great extent the construction of the Road will improve the appearance of the shore; rough points will be smoothed off, the irregular indentations of the bays be hidden and a regularity and symmetry imparted to the outline of the shore; thus by a combination of the works of nature and of art adding to the interest, grandeur and beauty of the whole.

So when you look at the Hudson nowadays, you see a man-improved specimen of natural beauty. Seriously, one is inclined to maintain stoutly that by comparison with the automobile roads,  p144 quarries, etc., that gash its mountainsides, the railroads have scarcely hurt its beauty at all. But there was a faction in Poughkeepsie which, even after grading had begun, still opposed the road's following the river, not because of scenic objections, but because they thought it would get little business there.​3 They said it ought to run up the "Central valley," where the Harlaem was building its line — merely curving westward in Dutchess County to touch Poughkeepsie, and swinging back again. But their remonstrances were unheeded.

Jervis in one report devotes many pages to proving that trains run faster than steamboats and why. But he could not see much of a future for the H. R. Railroad in the freight business:

It cannot be supposed that a railroad on the margin of the Hudson would carry any important amount of freight when the river was not obstructed by ice. Probably one freight train per day would be as much as could be sustained at remunerating prices during the season of navigation.

He could not foresee that people would not only want to travel faster and faster, but to ship faster and faster. Today, even the air mail and air express aren't fast enough for some of us.

Approaching New York, the track crossed the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and ran down the west shore of what the minutes often call New York Island, past the pleasant suburbs of Inwood and Manhattanville, where there were some beautiful estates on or near the foot of those highlands which make upper Manhattan noteworthy. Among these we find a settlement with "Mr. Audubon," through his attorney, N. Bowditch Blunt, for $2,500 because the rocks passed between the river and his dwelling — which many of us remember as still there eighty years later, ramshackle and down-at‑heel, being smothered by retaining walls and apartment buildings, with no one loving the great nature painter's memory sufficiently to save it; and then, one day — it just wasn't there any more. There was a second and additional settlement with "the said Audubon" for $500, which was scant justice, for the railroad was undoubtedly a considerable defacement and detriment to his property.

The famous Madame Jumel, friend of Washington, neighbor of Hamilton farther over on the heights (where her mansion still  p145 stands) and briefly wife of Aaron Burr, also owned a small tract that was cut by the railroad, and in the minutes (August 24, 1847) is a very pretty, kindly note of consideration for an old lady who had been so closely connected with our history:

That notwithstanding the defects in the title of Madame Jumel, that the $800 agreed upon be paid her upon her execution of the deed for the land taken by the Company.

There were some wise heads among the planners of this railroad, and one of the soundest of them all was on Jervis's shoulders. It had been decided at an early date to prepare for a double track, even if the second pair of rails could not be laid at the start. The directors agreed with Jervis that they might at some time soon even need a third track; but they didn't feel able at the moment to grade and bridge and tunnel for it. "We should be cautious," they said, "not to hazard the enterprise by undertaking to provide for interests that are remote, and would be regarded by the public as too contingent to absorb our limited means." So as a compromise they recommended "that the tunnels be made on a plan rather liberal for a double track, say twenty-four or twenty-five feet in width, which will permit of the enlargement to proceed with more facility when it shall wanted for a third track."

Some contractors found the going tougher than they had expected, and either repudiated their contracts or just quit work or loafed along. Jervis went on the warpath early in 1849 and threw several of them off the job. The bore through the nose of Breakneck Hill — a mass of rock pitching perpendicularly into water so deep that if a tool or machine slid into the river there, there might be no cable long enough to fish it out — gave endless trouble. The rock was so hard that a workman hand-drilling all day (usually twelve hours) could punch only twelve to twenty-four inches into it. Several contractors made tries at the 842‑foot tunnel and gave it up before one was found who stuck to it until it was completed. The annual recurrence of cholera — unusually bad in 1849 — interfered with the work, as did the frequent riots between Fardowns and Corkonians, Irish from the north and south ends of the Green Isle who did most of the hard work of building this and other early American railroad lines.

Crossing the numerous bays and creek-estuaries was another tedious task. Jervis's method, as he described it, was to pour (from barges) loose, broken rock in until they had made a fill  p146 up to low-water mark — for be it known that the Hudson feels the tide almost to Albany — then on that build retaining walls seven feet thick at the base and three feet wide at the top to enclose the earthen fills. Many landowners claimed right of ingress and egress for boats on these inlets, and drawbridges had to be erected for them. It was many years before these hindrances were finally eliminated, and meanwhile, they made a fine talking-point in Harlaem propaganda. The track clung to the water's edge all the way, save for a stretch of four miles just below Peekskill and a scant three miles between Hyde Park and Rhinecliff, where it cut across bends in the river; and it was the nearest thing to a flat level railroad in America, with scarcely any perceptible grades.

His idea of a locomotive was a weakness from which Jervis later recovered. He believed in a single pair of driving wheels for a level road like the Hudson River; but as he retired from it management soon, his error was not carried very far. The first locomotives were arriving for the road early in September, 1849, one, the Ohio, coming from specific, Mass., another, the Ontario, being built in a machine shop at Matteawan near Fishkill. Engines had gone up in price in a decade, for these were costing around $17,000; but the Ohio was not entirely satisfactory, and the directors succeeded in having $1,000 knocked off the bill. Other engines were coming soon from the Springfield builders, from Rogers of Paterson, N. J., and the Taunton Works in Massachusetts. First-class cars were being built by Wason of Springfield and Goold of Albany. These cost more than $4,000 each, and had mahogany doors and seat-backs, "luxurious" plush cushions and walls inlaid with satinwood. The painting and "silver-plated" lettering of the exterior were, according to the New York Herald, "in the first style of art." They were lighted, not by candles, but by whale-oil lamps and seated fifty-two. But for the poorer devils, "The second-class carriages are very plain, the seats being common wood and without cushions."

