Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two Railroad Depots and a Lighthouse

While on our late summer trip to upper New York State we drove along NY Hwy. 3 which runs parallel to the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.  The problem is that for most of the drive, the road isn’t close enough to the road to get a look at the Lake.  Well, that necessitated a drive down a side road to Selkirk Harbor…

Much to our surprise, my eagle eye co-pilot spotted this old depot sitting back off the road in the woods on private property.  It had obviously been moved to this location and placed on a concrete block foundation.  While the Baggage Room and Waiting Room signs are still hanging over the doors, there was no indication as to where this little depot had come from.  It is very old though…note the center chimney for the old potbelly stove or dual fireplace.

Just up the road from the little depot, we came to Selkirk Harbor and its lighthouse.  This stone lighthouse has 18” thick walls and it was built in 1838 at a cost of $3,000.  The lighthouse was deactivated in 1858.  That turned out to be a positive factor for lighthouse historians as the structure and the light itself avoided modernization.  There is only one other lighthouse with a birdcage lantern room left in the USA and it is located on Prudence Island in Rhode Island 

Subsequently, several people and/or families have used the structure as a private residence.  In the early 1900’s it was incorporated into a larger hotel and restaurant complex…with the latter becoming well known for its excellent German cuisine.  During our visit, it appears that the hotel/dining/event catering operation has faded away.  It is interesting to note that in 1989, the Coast Guard installed a solar powered light in the historic lantern room and the facility was reactivated as a Class II navigation aid.

This is Selkirk Harbor… This area at the mouth of the Salmon River was settled in 1801.  For a while, the settlement was called ‘Port Ontario’.  Early settlers were drawn to the harbor by the huge annual runs of salmon.  At one point, a government engineer determined that the river mouth had sufficient depth and breadth for anchoring around 30 ships.  That report led to the construction of the lighthouse.

Shortly after the lighthouse was finished, 2 long piers were built here to improve the harbor and to facilitate shipping.  At that time, 1.5 million feet of pine lumber, 5,000 bushels of potatoes, 50 tons of butter and a large amount of potash were shipped via Selkirk Harbor.  A canal was proposed which would have linked the Salmon River to Lake Oneida and the Erie Canal…opening the harbor up to several major markets.  But the plan fell through and, as you can see from the photo, the importance of the harbor quickly faded away.

This is the Rail City Historical Museum.  It’s housed in one of the many structures that once comprised the Rail City Railroad Museum.  This depot is from Deer River New York  and was built in 1873.  It was bought, moved and reassembled by Dr. Stanley Groman, the patron and founder of the original museum.

In its day, this place must have been a star attraction.  Dr. Groman started accumulating rolling stock and related artifacts 1n 1952 and he opened the Rail City Museum on July 4, 1955.  He had the foresight to preserve rolling stock and historic structures from the steam era of railroading…just as the changeover to diesel was being completed.  At one point, the collection included 16 full-size steam locomotives.  During its first full year of operation, the museum had more than 30,000 visitors!  The Rail City Museum was in operation until 1974.  Since then, the rolling stock has been sold off and, with the exception of the depot, the buildings are gone too. 

I traced one 1927 Baldwin 2-8-0 to what appeared to be its final resting place…a burned out storage building owned by a railroad salvage company in Kane Pennsylvania.  Arsonists set fire to the place in 2008.  Fortunately, old #38 was subsequently purchased by the Everett Railroad Company in Claysburg Pennsylvania where it’s currently being rebuilt. (as shown above) Everett operates a rail tourist operation in addition to its short line freight business. 

Currently, the old depot is open by appointment only.  It’s called the Rail City Historical Museum and it’s really a museum about the original Rail City operation.  There are some great photos as well as a lot of history posted on their website.  Just go to
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

1 comment:

  1. It is great spotting.And even greater that people saved that old depot...