Ulster & Delaware Railroad Historical Society

Wallkill Valley

The Wallkill Valley was born in the post-Civil War railroad boom, conceived in 1866 by local interests in its namesake valley, generally southwest of Kingston, NY, as an outlet for agricultural goods. Construction was largely financed by local capital, including substantial bond issues by towns along the route. With no West Shore railroad yet in existence along the Hudson, the natural outlet was to the south, via the Erie Railroad at Montgomery.

The WV was initially constructed to Erie's 6-foot gauge, and was operated by the Erie for much of the next 10 years. By 1870, it had also expanded north as far as New Paltz, and by 1872 had constructed the predecessor of the astonishing high trestle over Rondout Creek (and the D&H Canal). Also by 1872, the able and grasping Thomas Cornell of Kingston, Hudson River steam boat operator and promoter of the Ulster & Delaware, the Rhinebeck & Connecticut, and various non-transportation ventures, had become president, over the opposition of local interests who rightly feared he would manipulate it for his own gain. In a pattern which pervaded many of his other enterprises, Cornell pushed the railroad to completion at Kingston, then seemingly withdrew from active participation. As occurred with other Cornell enterprises, the replacement management came under attack by the local press for financial shenanigans, and was forced to withdraw; the Wallkill Valley fell into bankruptcy; and a syndicate headed by Cornell purchased it at foreclosure in 1877 for a tiny fraction of the cost of construction -- wiping out the investment of the locals in the course of the bankruptcy.

Within a few years, the wily Cornell (abetted, by now, by his equally able, wily and grasping son-in-law, Samuel Coykendall) had learned of the impending construction of the West Shore up the Hudson, and seemingly stealing a march on the sophisticated downstaters behind the West Shore, he managed to have the weak and failing Wallkill Valley begin purchasing land for a Kingston-Albany "extension" of its own, right in the path of the West Shore's survey. (If there could be any doubt that there was funny business behind this transaction, an examination of the WV's corporate minutes dispels it: in page after page of beautiful, virtually letter-perfect, copper-plate calligraphy, the entry purporting to reflect the directors' authorization of this land acquisition is the only entry anywhere which is squeezed into the margin as an afterthought, obviously inserted after the minutes for that meeting - and the following ones - had been completed). This brilliant bit of blackmail worked, and by 1881, the West Shore found it advisable to buy out the Cornell-Coykendall clique for nearly a million dollars, more than six times the price they had paid just a few years before -- none of it, of course, shared with the locals whose investment had been wiped out in the bankruptcy.

The Wallkill Valley thereafter settled down to existence as a rural branch of the West Shore, with occasional interruptions as various unsuccessful schemes were hatched for through routes to the Pennsylvania coal fields or similar financial hijinks. It went into the New York Central fold with the West Shore, and followed the gradual decline of most such rural branches, losing passenger service in 1937, running its last regular freight in 1977, and abandoned almost entirely by Conrail, with the tracks coming up in 1983-84. Along the way, it inherited a number of Ulster & Delaware 4-6-0's after NYC took over the U&D in 1932, and enjoyed a moment of fame in 1952, when U&DRRHS member the late Clark Bonesteel - then a NYC engineer - spotted a fire in a nearby resort hotel in the early morning hours. Stopping his train and leaning relent lessly on his air horns, Bonesteel succeeded in awakening the sleeping hotel, and saving dozens of lives.

List of Stations
0.00 Kingston Union DepotKingston
6.12 Red Rock Siding
6.91 Binnewater
8.05 Rosendale
14.86 New Paltz DepotNew Paltz
20.66 Gardiner
26.07 Wallkill DepotWallkill
29.26 Walden DepotWalden
32.95 Montgomery DepotMontgomery

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