Horn's Railroad Gazette announced on May 26, 1849, that "The Hudson River Company has made a contract in England for wrought iron wheels for their cars, which will enable them to pass over the route at English speed — about fifty to sixty miles an hour." Horn deplored the fact that English railroads operated so much faster than ours, which had to jog along at sixteen to eighteen miles an hour, he said. The wheels he spoke of were in two pieces, the tire being shrunk on while red hot. "Each pair of  p147 these wheels, with their axle, cost $500 in England," said the New York Herald. "In truth, the company have spared no expense to make their railroad and all its appurtenances worthy of this great city and the 'Empire State' through which it is destined to run." It is worthy of note also that this road came along late enough to avoid the error of strap rails, but had good T‑rail in its track from the beginning.

In September, 1849, when the line had been opened as far as Sing Sing, a Herald man made a round trip over it, leaving at 5:30 A.M. and returning at 9. He explains that

The 62 miles were performed in 2½ hours, over a new line, for the engineer delayed an hour at Sing Sing for breakfast, etc. The 31 miles back were travelled in an hour, including stoppages at Fort Washington and other places, and there was over 5 miles got over in 7 minutes, which is about 43 miles an hour. Even the bridge over the "Spuytenduyvel Creek" (separating New York island from the main land) which caused so much trouble and expense last winter when the foundation sank, was run over at the rate of 20 miles an hour, and it is now as firm as any part of the line. There was no accident, except the trifling one of an old car being run into, the horse being removed from it just in time to save his life. . . .

He continues with the interesting fact that while the rails, made at Trenton, were of wrought iron, as were the frogs, manufactured by the company itself, "All the curves, where the wear and tear are great, are faced with cast steel." And he adds, with becoming modesty:

The deviation from an air line for the entire way is only 6¾ per cent. . . . It can scarcely be said to have any grades at all. The Bostonians would give four millions of dollars to have their railroad to Albany as level.

By October 1, trains had begun to run from the Thirty-second Street depot to Royer Hook (now Roa or Roe Hook), a mile above Peekskill, from which point a steamboat gave temporary connection with the Founders' city, Poughkeepsie — and how proud it was of that service (except when it was shut off by ice in December). You could leave Thirty-second Street at 4:35 P.M., reach Royer Hook a little after 6 and Poughkeepsie around 8, weather and ice permitting. To disprove the prediction that the  p148 railroad could never compete with the boats, Jervis made a study of the traffic for two months after they had begun operation to Peekskill, and published the results in Hunt's Merchant Magazine. During that 60 days the rails carried 85⅔ percent of the travel between New York and Yonkers, though they charged 25 cents for the tip, as against the boats' 12½ cents. To Sing Sing the railroad carried 85⅓ percent of the passengers, who paid 45 cents for the trip rather than pay 25 cents on the boats. To Peekskill the railroad fare was 55 cents, that of the boats 37½; but they had so few passengers that they soon cut it to 25, and finally gave up and let the railroad have all the business. As Jervis remarked, "Those who travel slow exclaim, 'We are ruined by those who travel fast; we also must therefore travel fast.' "

The emergency service from Royer Hook did not continue long. On December 31, 1849, amidst uproarious rejoicing, trains began operating from Chambers Street to Poughkeepsie. The Eagle on January 12 spoke of "an avalanche of business . . . receipts being near $1,200 a day." The regular running time to Thirty-second Street was 2½ hours, and the Eagle said it was sometimes done in 2 hours. (The time-table appears to have been flexible.) To Chambers Street the time named in the annual report of 1850 was 2¾ hours, though persons who rode the trains put it at 3 hours.

The company wanted faster service all the way to Chambers Street, and had devised an engine encased until it looked something like a soap-box, which, it was hoped, would not scare horses as badly as an ordinary locomotive, that being one of the principal objections to trains on the streets. In July, 1850, the Council gave permission to the company "to run their dumb engine to Chambers Street." But the machine appears to have been either too dumb or not dumb enough, for it wasn't used long, and horses continued to drag the cars below Thirty-second Street until 1861, when another dummy was devised. We have no pictures of the first one, but it may have resembled the second somewhat in appearance. According to newspaper accounts, the new one recondensed its steam and "consumed its own smoke and cinders," making it a pretty remarkable affair. It had a vertical boiler and pistons with only a fifteen-inch stroke, geared to "ordinary car wheels." The article in the World added that it

Travels at a speed of about four miles per hour, a man on horseback, with a red flag, keeping along in front of it at the  p149 usual horse-car pace. By it a whole train can be drawn at once, whereas at present four horses are attached to each car, which follow each other in rapid succession all day, making it dangerous to persons, especially children who cross the track.

Seventy years later, a modification of the "dumb" engine, preceded by the rider with the red flag, were still familiar figures on busy Eleventh Avenue — as seen in our illustration elsewhere.

[image ALT: A photograph of a train traveling down an urban street, preceded by a man on horseback with a flag.]

Freight trains used to creep through Eleventh Avenue in New York preceded by a red-flagged herald on horseback.

