Southern Central Rail-Road



1. Beginnings

The Southern Central Railroad ran almost north-south from Fair Haven on Lake Ontario south to a connection with the Lehigh Valley Railroad. A principal reason for its construction--and the reason for the Lehigh Valley's initial interest, financial support along the way, and eventual takeover--was coal traffic from the anthracite fields in Pennsylvania to shipping on the Great Lakes.

Actually, the idea for such a line preceded the Southern Central by years, but successful creation of a new rail line took advantage of a realistic plan put forth by a group of level-headed and influencial community leaders, and an act of the New York State Legislature. The New York State General Bonding Act of 1869 provided a practical means for financing by allowing towns along the planned route to borrow money in an amount up to 20% of the towns total assessed value. Each town had to get approval for its plan from the Legislature.

The original plan outlined in the 1867 annual report was to build from Fair Haven in the north to Owego to the south, using a right-of-way owned and sold by the never-built Lake Ontario, Auburn and New York Railroad from the lake to Auburn, and the right of way of the Moravia Plank road south of Auburn. Once sufficient capital was raised, grading began in 1868 and was generally complete by the end of that year. Purchase of rails, freight and passenger rolling stock, and locomotives began the next year, with the final shipment of rail in January of 1870. The first through freight train to Auburn ran in March of 1870 and the first shipment of anthracite to Auburn took place in April.

Construction continued north from Auburn to the lake, and south from Owego to the Pennsylvania state line. The impracticality of a standard-gauge railroad interchanging with the wide-gauge Erie at Owego as planned originally must have become obvious. Instead, the Southern Central built south to Athens Pennsylvania to connect with the Pennsylvania and New York, subsidiary of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. This expension required funds in addition to what had been raised, so the railroad went to the Lehigh Valley for a $500,000 loan; the LVRR in turn received that amount in Southern Central stock as collateral, trackage rights for 5 years, and a seat on the Southern Central board of directors. By January 1871 the extension was complete, and through coal trains behind Lehigh Valley locomotives began running to Auburn. The full Athens to Fair Haven route was complete for trains to run in May 1872.

The junction between the Southern Central and the Lehigh Valley Railroad 2 miles north of Athens became Sayre, a major railroad town on the LVRR for a hundred years. The Southern Central interchanged with the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western at Owego; the New York Central at Auburn; the New York Central and eventually West Shore at Weedsport; and the Rome, Watertown and Oswego (NYC) at Sterling.

2. Traffic

Passenger traffic in 1886 totalled 202,838, out of which 1,512 were through passengers and the balance local traffic. Freight traffic in that year totalled 495,000 tons, of which coal made up 71%, lumber 6%, and the balance other goods, largely agricultural and manufactured items.

As can be seen from the preceding data, the Southern Central hauled largely coal, which would be supplied to dealers and manufacturing facilities along the line as well as taken to large coal docks on Lake Ontario for export. Grain, lumber, and ore were imported at Fair Haven. Where the line crossed the Erie Canal at Weedsport, north of Auburn, docks allowed transfer of coal from train to canal boat.

3. Takeover by the Lehigh Valley

The absorption of the Southern Central by the larger railroad was probably inevitable when it occurred in 1887. In addition to the money the LVRR provided for construction south of Owego, they also provided financing for the building of rail facilities and rolling stock. By the time of the takeover by the Pennsylvania and New York in 1887, the SCRR owed the Lehigh Valley $900,000, largely in unpaid interest. Influence of the Lehigh Valley over the affairs increased steadily until that year; in 1888 the LV took over directly. The Southern Central name gradually disappears from the records, although it remained a separate corporation under Lehigh Valley control for several years more. It eventually became part of the Auburn branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

4. Source of Information

More details on the history of this line, histories of the other portions of the Auburn Branch, and photos can be found in Herbert Trice's book "The Gangly Country Cousin; The Lehigh Valley's Auburn Division" published in 2004 by the DeWitt Historical Society of Thompkins Couty, Ithaca, NY, from which this history is written.