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RAILROAD BUILDING IN THE SHAWANGUNK MOUNTAINS.

In building the railroad as far as Otisville, the original plan of superstructure was adhered to—the laying of rail on longitudinal sills, supported by countersunk cross-pieces. The new era of railroad building began with the work from Otisville westward. It had been demonstrated to railroad engineers that the placing of sills between the rails and the ground was foolish, unnecessary, and detrimental, as well as costly. No sills were used beyond Otisville, and rails were placed upon cross-ties as at the present day, except that at the joints they rested in chairs instead of being firmly held by the continuous joints of to-day. This abandonment of primitive methods in railroad building developed a new industry along the line of the railroad: the getting out and supplying the Company with ties. These were cut in the woods contiguous to the railroad, and delivered to the Company's agents at stated points. The railroad between Otisville and Port Jervis passed down the west side of the Shawangunk Mountains, through a country where, up to that time, the land had been considered barely worth the taxes paid upon it. This applied particularly to the territory on either side of the railroad, covering an area of perhaps a mile wide and twelve miles in length. It was a thick growth of chestnut and oak, of small size. Wood was the fuel used then by the Company for its locomotives, and this stretch of Shawangunk country was particularly desirable as a possession. Its timber furnished the best of firewood, and its convenience to the railroad rendered the obtaining of it easy and economical. When the agent of the Company, however, attempted to purchase this hitherto worthless land, it had assumed a sudden value. Tracts that could have been purchased for three dollars an acre were held at fifty dollars, and land that the tax-assessor had in vain sought an owner for, was claimed by some of the most prominent farmers in the Neversink Valley. Instead of purchasing to any large extent of the Shawangunk land, the Company bought the cordwood of its owners, to be cut by them and piled along the road. East and west of this stretch of woodland were some of the richest farmers in Orange County. During this time the laborers employed by the contractors on this section of the road were Irish. On Sunday hundreds of them swarmed through the adjacent country, despoiling the orchards of apples, digging the farmers' potatoes, stripping the fields of their crops, and helping themselves to everything which struck their fancy. Resistance on the part of the farmers was useless, and during the year the railroad was built down the Shawangunk Mountains, the farms of that part of the country adjacent to the work were almost as barren of good to their owners as if the land had been stricken with famine.

One feature of the road on the Shawangunk Section was a rock cut three miles east of Port Jervis, and a wall of solid rock, of which the mountain was entirely composed, was necessary to be cut through before the road could reach the Neversink Valley. The rock was on the farm of a wealthy old Dutch farmer named Van Fleet, who lived nearby.

The Company had already paid him well for right of way across his property, the whole extent of ground over which the railroad passed not being worth fifty dollars, and the contractors did not suppose that he would charge them much for cutting a way through the solid rock on the edge of his farm; but he was asked how much it would be. His reply was:

"Vell, the rock is not vort much. I von't sharge you much for dat."

The workmen reached the point where the excavation of the rock was to be made, and the contractors put their men upon it. They were soon waited upon by the farmer, who told them they would have to settle before they went on with the work. After much argument with the contractors he was finally induced to set his price.

"Vell, dan," he said, "it is vort one hundred dollars an acre."

It was too late to have appraisers appointed to condemn the property, for the railroad must be completed to Port Jervis by a certain time, and the old farmer stubbornly insisting upon his price, there was nothing to do but pay him for it. Of the area of rock necessary the least he would sell was two acres, the price of which was more than he could have received for his best meadow land.

The making of this cut through the rock was not only expensive in itself, but the consequential damages were considerable. The flats, one hundred feet below the cut, were occupied by residences and buildings of farmers. In blasting, large pieces of rock frequently were hurled on and among them, sometimes crashing through the roofs of houses and buildings, and now and then alighting in the fields among the cattle with disastrous results. All these had to be paid, for, and the farmers' bills were never light.

A correspondent of the New York Herald, December 18, 1847, wrote as follows of the Erie work at that interesting period: "Only to think of a force fully as large as our army that stormed and took the Mexican capital, and still holds it, battling away here among the rocks, with picks, spades, hoes, hammers, axes, and all manner of instruments, not excepting even the celebrated 'excavating machine,' patented by Otis F. Carmichael."


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This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
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