Meanwhile, there had been turmoil inside the company, which presently boiled over, to the entertainment of the public. Mr. Chamberlain, the first president, resigned after a few months, and Azariah Cutting Flagg, who had been variously secretary of state under Governor DeWitt Clinton and state comptroller for several years, was chosen to fill the chair. He moved his residence from Albany to New York, prepared for a long incumbency, but the hard, domineering Scotch head of James Boorman ruled otherwise. He charged Flagg and Jervis with slowness in pushing construction — manifestly, about the last thing they should have been accused of, for, as Jervis showed in his reports, seventy-five miles of track had been built in two years and two months from the time when the first contracts had been let, which was a record in railroad building at the time. (The Harlaem had taken six years to build seven miles.)

But Boorman founded a faction in the directorate to oppose Flagg. They accused him of financial inefficiency and of making a poor job of a contract for iron with Cooper & Hewitt. Boorman succeeded in having Flagg ousted, though the directors were so uneasy over their action that they gave him six months' salary in parting and took over his eighty shares of stock at par, though its market value was far below that. Boorman was elected president at the spring meeting in 1849, and at the same meeting he was authorized to transfer eight shares of his own stock to E. D. Morgan and eighty to Erastus Corning, thus beginning a tie-up with the upstate roads.

Flagg immediately began airing his grievances in the papers, and he had some telling blows to strike, one being an exposure of the directors' practice, already instituted, of paying interest charges out of capital, a folly which was already having its evil effect on the Erie. Boorman answered often and at great length, usually in the form of "letters to the stockholders," and after these had cluttered the newspaper columns, they were published in pamphlet form. Silas Wood and other directors joined in the  p150 squabble. Bennett of the Herald mused that many railroad trains created a great noise and dust when running at thirty miles an hour, but that the Hudson River Railroad was making a terrific uproar and dust in the community "before it has a train under way or a single car running." Said he:

These gentlemen are gradually losing all the polish and dignity with which they commenced operations, and are beginning to exhibit some of the violent language which we see so liberally displayed by politicians and office beggars. Only think of such a quiet, religious and respectable man — and a member of the church, too — as Silas Wood, almost in as many words, calling Mr. Flagg — also a member of the church and a candidate for a seat in the kingdom of heaven — a deceiver and almost a liar!

From the railhead at Poughkeepsie, through service for the winter months was established to Albany by stagecoach, the fare from New York being four dollars. In March a contract was made with Daniel Drew and Isaac Newton to operate the steamer Alida from Poughkeepsie to Albany in connection with the trains. The company had no little trouble with Drew during the next year, as might have been expected; he was always trying to get the better of somebody.

After Boorman's slurs, Jervis could not be expected to remain with the Hudson River; he resigned at the beginning of the year 1850, alleging ill health, and his place was filled by William C. Young, brought down from the Utica & Schenectady. The road was double-tracked to Peekskill by late 1850. It was now evident that the conclusion of the work was no more than a year away, and on June 1, 1851, the company leased the Troy & Greenbush Railroad (chartered in 1845) for 7 percent on its $275,000 capital stock; and thus the HRR obtained, in advance of its completion, an extension to Troy and a connection with a bridge over the Hudson for through freight business to the West. Being several miles above Albany, it was of no value for traffic into and out of that city.

They were building the northern half of the line from both ends, and on June 12, 1851, there was an experimental run made from Greenbush to Hudson. Two days later an excursion was run from Albany to Hudson for the benefit of the Hudson Orphan Asylum. There were some deep bays to be crossed around Hudson and Tivoli, and this delayed the final hook-up; but on October 1, 1851, the Hudson River Railroad was opened, and New  p151 York City was at last linked by rail with the West and the outer world in general. It was an amazing achievement; and that averaging of thirty-six miles a year for four years over an extremely difficult course, starting from scratch and including a lot of double-tracking, set a new mark for American railroad builders to shoot at. By 1854, the double-tracking had been carried up to Poughkeepsie.

Boorman resigned as president six days after the opening, the implication being, "Well, I've built the road; now I can step out and let some lesser man come in." If one wished to carp, however, one might point out that the trackage built during his two years' incumbency had not quite equalled that of the previous two years which he had criticised so sharply, even though Jervis had done some of the grading for him on the upper end. As he resigned, Boorman transferred eighty shares of his stock to the engineer, William C. Young, who thereupon became president. But he, too, passed out in 1852, and Edwin D. Morgan, one of the group that had bought the Schenectady & Troy, came in as head of the company. One again sees evidence of a tightening of the chain of interests.

The HRR did not give commuters' rates as generous as those of the Harlaem, but its through rates — competing with the river, of course — would whiten the hair of a twentieth century executive overnight; $1.50 between New York and Albany, far below its "ceiling" rate of 2 cents a mile. When the Harlaem was completed a few months later, it offered a rate of $1 — a ruinous figure, of course. But there they both stood until October, 1853, when, by agreement, the fare was raised to $2. Even at that, they made no profit; but they were trying to drive the boats off the river, which proved to be pretty hard to do. The boats offered roomy elegance and meals without extra charge — and nobody had yet thought of railroad dining cars. The HRR directors haggled over the rent of a single room for a station in some building adjacent to the track in Sing Sing and elsewhere, but at Poughkeepsie, the mother town, they spent $11,000 on a brick depot, considered fine for its day, and $13,000 on an engine house. In the depot the Johnson family for several decades operated a restaurant that was famous the country over.

[image ALT: A woodcut of an early locomotive of the generally classic appearance we now associate with locomotives: a long cylindrical tank-like body, a tapering funnel chimney to the front, an assortment of small chimneys and devices on top of the tank as we head to the rear, which is formed of an enclosed square cab.]

