An Old Time Excursion Over the Midland's AuburnBranch
By Richard Palmer
One of the most interesting stretches of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad was the Auburn branch which meandered westward through the countryside through such places as Plymouth, Beaver Meadow, Otselic Center and DeRuyter. This line was originally intended to be built to Buffalo, but never got beyond a remote community in Cayuga County known as Scipio Summit or Merrifield.

Ultimately the NY&OM went into the hands of receivers on Sept. 19, 1873 and a multitude of problems resulted in the entire line being shut down on Feb. 27, 1875 for several months. The Auburn branch was also closed down until April 1, 1875 when the Utica, Ithaca & Elmira Railroad leased and operated it for a year, or until May 1, 1876 when the Midland was able to resume operation on its own. Since 1872, the U.I. & E. had had trackage rights over the Midland between Cortland and DeRuyter and apparently saw an opportunity to extend its horizons to Norwich. It already had made an important connection with the New York Central at Canastota through acquisition of the Cazenovia, Canastota & DeRuyter Railroad. Some improvements were made between Norwich and DeRuyter and by early April, 1875, the UI & E was operating two daily eastbound passenger trains between Cortland and Norwich; one morning train between DeRuyter and Cortland and an evening westbound train from Norwich to Cortland. But since the UI & E only operated the line between DeRuyter and Norwich for a year, it does not appear it gave serious consideration to purchasing it. In fact, it was rumored they wanted to rip up the line east of DeRuyter and build a new line through Georgetown to Randallsville. This was never done, however, and the Midland continued sporadic service between Norwich and Cortland until 1880. Norwich to DeRuyter was dismantled in 1882. The 19 1/2 miles from DeRuyter to Cortland was preserved through leases until it was purchased outright by the Elmira, Cortland & Northern Railroad which was the immediate antecedent of the Lehigh Valley. The so-called "western extension" between Freeville and Scipio Summit was operated under lease by the UI & E between 1873 and 1876 when it was sold to the newly-organized Ithaca, Auburn & Western. This line was extended to Auburn in 1889, but only lasted three years.

The Midland had a trackage rights agreement with the UI & E between Cortland and Freeville where it went back on to its own tracks to Scipio Summit. What follows is a series of articles concerning an excursion from Norwich to Ithaca. Railroad excursions in those days were very popular with the public and they were excellent fundraisers for local organizations such as the Odd Fellows. Canaswacta Lodge of Norwich sponsored many such excursions in the 1870s. One of the most ambitious ones was over the Auburn branch to Ithaca. The railroad west of Cortland (originally the Ithaca & Cortland) was completed in 1872, the original western terminus being on the Cornell University campus. The campus station was abandoned in 1876 when the UI & E was completed to Elmira.

As the second article states the train was pulled by the locomotive "Leviathan," an 0-6-6T built by Mason (Const. No. 675) in February, 1875. This engine had a cog on the front axle to negotiate the nine percent grade of the proposed extension of the UI & E from the Cornell Campus down Cascadilla Gorge and across town to the Ithaca & Athens Railroad station. This project fell through after the death of its chief promoter, Ezra Cornell. Not needed for its intended purpose and after numerous mechanical problems it was returned to the builder.

Chenango Union, Norwich, N.Y., Thursday, July 9, 1875

Odd Fellows' Excursion -- Canasawacta Lodge, of this village, will make its annual excursion in the latter part of August - the day to be fixed upon hereafter. At their meeting on Monday evening, a Committee was appointed to make the preliminary arrangements, and report upon the place selected, etc., at a future meeting. Several points of interested are suggested - among them Ithaca - and whatever may be the final decision, those who have attended the excursions of the Odd Fellows in former years will rest assured that a pleasant trip is in store for them this season.

Chenango Union, Norwich, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 12, 1875

A Committee visited Ithaca last week, and made arrangements for the Excursion and Basket Picnic of the members of Canasawacta Lodge of Odd Fellows, of this village, and their friends, which comes off on Thursday of next week, the 19th inst.

