Orange County Railroad History

The Edward J. Crist Collection of Orange County Railroad History contains artifacts showcasing the importance of Orange County’s railroads and how they influenced the Hudson Valley’s industrial development. A large portion of the collection features over 1,000 documents, postcards, and images of local railroads from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Among the railroads represented include:

Erie Railroad (and predecessors)

Lehigh & Hudson River Railway Company

Lehigh & New England Railroad

Middletown & New Jersey Railway (and predecessors)

New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (and predecessors)

New York Central Railroad (and predecessors)

New York, Ontario & Western Railway (and predecessors)

New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway

Sterling Iron & Railway Company

Wallkill Valley Railroad Company

This banner, from the Scranton Division members of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway Veterans Association, is a cornerstone of the Edward J. Crist Collection for Orange County, NY Railroad History. Though Scranton is far from Orange County, the NYO&W was headquartered in Middletown, NY until its closing on March 29, 1957.

In addition to paper materials, the collection also contains a large quantity of artifacts including railroad signage, over twenty lanterns, period dining car china, antique railroad tinware, and more. Some examples featured are a sign from the Erie Railroad’s Harriman, NY station, concrete whistle and mile markers from the Erie Railroad’s Newburgh Branch, a large variety of “summer homes” vacation guides from the New York, Ontario & Western Railway, and a one-of-a-kind banner from the New York, Ontario & Western Railway’s Veterans Association.

About Orange County’s Railroads

It would have been impossible for Orange County’s agricultural and manufacturing industries to blossom without the meticulous aid of its now-largely forgotten railroad network. Today, only a fraction of Orange County’s railroads remain in service and many of the region’s railroad marvels now sit abandoned. The first railroad to come to Orange County, the New York and Erie, was constructed in the late 1830s and opened for service in 1841. Later known as the Erie Railroad, gained recognition in 1842 when Thaddeus Selleck, the station agent of Chester, NY, successfully shipped milk by rail from Orange County to New York City. Selleck’s idea sparked New York’s fluid milk market—one of the state’s most lucrative industries for the next century. With the rise of milk came the need for more routes of steel to transport this valuable commodity. Soon, railroads extended in every direction across Orange Country. The Erie built numerous branchlines to connect villages and cities such as Newburgh, Pine Bush, and Montgomery to the greater railroad network. However, the Erie would not remain as Orange County’s only railroad. By 1900, the New York, Ontario and Western, Lehigh and Hudson River, Lehigh and New England, Middletown and Unionville, Central New England, and the New York Central all developed footholds in this region of New York State. It was arguably possible to travel anywhere in the county by train.

A berkshire-style steam locomotive used by the Erie Railroad steams through Central Valley, NY. The village’s former passenger station, seen to the left, still stands today (Woodbury Historical Society).

Among the many railroads came numerous engineering marvels to Orange County. One which trains still operate upon is the 3,200 foot-long Moodna Viaduct spanning the Moodna Creek valley in Salisbury Mills, NY. Constructed between 1906 and 1909, the viaduct was built as a part of the Erie Railroad’s ambitious project known as the Graham Line. A great majority of the Erie’s tracks, especially between Harriman and Middletown, consisted of steep grades, tight curves, and numerous railroad crossings. This was not favorable for freight trains designed to move at fast speeds, so the Graham Line was constructed as a freight bypass that featured few grades, gentile curves, and, most importantly, no grade crossings. The Moodna Viaduct, with its highest point reaching 193 feet, remains the highest and longest active railroad trestle east of the Mississippi River.

The Moodna Viaduct, situated along the Erie Railroad’s Graham Line in Salisbury Mills, NY, attracts railfans from across the country. With its highest point reaching 193 feet, it remains the highest and longest active railroad trestle east of the Mississippi River (Library of Congress).

While the Moodna Viaduct is in active service, one railroad marvel that has been forgotten is the Maybrook Classification Yard. When the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge opened for service in 1889, it was the only Hudson River crossing between Albany and New York City until the Bear Mountain Bridge opened in 1924 for automobiles. The bridge allowed trains from New England to travel through Dutchess County, across the Hudson River, and then interchange goods with railroads operating west of the Hudson River. This interchange occurred at Maybrook which, at its height, possessed 177 tracks that extended 71 miles. In addition to the miles of trackage used to classify and sort railroad cars, the yard also featured a massive twenty-five stall roundhouse used to store locomotives, a substantial engine machine shop, and a large icehouse used to provide ice for cars carrying refrigerated goods. Maybrook suffered with the decline of regional railroads and ended service abruptly in 1974 when the Poughkeepsie Bridge suffered a catastrophic fire. Today, one track remains in Maybrook and few sign of the yard are visible today.

The demise of Maybrook was echoed across Orange County in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, as automobiles and airplanes triumphed over railroads. One by one, busy railroad lines were abandoned and removed—leaving some unrecognizable today. Having been fascinated with geography from a young age, these old railroad lines fascinated me and, now, I have spent years collecting, writing, and sharing their history. 

When it burned in 1974, the loss of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge dealt a major blow to Orange County’s remaining railroads. The bridge is now better known as the Walkway Over The Hudson (Library of Congress).

Edward J. Crist

Edward J. Crist was a life-long resident of Orange County, New York and a historian of railroads in the tri-state area. Growing up in Cornwall, Ed was first employed by the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway Company of Warwick, NY before publishing his first book, The Final Years: New York, Ontario & Western Railway, in 1977. Both on his own and with fellow railroad historian John Krause, Ed continued to author several works including Delaware & Hudson Challengers & Northerns, Erie Memories, Lackawanna Heritage, Lehigh & Hudson River Volumes I & II, Lehigh & New England, and Susquehanna. After his passing in 2018, I was honored to inherit Ed’s sizable collection of documents pertaining to Orange County railroads as well as his own work as a railroad historian.

Myself with Edward J. Crist (right) and Walter C. Stanfield (left) in 2015, both influential individuals in my development as a historian. Ed published several respected works on northeastern railroad history and worked closely with fellow railroad historian John Krause.

The collection welcomes those seeking to research the intricate history of local railroads. The majority of artifacts are on display, while all paper is either on display or stored in the humidity-controlled archive room.

For research inquiries or other questions, please contact me: