Cudmore: Miniature train was Sacandaga Park attraction


A miniature train was one of the many attractions of Sacandaga Park in its heyday. 

In the early 20th century, local socialists, grocery store workers and church groups were among the summer visitors at the park, which was near Northville and operated by the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad (F.J. & G.). 

The Amsterdam Recorder reported that July 10, 1912 was to be Socialist Day at Sacandaga with Orrie Gage handling arrangements for the local congressional district.

In 1901 over a thousand retail grocery workers from the Utica area had a picnic at the park, getting there by rail of course.  Countless church groups visited the facility on summer outings. 

The park in fact had begun in the 19th century as a Methodist campground.  The Methodists retreated as hard-drinking interlopers invaded their wilderness sanctuary.

The F.J. & G. entered the picture when it began operating the railroad line to Northville in 1875.  Over the next several decades the F.J. & G. made Sacandaga Park a destination resort.  People from the Albany area, even New York City, came by rail.

Most of the park’s vacation cottages were destroyed in an 1898 fire.  The railroad seized that opportunity and expanded the amusement complex.

Sacandaga Park benefited from a 1902 tragedy at a rival vacation facility. Mountain Lake Park in Bleecker had a deadly two-car crash on its trolley line in Gloversville.  Fourteen people died and 60 were injured.  The Mountain Lake Railroad never recovered.

Sacandaga Park, on the other hand, thrived.  There was a golf course, hotels, theater, bowling alleys, midway, donkey and pony rides, Kinescope Theater, water rides, carousel and the miniature train.

John Philip Sousa played Sacandaga Park, as did Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and W.C. Fields.

Broadalbin historian Gordon Cornell wrote an article about the small scale steam train for the Broadalbin Kennyetto Historical Society newsletter “The Lamplighter” in 2016.

The train started running in 1902, according to a newspaper account: “The engine is a perfect model of a big locomotive, perfectly proportioned in every respect and is powerful despite its diminutive size.  It is only about 26 inches high, but it weighs about 1,000 pounds and can carry as much steam as engine number three of the F.J. & G. main division.  It will draw three open cars, capable of carrying 24 persons.”

Named the Sacandaga Park Limited, the little train hauled children and adults around the amusement area and then crossed a bridge to Sport Island in the Sacandaga River where baseball and other games were played.

The Johnstown, Amsterdam and Gloversville professional baseball team drew big crowds to Sport Island on Sundays.  Johnstown’s blue laws prevented the team from playing Sundays in that city.

The train was stored in a shed under the Sport Island grandstand.  One of the many fires that plagued the park took place in August 1918, destroying the grandstand and badly damaging the train.  The train was not put back into service.

When the Sacandaga Reservoir was created in 1930 with construction of the Conklingville Dam, much of what had been Sacandaga Park was flooded.  The flood control reservoir today is called Great Sacandaga Lake and is itself a vacation destination. 

German immigrants at the Gustav Denzel factory in Philadelphia had built the horses for the park’s carousel by hand. The carousel was disassembled before the floodwaters arrived and relocated to Shelburne Village, a museum in Vermont.

The last remaining Sacandaga Park hotel, the Adirondack Inn, burned in 1975.  A 70-minute locally produced documentary called “Harnessing Nature: Building the Great Sacandaga Lake,” debuted last year to enthusiastic audiences throughout the region.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

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