A Different View of the NYO&W Kingston Branch

by Les Dahlstedt    

     This project grew from a simple enough need: Find a couple of elevated views of the remaining industrial buildings in Ellenville (served by the Kingston Branch)  in order  to determine correct  placement of scratch built versions of these on my HO scale Kingston Branch layout. I was surprised by what I found contained within the USGS Ellenville aerial photo. The airborne photo hook was firmly set in me, and it became abundantly clear that these photos made it possible to view much of the Kingston Branch right of way, providing the ground had not been seriously disturbed since the rails were pulled up in ’57. With patient effort, one might ‘assemble’ much of the entire O&W system right of way into a giant  photo mural! Lacking latitude and longitude data for the former depot sites, I relied upon my existing reference materials and a first hand knowledge of the region. These would help me determine whether I was looking at the correct USGS photograph for each town location. For those wishing to trace other parts of the NYO&W, I offer the following guidance:  

Note: Many USGS photographs were taken in the early to mid-1990s. In some instances, structures that existed a decade ago (such as the William Deyo Company coal silos in Ellenville) may have since been razed. A site visit will confirm what remains.

      I downloaded all my USGS images from the TerraServer website. You can access the TerraServer V5.0 Homepage via http://terraserver-usa.com. When you open the homepage, click on the advanced search button, then the address button. The rest is self-explanatory. You’ll need to select a street, a town name and a state. If TerraServer can’t find the particular street and town combination you’ve requested, it will respond with a list of towns within the state selected that have the requested street name. You should select the location that’s geographically closest to the place you were looking for. To zero in on the specific location desired, use known landmarks such as roads or water features such as rivers, lakes or creeks. It may help to zoom out from the picture (just like gaining altitude in an airplane) in order to spot the landmark feature. Clicking you mouse over the feature will re-center the image on your computer monitor. It’s a simple matter to zoom in on the new view and determine if you’ve found the desired location. I used this procedure to spot locations of the dozen depot locations shown. A TerraServer bonus: Many aerial mapped locations have topographic maps listed. All in all, the TerraServer program is user-friendly and very nimble, allowing you to easily zoom in and out, display and print three different size images. The images can then be saved by right clicking your mouse and defining where you want to save the photo on your computer. I was easily able to create these documents by importing the photos into Word files.  

     Some of the resulting black & white images are a little difficult to interpret if you don’t have at least one other reference. In my case I have two other reference sources; historic topographic maps and NYO&W valuation survey maps. Historical topographic maps (such as ones for the Northeast that are downloadable from the University of NH)  will usually show rail right of way, roads, ponds, lakes, rivers and creeks. I found my historic topographic maps highly valuable to my research. While surface streets of a century ago may have since been re-routed or disappeared entirely, water features rarely change over time! Once you have a reasonable frame of reference, start looking for evidence of the former right of way. I call these marks “Track Scars”. Some are nearly invisible, while many will jump right off the screen. Finding a right of way is one thing, but seeing evidence of where a stub siding existed is surprising. If you have other reference materials such as valuation or Sanborn insurance maps, you’ll be able to locate individual buildings. Finally, a working knowledge of the area will help you to interpret the USGS photos and make the scene come to life. 

     In summary, this project has helped my understanding of the Kingston Branch grow in new ways and I recommend it as one more valuable research tool. As a modeler, these photos will help me prototypically arrange my structures. On an entirely different level, it’s refreshing to see some of my federal tax dollars come back to me in a way that provides education and enjoyment.  

I can be reached via email at kingstonbranch@earthlink.net if you have questions or comments.

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