May 2, 2004

Improvements in the 1860s

Transportation issues looked a lot different in 1869, when the railroads first came to Dryden. In this tale of a period of prosperity in Dryden, George Goodrich describes a period when everything was in flux, and seemed, at least to people like Goodrich, to provide enormous opportunity.

(This chapter complements a similar chapter on the Village of Dryden in the same period very well. Also, in case you're wondering if Goodrich only saw the war as a period of prosperity, he didn't. I'm working on his chapters on the Civil War and hope to post them on Memorial Day weekend.)

Chapter XX.

Internal Improvements.

While the period of the war involved great loss of life and property to the North as well as to the South, it was, to our section of the country, in some respects a time of unusual prosperity. The money which was freely paid out by the government for services and supplies came into ready circulation among the people, and the prices of everything went up to high figures, so that those people who remained at home and formed the producing class were able to secure enormous prices for their products. Wheat brought $2.50 per bushel; wool one dollar per pound; while butter was sold for sixty cents and at some times even more than that per pound. Real estate, as well as other property, was booming, and everybody holding property of any kind was agreeable surprised upon finding himself richer than he had previously imagined himself to be. This increase in wealth was in a measure imaginary, and, to some extent at least, due to a depreciated currency by which the value of things was then estimated. When the currency was brought up to a par value with gold, some time after the close of the war, the delusion began to be dispelled, and the value of property has ever since then seemed to depreciate.

Still there were people during the war, as there always have been and always will be, who were continually complaining of the hard times, and suggesting that if ever the war should cease then they might accomplish something, while those who then went to work and made their efforts productive, accumulated property more rapidly than it was possible to do in the same length of time either before or since that period.

The apparent prosperity which then prevailed in business matters stimulated local enterprises, and the first railroad to furnish means of transportation in the town, at first known as the Southern Central, was opened for travel between Owego and Auburn in the year 1869. Such a project had long been dreamed of and hoped for by the people of the town, and we find on an old map of Tompkins county published in 1838, a copy of which is in the possession of Dr. Mary Briggs of Dryden village, a railway proposed from Ithaca to Auburn by way of Etna and Freeville, over almost the same route now occupied by the branches of the Lehigh Valley. The old Ithaca and Cortland railroad, known in those days as the "Shoo Fly," was opened as far as Cortland running diagonally through the centre of the town of Dryden, in 1871. A great effort was made by and in behalf of Dryden people, especially those living in and about Dryden village, to secure the construction of the Southern Central. Many other towns along the proposed line were bonded to furnish means with which to construct it, but the town of Dryden was never obligated in that way. The citizens, however, believed that only by very liberal subscriptions to the stock of the company could the road be secured, and a subscription amounting to nearly two hundred thousand dollars was obtained from the people, only about half of which materialized. Many under the strong influence brought to bear upon them and out of a sense of duty to the public interests of the town, agreed to take more stock than they afterwards felt able to pay for, and subsequent developments indicated that the road would finally have been built without so great a sacrifice on the part of the people. Those towns, however, which bonded themselves fared the worst, for their bonds were paid when times were harder and property had greatly depreciated in value. The Midland Railroad Company projected a road in this period from Freeville to Auburn by way of West Dryden and Lansing, which was not completed until 1880, and after being operated for about ten years was absorbed by the Lehigh Valley Company and discontinued. The telegraph accompanied the railroads, or in the case of the Southern Central preceded it by a few years. Thus the town from being wholly destitute of railroad privileges up to 1869, has ever since been traversed by at least two lines of railroad, crossing each other at nearly right angles near the centre of the township, providing five railroad and telegraph stations within its borders.

Near the end of this period, and about the year 1870, attention was called to the fact that Dryden was holding rather more than her full share (in fact nearly all) of the political honors of the county. It so happened at that time that Hon. Richard Marvin, as Supreme Court Justice, then residing in Chautauqua county but brought up as a Dryden boy, was assigned to hold a term of court at Ithaca. Mills Van Valkenburg was then serving as county judge and surrogate, elected from Dryden; Horace L. Root was serving as sheriff, as well as Thomas J. McElheny as county clerk, both elected from Dryden; while Benjamin F. Squires, the court crier had formerly been a Dryden merchant. With Milo Goodrich, of Dryden, then a member of congress from this district and a prominent figure at the bar of that court it was conceded that for a country town Dryden then had a claim upon at least her full share of the offices of that court and of the county.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 68-9.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at May 2, 2004 6:28 PM in
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