Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad

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Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad
Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad company logo.gif
Locale New York
Dates of operation 1842–1891
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad, commonly known as The Hojack Line, operated along the south shore of Lake Ontario, from Niagara Falls, New York to Oswego, New York. Different segments of the line were abandoned at different times. In various areas the defunct railroad's right-of-way is in use by other railroads, such as the Somerset Railroad.


That part known as the Hojack was started by the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad (LOSRR). The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad (RW&O) started out in 1842 as the Watertown and Rome Railroad. The Watertown and Rome was built to link Watertown with Rome, New York on the Syracuse and Utica Railroad, one of the original roads to consolidate into the New York Central in 1853.

Around the time of the NYC consolidation another railroad came into being, the Potsdam and Watertown Railroad. This obviously was to link Watertown with Potsdam, New York in St. Lawrence County near Massena. In 1861 these two railroads merged into the Rome, Watertown and Ogdenburg.

A branch line from DeKalb Junction (near Canton, New York) to Ogdensburg was laid. In 1864 the RW&O laid a line from Pulaski to Oswego and merged with the Syracuse and Northern Railroad. In 1858 the Lake Ontario Shore Rail Road was chartered from Oswego to Suspension Bridge, then an independent village in Niagara County, New York named after the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge to Ontario, but now part of the City of Niagara Falls, New York.

In 1870 this company was only running from Oswego to a nearby community called Hannibal. This was nearly considered a disaster in potential on-line communities. For example the township of Newfane, in Niagara County, invested $100,000 in bonds in the LOSRR. The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg ever-seeking expansion merged with the LOSRR and finished the line to Suspension Bridge by 1875.

Eventually existing towns like Sodus in Wayne County would prosper and towns like Barker, New York, in eastern Niagara County would be born. But it had driven the RW&O to bankruptcy.

The RW&O earned the name, according to Spike System's Webville & Hypertext RR, "Rotten Wood & Old Rusty Rails". Interestingly in 1872 the RW&O took over the Black River and Utica Railroad. The Black River flows from the Adirondack Mountains through Watertown to Sackets Harbor, New York. By 1878 the RW&O ended up in the hands of the management of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W). The DL&W's management only cared about the DL&W and left the RW&O to die, so to speak.

By 1882 the RW&O was in good hands. The new owners built the Ontario Secondary (Beebee line) from Charlotte, New York (where the Genesee River flows into Lake Ontario) to Rochester, New York which the Hojack missed. But the new management wasn't enough to save the RW&O. In 1891 the RW&O became a subsidiary of the New York Central. On April 12, 1913 the RW&O was formally merged into the NYC.


The RW&O had terminals in Suspension Bridge, Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica, Natural Bridge, Massena, Ogdensburg, Clayton, Cape Vincent and Sacket's Harbor. Today, former RW&O trackage is operated by CSX (CSXT), Ontario Midland Railroad (OMID), and the Mohawk, Adirondack and Northern Railroad (MHWA).

Origin of the name Hojack[edit]

The name Hojack has multiple explanations. Two folk etymologies follow.

  1. Hojack originated from the engineer of the first train, who was named Jack Welch (often called "Big Jack"). Welch used to be a farmer and was more familiar with horses than steam locomotives. When he stopped the trains he would shout "Whoa Jack!". This became Hojack over time.
  2. "Many people fondly called the R.W.& O. by its nickname, "Hojack." It seems that in the early days of the railroad, a farmer in his buckboard drawn by a bulky mule was caught on a crossing at train time. When the mule was halfway across the tracks, he simply stopped. The train was fast approaching and the farmer naturally got excited and began shouting, "Ho-Jack, Ho-Jack." Amused by the incident, the trainmen began calling their line the "Ho-Jack."[1]

Railroad historian Richard Palmer attributes it to a slang term for a slow local passenger train or way freight. The Port Jervis Evening Gazette reported, "[w]hile the Hojack was backing down to the depot Wednesday afternoon a horse in a team attached to a wagon from the country got its foot fast between the rail and the bed of the track in a manner similar to that which a horse belonging to Thomas Cuddeback was ruined some time ago. It was with great difficulty that the horse Wednesday was saved from a similar fate. The foot was got out just in time to get out of the way of the train."[2] The similarity of that story to the second folk etymology is striking, yet the train was already called the Hojack at that time.

A subsequent story in the same newspaper supports that explanation, saying "[t]he name Hojack, which the Gazette gave to the way train leaving here for the west at 1:30 in the afternoon, sticks closer than a brother, and the train is now generally known by that name."[3] The New York Central attempted to ban the name by way of an edict released in 1906, to no avail.[4]

Rails to trails[edit]

Today, several portions of the former Hojack line and adjacent land have been converted to multi-use recreational trails. These include a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) trail in Webster, New York, a 8.5-mile (13.7 km) trail in Cayuga County, a 14-mile (23 km) trail in Hamlin, New York, and a 2.3-mile (3.7 km) trail in Hilton, New York.[5] An additional stretch of the RW&O which in its early days carried passengers from the RW&O main line to downtown Rochester (that part within the City of Rochester) has been converted to a trail (called "El Camino") under a $2 million Federal grant to the City of Rochester. Construction was completed in fall 2011 and El Camino was opened to the public in the spring of 2012.


  1. ^ Batzing, Dick. "The Hojack Line Story". 
  2. ^ The Port Jervis Evening Gazette, October 28, 1879
  3. ^ The Port Jervis Evening Gazette, February 5, 1880
  4. ^ "Edict Against Hojack". Syracuse Post Standard. 1906-01-12. 
  5. ^ Freeman, Rich and Sue (2003). Take Your Bike: Family Rides in the Rochester Area. pp. 38–44,80–83, 101, 107–109. ISBN 1-930480-02-4. 

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