Stories From the Tracks

Just twenty miles north of Ellicottville, the Springville Country Club welcomes golfers to its beautiful course on Cascade Road. While the club’s location on Cascade Road may seem like an insignificant detail to some, it is one of the last remnants of what was once the most popular tourist destination in the areas adjacent to Cattaraugus County: Cascade Park. Around the turn of the 20th century, passengers of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway looked forward to this beautiful resort, as well as several other scenic destinations in Cattaraugus and McKean County regions that were once as familiar to tourists as Niagara Falls. Although the BR&P no longer operates as it once did, its various excursion trips marked the beginning of tourism in the Southern Tier that visitors still enjoy today.

Interestingly, the BR&P did not start out as a passenger rail service, although it eventually operated as such until 1955. Western New York saw a boom in the coal industry throughout the 1850s, and demand continued to rise into the 1870s when it was determined by business and civic leaders in Buffalo and Rochester that a direct route to Pennsylvania would be the most efficient way to access the region’s abundant coal resources. In the 1870s, the railway between Rochester and Pittsburgh was constructed, and at Ashford Junction (located between West Valley and Ellicottville), railway construction began north toward Buffalo.

On November 19, 1883, passenger service began in the Buffalo Division of the railroad, and area residents everywhere looked forward to seeing the first passenger trains stopping in their town. The BR&P built passenger stations throughout Cattaraugus and McKean counties, and even named some of their locomotives after these towns, including Ashford, Bradford, PA, Ellicottville, Glenwood, Orchard Park, Salamanca, Springville, and West Valley. The railway soon realized that their passenger service could be just as profitable as their freight service, and so the BR&P began offering several excursion trips along the Niagara Frontier and Southern Tier to attract more passengers.

Of course, Niagara Falls became a popular destination; however, stops also included the Kinzua Viaduct in Mount Jewett, PA and Cascade Park near Springville, NY. At the time of its construction in 1882, the Kinzua Viaduct was the highest and longest bridge in the world, measuring 301 feet high and 2,053 feet long. While the viaduct’s original purpose was to transport coal, oil, and lumber across the Kinzua Gorge, it became a popular tourist destination for passengers of the BR&P who had never traveled at such heights.

Amazingly, the bridge stood for 121 years, and the last steam-driven locomotive traveled across it in 2002. Part of the bridge collapsed in 2003 when a powerful tornado swept through the region, but it remains a tourist hotspot in McKean County. Now the Kinzua Skywalk, the viaduct is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and is a stunning walkway with a partial glass-bottomed observation deck where visitors can look down on the Kinzua Gorge as the BR&P’s passengers once did.

In nearby Springville, the viaduct over Cattaraugus Creek was moved to the head of Zoar Valley in 1898; this beautiful natural setting created one of the most well-known destinations for passengers of the BR&P: Cascade Park. At 185 feet high and 780 feet long, the Cattaraugus Viaduct paled in comparison to the Kinzua Viaduct, but what it lacked in size, it certainly made up for in natural beauty. The 200-foot high banks, caves, and waterfalls made it the perfect location for picnics and parties during the early 1900s. A Springville Journal and Herald article from April 27, 1899 outlined the railroad’s plans for their “$10,000 Pleasure Resort,” which started with the seeding and landscaping of farmland that bordered the banks of the Cattaraugus Creek.  The BR&P hired a Rochester-based architect to design an 80-foot pavilion, and later the park grew to include other pavilions, a kitchen building, a dining room, and a dance hall. Eventually, passenger trains of 10 to 15 coaches departed Buffalo for Cascade Park almost daily during the summer, and the park soon became one of the most popular excursion trips of the BR&P.

The railroad continued to operate Cascade Park until 1921 when Springville Country Club took over the park. At this time, a nine-hole golf course was added, and the park continued to flourish into the 1920s. In a May 28, 1925 Journal and Herald article promoting the club’s opening day, it was reported that “the Park as a whole has never looked as well as it does now” and even insisted that “everybody [should] take the afternoon off and enjoy ourselves at the prettiest spot in all of Western New York - Springville’s ‘Garden of Eden’ - Cascade Park.”

Indeed, on July 4, 1925, the Springville Country Club celebrated one of its biggest opening days ever, complete with a performance by the Roycroft Orchestra, a newly rewired dance hall, and even free all-day childcare provided by the Girl Scouts. According to the Journal and Herald, “There were over twelve hundred paid admissions at the gate and these, together with the members and their families, must have made the total well over fifteen hundred.”

Eventually, the Great Depression took its toll on the economy, and soon the once thriving tourism of Cascade Park declined and the park’s buildings fell into disrepair. These were demolished later on to allow for the expansion of the golf course, which is still in operation today. In 1930 the BR&P became part of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad system and the passenger service began to slow down, especially with the onset of World War II. In October 1955, passenger service came to an end on the division; however, freight services continued into the 1960s. While the BR&P no longer operates as it once did, much of the rail system is still in use today, and current lines still pass through Salamanca and Bradford, PA.

Although today’s visitors to Cattaraugus and McKean counties are no longer arriving by passenger train, their plans bear a striking similarity to that of their 20th century predecessors. Whether it’s a day on the fairway, a picnic in Zoar Valley, or a stroll across the Kinzua Skywalk, visitors are still as attracted to the region’s natural beauty as ever. Plan your “weekend excursion” today by visiting www.EnchantedMountains.com and www.VisitANF.com to see all that the region has to offer!

photo courtesy WNY Heritage Magazine, Summer 2010

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