This colorful railroad started out life as the Oneonta Street Railway, running horse cars in the city limits of Oneonta, NY. By the 1890's, plans were made to electrify the railroad, and extend the line north from Oneonta to Richfield Springs. The name of the railroad was changed to The Oneonta & Otego Valley Railroad to reflect the ambitions for the little railroad. However, financial problems were to be a recurring theme, and by 1899 the line shut down for three months while new capital was located to run the line. In 1900 the line was renamed the Oneonta, Cooperstown & Richfield Springs Railway, and track was laid north, reaching Laurens in July, 1901; Cooperstown in September, 1901; and Richfield Springs was reached in the summer of 1902. The route taken was rustic and quite lovely, but also made for construction nightmares. The worst was at Chalk and Mud Lakes near Fly Creek, where several abortive attempts were made to build a roadbed through these veritable swamps. Finally, line was laid around these until a proper bed could be constructed through these swamps.
The inaugural run of the horse trolley in Oneonta, 1888.
A car barn, powerhouse, and dispatcher offices were built in Hartwick, NY. In the meantime, the line pushed further north past Richfield Springs, the goal now to reach Mohawk, NY., and there to link up with the Utica &Mohawk Valley for connections east to Albany and west to Utica , Rome, and beyond.
Construction of the road was met at times with a certain resistance; at Richfield Springs, a vocal minority opposed letting the interurban pass through the hamlet. The railroad company moved supplies to extend the line through town to the railhead in great secrecy. Just as the County Judge in Cooperstown left on business, the railroad company swung into action, driving on through the town. Efforts by the local resistance to get an injunction against the company were thus delayed, and by the time the judge returned to his office, the rail line had already passed through the town. On other occasions, groups of digruntled laborers shut the railroad down by blocking cars at various points along the railway. When the line arrived in Mohawk, a crowd of people, evidently fearful that if the OC&RS connected with the Utica & Mohawk Valley Railway, gathered to block construction; some 600-700 people eventually confronted the construction crew, and after a near riot, the National Guard was brought in and martial law declared, so that the work might continue.
Financial problems continued to dog the road, and in 1906 it was sold at auction, and became the Oneonta & Mohawk Valley Railroad. The following years were to be the road's heyday. There were 109 trains operating daily, moving not only passengers, but freight as well. Permission was secured to run over Utica & Mohawk Valley tracks to Herkimer and Utica. The railroad now operated 65 miles of track, including 16 miles of trackage rights. Fourteen round trips were run each day between Oneonta and Mohawk.
While the railroad owned at least one steam engine, this was only used for construction. Interurban cars and electric locomotives were motive power on the road. In a quest to meet its power needs, the railroad became involved in several power projects, including the building of the Colliers Dam, a hydroelectric project built on the Susquehanna River near Colliersville. The railroad became more involved with electrical power, and even provided power for several localities along the road.
In 1908 the railroad was again sold at auction, and became the Otsego & Herkimer Railroad. For the next few years it flourished. In 1916, the road name was changed to the Southern New York Power and Railway Company; it was felt that this more accurately reflected the evolving company, which provided not only passenger and frieght service over its rails, but also furnished electricity for more and more customers.
Over the next few years, the railroad continued to prosper, surviving strikes, accidents and local weather. However, a shadow fell over the picturesque little interurban, a foe that would spell the end of most passenger service throughtout the country - the personal automobile. Ridership was down on local service in Oneonta, and by 1922, several city lines were abandoned. Indeed, the prevalence of the automobile forced the railroad to paint all of their passenger cars "goldenrod" orange, in an effort to increase visibility of these units and so to curtail an increase in grade crossing accidents.
The Government forced railroads to separate power and rail interests in 1924, and the railroad would change it's name one last time, to the Southern New York Railway. By 1926, the SNY (Southern New York) was also branching out and provding bus service in Oneonta, in an effort to recapture lost passenger trade. However, the effort was in vain, the SNY carried 61,403 passengers in 1928; by 1931, this figure dropped to 14,118. Two years later, regular passenger service was discontinued on the line. Freight continued to operate on the line, but time was running out for the little railroad.
In August of 1939 the H.E. Salzburg Corporation of New York City purchased the Southern New York. The Salzburg firm would also soon after purchase another local railroad, the Unadilla Valley Railroad. While some effort was made to keep the line running, in 1940 the last train ran up to Cooperstown, and in 1941, the Salzburgs received permission to abandon 44 miles of track from Jordanville to West Oneonta. The tracks were pulled up and everything possible was scrapped. This was not yet the end of the SNY, however. There remained 1.5 miles of track in Oneonta, and the SNY continued to exchange freight with the D&H and service its customers in Oneonta. The SNY continued in business until the early 1970's, when the line was finally shut down.
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