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New York Central Rail Road Company (Signed by Erastus Corning)


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Beautifully engraved antique bond certificate from the New York Central Rail Road Company dating back to the 1850's. This document, which has been signed by the company President (Erastus Corning) and Treasurer, measures approximately 12" (w) by 8" (h).

This certificate features a trio of vignettes - the New York State Seal at the top, a Niagara Falls scene at the left and a company route map from Buffalo to Albany, including skyline scenes of both cities.


You will receive the exact certificate pictured. Please note cropping into borders along right and bottom. Still a very nice piece, and one of the better examples of Corning's signature.

    Historical Context

    The New York Central Railroad was headquartered in New York and served most of the Northeast, including extensive trackage in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts and much of New England and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Québec. Its primary connections included Chicago and Boston. Grand Central Terminal in New York City is one of its best known extant landmarks.

    In 1968 the NYC merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, to form Penn Central (the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad joined in 1969). That company soon went bankrupt and was taken over by the federal government and merged into Conrail in 1976. Conrail was broken up in 1998, and much of its system was transferred to the newly-formed New York Central Lines LLC, a subsidiary of CSX. That company's lines include the original New York Central main line, but outside that area it includes lines that were never part of the NYC system. The famous Water Level Route of the NYC, from New York City to upstate New York, was the first four-track long-distance railroad in the world.

    Pre-New York Central: 1826-1853

    The oldest part of the NYC was the first permanent railroad in the state of New York and one of the first railroads in the United States. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was chartered in 1826 to connect the Mohawk River at Schenectady to the Hudson River at Albany, providing a way for cargo on steamboats to avoid the Erie Canal. The Mohawk and Hudson opened on September 24, 1831, and changed its name to the Albany and Schenectady Railroad on April 19, 1847.

    The Utica and Schenectady Railroad was chartered April 29, 1833; as the railroad paralleled the Erie Canal it was prohibited from carrying freight. Revenue service began August 2, 1836, extending the line of the Albany and Schenectady Railroad west from Schenectady along the north side of the Mohawk River, opposite the Erie Canal, to Utica. On May 7, 1844 the railroad was authorized to carry freight with some restrictions, and on May 12, 1847 the ban was fully dropped, but the company still had to pay the equivalent in canal tolls to the state.

    The Syracuse and Utica Railroad was chartered May 1, 1836 and similarly had to pay the state for any freight displaced from the canal. The full line opened July 3, 1839, extending the line further to Syracuse via Rome (and further to Auburn via the already-opened Auburn and Syracuse Railroad). This line was not direct, going out of its way to stay near the Erie Canal and serve Rome, and so the Syracuse and Utica Direct Railroad was chartered January 26, 1853. Nothing of that line was ever built, though the later West Shore Railroad, acquired by the NYC in 1885, served the same purpose.

    The Auburn and Syracuse Railroad was chartered May 1, 1834 and opened mostly in 1838, the remaining 4 miles opening on June 4, 1839. A month later, with the opening of the Syracuse and Utica Railroad, this formed a complete line from Albany west via Syracuse to Auburn, about halfway to Geneva. The Auburn and Rochester Railroad was chartered May 13, 1836 as a further extension via Geneva and Canandaigua to Rochester, opening on November 4, 1841. The two lines later merged to form the rather indirect Rochester and Syracuse Railroad (known later as the Auburn Road). To fix this, the Rochester and Syracuse Direct Railroad was chartered and immediately merged into the Rochester and Syracuse. That line opened June 1, 1853, running much more directly between those two cities, roughly parallel to the Erie Canal.

    To the west of Rochester, the Tonawanda Railroad was chartered April 24, 1832 to build from Rochester to Attica. The first section, from Rochester southwest to Batavia, opened May 5, 1837, and the rest of the line to Attica opened on January 8, 1843. The Attica and Buffalo Railroad was chartered in 1836 and opened on November 24, 1842, running from Buffalo east to Attica. When the Auburn and Rochester Railroad opened in 1841, there was no connection at Rochester to the Tonawanda Railroad, but with that exception there was now an all-rail line between Buffalo and Albany. On March 19, 1844 the Tonawanda Railroad was authorized to build the connection, and it opened later that year. The Albany and Schenectady Railroad bought all the baggage, mail and emigrant cars of the other railroads between Albany and Buffalo on February 17, 1848 and began operating through cars.

