The Industrial Revolution was born in the late 1700s; however, it took the development of railroads to get it to its feet, to stitch together all the components into a functioning system. If widgets were originally made by hand, a dozen or so at a time, horse-and-wagon over muddy rutted roads would suffice to get them to market—assuming they were even distributed outside the town limits. But if an inventor or industrialist set up a factory to make them by the thousands, it does no good without a vastly larger market and supply of raw materials. Railroads could do this on a large enough scale to match the ramp-up in industrial production. Otherwise, widgets would just pile up outside the factory door.
The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, the first in New York State, was chartered in 1831, to run a mere dozen miles between Albany and Schenectady. Yet, even this modest project was so speculative—there were but a handful of miles of track in the entire world—that Stephen Van Rensselaer, our very own Stephen, was asked to lend a hand. Railroads in America have always been a private enterprise, needing to raise staggering amounts of capital. Van Rensselaer was the first president of the M&H, and then resigned once things got underway.
The following year, 1832, a railroad was established to connect Troy and Saratoga. At first, the tracks here were on River Street, with horses pulling the cars until they got outside the city. The Troy House made do as the first depot, the way that inns have always served stagecoaches. Within two decades, other lines came to Troy, connecting the city to all four points of the compass. The resulting congestion was too much for the business district, so the operations were moved as far inland from the river as possible, to the base of the hill (now Sixth Ave.)
The main depot was on Sixth between Fulton and Broadway, a site across the street from the current Blitman Commons. One depot wasn’t enough for bustling Troy. There was also a depot on Adams St., one way down in South Troy (called “Ironworks” for workers to commute to industries there), one to the north in Lansingburgh, and one just across the river in Green Island. RPI moved up the hill just after the Great Fire of 1862, to the head of Broadway, two blocks from the depot. Students then flocked here from across the country via trains, the only reasonable way to travel overland back then.
Rail traffic peaked around 1915, with an incredible 135 passenger trains a day, basically one train every 11 minutes if spaced evenly. Today, Troy has no passenger rail service.
After World War II, the government funded the interstate highway system, related roads, airports, all at public expense. Railroads’ property and other taxes helped fund their own competition.
Unable to keep up, Troy’s station was demolished in 1958, with the last track removed from downtown in 1964.