By Jordan Ries
For The Daily Gazette
New programming has returned to the Saratoga Springs History Museum including this week’s presentation on the Saratoga and Schuylerville Railroad, the short-lived route that operated for 10 years in the 1940s and 50s.
Richard Chait, the author of “Rails in Rochester and Monroe County” (2015) and “Rails In and Around Saratoga Springs” (2017), will explain the history behind the railroad which filed for bankruptcy in 1956, and gets a brief mention in Chait’s book. The presentation, underwritten by the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, takes place at the museum at 1 East Congress St. on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Solomon Trust has supported many of the major exhibits at the museum since 2009, said James Parillo, the museum’s executive director.
“They have been generous with their funding since our relationship started,” Parillo said. “We scaled the program back during COVID. We had 8-10 programs going on before. This summer, we now have six programs scheduled.”
Chait’s treatment of the Saratoga rails runs a few pages in his book on the topic, but he plans to dive deeper in his presentation.
In an interview this week Chait unfolded his map of old railroads in the U.S., pulled out his reading glasses, and traced a bold line with his index finger. He followed a “T” shaped route in upstate New York, the 26-mile line that constituted the Saratoga and Schuylerville Railroad.
Travel between the two locations measured about 10 miles east to west, starting at Saratoga Springs and ending in the small village of Schuylerville. The tracks sliced through the village of Victory, where the Americans revolutionists had fought in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Heading south, the railroad went through Fish Creek and extended all the way to Mechanicville.
“Boston and Maine had a lot of traffic coming through Mechanicville. They had something called an interchange where they turned over their freight to another railroad going to places like Montreal or New York Central,” Chait said. “The branch line up to Schuylerville and Saratoga, when it was part of the Fitchburg branch of Boston and Maine, was not doing well. They sold it in 1946.”
After that, S&S Railroad became its own independent route purchased by Samuel Pinsly. “Reminders of the railroad” are still visible today, Chait said, including the EBI beverage store in Saratoga which served as the former S&S engine house. These significant locations will also be highlighted in the presentation.
Chait obtained authentic footage from historian photo collections, local libraries, and museums’ collected works and will share those black-and-white images of a rural and economically thriving Saratoga to help readers visualize what life was like during the 19th and 20th Century. Parillo and Chait worked together closely to access old Saratoga-area photographs from the Bolster Collection – one of the several collections Chait uses during his storytelling.
“It takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of help [to write a book]. As you can see, I spare no space in the acknowledgments,” said Chait. “I wrote the book so the rails wouldn’t be forgotten. When I’m gone, people will have this book. “
Chait now maintains a home in Saratoga with his wife of 62 years, Carol Anne Chait. A Rochester native, Richard Chait published his first image book in 2015 on the rails of Rochester and Monroe County. His familiarity and appreciation for the SPA city helped guide him through his next project on the rails of Saratoga Springs.
“My wife and I used to come up to Saratoga from Framingham, Massachusetts around Boston. My one daughter loved horses so, I think, since 1981 is the first time we came up to Saratoga and we’ve been coming up here ever since. Every summer,” said Chait.
Chait, the author, graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1959, specializing in materials engineering, and continued on to his masters and doctorate degrees at Syracuse University. He has worked as a research and development engineer in Washington D.C., taught at the National Defense University, and published some between 30 and 40 scholarly articles about experimental finding in his fields of study.
“I retired from engineering about 10 years ago. I said, ‘I’m going to forget engineering and I’m going to concentrate on writing, and writing, and writing’, and I did and I am still doing it,” said Chait.
He has no formal background in railway engineering or working with railroads. But it has been a passion of his since he was a young child. During the interview, he pulled out an antique Hafner wind-up toy train he’s cherished since he was four years old.
“I love trains and I’ve been collecting ever since I was young. It wasn’t my profession, I never worked for railroads. It was always a sideline,” said Chait. “My parents were from the New York state and (the) New Jersey area. They went by train to Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, Albany, and down the Hudson. If we had to go down to a wedding or some other affair, we’d take the train and I thought, ‘Hey, this is fun’. I’ve always enjoyed it.”