    Two years later, the Tonawanda Railroad and Attica and Buffalo Railroad merged to form the Buffalo and Rochester Railroad. A new direct line opened from Buffalo east to Batavia on April 26, 1852, and the old line between Depew (east of Buffalo) and Attica was sold to the Buffalo and New York City Railroad on November 1. The line was added to the New York and Erie Railroad system and converted to the Erie's 6 foot broad gauge.

    The Schenectady and Troy Railroad was chartered in 1836 and opened in 1842, providing another route between the Hudson River and Schenectady, with its Hudson River terminal at Troy.

    The Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad was chartered in 1834 to build from Lockport on the Erie Canal west to Niagara Falls; it opened in 1838. Later, it was reorganized as the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, and an extension east to Rochester opened on July 1, 1852.

    The Buffalo and Lockport Railroad was chartered April 27, 1852 to build a branch of the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls from Lockport towards Buffalo. It opened in 1854, running from Lockport to Tonawanda, where it joined the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad, opened 1837, for the rest of the way to Buffalo.

    In addition to the Syracuse and Utica Direct, another never-built company, the Mohawk Valley Railroad, was chartered January 21, 1851 and reorganized December 28, 1852, to build a railroad on the south side of the Mohawk River from Schenectady to Utica, next to the Erie Canal and opposite the Utica and Schenectady. The West Shore Railroad was later built on that location.

    Albany industrialist and Mohawk Valley Railroad owner Erastus Corning got the above railroads together into one system, and on March 17, 1853 they agreed to merge. The merger was approved by the state legislature on April 2, and ten of the remaining companies merged to form the New York Central Railroad on May 17, 1853. The following companies were consolidated into this system, including the main line from Albany to Buffalo:

    • Albany and Schenectady Railroad
    • Utica and Schenectady Railroad
    • Syracuse and Utica Railroad
    • Rochester and Syracuse Railroad
    • Buffalo and Rochester Railroad

    The Rochester and Syracuse also owned the old alignment via Auburn, Geneva and Canandaigua, known as the "Auburn Road". The Buffalo and Rochester included a branch from Batavia to Attica, part of the main line until 1852. Also included in the merger were three other railroads:

    • Schenectady and Troy Railroad, a branch from Schenectady east to Troy
    • Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, a major branch from Rochester west to Niagara Falls
    • Buffalo and Lockport Railroad, a branch from the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls at Lockport south to Buffalo via trackage rights on the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad from Tonawanda

    As well as two that had not built any road, and never would:

    • Mohawk Valley Railroad
    • Syracuse and Utica Direct Railroad

    Soon the Buffalo and State Line Railroad and Erie and North East Railroad converted to standard gauge from 6 foot broad gauge and connected directly with the NYC in Buffalo, providing a through route to Erie, Pennsylvania.

    The Erastus Corning Years: 1853-1867

    The Rochester and Lake Ontario Railroad was organized in 1852 and opened in Fall 1853; it was leased to the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, which became part of the NYC, before opening. In 1855 it was merged into the NYC, providing a branch from Rochester north to Charlotte on Lake Ontario.

    The Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad was also merged into the NYC in 1855. It had been chartered in 1834 and opened in 1837, providing a line between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. It was leased to the NYC in 1853.

    Also in 1855 came the merger with the Lewiston Railroad, running from Niagara Falls north to Lewiston. It was chartered in 1836 and opened in 1837 without connections to other railroads. In 1854 a southern extension opened to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad and the line was leased to the NYC.

    The Canandaigua and Niagara Falls Railroad was chartered in 1851. The first stage opened in 1853 from Canandaigua on the Auburn Road west to Batavia on the main line. A continuation west to North Tonawanda opened later that year, and in 1854 a section opened in Niagara Falls connecting it to the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. The NYC bought the company at bankruptcy in 1858 and reorganized it as the Niagara Bridge and Canandaigua Railroad, merging it into itself towards the end of th 19th century.

    The Saratoga and Hudson River Railroad was chartered in 1864 and opened in 1866 as a branch of the NYC from Athens Junction, southeast of Schenectady, southeast and south to Athens on the west side of the Hudson River. On September 9, 1867 the company was merged into the NYC, but in 1867 the terminal at Athens burned down and the line was abandoned. Later, the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railway leased the line and incorporated it into their main line, taken over by the NYC in 1885 as the West Shore Railroad.

