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Great Railroad Stations - Owasco Lake, NY

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl


Owasco Lake, New York

Railroads in the scenic Finger Lakes region of central New York State trace their origins to a variety of predecessor companies. There were several small, now almost forgotten operations that created a spider web of rail operations between the several lakes and the major trunk line railroads to the north and south. Gradually many of these lines were absorbed into the larger Class 1 railroads such as the Lehigh Valley, New York Central, and Erie Railroad. On the Finger Lakes themselves, quaint steamboats plied the waters during the warmer months, offering travelers a choice of venues. Various resort towns offered summer accommodations to an increasingly mobile and wealthy 19th century clientele.     

The Lehigh Valley Railroad was both a main line and extensive branch operator of several routes in the area, including the bucolic Auburn Branch.  Starting at the division headquarters of Sayre, Pa., the Auburn branch ran up the beautiful Berkshire valley through Owego. This line traces its roots to the Southern Central. The tangled array of companies and operating agreements were finally sorted out in the late 1890’s as the Lehigh began to dominate railroads in the Finger Lakes region. At Freeville, NY the Auburn branch crossed the Elmira, Cortland & Northern, which the Lehigh had acquired in 1896. Between Freeville and Auburn, stations existed in Peruton, Groton, Locke, Moravia, Mead, Cascade, Ensenore, Owasco Lake, and Pauls. In Auburn the line continued north to Lake Ontario at North Fair Haven, NY.  

Representative of this classic era is the depot at Owasco Lake. Situated on the west side of the lake, the tracks followed the shore line south from Auburn to around Cascade where they again headed inland. In the 1940’s the branch hosted a north and a south bound milk train with all the appropriate trappings such an operation should have: steam power, a few wooden refrigerator and express cars and a rider coach or two. Typically hauled by one of the Valley’s K-4 class, 4-6-2  steam locomotives, the north bound No. 283 (timetable west) was carded out of Sayre at 3.25 PM, daily. It’s south bound counterpart No. 282 (timetable east) would leave Auburn at 9:45 AM. It was scheduled to arrive in Sayre at 2:45 pm. 

The timetable footnote “No. 282 and 283 available for passengers” said it all. Here was a milk train accommodation in the true sense of the word. What a great ride it must have been! The lovely rural area and small farming communities along the lakes and among the hills and valleys made for a wonderful ride. These remote stations came alive each day at train time when the whistle of the approaching mixed sounded along the lake or echoed in the valley. If the schedule was leisurely, then all the better it was so as to be able to enjoy the ride. At the small town stations the clank of milk cans being loaded into the refrigerator cars, and LCL freight being exchanged as the locomotive gently simmered on the head end was a daily ritual. Local residents no doubt made it a habit to visit the depot at train time to catch up on any news or gossip with the agent. Their link to the greater world outside depended on these daily mixed trains. 

The Lehigh Valley abandoned the Owasco Lake depot and much of the Auburn branch trackage in the 1950’s. The sounds of steam had vanished from the line some years earlier when the railroad went all diesel shortly after World War II. Remarkably, the Owasco Lake station survived. Even more remarkable, it still stands today, looking very much as it did in the late 1940’s. Now in private ownership, the Owasco Lake station still commands a view of it’s namesake lake. On a recent visit all was quiet along the now abandoned right of way. Yet, if you listen carefully enough, the click of a telegraph key and the sounder can be heard while spring songbirds chirp in the budding foliage. In the distance a few farm animals can be heard bellowing in the fields. Best of all, if you use some imagination, the lonely steam locomotive whistle of the afternoon mixed train can be discerned, working its way along the shoreline to Owasco Lake.


 Lehigh Valley Railroad’s neat two story station at Owasco Lake, NY. We surmise that the operator may have lived upstairs at this depot, located a few miles south of Auburn NY on the branch line. Photo May 2001, John C. Dahl.



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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

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