Genesee Valley Greenway History

New York

At a Glance

Name: Genesee Valley Greenway
Length: 68.8 Miles
Trail activities: Fishing, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Livingston, Monroe, Wyoming
Surfaces: Cinder, Dirt, Grass, Gravel
State: New York

A Brief History

Many years ago, before the creation of the Genesee Valley Greenway running between Black Creek and Rochester’s Genesee Valley Park, the corridor hosted trains of the large and powerful Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). The route once constituted part of the PRR’s network in western New York State and can be traced back to the 1880s when it was constructed by a predecessor system. Before, the right-of-way was used as a canal. For many years the line offered the Pennsy direct access to Rochester, and through the early 20th century, it was a busy corridor. As the years passed, freight and passenger traffic disappeared when highways improved. With little remaining traffic by the early 1960s, the PRR was granted permission to formally abandon most of the 100+ mile route.

During the spring of 1836, the New York Legislature moved forward with construction of the Genesee Valley Canal, which was projected to link the Erie Canal in Rochester with Olean along the banks of the Allegheny River. More than 100 miles long, the canal was a designed as a means of further opening trade; part of the system was ready for service on September 1, 1840. It took more than 20 years for the entire corridor to open, and by that time, railroads were proving their worth as the most efficient and reliable mode of transportation available. Realizing this, New York authorized the sale or abandonment of most state-owned canals by the mid-1870s. The Genesee Valley Canal was shut down in 1878, but like many, its right-of-way was reused for rail service.

On July 15, 1880, the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad (GVCRR) was chartered to run between Rochester and Hinsdale (near Olean), using the canal’s former tow-path most of the way. On November 6 that year, the state sold the right-of-way to the railroad for $11,400, and construction of the 98-mile line soon followed. Service on the GVCRR began during the fall of 1882, interchanging with the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railway at Hinsdale. Upon its opening, the new road was leased by the BNY&P, which itself was reorganized as the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad (WNY&P) in September 1887. The WNY&P system was formed through several smaller companies like the GVCRR, with significant trackage in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York. Its primary lines ran from Buffalo to Emporium via Olean, as well as another from Olean to Oil City. An additional route also extended from Oil City back northward to Buffalo. There was also a branch to Rochester via Hinsdale/Olean (which now makes up the Genesee Valley Greenway).

During its early years, the Rochester line saw significant business when several passenger and freight trains used the line daily. Its freight traffic consisted of everything from coal, lumber, agriculture, and general merchandise to through-freights into Rochester. There were also interchanges along the route with the New York Central and Lehigh Valley at Rochester, as well as the Erie (Portageville) and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (Mt. Morris). Despite this, the WNY&P was in financial difficulty by the turn of the century, which led to its takeover by the PRR after August 1, 1900. Acquiring this property was one of the Pennsy’s last notable expansions in that region, and it later became part of the railroad’s Buffalo & Allegheny Valley Division. The B&AV comprised five smaller divisions, including the 113-mile Rochester Division, which altogether totaled just over 809 miles.

Passenger traffic on the PRR’s Rochester line began slipping as early as the late 1920s, particularly during the Great Depression years. By the early 1930s, the railroad replaced regular first-class, steam-powered passenger trains with self-propelled, gasoline-powered rail cars known as “Doodelbugs.” As patronage continued to decline, dedicated passenger service ended altogether after April 25, 1937, at which time the PRR began running mixed-trains (carrying both freight and passengers). Apparently, this concept was not well-received, and the PRR ended all passenger service on the Rochester Division after April 27, 1941; however, public excursions operated on the route between 1949 and 1952, sponsored by the Buffalo Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

During the mid-1940s, the PRR was still handling 2,900 carloads of freight annually to Rochester, although by 1960, this number had slipped to less than 1,000. The railroad claimed it was losing more than $300,000 a year operating the route. By then, the PRR was having serious financial troubles of its own and was attempting to cut costs wherever it could. In December 1961, the Pennsy filed permission with the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon 84 miles of the line between Hinsdale and Wadsworth Junction (about 14 miles south of Rochester). Despite stiff opposition by local communities, the ICC granted abandonment requests in 1962, and the PRR ended all remaining freight services after February 26, 1963. The last section to Wadsworth Junction continued to serve freight customers until 1971 when it, too, was abandoned. By then the PRR had merged with the New York Central forming the ill-fated Penn Central system.

If you enjoy railroad history or trains in general, attractions located near the Genesee Valley Greenway include the Utica Union Station in Utica (a museum inside the city’s restored depot); Salamanca Rail Museum in Salamanca; Roscoe O&W Railway Museum in Roscoe; Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in Rush; New York Museum of Transportation in West Henrietta; Medina Railroad Museum in Medina; Martisco Station Museum in Marcellus; Finger Lakes Railway in Geneva; Central Square Station Museum in Central Square (a depot museum inside the restored New York, Ontario & Western facility); and the Arcade & Attica Railroad in Arcade.

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