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Long ago: Small-town train service August 24, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, memoir, railroads.
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My grandmother, Sybil Kennedy, around the time she met my grandfather

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

Cato village had at its greatest size nearly six hundred population. [The number was closer to 400 when Grandma was growing up. The figure stood at 532 in 2010.] It was on the Fair Haven branch of the Lehigh Valley railroad. There were six passenger trains a day from Auburn to Fair Haven in the summer and four in the winter. The mail all came on the trains and all packages came by express on the trains as there was no Parcel Post even as late as when I was in college [it was established in 1913].

Going to meet the trains was a free entertainment, which we were not allowed to enjoy unless we knew someone going or coming. We did manage to accompany to the train and to meet quite a few people. After the train came in, people went to the post office, where the mail was distributed and put into boxes. Each family had a box and a number, either a pigeonhole where you had to ask for your mail at the window or a lock box to which you had a key.

It took a half hour or more to distribute the mail. The post office was in a large store and became really crowded with people who were usually talkative and full of jokes. We didn’t get to attend this rite very often, either, but sometimes we could, when there were other errands to the store or we expected mail. The Postmaster’s wife usually helped him and she accommodatingly read the post cards to her edification and would ask someone to “tell Mrs. Jones that her sister would be coming Thursday,” or some such message.

[The train trip was an important feature of an annual picnic.] The Cato churches, all three, organized and held a famous Sunday School picnic at the Picnic Grounds in Fair Haven [on Lake Ontario] every year. It was held on the last Thursday in August. The church people took extra food for those who had none and there were railroad tickets too for the people who couldn’t buy them. The big thing was the special train which came at nine o’clock in the morning. It had previously taken on passengers at Auburn, where it started, and at Weedsport. At Cato it really filled up. There were at least fourteen coaches, crowded to the platforms. There were those who sat down on the red plush seats and rode looking out the windows and those who walked through the train locating and visiting with friends. The Cato band always went and gave a concert, playing at the Cato station and the Fair Haven one and at the picnic. You can’t imagine the enthusiasm and excitement of all this and the disappointment if it rained.

Rail service to Cato village ended in 1953.

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Beach at Fair Haven in the present day

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Comments»

1. Thomas Stazyk - August 24, 2012

Fascinating. They say that NZ is 20 years behind the rest of the world, but on this topic we are 50 years behind–only now are they curtailing train service to small towns in favor of building roads 😦

Jenny - August 24, 2012

Thank you! As a lover of trains (following in the footsteps of my father, who was an aficionado of railroads), I am sad to see passenger trains disappear—not only for practical reasons but for the subtler ways they shaped people’s lives, as my grandmother described.

2. Doug Borton - August 27, 2012

I’ve enjoyed this series of posts. These written rememberances from your Grandmother are a real treasure. Thanks.

Jenny - August 27, 2012

I’m glad you’re enjoying the series, Doug!


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