The O&W's Impact on the Catskills

by Wilmer E. Sipple


    The bankrupt New York and Oswego Midland Railroad was reorganized in 1880 as the New York Ontario and Western Railway. Superintendent Childs immediately began a big campaign to open up the wilderness of the Catskills.
In 1878 The Midland began by stocking 1.5 million brook trout and a large number of lake trout in the 400 miles of streams in the area.

      Already six resorts were stressing the excellent trout fishing in the area. Prior to this Sir Issac Walton , early English fisherman, wrote about his fond memories fishing along the Beaverkill. Thaddeus Norris, father of American dry-fly fishermen, fished the Willowemoc before 1865. The railway crossed the Rondout which John Burroughs said was one of the finest of all trout streams; and then ran along the headwaters of the Neversink, across the Willowemoc Creek and ran along the Beaverkill, perhaps the most famous trout stream in America. In the words of Theodore Gordon, father of american dry-fly fishing , it would be hard to find a more beautiful stream than the Beaverkill. Gordon settled on the Neversink in 1880 and for 20 years communicated the pleasure he found fishing Catskill streams as contributer to the English Fishing Gazette. John Burroughs published essays as "The Heart of the Southern Catskills". Such writers as these made the Catskills known to discriminating fisherman all over the world.

     Even after the Midland was reorganized as the New York Ontario & Western Railway, Superintendent Childs continued the policy of stocking the Catskill streams as follows:

1880: 85,000 trout 1883: 155,000 trout 1885: 460,000 trout

1881: 96,000 trout 1884: 310,000 trout 1886: 900,000 trout

1882: 120,000 trout

In the beginning freight cars were used to haul the trout filled milk cans to the streams alomg the railroad.

     In 1891 the New York Fishery Commission had a special fish car built and it was named the "Adirondack". It was built by the Gilbert Car Company of Troy, N.Y. at a cost of $4,215.00. This car was built along the lines of a wooden passenger coach and was finally taken out of service in 1927.
In 1866 the sleepy farm village of Westfield Flats had only 28 houses and Livingston Manor only 12 houses. In fact , there were only 5400 houses in the l4 towns of all of Sullivan County.
The O&W not only stimulated fishing but also hauled building materals into the wilderness free of charge for anyone who would build a vacation cabin or resort hotel along the railroad.

     Such a policy of the railroad was bound to speed the development of the resorts in the area.

     The Midland announced the publication of its first resort guide in the Liberty Register on April 19,1878. The summer homes guidebook listed all the hotels, boarding houses, inns and farm houses who would take in summer guests. The "Liberty Register" later reported "the neat and well written little book "Summer Homes on the Midland has made its appearance and is indeed a very handy reference to people in the city who wish to spend the summer months in Sullivan County."The 1880 guidebook ran to only 45 pages listing only 28 hotels, but each year the list grew longer. The 1881 edition, Summer Homes on the New York Ontario & Western Railway was 82 pages long, while the 1883 guide was 110 pages and the 1900 volume came to 192 pages. The early guidebooks were bound in hard covers with nature scenes and used a variety of headings; 1884 Summer Homes among the Mountains, 1890 Summer Homes along the New York Ontario & Western Railway, 1892 Summer Homes and 1937 Vacation Guide. From 1897 to 1906 the O&W issued a Winter Homes guidebook. All resort guide books were given away free for the asking.