Ithaca and Owego Railroad

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Ithaca and Owego Railroad
Dates of operation 1834–1849
Successor Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 30 mi

The Ithaca and Owego Railroad was an early US railroad between Ithaca, New York and Owego, New York.

The railroad was organized in 1827, the third railroad built in North America, and the longest of the three. It connected the town of Ithaca, on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake with the town of Owego on the Susquehanna River to the south. By 1818 the Cayuga–Seneca Canal connected the Erie Canal to the north end of Cayuga Lake. The Ithaca and Owego was planned to provide a missing link connecting the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to the coal fields of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay.

Little construction was done until the Chemung Canal was built along a similar course in 1833 via Seneca Lake and Elmira, diverting trade from Ithaca and Owego.[1] At this point construction was started and the work was completed by 1834. The chief engineer for the construction was John Randel Jr.[2]

The track was standard gauge strap-iron rails— strips of cast iron attached to wooden rails. The line covered a distance of approximately 30 miles (48 km). It comprised an ascent from Cayuga Lake of 602 feet (183 m) in 8 miles (13 km) followed by a descent to Owego of 276 feet (84 m). Two inclined planes accomplished the lift from Ithaca, one driven by a stationary engine and the second by a horse-drawn windlass.[1][3] Originally the cars were pulled by horse power,[1] An engine, "The Pioneer",[3] built by Walter McQueen of Albany, was purchased in 1840.[1] This engine was in service for a few years before crashing through a bridge killing the engineer and fireman, and the railroad returned to horse power.[4]

In 1842 the Railroad defaulted on its debts, and was foreclosed and sold to Henry Yates and Archibald McIntyre who reorganized the line as The "Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad Co." At this time the track was changed to broad gauge.[4] In 1849 it was resold to the Leggett's Gap Railroad, the forerunner of The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. The DL&W reconstructed the line with "heavy T rails,"[4] changed it back to standard gauge,[4] and connected to the Erie Railroad in Owego.

In 1956 the line was finally abandoned, and now largely comprises the South Hill Recreation Way in Ithaca.


  1. ^ a b c d Walker, Herbert T. "Early History of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad and Its Locomotives (Ithaca & Owego etc.)". Railroad Gazette (May 30, 1902). Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ Holloway, Marguerite (2013), The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor, New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 229–36, ISBN 978-0-393-07125-2 
  3. ^ a b Merrill, Alvin. "The first passenger railway in America". Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Merrill, Jason P. "History of the Development of the Early Railroad System of Tompkins County". Ithaca Journal Centennial Number. 1915. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 

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