The Champlain was one of the six original engines of the Hudson River Railroad

Six trains a day each way between New York and Albany were put on shortly after the line was opened. The first of the day, leaving New York at 6 A.M., connected at Albany at 11 with the New York Central flyer which thundered into Buffalo at midnight.  p152 Only eighteen hours! But wonder of wonders, in the following June they cut four hours from this schedule, leaving New York at the same time, but passing Albany at 10:10 and arriving at Buffalo at 8 P.M. As mentioned, the New York-Albany fare was raised to $2 in 1853, but there was a night local each way, leaving each terminus in the evening, and if you were willing to suffer on its hard seats all night, you could do so for $1.25, or less than a cent a mile! But there were two fast trains a day each way, morning and early evening, which made the run between New York and Greenbush in four hours flat, stopping only at Peekskill, Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Hudson, and on them the fare was $2.50, plus 10 cents if you went on to Troy.

[image ALT: A woodcut of an early locomotive of the generally classic appearance we now associate with locomotives: a long cylindrical tank-like body, a tapering funnel chimney and a cowcatcher to the front, an assortment of small chimneys and devices on top of the tank as we head to the rear, which is formed of an enclosed square cab. The first of the cars it pulls is also seen.]

The Croton, a Hudson River speedster of 1851

The 6 P.M. flyer out of New York, connecting with the NYC express that left Albany at 11 took on in 1858 the first sleeping car ever seen on the Central. L. F. Vosburgh, general passenger agent of the New York Central, writing in 1912,​4 said that the first sleepers between Buffalo and Albany were operated "in the latter part of '57 or early in '58." He has evidently placed their advent a few months too early, as the Central minutes show that a committee on sleeping cars was appointed by the directors in February, 1858, and on August 5 of that year the proposition of T. T. Woodruff & Company to place sleeping cars on the line was laid before the board. Mr. Vosburgh says that the first makeshift was a remodelled coach, being about half sleeper and half day car, and was provided for the use of stockmen returning from escorting cattle to market. Evidently it was a product of the company's own.

Later, two baggage cars were remodelled into sleepers. They  p153 had three tiers of berths, one above another, on one side of the car only. The berths were supplied with blankets, mattresses (very thin) and pillows, but no sheets. Men were the only ones who occupied them then, and they were expected to do no more than take off their boots before they rolled in. There is a legend to the effect that Mrs. Abraham Lincoln was the first woman to occupy a sleeping berth, and the story is seldom told without reference to the singular coincidence that her son Robert was later president of the Pullman Company. It was a vain attempt to sleep in one of these berths that caused a young carpenter of Albion, N. Y., named George M. Pullman to vow that he could and would produce a better sleeping vehicle for the comfort of travelers. Those very first cars seem to have had nothing better than plain plank shelves for berths.

They had improved somewhat by 1860 when an English traveler whose name we do not know rode over the Central, and wrote up his experience anonymously in Dickens's magazine, All the Year Round. As might be expected, he gives us the best picture we have of an American sleeping car of the period. He considered the "sanitary arrangements" of our passenger cars excellent, and like all his fellows, was delighted with our baggage checking, which he called "one of the best institutions in America, and one which it will be to our infinite loss if we do not very soon universally adopt." On the platform at Albany, he was accosted by a lank stranger who asked, "Sleeping car, mister? Going through, mister?" This man, who proved to be the conductor — he wore no uniform, but had "conductor" lettered on his cap — pointed out the desired car near the tail of the train, the largest car of all, painted a "sunflower yellow" with the words, "Albany and Buffalo Sleeping Car" in red letters above the windows.

There was a sort of porter-brakeman, whom he calls the "under-conductor," "a great, robust, laughing negro, who grinds at the brake as if he were winding up a giant's watch." (It is interesting to note that he saw Negro baggage-handlers at some of the larger stations.) Entering the car, he could see no difference between it and any other day coach. He asked the conductor how much he would have to pay for a bed, to which the reply was, "Single-high, twenty-five cents, yes, sir. Double-low, half-dollar, yes, sir." He paid for a "single-high," without knowing what it meant, and presently they were off. People wandered through the car at will, "for the restless or seeking traveler can walk all through an American train." He goes on:

 p154  The candy-boys have been round three times, the negro with the water-can twice, the lad with the book-basket once. One hour from Albany we are at Hoffman's; twenty minutes more at Amsterdam, fifty minutes more and we have reached Spraker's — pure Dutch names all. . . . Now, as we are between Little Falls and Herkimer, the officer of the sleeping-cars enters and calls out:

"Now then, misters, if please, get up from your seats and allow me to make up the beds."

Two by two we rise, and with trim neatness and quick hand, the nimble Yankee turns over every other seat, so as to reverse the back and make two seats facing the other. Nimbly he shuts the windows and pulls up the shutters, leaving for ventilation the strip of perforated zinc open at the top of each. Smartly he strips up the cushions and unfastens from beneath each seat a cane-bottomed frame, there secreted. In a moment, opening certain ratchet holes in the walls of the carriage, he has slided these in at a proper height above, and covered each with cushions and a sleeping rug.

I go outside on the balcony to be out of the way, and when I come back, the whole place is transformed. No longer an aisle of double seats . . . but the cabin of a small steamer, with curtained berths and closed portholes.

