Sacandaga Station - The FJ&G Railroad

 Building the track and operating the Sacandaga Line
Construction of the track was initiated on June 26, 1872 by a group of Northville, Gloversville and Johnstown businessmen. The Town of Nortampton had a direct interest and was bonded in support of the $200,000 in construction funding raised through stock subscriptions. The group bit off more than it could chew. The track was soon acquired and completed by the FJ&G in 1875 following what was in effect a bankruptcy sale. The survey map of the original track contains a wealth of information. It shows the land owners from whom land was acquired, excavation details, culverts, grades and elevation levels; it is the elevation below 770 in some sections that doomed the Sacandaga Line when the reservoir was created in 1930. This was the case for the area around the Northville Station as well as for 7 miles of track south of Cranberry Creek. Till the early 1920's the Sacandaga Line was strictly a steam line; logs and lumber made up a significant percentage of the freight. Summer season passenger traffic to Sacandaga Park peaked at 90,000 in the early 1900's. The steam line served quite a few passengers from well north of Northville but the track was never extended further north. People came to Sacandaga Park from as far south as New York City. Excursion trains with hundreds of passengers from Schenectady and Gloversville ran on holidays and as part of special events. After 1920, the majority of passenger trains ran on gasoline; this was cheaper, cleaner and a better match for the now much-reduced passenger traffic. The Sacandaga Line passenger trains only ran during the summer months when Sacandaga Park was open. It is likely that the southern section of the steam line (to Fonda) subsidized the Sacandaga operation all along. Once the automobile arrived in the 1920's, the resort became increasingly independent of the train service.

Sacandaga Park resort

The opening of the Sacandaga Line led to the transformation of Sacandaga Park. What had started as a Methodist camp meeting ground in 1876 became the Coney Island of Upstate New York. Following the fire of 1897, the FJ&G took full control, built better cottages, installed water & sewer infrastructure, and tastefully landscaped the 750 acres that made up the resort. By 1905 the FJ&G controlled or owned all the venues in the Park. There were many rustic roadways, arbors, gardens and ponds; also amusement rides (the Midway), picnic grounds, a golf course and nearly a mile of shore line with ample bathing beaches. An island in the river (Sport Island) was developed for sporting events. A miniature railroad ran over a bridge between Sport Island and the Park. The railroad leased cottage lots and also operated four large hotels. The lease agreement makes it clear that the railroad ruled. The famous Rustic Theater was an open air theatre that booked some of the biggest stars of those days. The 30th annual mammoth picnic of leather tannery Booth and Company on August 26, 1909 featured 14 athletic events, a 100-man tug-of-war and a double-header baseball game!

Creating the Sacandaga Reservoir
The first seed that lead to the destruction of the Sacandaga Line (and the demise of the Sacandaga Park resort) was planted as early as 1874 - one year before the tracks were even completed. It was stated in the annual report of the Canal Commission of the State of New York that the creation of reservoirs on the head-waters of the Hudson would allow control over its seasonal flow, prevent flooding of downstream communities, improve navigation and provide other benefits - not the least of which was greater and more stable hydropower generating capacity. The Hudson watershed, located largely in the Adirondack State Forest Preserve, offered more than a dozen potential reservoir sites. By the late 1800's the topography of the Adirondacks was known (surveyed by Verplanck Colvin). By 1922 a series of State commissions had carefully documented the hydrology of the watershed and tributaries. The remedial impact of various reservoir options on past floods were modeled and potential hydropower generating benefit profiles were known . The State legislature removed a key stumbling block in 1918 by amending Article 7, Section 7 of the State Constitution to allow reservoirs to be created on the "forever wild" State Forest Preseve. The lightly populated Sacandaga Valley proved to be the ideal reservoir site based on storage capacity, land acquisition cost, construction cost, hydropower potential and last but not least, political cost. Large floods in 1902 and 1913 and a shortage of electrical and mechanical power for the rapidly growing manufacturing plants along the Hudson, justified applying eminent domain laws to secure Sacandaga Valley land for the future reservoir. Based on correspondence, beneficiary cost allocation, land acquisition strategies, testimony before regulatory State Commissions etc, there is little doubt that the project was driven by the power companies and large manufacturers along the Hudson. On July 6, 1922 the City of Glens Falls and others petitioned the NYS Water Control Commission for the creation of the Hudson River Regulating District (HRRD). Following testimony in which the proponents clearly outdid the detractors and Sacandaga Valley representation was meager, a final order was signed less than a month later to create he HRRD as a public (benefit) corporation (August 2, 1922). Although various reservoir options existed (General Plan, White Engineering, June 3, 1925), it was clear from the start that the Sacandaga Reservoir was the reservoir of choice (Preliminary Plan for the Sacandaga Reservoir, HRBRD January 23rd, 1924). By then, the power companies were already purchasing land options throughout the Sacandaga Valley under the name of the Indian River Company. Adirondack Power & Light (AP&L) created itself some additional leverage by acquiring the site of the proposed Conklingville Dam. On September 5, 1924 the FJ&G filed a damage claim for $4,193.768 - an amount many times greater than the HRRD had budgeted in its bond issue disclosure. The HRRD reacted by condemning the railroad property, setting the stage for a lengthy valuation process and litigation. It was by then quite clear that the creation of the reservoir required relocating the Northville Station and more than 7 miles of tracks between Mayfield and Cranberry Creek. It would also substantially transform the railroad-owned Sacandaga Park resort. More than half of the FJ&G-owned buildings in the Park were below the "taking line", as shown in the inventory and crossreferenced on the 1925 valuation map. This included beautiful residences, whimsical cottages, two hotels and many amusement and support buildings. The building inventory included a complete valuation of all the buildings and their contents. It is interesting that the 1926 supporting photographs suggest a lack of building maintenance by the FJ&G that appeared to have gone on for several years. Interestingly, the resort also was increasingly profitable in the years immediately preceeding. Since President Hees of the FJ&G was closely connected with the power companies (he was a board member of AP&L) the railroad was well aware early on of the inevitability of the Sacandaga Reservoir. Moreover, based on the rapid decline in passenger traffic starting well before 1920, the railroad also knew that the Sacandaga Line would never be profitable, even if its relocation was fully paid for by the HRRD bond holders. There are ample documents to show that the HRRD made a substantial effort to realistically estimate the cost and plan the track relocation project. Detailed drawings and budgets were made; sources of construction material located; the proposed track was analyzed for grade and curve changes, and required road underpasses. These efforts contributed to a fair damage settlement but must have left a bad taste when all this turned out to be no more than a valuation exercise. The FJ&G probably never intended to relocate the tracks; it merely aimed to fully satisfy its stock and bond holders and settle a score with the HRRD for the condemnation procedures and the alleged "NYS conspiracy". Although the creation of the reservoir brought the promised benefits to the Hudson downstream users, it was a very painful period for the local people in the valley and the surrounding communities: an entire way of life was lost! The communities and settlements of Parkville, Osborn Bridge, Cranberry Creek, Munsonville, Benedict, North Broadalbin, Fish House, Batchellerville, Beechers Hollow, West Day, Day Center and Conklingville disappeared all or in part. The current recreational benefits of the Great Sacandaga Lake are fair compensation for the great damage done to the local community in the past.

The new Sacandaga Park (1930 - 1960)
After 1930, the Park became primarily a cottage community. The crowds and tacky Midway entertainment were gone, together with Sport Island, the miniature train and most of the day-tourist traffic; the targeted clientele was more upscale and stayed for the summer season. Transportation was by car or FJ&G bus service. The railroad created a new swimming beach, had the HRRD build a tunnel under the new Northville road - as a condition for selling the land for the road ROW to the State - and adapted the golf course to the now flooded areas. The remaining hotels (Adirondack Inn, High Rock Lodge and Orchard Inn) perpetuated the resort atmosphere. The new railroad station became a public meeting place, post office and bus stop - perhaps uses envisioned at the time of construction. As part of the FJ&G bankruptcy process in 1938 cottage lots were sold - mostly to the lease holders of that time. The FJ&G kept an agent at the Station till the 1950's - it didn't cost much!


by Stan DeVoe

sacandaga station