The special train on the Utica, Ithaca and Elmira Railroad will leave Broad Street crossing, in the north part of this village, at seven o'clock A.M. sharp, arriving at Ithaca at eleven o'clock. Upon the arrival of the part at the depot, which is on the Cornell University grounds, the chimes of that institution will be rung, and an opportunity afforded to those desiring it, for a stroll through the various buildings, where there is much to admire. But a few rods from these grounds, through which the company will pass, is the grove at Triphammer Falls, where tables will be in readiness, with a stone, and all the conveniences for preparing the luncheon from the well-laden baskets.

Commencing at this point is the pathway through the Gorge, a romantic glen through which the waters of Fall Creek descend, hundreds of feet within a single mile, on their way to the lake level below, while the rocks tower perpendicularly to a great height above, the whole affording a charming scene of romantic beauty and wildness.

Those wishing to visit the village or the lake, will find carriages in waiting at the depot, in which they will be conveyed at a moderate additional charge; and a steamer in readiness at the landing will accommodate those desiring a trip upon that beautiful sheet of water, at a small extra charge. An admission fee of ten cents each will be expected from those admitted to the Gorge.

From present indications, there will be a large number of excursionists, and the Committee urge upon their friends the propriety of purchasing tickets as early as Monday next, that they may have time to order what extra cars are needed. They desire to make their guests comfortable during the trip, and ask this favor that they may be enabled to do so.

Fare for the round trip, from Norwich, $1.50 up to the morning of the 18thl after that time, $1.75. The train will stop at all stations between Norwich and Otselic. Fare from Plymouth, $1.50; Lower Beaver Meadow, $1.25; Otselic, $1.25.

Returning, the train will leave Ithaca at 5:30 P.M., reaching Norwich at 9:30 in the evening. Tickets for sale at Miller's Drug Store, the Ninety-Nine Cent Store, the News Depots, and by the Committee.

Chenango Union, Norwich, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 26, 1875

Odd Fellows' Excursion to Ithaca ------- A Large Party and a Wet Time -----

Thursday of last week was the day fixed upon by the Odd Fellows of this village, for their Third Annual Excursion, and Ithaca was the place which they decided to visit. Early on the morning of that day, when the picnickers, with baskets in hand, and umbrellas upraised, approached the Broad Street crossing of the Utica, Ithaca & Elmira Railroad, it was a question whether "Old Probabilities" had not gone back on them and whether the decidedly moist and unpleasant weather of the previous day was not to be repeated.

Promptly at seven o'clock, eight cars left the crossing, with upwards of five hundred excursionists, the train drawn by the mammoth locomotive "Leviathan," was constructed for the purpose of climbing the hill at Ithaca, upon the track at some future time to be laid by the Company, from the present terminus of the road on the (Cornell) University grounds. The heavy clouds in the meantime had slowly disappeared, and sunshine took the place of showers. At the various stations along the line, large additions to the numbers were made , and at Beaver Meadow a platform car, with temporary covering and seats, was attached to the train, and was speedily filled by those who chose that method of conveyance.

Notwithstanding the rather crowded condition of the cars, the utmost good feeling prevailed, as the train rushed past village and hamlet, while the waving of hats and handkerchiefs by those on board was cordially answered by the groups who had assembled at various points to witness the passing of the largest excursion train that had ever traveled the road.

At half-past eleven the train halted at the Ithaca depot, on the University grounds, where the hundreds of excursionists quickly alighted from the cars, secured their baskets, and proceeded to their respective destinations. A large majority passed through the grounds of the University, which were deservedly admired, to the grove at the head of the Gorge, which had been selected by the Committee, where tables had been prepared for the accommodation of the party; while others obtained conveyances, and visited the village below, and various points of interest; and others still preferred to visit the University buildings, the chimes of which were run as the picnickers passed.