Several passengers had already turned in and were "snorting approval of themselves and of sleep as an institution generally." Others were struggling to pull off their boots and stockings. He found that he had paid for an upper berth, so climbed to it. "The tray was narrow and high. It was like lying on one's back on a narrow plank thrown across a torrent." If he tried lying on either side, he was liable to lurch out at a curve, into the lower berth or into the aisle. The lower berths were twice as wide; he tried them on later occasions and found them "singularly comfortable." In fact, he said he had more room in one of them than he had in his steamer berth crossing the Atlantic. But he didn't sleep much that first night; "It was like sleeping on a runaway horse," and the frequent passing to and fro of wandering passengers, slamming the "fore-door" and the "aft-door" kept awakening him:

Then the stoppages, the clashing of the bell on the engine at "Chittenango," "Manlius," "Canton," "Jordan," "Canaserago," and all the other places with Indian, classical or scriptural names. Then, if I peered through the zinc ventilator into the outer darkness, a flying scud of sparks from the engine-funnel did not  p156 serve to divest my mind of all chances of being burnt. There were blazes of pine torches as we neared a station, fresh bell clamor and rumbling sounds of baggage, slamming doors and itinerant conductors.

And at long last, "came the dawn" as they neared Buffalo. Passengers began to sit up and don their shoes, while the train-crew dismantled the berths. In the washing-room at the end of the car there were small basins and a little water, which you had to pump from a reservoir into the basin. There was also one dirty hair-brush hanging to the wall by a chain, giving the place "the appearance of the cell of a dead barber." The English traveler felt "tired, flabby, dusty, grimy and low;" but he hastens to add that

The second time I took a railroad sleeping car, I really did sleep, and the third time I slept well. So much for habit; and indeed, to commercial men and men bound on swift, unpostponable journeys, these sleeping cars are a great comfort and convenience; tho' in Canada (with a different tempered people) they have been tried and failed.

At Buffalo,

The five gongs of five opposition breakfast places bang and thunder for our custom; five niggers at once cry:

"This way, jebblemen, for the brekfus! Half-dollar a 'ed!"

In a minute I am seated with some thirty other hungry souls, stowing away white piles of hominy, pink shavings of corned beef and bowls of stewed oysters. All the time a negro boy waves a plume brush of wild turkey feathers over my head, to keep off the greedy American flies, who are all Republicans, to a fly.​5


[image ALT: A handbill or poster, illustrated with a woodcut of a train being pulled out of a station by a locomotive belching a very long plume of smoke. It reads 'Hudson River Railroad. On and after December 4th, 1853, the mail train Now leaving Canal Street at 5 p.m. for Albany and Troy, and the Mail Train Now leaving Albany at 5 p.m. Will leave at 3 o'clk. p.m. — E. French, Superintendent.']
So much for the early sleepers. There was much wavering in the Hudson River board-room over the question of Sunday trains. Preachers inveighed against them, and the directors were pulled this way and that.​a On October 14, 1851, the president reported that arrangements had been made for carrying the mails, and a mail-and-passenger train would run on Sunday, once each way. In the following May they even put on a local train up to Poughkeepsie  p157 and back on Sunday. But in July, '53, this was abolished, and no Sunday trains ran save to carry mails; passengers on them were sternly forbidden. Then this was relaxed, but on January 24, 1856, "On motion of Mr. Wolfe, it was Resolved, That as far as practicable, all Sunday services upon Railroads shall be avoided." Therefore, upon agreement with the New York Central and New York & Erie, "all passenger and stock trains which now start on the Sabbath shall be discontinued."

There was much complaint from citizens of the locomotives on the streets, and early in 1852 the engineers were forbidden to run more than ten miles an hour below Sixty-first Street. But there were continued charges that the trains ran at "a fierce and rapid rate," and in the following year, they were threatened with a complete stoppage of service below Sixtieth Street, but succeeded in averting this disaster by promising to run at a snail's pace.

The Hudson River was a popular road and did much business, but at too low rates to be profitable. It had been predicted in 1848 that it might carry 10,000 fares a year in each direction between New York and Albany, but it quickly surpassed that. The passenger receipts were $476,609 in 1851 and $803,121 in 1852, and continued to rise steadily. Freight revenues were much less, but also increasing. The American Railroad Journal in 1853 noted a rapid development in population along the line. But the directors seemed obsessed with the notion that they must drive the boats off the river or be driven off themselves. They continued to point — with an increasing air of being on the defensive — to the greater and greater volume of business, but there were no dividends.

One of the curious episodes of the Hudson River Railroad's early history was its war with James Watson Webb, editor and publisher of the New York Courier and Enquirer, a fire-eater who was ready to fight anybody without even the drop of a hat, which may be the reason why he was given the courtesy titles of "Colonel" and "General." Webb claimed that Boorman had promised, as consideration for a right of way across a corner of the Webb domain at Beekmantown, that all except the very fast trains would stop there on flag for the "General," his family and friends, and also that the company would build a pier for him and throw a bridge across the tracks to it. Each claim the company flatly denied, asserting further that it had taken only a tenth of an acre of the Webb property, whose value it figured at  p158 no more than $12; and for this, it didn't propose to haul the Webb family free of charge throughout eternity.

All this pro and con was of course spread before the public in newspaper columns, with affidavits and what not. The irascible Webb threatened to tear up the rails where they crossed his estate, and the company dared him to try it. Webb had bashed a man over the head with his cane or called him out and shot him — or shot at him — for less, but in this case he went no farther than using the word "liar." He brought up the case of William B. Astor, who was said to have disliked the thought of seeing the railroad cross his estate at Rhinebeck. Webb asserted that Astor had subscribed for $10,000 capital stock of the company on condition that it pass inland, back of his property. Astor refused to talk on the subject; the tracks skirted the water front across his acres, the storm gradually subsided, and the trains did not pause at the Webb freehold.

