Railroads, mountains, a bay, and a President

Push-pull trains have replaced Alcos and GP38’s, and shiny bi-levels have replaced wear day coaches. Some trains even run directly into Penn Station, thanks to the new dual-mode locomotives that can also draw power from the third rail. While much has changed on Long Island, the railroad continues to serve Oyster much as it has for the last hundred years.
Photo by Barry Johnson.
Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.
An early photo of Camp Wikoff near Montauk, dated 1898. This is the quarantine camp where Roosevelt stayed with his troops upon his return from his military campaign. Photo collection of Albert Castelli. from the archives of Ron Ziel.
D&H Alco RS-36 5019 heads up the train at the historic depot at North Creek, NY. In foreground, the author talking with member of train crew, August 18, 2005. Photo by Maria Grady.
Upper Hudson River Railroad Alco RS36 and train at Riparius, August 18, 2005. Photo by Michael Castelli.
UHRR at Riparius, NY. October 15, 2005. Photo by Doug Alber.
A scenic location along the Upper Hudson River Railroad, August 18, 2005. Photo by Michael Castelli.
The ride affords beautiful views of the Adirondacks that you can only see from the UHRR trains, August 18, 2005. Photo by Albert Castelli.
The LIRR station at Oyster Bay was built in the typical designs of the day. Notice the horse and buggy parked at the station. Photo collection of Albert Castelli.
Long Island ’s Oyster Bay Yard was still ruled by steam in 1947. It’s late afternoon, and one of LIRR’s venerable G5s 4-6-0’s has been turned and is ready to haul a string of Tuscan coaches back to Jamaica. Photo by Ed Wittekind.
By the 1970s, the LIRR was controlled by the state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Now dressed in the MTA’s colors of blue and yellow, Oyster Bay Yard is full of Alcos ready to bring trains west to the transfer at Jamaica. Photo by George W. Hamlin.
Today, the LIRR station at Oyster Bay is now in the hands of the Oyster Bay Historical Society. While modified over the years, the structure still retains its basic shape, and is a good candidate for restoration.

Article by Albert Castelli

I have lived on Long Island all my life, having grown up in the 1960s and ‘70s with the all-Alco Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). I always liked the trains I got to see almost everyday. As I got older, I discovered various books on the LIRR and started to get interested in its history. The history included the railroad itself and how it related to Long Island over the years. As the dominant railroad on the island, everyone who lives there has some form of contact with the LIRR every day. The more I learn about the LIRR, the more I learn about the history of Long Island.

In August 2005, I was on vacation in Lake George and I looked at some tourist information to see if there were any railroad-oriented activities nearby. I found out that in nearby North Creek, there is a tourist line called the Upper Hudson River Railroad (UHRR). I too a quick look at their website and read the history of the line and looked at their daily operations. The UHRR operates a passenger excursion over a portion of the former Delaware& Hudson Adirondack Branch that terminated in North Creek. During World War II, this branch served the mines at Tahawus that were supplying vital materials for the war effort. After the war, mine operations were scaled back greatly, and the F&H ran their last train to North Creek in 1989. Warren County purchased the track in 1998 with the hopes of attracting a tourist operation to spur economic development in the region. In 1999, the Upper Hudson River Railroad contracted to operate an excursion train from North Creek to Riverside Station in Riparius. It sounded interesting, but I wasn’t entirely sure I would make a visit.

Well, it turns out we did get to visit and ride the excursion train along the Upper Hudson River. There is very nice scenery and interesting geography, especially if the Hudson River you are used to is the big one in the lower part of the state. The Upper Hudson River is only about 300 feet wide at spots and only about three feet deep (at least that is how it looks from the train). The primary motive power is an ex-D&H Alco RS-36 5019, built 1962. It was nice to see that smoke again, especially after growing up with on a railroad that primarily used Alcos! The railroad also has ex-Alco Plant switcher #5, built in 1947, which I saw on the turntable at North Creek.

