The Carthage Railroad


Rochester's oft-forgotten, pioneering horse railroad opened in 1833--a year before the village of Rochesterville was elevated to city status, and some three decades in advance of 1863, the year in which the well-known Rochester City and Brighton Railroad ran its first horsecars over city streets.

Construction of the Carthage Railroad commenced in 1831, under the auspices of the Rochester Canal and Railroad Co. This line might well be called a suburban or (rather tongue-in-cheek) interurban railroad; it was built to serve the need for land transportation between Rochesterville, and Carthage, a thriving village located about three miles downstream on the Genesee (which means it was located north of Rochesterville, as the Genesee River flows north, for those who didn't already know this).

Rochesterville and Carthage were rivals, of a sort. Both communities boasted flour mills powered by the water power of the Genesee and its high, multiple falls in this area, as it descends into a magnificent gorge for the last few miles before it empties into Lake Ontario. These same waterfalls would prevent direct water navigation from the lakefront to Rochesterville, seven miles to the south. Carthage was fortutiously located at the farthest inland point to which lake boats could travel, hence its strategic importance in a period when water travel was the lifeline of Western New York State, which despite its lusty growth, had not quite outgrown its all-too-recent frontier status. Rochesterville, on the other hand, was located at the point where the vitally important Erie Canal crossed the Genesee River on an impressive aqueduct.

The coming of steam railroads would soon change all of this, and with the decline in importance of canal and lake boat shipping, Carthage would cease to exist as a separate community, and evenutually be subsumed under the rapid expansion of the new city of Rochester. In the meantime, people needed a means of travelling between the two villages, as local roads were still but rude, muddy tracks through shrinking and recently-felled woodlands.

The Carthage line was three miles in length (one account states it was a mere two-and-a-half)-- rather short for an interurban, as it were, and perhaps even for a suburban streetcar line, by some standards. Unlike later, bona fide horsecar lines, it ran almost entirely on non-paved tracks. In fact, those 'tracks' were not milled iron rails in the usual fashion, but iron straps fastened atop wooden 'rails' of yellow pine.

The route began in Rochesterville, from "South Water Street, near the mill at the aqueduct, and ran along the east river bank to Andrews Street where it diverged along the west side of St. Paul Street to a point below Lowell Street, again diverging toward the bank to run along the crest of the gorge to Carthage to connect with the inclined railway." Here the story gets interesting, for Rochester's first horsecar line reached the riverside wharves of Carthage by descending into the Genesee River Gorge via a crude, counterbalanced inclined plane railway. With horses unhitched, one car, loaded with stone, would descend the grade, hauling the other car upwards with ropes and pulleys as it went down. It has been written that there were incidences of runaway cars plummeting to the bottom of the railway and ending up in the river, although how frequently this may have occurred, and with what results, is somewhat less well known.

The line owned two passenger cars, which, if existing sketches are to be believed, bore some strong resemblance to the early streetcars of John Stephenson's New York and Harlaem Railroad, the world's first urban streetcar line. The coach-like conveyances were hauled by two horses, hitched in tandem to trot between the unpaved, narrow gauge rails. Service is said to have been hourly, with a maximum capacity of 500 passengers or 800 barrels of freight per day. At Carthage, passengers could make an "intermodal" transition between car and boat: more than likely a steamboat, although there have been reports that a horse-drawn packet service was operated between Carthage and the village of Charlotte, situated at the point where the river enters Lake Ontario.

While some reports credit the line with having survived a full decade, its demise was more likely the result of the economic panic of 1837, which hit Carthage especially hard. The company is said to have entered into bankruptcy in 1838, and the line abandoned forthwith.


William Reed Gordon. NINETY FOUR YEARS OF ROCHESTER RAILWAYS, VOLUME I (Self Published, 1975?) p. 20

Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority. RGRTA ANNUAL REPORT 1982-1983, p.3

Links to other sites on the Web

Back to Horsecars
Back to Rochester Streetcars Home Page

This page hosted by GeoCities Get your own Free Home Page

Hosted by