The company took great pains, as they thought, to insure safety. Watchmen were stationed day and night at every drawbridge and road crossing, and at curves in the mountain section where the engineer could not see far ahead. These men were equipped with red and white flags, red and white-globed lanterns, shovel, crowbar, spikes and spike-maul; yet in spite of them, an accident occurred on December 14, 1851, which revealed such amateurishness in operation that it had its ludicrous aspect.

The 4 P.M. train out of New York that day was stopped by the conductor just above Croton so that he might eject two passengers who would not pay their fares. While the scuffle with these fellows was going on, an empty engine, "deadheading" up the line, came whirling around a curve, crashed into the rear coach and injured several passengers. While they were puttering with the mess, they somehow got word back to the 5 o'clock train following, which switched over to the other tracks and stopped alongside them to give assistance. But for some reason, perhaps inexperience, this train sent no flagman back, and the 5:30 Peekskill accommodation — also switched to the west track — came along, ran into the 5 o'clock, reduced some more cars to kindling and injured many more. Probably the reasons why there were not some fatalities were, first, the moderate rate of speed at which they ran, and second, the fact that many passengers were out of the cars of the stalled trains, looking at the first wreck. The directors relieved their feelings by firing all three conductors.

People were far more modest in their claims for injuries then  p159 than now. Six months later, eighteen claims resulting from this accident had been settled, at a cost of only $4,167.25, and fifteen remained to be settled. President Morgan was able to boast, however, in the report for 1852, that only one person had lost his life so far, "and he was improperly on the platform and leaning beyond the car when crossing a drawbridge."

A new force appeared in Hudson River affairs in 1854 when Samuel Sloan (1817‑1907), Ulster-born linen merchant of New York City, entered the directorate. Just why the board elected him president of the company in the following year when Morgan retired, we have been unable to fathom. His life so far — and he was then thirty-eight — had been spent in the mercantile business, with no railroad contacts whatsoever, and his election appeared a strange one when there were other directors who had had years of experience with railroad problems. But the choice seemed to have been inspired. It turned out that railroading was Samuel Sloan's métier; he became one of the great figures in that business in the nineteenth century.

In October, 1854, the directors had authorized a $2,000,000 bond issue, but had put only $1,000,000 worth on the market, at 20 percent discount, which had an unpleasant look. The common stock, which had been quoted at 44 (Harlaem was 33 at the time, NYC, 90), quickly slump to 35, and when Sloan took over, it could be picked up for 17. A skillful hand at the helm was certainly needed. The directors voted the new president a $5,000 yearly salary, and he set out to justify it by eliminating a couple of Albany trains each way — which was a startler — but nevertheless succeeded in increasing the gross income and whittling down operating expenses. In 1858, despite the fact that the panic of the year before had hit them amid­ships — the stock sank to $3 a share late in '57, and went begging at that — the directors, who could be good spenders when they took a notion, raised his salary to $7,500 and in '62 to $10,000. That last-named raise was undoubtedly inspired by joy over the fact that the road had just found itself able to pay its first dividend, one of 3 percent.

For another decade and more the railroad was destined to feel keenly the lack of a bridge at Albany. When the various railroads centering there incorporated a company in 1856 to build a bridge, 4,000 Albanians signed a remonstrance against it; valid proof — if proof were needed — that most people will sign almost any sort of paper that is shoved under their noses to the accompaniment of a rapid-fire sales talk. There was a common obsession  p160 in those days — it caused actual war at Erie, Pa., as we shall see — that the possible financial benefit to a city's economy caused by delaying traffic that passed through it was a legitimate aim. One thing and another delayed the construction of the bridge until the remonstrants were reconciled.

At the other end of the road, Sloan was strengthening its position. In the spring of 1863 he bought a large area around Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues, Thirty-first and Thirty-second Streets, where the road has had a great freight yard ever since. A freight station had already been established at St. Johns Park, just above Chambers Street, and in 1866, as we shall relate, the company bought the whole park. It was Sloan, too, who revived the "dumb engine," in probably better design, to take the long cars, nicknamed for some reason, Dolly Vardens, downtown.

When trouble with the Southern States threatened in 1860, Sloan christened two locomotives Constitution and Union; and when Lincoln came via Albany and New York on his way to his inauguration in the following year, the Constitution drew his train from East Albany to Poughkeepsie, and the Union the rest of the way, with Master Mechanic William Buchanan​6 at the throttle. And on that cold, damp April night when the martyred President's body went on its last journey back to Springfield over the same route, the same locomotives drew the train, while crowds with bared heads stood or knelt at every station, often by the weird light of torches, doing belated honor to the man whom America was at last beginning dimly to appreciate as one of its greatest.

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Lincoln funeral train leaving New York via Hudson River Railroad, 1865.

The year 1863 was an eventful one for the Hudson River. During The Draft Riots, on July 13, the day when the Negro orphan asylum was burned and the Tribune Building attacked, portions of both the Hudson River and Harlaem tracks were torn up. Standing in the Thirty-first Street yards were twelve cars of gunpowder destined for the Union army. That the mobs should get hold of it was a possibility too awful to contemplate. On order by wire, an extra engine came down hell-for-leather from Poughkeepsie, backing all the way, hooked up to the powder cars and started northward. Engineer Patrick's orders were to get out of town as fast as possible. But with the ineptitude which it took the early railroads a long time to shake off, a section gang just above the city had not been warned of the emergency  p161 and had taken a rail out for replacement when Patrick came along. He whistled frantically for brakes, but before he could stop, the engine and several cars were on the ground. Fortunately, old-fashioned black powder was not apt to explode from mere jolting; the cars were re-railed and went to the armies in a roundabout way via Albany.

