Susquehanna Valley Railway Historical Society (SVRHS) is a member chapter (#58) of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS). Our parent organization was formed back in the mid-1930s, with the first chapter at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was initiated by a group of interested citizens, historians, railroaders and transportation visionaries. Of prime concern back then was the general decline of railway traffic, as affected by the large increase in motor cars, trucks and buses operating over a growing system of national, state and local highways. Growth of airline services to many major cities was also a factor in the railroads' loss of much passenger, mail, express and freight business.
The use of steam locomotive power on trains was peaking out, and in a few more years many railroad companies would be purchasing their first pieces of diesel motive power, and slowly phasing out the smoke-belching "iron horses." Repetitive and unprofitable main routes and numerous branch lines were being discontinued. Many were already being systematically torn up, and the former rail beds used for paths of new highways or simply allowed to "go back to nature." New York State's Southern Tier was not spared. As mail, passenger, express and freight business was slowly being won by the trucking and aviation industries, and the public was becoming more infatuated with and dependent upon "door to door" capabilities of motor vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, our regional railroads were forced to consolidate services and reduce their physical plants.
The coming of the railroads in the 1830s was one of the three major eras or periods of development which had lasting effects on American society. The other two significant events were the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War. For decades, travel and shipment via rail prevailed as a way of life. However well into the 20th Century, during the the Great Depression of the 1930s, many once-familiar operations and types of railroad passenger and freight equipment began to disappear from the rails. The telegraph, once depended upon to get messages between stations, was being eclipsed by the telephone and the teletype. Here and there an outlying depot would close down. World War II and the Korean War prompted brief respites from decay in railroading. Even back in those years, individuals who realized the lessons of history, and well-read visionaries who knew and appreciated the facilities and general all-weather capabilities of trains in providing the most efficient services in moving goods and people in virtually all weather conditions, could see the demise of "all service" railroading up ahead. In wartime the rail lines proved indispensable in handling transportation of large bodies of military troops, supplies and equipment overland from coast to coast. As the general railroading scene changed, the NRHS and its chapters became significant to help preserve images, relics, vintage equipment, representative landmarks, documents and memories of railroading acquired over a century and a half of faithful service to the American public.
Many local citizens realized, too, what was happening to the railroad picture as the 1950s came and went and the threshold of the 60s was near. Two giants of regional rail transportation, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad and the Erie Railroad, announced in 1958 that various economic and operational situations would be best solved by a merger of the two long-time rivals. Up until the late 1920s, over 80% of long-distance overland transportation of goods and people in the United States was via the railroads. By the end of the 50s this had all changed drastically. Contributing to the decision for a merger of the Erie and Lackawanna roads was a devastating storm which pummelled communities lying between the Delaware River along the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border, and various towns and communities in Pennsylvania's Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys in August, 1955. Long stretches of track through the Pocono Mountain area were heavily damaged or wiped out. The toll extended northerly to include pockets of destruction along major rail routes passing through such communities as Scranton, Hallstead, Great Bend and Susquehanna, PA. Various communities in Broome, Chenango and Tioga Counties in South Central New York also felt the storm's fury. Millions of dollars in damage repairs drained the railroads' treasuries, even though corporate insurance covered some of the costs to restore rail services. It was a blow they never completely recovered from. Near the end of 1960 the two companies joined forces and became the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad Company. Regional folks began referring to it simply as the "E-L".
Noting all of the changes that had been taking place, a group of slightly over forty history-minded individuals residing in Susquehanna County, PA and the aforementioned counties of New York State joined together for a series of informal meetings and programs centered around preservation of regional railroad history. Application was made to the NRHS, and a charter was granted from that society in 1962. The local organization became the Susquehanna Valley Chapter, NRHS. Early chapter meetings were held in various public and private facilities in the area. For many years well into the 1970s the meeting place was a conference room at Broome Community College in Binghamton, NY. By the end of the decade, regular meetings and programs were being held at the Vestal Public Library, Vestal, NY, and the tradition endures to the present.
In 1986 the local society also became chartered as a non-profit 501(c)(3) historical and educational organization under the New York State Education Department. As SVRHS owns no buildings or other real estate, and depends on use of rented or "gratis" spaces for meetings, programs and exhibits, our charter is provisional, renewable every five years.
During the chapter's early years, the membership contained a sizeable percentage of people who were either retired from railroading careers, or were still in active service in various capacities. Others represented in the SVRHS included teachers, clergymen, engineers, lawyers, doctors, manufacturing employees and small business owners. The history programs of the chapter included topics around such regional lines as the Erie, the DL&W, the E-L, the D&H, the LVRR, the PRR and the NYO&W. As the organization became known in the area, many donations began to come in, in such forms as old first-person accounts, photographs, newspaper articles, clippings, books, railroad periodicals, maps, commemorative items, equipment and small artifacts from the yesteryears of regional rail transportation. Period films and slides were often the programs of guest speakers at chapter meetings. A chapter newsletter, "The Feedwater Heater," was inaugurated almost at the inception of the society's existence back in 1962, and it continues today as a quarterly publication. Here's a sample of "The Feedwater Heater." Long-range goals called for locating a permanent place for a headquarters, where facilities for storage, archives, small restorations work, library, collections management, meetings and exhibits could be realized under one roof. To the present day, an affordable facility meeting all those criteria has yet to be found. In the interim, SVRHS has leased space in the basement of the former DL&W station at Binghamton, NY.