America’s First Railroad? – Shuttling Erie Canal Passengers

first railroad erie canal

This historical marker located in Albany marks the eastern end of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. There’s some controversy as to whether or not this was the first in America, but there’s no question that it was the first in New York State.

 

stagecoach erie canal

The sixteen locks that it took to get boat traffic over the Cohoes Falls region in the east section were often choked with boat traffic of all kinds. Passengers were usually shuttled the eighteen miles between Albany and Schenectady by stagecoach – and later by railroad – rather than being asked to endure those delays in the cramped quarters of their packet boats (below).

 

packet boat

Packet boats were the passenger-liners of the Erie Canal. Notice that everyone has to stand on the roof of the cabin because the boats were too narrow to accomodate a walkway from front to back. Their size was limited by the length and width of the locks in the canal.

 

early train woodcut

One of the things that made canal travel so attractive to passengers was the terrible condition of the roads of that time. The new technology of steam railroads also promised relatively smooth travel, and it wasn’t long before the bumpy ride on stagecoaches over this stretch was improved by New York State’s very first railroad: The Mohawk Hudson Railroad (above) carried Erie Canal passengers between Albany and Schenectady, and was the forerunner of the New York Central Railroad, which would later become one of the Erie’s principal competitors.

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