In 1855, when the stock was so low, an editor remarked that anybody with half a million or maybe even a quarter-million in cash could probably buy the whole shebang. Perhaps Commodore Vanderbilt recalled that remark a few years later and regretted that he had not been wise enough to take advantage of the opportunity; for under the stimulus of the war and Sloan's good management, Hudson River shares rose steadily until they reached and passed par. In 1863 the directors were feeling so opulent that when Mr. Boorman resigned as director, they ordered a portrait of him painted, at a cost not to exceed $1,000.

Railroad stocks were active in wartime, for most of the companies were doing well, and there was the fascination of uncertainty, of a fluctuating market to gamble on. In January, 1859, you could buy Harlaem at 11 and Erie at 5½. Within three days after the news of the fall of Fort Sumter, thirteen of the leading stocks dropped by an average of 20 percent; Government 5 percent bonds receded to 75, and 6s to 84. Bonds of the seceded states fell 30 percent — and only 30 at the moment, which mirrors Wall Street's uncertainty as to the outcome of the conflict. But there was little inclination to buy anything. First Bull Run was another stunner. But when Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan began to move up the Peninsula in the spring of '62, popular confidence in that showy general brought stocks upward again. Still, no one could be sure that the Government would weather the storm, and with each victory or defeat of the Union armies, gold and stocks — gold in particular — went up or down.

Wall Street brokers had secret sources of information at the front, from which news in code was wired to them before the New York papers go it, and some have claimed, even before Washington knew what was going on. If a great army movement was impending, some such message as "John is still here," went to Wall Street. If a Federal defeat was in the making, as when on that August afternoon Pope began to stagger back towards Washington under the hammer strokes of Lee and Jackson at Second Bull Run, the cryptic message, "Henry is worse" went northward. This meant, "Buy gold," for if the Government were  p162 going to fall, gold was the one tangible thing that a man could count on and should have in his possession, and the thing to do was to buy it before the other fellows heard of it and the price shot upward. On the other hand, as the tide turned on the bloody field of Antietam, and Lee's battered forces began slowly to withdraw towards the Potomac, from somewhere near the scene of conflict, a flash to waiting manipulators in New York read, "William is sitting up today;" which to them meant, "Sell gold before the news leaks out, for it will drop tomorrow."

Into this volcanic atmosphere had come, as already related, the brothers, Leonard W. and Addison G. Jerome of Rochester, as well as other swashbuckling figures, such as John M. Tobin (whose family, pure legend says, was of Norman origin, the name originally being St. Aubin), a former gatekeeper at the Staten Island ferryhouse, who had become a successful market operator and an ally of Commodore Vanderbilt's. Leonard Jerome, the magnifico, Churchill ancestor, newspaper owner and horse fancier, whose name endured for decades in the Jerome Park racecourse which he founded and still remains in the main avenue which led to it, whose banquets were Roman in their magnificence, was the cleverer of the brothers, usually a bull in stocks and an unrelenting feudist with old Daniel Drew. At the Hudson River annual election of June 8, 1863, the two Jeromes, Tobin and William R. Travers came on the board, Tobin's appearance being an indication that Vanderbilt held some shares.

We do not know just when the Commodore began buying Hudson River, but as both he and Sloan owned stock in the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, it is possible that Sloan induced him to become interested in Hudson; interested only in stock owner­ship, for at the time Harlaem, which he controlled, was his hobby. He was planning to double-track it and extend it from Chatham to Albany. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1863 he had acquired a considerable block of Hudson and was probably wondering what to do with two parallel and rival lines. And just then, only a few days after the annual meeting mentioned above — it was around June 20 — a crisis arose.

Mr. Vanderbilt had gone for a sail on the Hudson to relax his mind from the strain of a corner in Harlaem which he was then negotiating. When his boat touched at the Jersey shore, a messenger from his brokers' office who had been trying to reach him came galloping to tell him that, in the words of Henry Clews,7  p163 "a wicked and unregenerate clique of 'bears' had conspired to sell Hudson 'short,' and that it was declining with great rapidity" under their hammering. They were of course expecting to buy later — at a lower figure — the stock they were selling short, and they had already driven the price down from 140 to 123. Vanderbilt "arose and shook off his lethargy," in the turgid words of Clews, "as a lion may be supposed to shake the dew from his mane" before he leaps upon his prey, rushed back to town, and together with Tobin and Leonard Jerome, concocted a plan to trap the short-sellers. Clews says it was Vanderbilt's own idea; one which Edmund C. Stedman​8 calls "a scheme which probably has no superior in the records of speculative ingenuity." The three conspirators gathered up stock at the lowest prices they could find, and then the Vanderbilt brokers approached several of the bear traders and asked them to "turn" Hudson; that is, to buy it from Vanderbilt and his friends and sell it back to them at slight advances on buyer's options for periods ranging from ten to thirty days.

The bears jumped to the conclusion, just as the Commodore intended they should, that he and other Hudson supporters were running low on cash, and as there was a small profit promised on the buyers' option sales, they gleefully walked into the trap and agreed to deliver thousands of shares they didn't own. Very shortly thereafter a favorable report of the company's condition was published in the newspapers, and up went the stock. On July 3 it stood at 155½ and the bears were pale around the gills. They had sold some 50,000 shares, whereas there were only 44,000 in existence. Options began to mature, and they found that there were few shares to be bought, and those at grievously high prices. The three cornerers were calling for the stock to which they were entitled, and the bears were frantic.

