Some of us drive past them with nary a sideways glance, while many of us marvel at their longevity. With their wide and welcoming hip roofs, distinctive architectural style and bay windows; each is a look back to a more genteel era when rail travel was quite literally the only way to go. And here in Finger Lakes country, we’re blessed with dozens of old railroad freight and passenger depots. Some have been converted into museums. Others have been repurposed as taverns, municipal buildings, public meeting spaces or private residences. So join me as we venture across Finger Lakes country to view these historic icons. Many, though not all, can be found along the rails of the old New York Central’s “Auburn Road.”
New York Becomes a Railroad Powerhouse
By the middle of the nineteenth century, railroad building in New York had reached a frenzied pace to service the state’s growing population and rapid industrial expansion. Every line envisioned the same goal; to link Albany and Buffalo with one continuous band of steel. Twenty years later, the mighty New York Central acquired lines such as the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, Auburn & Rochester and smaller short lines. But until the famed 4-track “Water Level” route was completed; the Auburn Road still carried trains laden with both freight and passengers.
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1. Located in the center of Jamesville, this station is owned by the Town of Dewitt. Originally built in 1876 by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, today it sits alongside the tracks of the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad. The building is available to rent for meetings and social gatherings through the town.
2. The two story brick passenger depot in Martisco was built by the New York Central in 1870. Since 1965 it has been owned by the Central New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and has been repurposed as a museum and library. By virtue of its historic architecture and significance, the Martisco Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. cnynrhs.org/Martisco.html
3. A few miles up the tracks from Martisco, the Cayuga village hall sits along the shore of Cayuga Lake. Built by the New York Central in 1910 and sited on the Auburn Road; instead of being consigned to the dustbin; it’s another creative repurposing of a former passenger depot. These days the rails out front belong to the Finger Lakes Railway.
4. Built in 1841 by the Auburn & Rochester Railroad, this station was “inherited” by the New York Central in 1853 when the A&RR was merged into the New York Central system. This stout brick structure served as the passenger station until passenger service on the New York Central ended in 1958. For many years after, the building housed a machine shop. Once acquired by the Village of Seneca Falls, it was completely renovated and restored to its former glory. Currently it houses the police department and village offices. Approximately 100 yards west is the repurposed NYC freight depot.
5. Built by the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1893, this massive brick structure once served as the line’s Geneva passenger station. As you view the photo, a large covered passenger platform once stood near the left side of the building; paralleling the tracks. During the heyday of the LVRR, as many as 12 trains passed through Geneva on a daily basis. The railroad’s Black Diamond Express ran its last passenger run through Geneva in May, 1959. Today this magnificent example of Victorian era railroad architecture is a private residence.
6. Built by the Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern Rapid Railroad circa 1910, this structure in Lyons was an interurban (trolley) passenger depot. Sadly, the railroad which never made a profit folded 25 years after its formation; and like many other railroad buildings this one passed into private ownership.
7. According to local rail fans, this freight depot was constructed in Shortsville by the New York Central circa 1900. Today it is owned and operated as a museum by rail enthusiasts of another “fallen flag”; the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Approximately 100 yards north is the repurposed NYC passenger depot built in 1911 which has become a popular dining location; the Depot 25. The signage on the building indicates that at one time there were four sets of rails in Shortsville. Since 1995, the single rail trackage has been owned by the Finger Lakes Railway. lvrrhs.org/museum/index.htm
8. In 1841, the Auburn & Rochester Railroad built both a freight and passenger depot in Clifton Springs. The original freight depot is still standing and has been repurposed. After the A&RR was integrated into the New York Central rail system, the original passenger station was razed. It was replaced in 1885 with this stout brick structure. After being enlarged and enhanced with a handsome brick entry, the old station became the home of the village library. Both structures are conveniently located on Railroad Avenue.
9. Constructed by the Erie Railroad in 1909, the passenger station in Industry eventually became the property of the Erie Lackawanna railroad in 1960. Alas, as passenger service had ended in 1941, the structure was used for storage until it was acquired in 1971 by the Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Today the site houses the railroad artifacts and rolling stock of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum. The track running alongside the building is now owned by CSX. rgvrrm.org/about/exhibits/industry-depot/index.htm
10. Built in Victor circa 1840, this repurposed retail boutique was once a passenger station for the Auburn & Rochester Railroad. As rail lines merged and grew, in 1853 the A&RR became part of the New York Central system. There are no tracks alongside of this old station anymore. Today, freight service to and from Victor is provided by the Ontario Central Railroad.
11. Built by the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad, the station at 607 Coldwater Road in Gates became the property of the New York Central in 1873. When the NYC folded in the 1960’s, the depot was repurposed as a furniture store and today is a popular pub and eatery. Here’s a second photo showing what the place looked like in the early 1950’s when I first laid eyes upon it. How much do I love that old depot? Well … I chose that image as the cover art for my first novel.
There are dozens of other historic railroad depots dotting Finger Lakes country. To preserve central New York’s rich railroading history for future generations, public support for those sites converted to museums is critical to their survival. To view a map of station locations that might be near you, visit depotmaps.com.
Story and photos by Rich Finzer, residing in Cayuga County. During his 40+ years as a writer, he has published over 1,200 newspaper, magazine and Internet articles. His award-winning book Maple on Tap is available through his publisher; Acres USA. His three e-novels; Taking the Tracks, Julie & Me and Dawn Toward Daylight are available through Amazon Kindle.