The beginning of manís freedom from dependence on his muscles, or those of draft animals, for transporting people and freight on land was probably first signaled by Richard Trevithickís steam locomotive, demonstrated in Wales in 1804. His crude machine, described as an alarm clock on wheels, nevertheless pulled a payload. Sixty years later there were nearly 35,000 miles of steam-operated railroads in the United States alone and some of this mileage had been built in Dutchess County fifteen years earlier.
Manufacturing industries in the lower New England states were growing before the Civil War; and, safe from the field of battle, received a tremendous impetus from the war in supplying the northern armies and areas closer to the action with a wide variety of manufactured goods. With ample supplies of coal available from the Pennsylvania fields and the New England states requiring increasing amounts of fuel, the financial fascination of hauling freight cars loaded with coal into New England and hauling New Englandís manufactures back to New York City and the middle Atlantic states with the same equipment stimulated the minds of honest men and charlatans alike. To a major degree these circumstances were the genesis of the railroads which were peculiarly Dutchess County lines. These generally ran from the east bank of the Hudson River in Dutchess County to connect, largely at State Line, with railroads threading through New England. State Line was a connecting point on the Connecticut state line, just east of Millerton, N.Y.
Because Wappingers Creek, entering the Hudson midway between Beacon and Poughkeepsie and rising in Pine Plains, only eight miles from Millerton, provided a course with moderate grades, Pine Plains became a minor railroad center and at one time had eighteen passenger trains a day stopping there. In 1875 the Township of Pine Plains had a population of 1,410 and the hamlet of the same name about 600. It has been suggested, with good reason, that Pine Plains had the best railroad passenger service per capita of any location in the United States.
The account which follows brings you the story of these early railroads and their successors by one who finds their history a fascinating subject, as we hope you do.