Pitying them in their extremity, the Commodore kindly consented to lend them stock to fulfil their obligations — but they paid from 2 to 5 percent a day for the loan, and 15 percent for a ten-day extension of an option. In short, he flayed them coming and going. The price continued to rise; on July 9 it reached its peak, 180. Some of the bears managed to hang on for five days longer, and then settled at 179. The Herald declared on the 13th that "Wall Street has never known so successful a corner. The regular bears of the Board — the men who have been accustomed  p164 to 'hammer' other men's property as a playful diversion — are suffering severely." The triumphant trio cleaned up a small fortune, selling much of the stock while it was still at high figures. As Clews says, "The bulls thus saved themselves from the risk of being loaded with probably the whole or at any rate the greater part of the capital stock, and through the Commodore's able management the load was comparatively light at the end of the deal, the property remaining as good a speculative as before, which is a rare exception in 'corners.' "

Notwithstanding the fact that the three avengers held stock control, it is a curious fact that Vanderbilt filed articles of association at Albany that same year, incorporating the New York & Albany Railroad Company, theoretically to skirt the west bank of the Hudson, just where the West Shore Railroad did long afterward. This may have been just a club to hold over the heads of Tobin and Jerome, to make sure that they remained loyal to him. Whatever the reason, Vanderbilt did nothing with the franchise.

Here the Commodore's famous son, William Henry Vanderbilt, first swims into our ken, and the story is worth repeating. Bill, the eldest, born in 1821, had long been a disappointment to his father. In boyhood he had seemed dull, stodgy and ambitionless, a mere plodder. On the small salary of a broker's clerk, he insisted upon marrying the girl of his choice, Maria Kissam, daughter of a Brooklyn clergyman, which his father considered a senseless proceeding. Bill let his employers overwork him on a high stool until his health failed, when his father bought 70 acres of none too good land on Staten Island and chucked him down on it there, to "root, hog, or die," as a popular saying of the age had it. Bill studied the farm and decided to make improvements which would cost, he believed, about $6,000. Summoning his nerve, he asked his father to lend him the money and was curtly refused. He then went to a bank, borrowed the money on mortgage and made his improvements. The Commodore heard of the move and upbraided him furiously, declaring that he would have no more to do with him. But he kept his ear to the ground, and when he heard that William was making the farm pay, the old man sent him a check for $6,000, to clear up the incumbrance. He was probably moved to do this by the admiration engendered when William outsmarted him on a deal for a barge-load of manure for the farm from the Harlaem horse-car stables. Next, William took over the feeble little 14‑mile railroad which ran the  p165 length of Staten Island and made it profitable. At that, his father began to realize that he had been mistaken in the boy, and at long last, when he was in his forties, William H. had his chance.

But before he was finally received into full confidence, the father tested his market judgment during the Hudson corner, hinting to him that Hudson was a good stock to sell short. William, however, wasn't such a ninny as to swallow that without salt; he did some gumshoe investigating, and found out what was actually going on. When Hudson had passed 130 his father asked him how much he had lost.

"I went in at 110 on 10,000 shares," was the somewhat cryptic reply. "That ought to make me $26,000." Being who he was, he could of course buy the stock on credit.

"Very bad luck, William, very bad luck this time," sympathized the old man, hypocritically.

"But I bought," explained William, blandly. "I heard that was your line, and so concluded that you meant long instead of short."

The old man was caught flat-footed and could think of no retort. But he evidently decided that William would "do," and he was accordingly taken into the councils of Harlaem, to groom him for the vice-presidency in the following year.

Before the Hudson River election of 1864 came on, Sloan had decided to retire from the presidency. He knew that with Cornelius Vanderbilt as majority stockholder, he could not be a real executive. "We are too much alike to work together," he told the Commodore — who, by the way, had offered him the presidency of the Harlaem — and the latter reluctantly agreed. So Sloan went away to become first a director and then president of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, a post which he held for more than 30 years, following that with the chairman­ship of its board for the last eight years of his life, taking time off at intervals to head some fifteen other companies, including three which were later New York Central subsidiaries — Michigan Central, Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg and Fort Wayne & Jackson.

In the Hudson election of 1864, John M. Tobin was made president, while three new directors, all Vanderbilt men, came in — James H. Banker, Horace F. Clark, the Commodore's son-in‑law, and Augustus Schell, who was a queer combination — both Wall Street man and Tammany politician; in fact, in 1872 he became Grand Sachem of the Hall, as successor to Boss Tweed.

The Author's Notes:

1 For this and some other early items, the author is indebted to The Eagle's History of Poughkeepsie, by Edmund Platt, 1905.

2 See Harlow, Steelways of New England, pp37, 45, 56, 57.

3 A worn little pamphlet in the New York Public Library contains copies of their public utterances, report of a mass meeting at Poughkeepsie on January 27, 1848, etc.

4 In a letter to William J. Bogart, July 11, 1912; reproduced in New York Central Lines Magazine, March, 1929.

5 The Buffalo Courier in 1860 even had a "Sleeping Car Correspondent," who was supposed to cover tirelessly the ground between Buffalo and New York, gathering news. The Genesee Democrat of Batavia sneered that he "is known to be the pensioned agent of the Central Railroad," or in other words, just a puffer (publicity man).

6 In later years master mechanic of the New York Central & Hudson River and builder of the famous engine 999.

7 Fifty Years in Wall Street, 1908.

8 In his fine book, The New York Stock Exchange (1905), which has been a valuable source-book for the present writer.

Thayer's Note:

a See for example the diary of Dutch immigrant John Hospers, about to book a train for Buffalo, July 7, 1849.

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Page updated: 6 Mar 13