At the North Creek end of the UHRR is a museum in the depot, run by the North Creek Depot Museum, a local preservation group. The main attraction is that this is the station where Vice President Theodore Roosevelt learned he was to become our nation’s 26th President. Besides the usual railroad and local artifacts and exhibits, there are displays in the depot relating to Teddy Roosevelt’s “night ride to the presidency”. The average visitor to this railroad museum might think that this is an interesting piece of historical information and store it away as something new learned. But if you happen to be from Long Island, then you have a special connection to this place.

Teddy Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27, 1858. He later built a home in Oyster Bay, on Long Island, in 1885. It was named “Sagamore Hill” after the Indian Chief who held meetings on the hill. Roosevelt held many public offices over the years, including New York State Governor. Many of his ways of governing did not sit well with the New York Republican leaders of the time, so they decided to find a way to get him out of state politics. They suggested he run as Vice President with President William McKinley, who was running for his second term. Together they won the election, which would eventually lead up to North Creek’s part in Presidential history.

President McKinley was attending the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, when an assassin shot him on September 6. At the same time Roosevelt was vacationing in the Adirondack Mountains. When he was told what had happened, he rushed to Buffalo but was advised to return to his vacation to show the public that the President’s life was not in danger. But McKinley took a turn for the worse and the Vice President was summoned back to Buffalo. They tracked him down on a hike up Mt. Marcy when he was told he must return to Buffalo immediately. They rode by wagon to North Creek, where the D&H had a train ready and waiting. When Roosevelt arrived, he learned that McKinley had died earlier that morning and he would become the nation’s 26th President. He was sworn in on September 14, 1901 in Buffalo. At 42 years of age, he was the youngest man to become President (John F. Kennedy, at 43, was the youngest to be elected President).

Sagamore Hill served as the summer White House while Roosevelt was president. He loved Oyster Bay and spending time there with his family. Upon his train’s arrival at Oyster Bay station, he would often talk with the train crew, giving each of them a silver dollar as a reward for a safe, expedient trip. Roosevelt’s ties to Long Island was intertwined with the railroad in many ways. After returning from the Spanish-American War in 1898, he and his Rough Riders arrived in Montauk, on the eastern end of Long Island. They would remain there in quarantine with other military units due to the various tropical diseases they may have brought back with them. The place they stayed at was Camp Wikoff, built on land provided by the LIRR. The LIRR built additional sidings to serve the many passenger and freight trains needed to serve the troops there. (Note that Camp Wikoff is sometimes spelled as “Wykoff.” One reference shows that Camp Wikoff was named for Col. Charles Wikoff of the 22nd U.S. Infantry who was killed in the San Juan Heights assaults.)

Today, the historic Oyster Bay station is being preserved. Built in 1889 and renovated in 1902 for Roosevelt’s Presidency, the railroad closed the brick building in 1998. Its replacement is a high-level platform a short distance to the west. Plans were made with the Friends of Locomotive #35, Inc., the Oyster Bay Historical Society and the LIRR to preserve the station. Restoration work began in 2002 with a new roof. On February 18, 2005, the LIRR handed the keys to the station over to the Town of Oyster Bay. July 6, 2005 saw the station placed on the National Register of Historic Places, with a plaque dedication ceremony having taken place on October 29, 2005 (two days after Roosevelt’s birthday). The Oyster Bay Historical Society in conjunction with the Friends of Locomotive 35 is working to establish the Railroad Museum of Oyster Bay. Restoring the station to its appearance in 1902 is the goal, and this will be a fitting part of the historical connection between Teddy Roosevelt and railroading.

For More Information:
General information on the President

The Theodore Roosevelt Association

Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal - contr by LI student and LIRR fan

The Oyster Bay Historical Society

Upper Hudson River Railroad

The Friends of Locomotive 35, Inc. including plans for the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum