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A Look Back: The first railroad through Springville

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By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to the early 1800s, the way our forefathers got around Springville and Concord was by horse-drawn wagons, riding horses or by foot.

If you wanted to visit a nearby town, you could hop upon a stagecoach on a daily basis. The Springville Boston Road had gone into service by 1851 and planks were placed on the road to ease the passage of vehicles over wet or soft ground.

On Nov. 8, 1870, there was a slate of directors that were elected for the Buffalo and Springville Railroad. Included on this slate of directors was Bertrand Chafee, who would later become the President of the Springville and Sardinia Railroad.

This new route connects Springville and Hamburg with a standard gauge rail bed. That idea was soon supplanted by the introduction of the narrow gauge.

By 1877, Springville was only second best to its railroad neighbors, the Arcade and Gowanda. It was pointed out how it would be an advantage to have the narrow gauge connect with the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia railroad at what is now Chafee railroad.

Burt Chafee, a mill owner and farmer, Charles J. Shuttleworth, a foundry owner, and S.R. Smith, the “Springville’s Cheese King,” were selected to consider the line. Rather than affiliate with the B.N.Y & P., they suggested that the line be locally controlled.

On June 13, 1878, the Napier Brothers, of Machias, were awarded the contract for $1,830 per mile to be completed by Oct. 20, 1878. Ground was broken on July 28 with Chafee at the shovel.

Sardinia was to prosper as groups of Irish and Swedes took up rooms as they labored on the line. A locomotive was ordered from Brooks Locomotive works in Dunkirk. An extra Stagecoach was added to the line to take folks over to Sardinia to see for themselves the progress being made on the railroad.

On Oct. 31, 1878, at 5:13 p.m., the train entered Springville for the first time. Chafee returned again, but this time with the Springville and Sardinia railroad’s own locomotive, named Little Darling.

Trestles — 12 in all — were built of fresh cut, untreated hemlock, some to the height of 61 feet. Bert Chafee, who weighed 250 pounds, walked out to the center of the span, announcing how safe they were, to the traveling public.

Byron Cochran of Springville Insurance Agency offered a policy to railroad travelers with a $3,000 death benefit or $15. A week for indemnity — this, of course, was to put all the potential travelers at ease.

After the Railroad was finished, there was little need for the Albro & Torrey’s stagecoach line to Arcade, and it was discontinued. A mail contract to Arcade added revenue to the line.

At its peak, the line had two locomotives, two box cars, six flat cars, baggage and a passenger car. Passengers and goods could make the 11½-mile trip in one hour. A snowplow had been built to be added to the locomotive during the snowy months.

One of the larger items of freight hauled by the S & S can still be seen in town. The 22-ton General John Wadsworth monument was hauled in, requiring five of the flat six cars to do the job! The monument stands near the green service shed in Maplewood Cemetery.

The days of this venture of railroading were numbered as the extension of the standard gauge Rochester and Pittsburg would soon be passing through Springville to Buffalo.

The S & S was to make a mighty effort to render great service before it passed into oblivion by way of delivering 3,000 tons of stonework, huge quantities of rails, iron pipe and timber material for the Cascade Bridge, which totaled 3,147 tons.

Early in 1884, the S & S was digging out from the winters assault. Approaching her sixth year of operation, it was going slower and slower over the deterioration roadbed, rotting-splitting ties and damaged worn rails. The sped over the trestle had been reduced to 3 miles per hour. The S & S decided that the snow and repairs were just too much and quit.

In 1883 the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburg Railroad had decided to build a branch line to connect Ashford with Buffalo and the line passed through Springville.

Cascade Park was built in Springville and served as a popular picnicking and recreation center for many years, thus ensuring the railroad travel to our area.

Want to learn more about the great places, people and events from this area? Stop by the Lucy Bensley Center at 23 North Buffalo St., Springville, email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com or call 592-0094. Want to volunteer a few hours each month with us? Contact us!

You can hear some great music at the Concord Mercantile Heritage Building, 17 Franklin St., on Tuesdays and Thursdays 7 to 9 p.m.

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