    The Troy and Greenbush Railroad was chartered in 1845 and opened later that year, connecting Troy south to East Albany on the east side of the Hudson River. The Hudson River Railroad was chartered May 12, 1846 to extend this line south to New York City; the full line opened October 3, 1851. Prior to completion, on June 1, the Hudson River leased the Troy and Greenbush.

    Cornelius Vanderbilt obtained control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, soon after he bought the parallel New York and Harlem Railroad.

    Along the line of the Hudson River Railroad, the High Line was built in New York City as an elevated bypass to the existing street-running trackage on Eleventh Avenue, at the time called "Death Avenue" due to the large number of accidents involving trains. The elevated section has since been abandoned, and the tunnel to the north, built at the same time, is used only by Amtrak trains to New York Penn Station (all other trains use the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad to access the New York and Harlem Railroad).

    The Vanderbilt Years: 1867-1954

    In 1867 Vanderbilt acquired control of the NYC, with the help of maneuverings related to the Hudson River Bridge in Albany. On November 1, 1869 he merged the NYC with his Hudson River Railroad into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. This extended the system south from Albany along the east bank of the Hudson River to New York City, with the leased Troy and Greenbush Railroad running from Albany north to Troy.

    Vanderbilt's other lines were operated as part of the NYC; these included the New York and Harlem Railroad, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, Canada Southern Railway and Michigan Central Railroad.

    The Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad was chartered in 1869 and opened in 1871, providing a route on the north side of the Harlem River for trains along the Hudson River to head southeast to the New York and Harlem Railroad towards Grand Central Terminal or the freight facilities at Port Morris. From opening it was leased by the NYC.

    The Geneva and Lyons Railroad was organized in 1877 and opened in 1878, leased by the NYC from opening. This was a north-south connection between Syracuse and Rochester, running from the main line at Lyons south to the Auburn Road at Geneva. It was merged into the NYC some ten years later.

    At the turn of the century, the Boston and Albany Railroad was leased by the NYC, although it retained a separate identity. In 1914 the name was changed again, forming the modern New York Central Railroad.

    The NYC had a distinctive character; unlike its arch rival the Pennsylvania Railroad's mountainous terrain, the NYC was best known as the Water Level Route; most of its major routes, including New York to Chicago, followed rivers and had no significant grades. This influenced many things, including advertising and most notably locomotive design.

    Steam locomotives of the NYC were optimized for speed on that flat raceway of a main line, rather than slow mountain lugging. Famous locomotives of the system included the well-known 4-6-4 Hudsons, and the postwar Niagaras, fast 4-8-4 locomotives often considered the epitome of their breed by steam locomotive aficionados.

    Despite having some of the most modern steam locomotives anywhere, the NYC dieselized rapidly, conscious of its by then difficult financial position and the potential relief that more economical diesel-electric power could bring. Very few NYC steam locomotives still exist. All Hudsons and Niagaras were sent to the scrapper's torch. In 2004, the only surviving big modern steam locomotives are two 4-8-2 Mohawk dual-purpose locomotives.

    The financial situation of northeastern railroading soon became so dire that not even the economies of the new diesel-electric locomotives could change things.


    A number of bypasses and cutoffs were built around congested areas. The Junction Railroad's Buffalo Belt Line opened in 1871, providing a bypass of Buffalo, New York to the northeast, as well as a loop route for passenger trains via downtown. The West Shore Railroad, acquired in 1885, provided a bypass around Rochester, New York. The Terminal Railway's Gardenville Cutoff, allowing through traffic to bypass Buffalo to the southeast, opened in 1898.

    The Schenectady Detour consisted of two connections to the West Shore Railroad, allowing through trains to bypass the steep grades at Schenectady, New York. The full project opened in 1902. The Cleveland Short Line Railway built a bypass of Cleveland, Ohio, completed in 1912. In 1924, the Alfred H. Smith Memorial Bridge was constructed as part of the Hudson River Connecting Railroad's Castleton Cut-Off, a 27.5-mile-long freight bypass of the congested Albany terminal area.

