A company that still exists owns a railroad right of way, the Amsterdam, Chuctanunda & Northern Railroad (AC&N). Today the remaining tracks are overgrown with four years of vegetation. The railroad played an important role in the city’s industrial history.
The railroad was formed in 1879 by Kelloggs & Miller, a linseed oil factory then near Amsterdam’s North Chuctanunda Creek on Church Street.
Linseed oil is a drying ingredient in paint, varnish, linoleum and other products. Linseed, also called flaxseed, was grown near Amsterdam. However, most of the raw material used by Kelloggs & Miller came from elsewhere in America and overseas.
The AC&N, which boasted under three miles of track, took railroad cars with flaxseed to Kelloggs & Miller from a point about a mile east of Amsterdam on the New York Central main line. AC&N owned the right of way. New York Central owned the track and operated the trains.
Kelloggs & Miller owned tank cars and shipped linseed oil by rail to big customers. The firm also sold linseed oil in five gallon tins. The residue from oil-making became seed cakes that were shipped to Europe for animal feed.
More right of way was secured in 1905 and the railroad connected with the Sanford carpet mill, also on Church Street. In 1910 the rail line was extended to Rockton’s McCleary, Wallin & Crouse carpet mill, which became Mohawk Carpet’s Upper Mill in 1920.
Amsterdam historian Hugh Donlon wrote that AC&N “saved considerable wear and tear on Amsterdam streets.”
At its peak, the tracks of the AC&N crossed Route 5 (today Chapman Drive), upper Vrooman Avenue and the busy Five Corners intersection on Reid Hill.
“That old line up to the mills used to drive commuters crazy,” wrote Amsterdam native Peter Betz. “Before the new Route 5 east to Schenectady, I can remember trying to leave town or come home and getting stuck in a traffic jam. Many times they’d have a one or two car train going up to the mills and leave it sitting right across the road.”
In 1969 the current bridge carrying AC&N tracks over Route 5 was put into service.
The railroad was still a private company in 1971, although the linseed oil company closed in 1948 and carpet production ceased in 1968, even though Mohasco still retained its offices in Amsterdam.
President of the AC&N in 1971 was George Phillips of Cranesville. Phillips was the man who lighted his Route 5 home to help motorists navigate the highway,
The Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency (AIDA) bought the railroad from the heirs of the Kellogg family in 1982, according to a report compiled by AIDA intern Cheryl Sweet in 2017.
AIDA built a spur off the AC&N to deliver raw materials to Fiber Glass Industries (FGI) on Edson Street in the Amsterdam Industrial Park. The Federal Railroad Administration said AC&N’s climb up the hill just outside Amsterdam was one of the steepest in the country.
FGI closed in 2014. Tracks still exist from the railroad mainline to the industrial park. Other tracks, such as most of the ones that could block street intersections, are gone or not usable. The mainline railroad is now owned by CSX.
Tim Becker of Mohawk Valley Compass, an online newspaper, learned of the Amsterdam short line early this year when AIDA voted in the 2018 slate of railroad officers.
Becker said, “AIDA board members mulled over interest from a company that wanted to recycle the steel from the tracks.” No decision was made. AIDA also is considering whether a future industrial park tenant might want a rail connection.
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 518-346-6657 or [email protected].