A tunnel to the past

There hasn’t been a whole lot of excitement lately at Kelly’s Station, a now-defunct hamlet in the t

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ernie Tulloch, who in this story recalls the days when Kelly’s Station was a busy place, died last week. He had shared his memories of the former hamlet with reporter Bill Buell earlier in the month.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of excitement lately at Kelly’s Station, a now-defunct hamlet in the town of Princetown about halfway between Schenectady and Duanesburg. The only noise you might hear is the running water of the Bonny Brook and the nearby Normanskill, the traffic speeding along Route 7, and perhaps the occasional blaring horn as motorists cautiously enter the Kelly’s Station Road tunnel.

There was a day, however, back in the early 20th century, when the place was a beehive of activity. It had a railroad station, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a general store, as well as a cheese factory, a sawmill and a small airstrip. Ernie Tulloch, now 91, can remember those days, and things like a particularly foul-smelling Delaware and Hudson Railway steam engine nicknamed “The Skunk,” or the time an argument between two D&H employees resulted in an exchange of gunfire, or the time his father, Otis Tulloch, nearly ran over his mother-in-law while landing a small biplane.

The tunnel, built in 1885 just 12 years after the railroad laid the tracks in 1873, is the only indication that Kelly’s Station’s past might have been a bit more exciting than the present.

“It was built during the horse and buggy days, and sometimes we’d walk down through the tunnel, and other times we’d walk down over the bank if we were going to the store,” said Tulloch, whose farm is a few hundred yards up Kelly’s Station Road just north of Route 7. “There used to be a lot going on there, but it all pretty much died during the Depression.”

Two culverts

Tulloch worked on the railroad for 50 years, nearly as long as his father served as station agent at the D&H whistle stop, situated about 200 feet nearly

directly above the tunnel. There was originally a trestle there in 1873 when the D & H built the railroad, but 12 years later they decided to fill in the area and create a huge bank with one culvert for the Bonny Brook and another parallel to it for the tunnel. Both were made with a Roman arch from cut limestone, and the tunnel for Kelly Station Road is about 150 feet long and only wide enough for one vehicle. Motorists heading north through the tunnel and those approaching from that end are urged to sound their horns because as you leave the tunnel the road takes a sharp turn to the left, causing line-of-sight problems.

“It can be dangerous going through there because of the turn so you can’t see around the corner,” said Tulloch. “If they built it today, they would have made it straight so when you were on Route 7 you could look right through it and then right up the road. But they designed it for wagons in mind, not cars.”

The railroad is responsible for Kelly’s Station being on the map, although it was also a convenient stop for travelers making their way from Duanesburg to Schenectady. It was one of four hamlets in the town of Princetown and like Kelly’s Station, the others, Rynex Corners, Giffords and Scotch Church, are no longer the meeting places they once were.

“Princetown had four hamlets and they all had post offices and stores and a blacksmith shop so people didn’t have to go all the way into Schenectady to get what they needed,” said Irma Mastrean, Princetown town historian. “Kelly’s Station was a great place to stop for people on their way to Schenectady. The store there was the only one between Duanesburg and Schenectady.”

A lot going on

While Tulloch remembers things starting to slow down during the Depression, there was still some life in Kelly’s Station through World War II, according to Mary Gordon, whose grandmother, Jennie Kelly Vedder, ran the post office. Vedder died in 1980 at the age of 104.

“We lived right next door to her and she was a wonderful grandmother,” said Gordon. “The post office was in the general store where they lived, and there was also a ballroom upstairs with a beautiful stairway. It was a great place to grow up right after World War II, and I’ll always have some wonderful memories.”

Dominic DeCocco’s farm in Kelly’s Station has been in the family for 81 years, and he can also remember growing up there during World War II.

“I’ll never forget the day the war was over and this steam engine came through Kelly’s Station with its whistle blowing wide open the whole way,” said DeCocco, whose father worked on the railroad for 30 years. “Back when they had steam engines, they needed a lot of workers, and my father would walk the tracks, tightening up rails and cleaning the switches. Up by the station, there was a section house where workers on the track would spend the night. There was a lot going on back then.”

While freight trains still run through what was the station stop high atop the embankment, the last D & H passenger train to roll through the area was in 1958, according to railroad historian James Shaughnessy of Troy.

“It was never a major route for passenger traffic, but they did have service up until the late 1950s,” said Shaughnessy. “It was built back in the early 1870s so that the D & H could ship its anthracite coal from the mountains of Pennsylvania to the Northeast. If you look at the map, the Delanson to Albany line and the Albany to Ballston Spa line were two sides of a triangle. It was the Delanson to Schenectady line that completed the triangle. It was a shortcut.”

Americans eventually stopped using coal as their primary heating source and that factor, along with several others, started to have a negative impact on railroads.

“Delanson had a huge coal storage facility, and they would stockpile the stuff there and distribute it throughout the Northeast,” said Shaughnessy. “Things were going well up until World War II. Then people started switching to fuel oil for their home heating and that, along with updates in transportation — the interstate highway system really changed things — started to change the picture we had of freight trains.”

No need to slow down

These days, when trains rumble through Kelly’s Station, they don’t even slow down. There is nothing there to meet them, no station, no section house, no water tower. Only the tunnel below.

“What that is is a very unique railroad overpass,” said Albany train historian Dick Barrett. “There’s only room for one car, and it’s got that crazy dogleg so you can’t really see all the way through. There’s a pretty significant railroad tunnel near Binghamton, but there aren’t too many other overpasses like the one you see at Kelly’s Station. I can’t think of too many like it.”

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