    An unrelated realignment was also made at Rome, when the Erie Canal was realigned and widened onto a new alignment south of downtown Rome. The NYC main line was shifted south out of downtown to the south bank of the new canal. A bridge was built southeast of downtown, roughly where the old main line crossed the path of the canal, to keep access to Rome from the southeast. West of downtown, the old main line was abandoned, but a brand new railroad line was built, running north from the NYC main line to the NYC's former Watertown and Rome Railroad, allowing all NYC through traffic to bypass Rome.

    Robert R. Young: 1954-1958

    The Vanderbilt interests, having steadily reduced their shareholdings, lost a proxy fight in 1954 to Robert Ralph Young and his Alleghany Corporation. Unable to keep his promises, Young was forced to suspend dividend payments in January 1958 and committed suicide that month.

    Alfred E. Perlman: 1958-1968

    After his death, Young's role in NYC management was assumed by Alfred E. Perlman, who had been working with the NYC under Young since 1954. Although much had been accomplished to streamline NYC operations, in those tough economic times, mergers with other railroads were seen as the only possible road to financial stability. The most likely suitor became the NYC's former arch-rival Pennsylvania Railroad.

    Penn Central, Conrail, CSX

    The NYC became a fallen flag on February 1, 1968 when it joined with its old enemy, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in the ill-fated merger that produced Penn Central. Slightly over two years later, the Penn Central Transportation Company filed for bankruptcy. Conrail, officially the Consolidated Rail Corporation, was created by the U.S. Government to salvage Penn Central, and several other bankrupt railroads. On April 1, 1976, it began operations.

    On June 6, 1998, most of Conrail was split between Norfolk Southern and CSX. New York Central Lines LLC was formed as a subsidiary of Conrail, containing the lines to be operated by CSX; this included the old Water Level Route and many other lines of the New York Central, as well as various lines from other companies.

    Erastus Corning

    Erastus Corning, businessman and politician, was born in Norwich, Connecticut. Corning moved to Troy, New York at the age of 13 to clerk in the hardware store of an uncle; six years later he moved to Albany, New York, where he joined the mercantile business under James Spencer. After some time at Spencer's firm, Corning became a partner, and eventually the senior partner upon Spencer's death in 1824. Corning combined the Spencer firm with holdings he inherited from his uncle to form Erastus Corning & Company.

    Erastus Corning & Company

    Erastus Corning & Co. was much more than what modern readers think of as a hardware store. Corning bought and sold all manner of iron products, not merely tools and nails as one would expect but also stoves, farming equipment, and, eventually, rails and railroad iron parts and products. The company had a wharf and warehouse on the Hudson River in Albany, and the store itself served not only Albany and the surrounding towns, but hundreds of large customers from the west who visited Albany only two or three times a year to buy and sell products, restock their own supplies, and see what new was for sale. Corning's hardware store soon became one of the most significant businesses in Albany.

     Erastus Corning's Signature

    Corning was not content to run a hardware store, however, no matter how big the store might be. About the time he was consolidating his holdings into Erastus Corning & Co., he was also investing in banks and insurance companies. He purchased the Albany Rolling and Slitting Mill, renamed it the Albany Nail Factory, and used it to corner the market on numerous of the iron products he sold at his store. The Albany Nail Factory eventually became the Rensselaer Iron Works, which, under Corning's guidance, installed the first Bessemer converter in the United States.

    By the time he was 40, Corning had helped found the Albany State Bank (he would serve as president until his death), been named to the board of the University of the State of New York, begun speculating on land in western New York (including the townsite that bears his name), and had gotten himself elected mayor of Albany. Corning served a single term as mayor, from 1834 until 1837, having been elected as a Democrat.


    Erastus Corning's most lasting contribution to history may have been his dealings with railroads. As an iron dealer, he very quickly saw the potential that railroads had as an economic engine as both a consumer and distributor of his products, and took an interest from the very start. When the Utica & Schenectady Railroad was chartered in 1833, Corning got himself a seat on the board and became a major investor, and was soon president of the road. Corning ran the Utica & Schenectady for twenty years. The railroad eventually boasted 78 miles of track, from Schenectady in the east (where the road interchanged with the smaller Mohawk & Hudson Railroad of which Corning was also a shareholder) to Utica in the west. In 1851, the road's name was changed to the Mohawk Valley Railroad.

    Corning was not satisfied with just his railroad, banking, insurance, land speculation, and iron works interests, however. He continued to dabble in politics, being elected in 1842 to the New York state senate for a single term. His foray into state politics convinced him that the current system of railroads stretching across upstate New York was inefficient and could be made far more profitable by combining them. He began planning what would eventually become the largest corporation in America at the time, the New York Central.

    As president of the Utica & Schenectady, Corning organized in 1851 a convention of the owners and presidents of the other eight operating railroads, which combined roughly connected the cities of Albany and Buffalo, New York. The convention agreed on a framework for consolidation of the eight roads (as well as two paper roads, which had not yet been built but were planned), and Corning took the convention's application to the state Legislature. Corning became the main lobbyist for the proposal in the legislature, and despite being a Democrat made a personal appeal to Thurlow Weed, leader of the Whigs, who controlled state government at the time.

    Corning had a lot riding on the legislature's decision. He had organized the convention and largely dictated the terms of the merger to the other companies. Once the legislature passed the Consolidation Act on April 2, 1853, Corning found himself in possession of the majority of shares in the new company, and so at the first meeting of the New York Central's shareholders in 1853, Corning got himself elected president of the company. He remained in that role for twelve years, during which time the New York Central made connections and struck deals that gave the road access to Cleveland, Boston, New York City, and Chicago, and made it one of the country's most important railroads.

    Corning amassed a significant fortune, and used it to invest in land schemes as far west as Wisconsin and Iowa. He bought large shares in the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Michigan Central Railroad, and was the largest shareholder in and president of the St. Mary's Falls Ship Canal Company, which constructed the canal and locks on the St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, connecting Lake Superior with Lake Huron. For this the company received 750,000 acres of land in the west; Corning himself took 100,000 acres of this.

    Civil War Politics

    In 1856, shortly after finishing the St. Mary's River project, Corning was nominated for and won a seat in the United States Congress from New York. He did not stand for re-election in 1858, but was elected to a second term in 1860; he also served as a New York delegate to the Democratic National Convention that year. In 1861, before taking office in Congress, he was a delegate to the Peace Congress in Washington, D.C., but once the Civil War began he took his seat in Congress and, at least initially, supported the Lincoln Administration. He served out this term, and was elected again in 1862, but resigned his post because of failing health and disagreements with the Lincoln Administration over prosecution of the Civil War.

    Back home in Albany, Corning organized a public meeting on the war, which resulted in a formal letter sent to Abraham Lincoln under Corning's hand offering support for maintaining the integrity of the Union, but censuring the administration for certain tactics it was employing in the war, most notably the making of military arrests of civilians in New York accused of avoiding service. This incident is notable for the response it generated from President Lincoln, a lengthy letter wherein the president sets out his views on what the Constitution allowed him to do in wartime.

    Despite his disagreements with Lincoln's handling of the war, Corning fully supported the effort to maintain the Union. The United States Navy contracted with Corning's iron works to manufacture parts and materials for the USS Monitor, the Navy's first ironclad warship.

    Corning’s Later Years

    Corning's personal papers make little reference to the nature of his ill health, but from his retirement on, Corning slowly began reducing his commitments and public activities. Through the 1860's he began to focus more on land speculation and less on his business holdings. He resigned from the New York Central in 1865, two years before the railroad was bought out by Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1867, Corning was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention. It was his last public office.

    By 1871, Corning had passed control of his business interests on to his sons and close associates, and at one point passed up the opportunity to buy a share in a new land deal in Nebraska, saying that "I find that my health is such that it will not do for me to take hold of any new undertaking." He remained on the board of the Albany State Bank, and also continued as vice chancellor of the board of regents of the University of the State of New York, positions he had held by that time for over 30 years. He died at home in Albany in April, 1872.

    Corning's grandsons Edwin and Parker Corning both held various political positions in the state of New York in the early 1900s. His great-grandson, Erastus Corning II, was mayor of Albany for over 40 years, from 1941 to 1983. The Rensselaer Iron Works eventually became part of the larger Troy Iron & Steel Company, in its time the largest iron and steel manufacturer in the United States, but the company eventually went out of business. The New York Central remained one of the most significant American railroads through the end of the 19th Century; it was eventually merged with its arch-rival the Pennsy (Pennsylvania Railroad) and ultimately became a part of Conrail in the 1970s. Parts of the New York Central, including parts of the original Utica & Schenectady, are still in use today by CSX. The locks on the St. Mary's River remain the busiest locks in the world. Erastus Corning's personal papers, almost 50,000 pages worth, are held by the libraries of Cornell University.