The long line of pleasure seekers, laden with baskets containing the many delicacies which had been carefully packed at home, had scarcely taken possession of the grove, when a drenching shower set in, which caused a commotion among those who had assembled among the pines on the border of Fall Creek; and, despite the good humor which prevailed upon its commencement, the party was soon compelled to vacate the woods, while most the dainties which they had hoped to there enjoy were water soaked and useless. Before they had reached the University buildings, another and more severe shower set in, accompanied with heavy thunder. The nearest houses were eagerly sought for, where every attention was received by those fortunate enough to reach them; while the University buildings were thrown open to the dripping delegation from Norwich. Many procured conveyances to town, where they had opportunities to overhaul their soiled and dipalidated wardrobes.

Those who remained upon the hill were courteously shown through the various departments of the University, and enjoyed a rare treat in visiting the library, museum of natural curiosities, and many works of nature and art there exhibited. Among the attractions at the library were the flags won by the Cornell Club, in the recent regatta at Saratoga.

About two o'clock the storm ceased, and the sun once more came out with increased brilliancy and warmth. Groups of Norwich people were soon visible in the streets of Ithaca, in carriages and on foot, and all seemed determine to improve what pleasant weather was left to them, in interviewing the town, the Gorge, the Lake, etc. During this time the Comet Base Ball Club, of this village, who had accompanied the party, were engaged in a friendly game with the Athletes of Ithaca, on the old grounds of the latter, near the steamboat landing.

The playing was spirited, and the Comets more than held their own until near the close of the game, when, from carelessness or some other cause, the allowed their competitors to win the game. On the ninth inning the game was a tie, and the tenth resulted in favor of the Athletes, on a score of 10 to 11.

Half past five was the hour fixed for the departure of the train; and long before that time the cars were well filled, while the sunny side of the coaches displayed a miscellaneous assortment of ladies hats, shawls and table linen, which had been hung from the windows to dry, and the ground was strewn with the damaged and discarded contents of lunch baskets. At the time designated, "All aboard!" was the order, amidst a rush for seats; good byes were said between old and newly formed acquaintances; the Base Ball Clubs cheered each heartily; and the "Leviathan" commenced its labors.

It was uphill business for the engine, and progress at the start was slow, the train twice coming to a halt within a few rods of the depot; but it was off at last, in the relief of those who werenow thinking of home. When near Freeville Junction, another terrific storm burst upon the party, accompanied by thunder, lightening and hail. Those who occupied the platform car were compelled to vacate their seats, and seek shelter in the other coaches, which were now more than crowded, and through the roofs of some of which the water was dripping upon the heads of their occupants, who, with umbrellas spread, were attempting in vain to keep dry.

The storm accompanied the party for many miles. At Cortland the "gondola" was left, there being no further use for it. Before reaching home, the storm had ceased, and the moon shone out clear and pleasant. At 11:30 in the evening the train stopped at Broad Street crossing in this village, and the party dispersed to their homes, well pleased with the excursion -- all but the rain.

Financially the trip was a decided success for the Lodge; and while the Committee are grateful to their friends for their attendance, they of course regret with them that the pleasures of the day were marred by the storm. The thanks of all are due to Conductor Judd, who did all in his power for the comfort of the large party under his care, and discharged his duties in a careful and satisfactory manner.

Cortland Standard, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 1875

The Norwich people turned out, on Thursday last, in surprising numbers, to the Odd Fellows' picnic to Ithaca. They went through this village a little before eleven. The whole resources of the UI & E. R.R. were required to move them. There were nine cars and there must have been nearly or quite 500 people.

The five hundred ladies and gentlemen who went with the Odd Fellows picnic from Norwich to Ithaca, on Thursday last, got a terrible wetting, as they were out in the heaviest shower of the season. Had they been a month in a lake of water, they could not have been more thoroughly soaked.

They went home in a sorry plight. At the station here they could not even raise a joke over it. But when they got home and into dry clothes they probably felt better - only there must have been a considerable amount of ladies wear in Norwich which will never get over its limp condition, and will hardly be taken into favor again by the owners.