The Growth of Railroads in the Catskill Mountains

Narrow Gauge remnants and the Ulster and Delaware

I confess, I often spend an inordinate amount of time looking at old maps—topographical maps especially fascinate me. I am also enamored with railroad history. Well one day I discovered the Otis Incline Railway on an old map and then Googled it to find old photographs on the line. I was hooked!

1903 Kaaterskill

Although I have explored and documented much of the railroad history on the east side of the Hudson - the west side of the Hudson has not been on my “research agenda” mainly because I often travel between Stamford, CT (where I live) to Schenectady, NY (to visit where I grew up). The Taconic Parkway is the route I always take. But once I was encouraged by a friend to explore Ravena, my appetite was whetted to dive into the railroad history of the Catskill Mountain area. In August of 2018, I documented a few railroad remnants and got a good understanding of the “lay of the land” so to speak.


The Map below is actually a section of the massive map on the wall of the Danbury Railroad Museum that I captured on my cell phone a while back. It's a great overview of the railroads in the area at their height.

The two systems were:

  1. The Catskill Mountain - out of Catskill, NY; and
  2. The Ulster and Delaware - out of Kingston


During the late 1800s and early 1900s, large numbers of vacationers traveled via the Hudson River by steamship and disembarked at either Kingston or Catskill to take trains up to the grand hotels in the mountains.

Note: Boompies Hook - Steamboat Landing

The Catskill Mountain House and the Katterskill Hotel were the two most famous enormous elegant hotels built during this era.

Catskill Mountain House

Kaaterskill Hotel

Catskill Railroad History

During the early 19th century, waterways were the principal form of transportation. Rondout, NY—located at the confluence of Rondout Creek and the Hudson River was an important transportation hub. The town also was the eastern terminus of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. The first railroad up into the Catskills —the Rondout and Oswego Railroad- was started here. It later became part of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad system.

Shortly thereafter, at the other primary steamship stop, a narrow gauge railroad was built out of Catskill, NY aptly called the Catskill Mountain Railway. While the railroad served its purpose of bringing passengers closer to the mountain top resorts, it still left them with an arduous hour-long stage trip up the face of the Catskill Escarpment (also known as the Wall of Manitou).

Competition soon arose, as two other interconnecting narrow gauge railroads: (a) Stony Clove & Catskill Mountain and (b) the Kaaterskill Railroad both controlled by the Ulster and Delaware Railroad, brought passengers much closer to their final destinations. To counter the competition, the Otis Elevating Railway was completed in 1892. This amazing cable railroad raised passengers 1,700 feet in 10 minutes - saving a one-hour bumpy stage ride. It connected up top with the Kaaterskill Railroad. By 1897, the Catskill and Tannersville Railway was constructed parallel to the Kaaterskill running from the top of the Otis Incline to Tannersville.

The railroads maintained a thriving business until the lure of easier access to the Adirondacks and the arrival of the automobile. Business declined after the turn of the century and much of both competing systems were abandoned around 1918.

The Otis Elevating Railway

There was even an article written about in the Scientific American magazine dated Oct. 5, 1895


The route of the Incline Railway is clearly visible using Google Maps - Aerial View

In the spring of 2019, expect further details on the remnants of this fascinating railway.

Ulster and Delaware Railroad

The Ulster and Delaware Railroad through a series acquisitions and mergers ultimately became the biggest rail system in the Catskills. Started in Kingston NY in 1866 it extended to Oneonta by 1900. Two narrow gauge railroads: the Stony Clove & Catskill Mountain and Kaaterskill Railroad, extended its reach all the way up to the famous Kaaterskill area hotels. Both were standard gauged in 1898-9.

Surmounting dramatic mountain scenery, the Ulster & Delaware was often called the most scenic line in the east and thrived into the World War I era, especially on tourist passenger traffic, milk, and coal. It was eventually absorbed by the New York Central in 1932 but portions were discontinued and abandoned in 1940, and finally discontinued in its entirety by Conrail in 1976.


Ulster and Delaware Railroad (U&D)

Catskill Mountain Railroad

The Otis Elevating Railway

Further Historical Info

Catskill Mountain Railway

Otis Elevating Railway

Catskill and Tannersville Railway

Catskill Historic Hotels

Ulster and Delaware Railroad

^ top ^