The Otis Elevating Railway

Contributed photoThe Otis Elevating Railway

Today’s column is about a “crack” or “crevice” in the mountains that most of us see as we approach Story’s Farm (from the east) in Palenville. Traveling from Catskill to the Town of Hunter you see a prominent slash in South Mountain, extending from Palenville to Haines Falls, or specifically to the Catskill Mountain House site. Hopefully this column sheds some light on that piece of history from so long ago.

As John Ham’s book, “Light Rail and Short Ties Through the Notch” explains; Charles Beach, owner of the Catskill Mountain House, realized he had to compete with the Kaaterskill Railroad that transported guests from New York directly to his competitor, The Hotel Kaaterskill. Beach’s answer was the construction of a 7,000 feet elevator.

The November 8, 1891 Buffalo Courier told, “the directors of the Catskill Mountain House decided today to build a cable road between North and South Mountain. It will be only a mile and a quarter long, but in that distance, it will make an ascent of 1,700 feet.

It will begin at the foot of the Mountain, and end within an eighth of a mile of the Catskill Mountain House. Trains will make the trip in 10 minutes. At present it is an hour and a half ride, by stagecoach. The road will be built by Otis Brothers, the New York elevator manufacturing firm.”

The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, June 15, 1892 said, “The Otis Elevating Railway is rapidly approaching completion. The twelve- and eleven-ton boilers are in position at the top of the mountain, within two hundred and fifty feet of the Catskill Mountain House. The engine is at the Kaaterskill Station one mile away and the ten-ton cable, and the cars to hold eighty passengers each are finished and on the way. Work is going on night and day to have the railroad in operation by the 4th of July.”

From a July 30, 1892 Standard Union Brooklyn NY paper. “Twisting its curves around the rugged sides of South Mountain, one of the giants of the Catskills, is what may at once be termed an “elevated” and “elevating” railroad. It deserves the former epithet because of its great height above the sea level. It’s 7,000 feet long with a descent of 1,600 feet. The Otis road has no equal on our side of the Atlantic. Lookout Mountain can be climbed on a railroad which has an ascent of 4,500 feet, but it is laid in a straight line. The tractor power is furnished by two Corliss engines, which set the cables in motion from the terminus at the summit of the mountain. The passenger cars-named either the “Rickerson,” after Charles Rickerson, a president of the railway, or “Van Santvoord” in honor of the man who owns the Albany Day Line of streamers - travel at the rate of 700 feet per minute. The motion is easy and scarcely perceptible, and in ten minutes the station at the summit is reached. The cars are forty-six feet long and will seat seventy-five persons. Each car is equipped with appliances and fittings not unlike those used on the elevators of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

No less than four heavy rock cuts, one of them 45 feet in depth, were made for the accommodation of the road. The labor necessitated a removal of 70,000 cubic yards of rock. There are three trestles, with a total length of 2,600 feet and a maximum height of 72 feet: more than 1,000,000 feet of yellow pine timber were used in their construction.

So much information was found on this amazing “train,” that it will continue in next week’s column.

Until next week, take care, be thankful & be kind. You never know how your act of kindness may change someone’s life.

Any comments or concerns, please contact or call 518-589-4130.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.