in the country, and its magnitude amazed practical railroad men everywhere."
(Wellsboro Agitator - 1900)
A working party on the Fall Brook Railway with the pony engine "John."
Photo courtesy Sornberger Photo Collection, New York State Library
After a foreclosure sale in 1854, Hon. John Magee purchased a controlling interest in the Corning & Blossburg Railroad in New York State, beginning a series of acquisitions and leases which led to the formation in 1892, of the Fall Brook Railway and its ultimate merger into the New York Central system. Mr. Magee, my great-great-granduncle, was a former two-term member of Congress whose extensive businesses included stage coaches, mining and the Fall Brook Coal Company, which operated mines at Antrim, Blossburg and Fall Brook, PA.
In 1833, The Tioga Navigation Company (PA), and the Tioga Railroad (NY) had been given permission to construct a rail system to carry coal and lumber from Blossburg, PA north to Corning, NY. Each state would only allow rails to be built to their respective state line; the New York section became the Corning & Blossburg. At Corning, coal and lumber took a circuitous route via the Chemung Canal extension to Horseheads, NY. From there, it went by the Chemung Canal to Watkins where it was loaded onto barges, to be taken north on Seneca Lake to Geneva. There it could be transferred to the New York Central and Hudson Railroad, or directly to the Erie Canal.
When it commenced initial operation in 1840, it became one of "the oldest railroads in the U.S., built expressly to carry coal." Together, the continuous line from Blossburg to Corning totalled 46+ miles. The combined railroad was leased to the Tioga Railroad Company. In 1852, the Tioga Railroad built a line from Blossburg to the coal mines at Morris Run.
The New York section of the road, extending from Corning to Lawrenceville, fell into debt, and was purchased by John Magee, who reorganized the rail line as Blossburg & Corning (B&C). He made major improvements to the track and the facilities (including making the track gauge a standard 6 feet, allowing the Tioga to connect to the Erie Railroad at Corning), and convinced the owners of the Pennsylvania section, the Tioga Railroad Company, to do the same. The B&C owned the rail line only; all equipment and rolling stock was owned by the Fall Brook Coal Co. In 1869, the line was leased to the Fall Brook Coal Co.
Under the direction of Humphries Brewer, working for John Magee, a large vein of coal was found in Fall Brook, PA. John Magee's Fall Brook Coal Company built seven miles of railroad from Fall Brook to connect to rails in Blossburg. That line, called the "Fall Brook Railroad" was completed in 1859, and Fall Brook, itself, became a busy mining town, with dwellings, sawmills, blacksmith and chutes for handling coal. By 1865, there was a Fall Brook Hotel.
In 1870, Magee was instrumental in building an extension of the Wellsboro & Lawrenceville Railroad from Lawrenceville to Antrim; that line was leased to the Fall Brook company.
In addition to the Blossburg & Corning and Wellsboro & Lawrenceville, the Fall Brook company also leased rights over the Cowanesque Valley R.R., running west from Corning, which was completed in 1873. These were folded into the Corning, Cowanesque and Antrim R. R. (C. C. & A.) by 1874, which was controlled by the Fall Brook interests. Though extending south into Antrim, PA, the Magee leased rails went only as far north as Corning, NY.
In 1877 the Syracuse, Geneva and Corning R. R. (S. G. & C.) was built, extending the line from Corning to Geneva, NY. To complete construction, then-President George J. Magee mortgaged the entire Fall Brook Coal Company, and his own personal wealth, apparently against unanimous advice to the contrary. The S. G. & C., which had been met with derision by the newspapers - and apparently everybody else - in Geneva, NY, was hailed as soon as it opened as a brilliant business decision by George Magee, allowing a direct rail line from PA coal fields to Geneva. Shortly, a link from Geneva to Lyons (Geneva and Lyons R. R.) was constructed by the Vanderbilt's New York Central and Hudson River (N. Y. C. & H. R.) and leased to the Fall Brook Co., completing the connection from northern PA coal fields to New York Central mainline tracks. It is evident throughout that the Fall Brook was coordinating its interests with the Vanderbilt-controlled N. Y. C. & H. R.
At the same time that coal findings along the Fall Brook began to thin, and labor problems began, demand exploded for coal to fuel industrial expansion (as well as locomotives). In 1882, Cornelius Vanderbilt and a coalition acquired 22,000 acres of coal land in Clearfield and Centre counties (PA). They needed to develop a way to get this coal (in an area controlled by their rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad System) to their mainline in upper New York State. Vanderbilt gained control of the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railway Co. with connection to the Beech Creek and Reading Railroad. The name was later changed to Pine Creek Railway Co. and leased to Fall Brook by the N. Y. C. & H. R. These connected with the Fall Brook interests at Stokesdale, PA, thus creating a contiguous track from the new mines in Pennsylvania to the N. Y. C. & H. R. at Lyons, NY.
The leased railroads owned no locomotives or rolling stock; everything was owned by the Fall Brook Coal Co. [see map] To give an idea of the scope of the Fall Brook rail operations: in 1887 there were: 1,424 employees; more than 250 miles of track operated and used by the company; 57 locomotives and 2,543 cars, freight and passenger.
In 1892, the coal and railroad operations of the Fall Brook Coal Company were split, with all the rail operations transferred to the newly named Fall Brook Railway Co. which included leases of the Geneva & Lyons; Syracuse, Geneva and Corning; Corning, Cowanesque and Antrim; Fall Brook, and Pine Creek Railways. By 1893, that system owned 74 locomotives and 3,469 cars (of which 25 were passenger cars).
After pursuing - some say pressuring - the Magees for years, Vanderbilt ultimately leased the entire Fall Brook line in 1899, and purchased all interests in 1909. It consolidated them to form the Geneva, Corning and Southern Railroad Company which, in 1914 became the "Fall Brook Division" of the newly inaugurated "New York Central System."
Throughout, the Magee family directed the operations of the Fall Brook. First, Hon. John Magee (1794-1868) who was followed in 1868 by his son Duncan (who passed away in 1869 after only a year as president). John's son General George J. Magee (1840-1897) succeeded and was responsible for the explosive growth and consolidation of the rail operations. Upon his death in 1897, George's son Col. John Magee took over and was instrumental in the ultimate lease to the N. Y. C. & H. R. He continued in coal interests and operations for some years following.
This site contains a brief glimpse of the Fall Brook Railway with suggestions of further resources for anyone wanting to learn more. In addition, we have created an archive of original news articles, and excerpts, from local papers. And it is a way for our family to remember some of our more colorful ancestors. We continue to add relevant materials as they are found.
Today, the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad actively operates on a portion of the original Fall Brook roadway from Wellsboro, PA to near Corning, NY. The Tioga Central Railroad operates excursion and charter trains along a portion of that roadway. The Tioga Transportation Society is an organization interested in maintaining and operating the Tioga Central Railroad. By assisting with the railroad, they are helping to keep alive a part of America’s great railroad heritage and are helping the many thousands of people who visit Tioga County, PA and Tioga Central Railroad each year to develop an appreciation of that heritage.
Daniel Magee Beach
PS - My great-grandfather, Daniel Beach, Esq., having had the good sense to marry Hon. John Magee's niece, was at various times Treasurer, General Counsel and Vice-President of the Fall Brook interests.
The "News Archives" are continually being updated with contemporaneous reporting on the railroad through fifty years. While it has grown a bit unwieldy, it provides a fascinating look into 19th Century railroading.
NOTE - We actively seek historical material for this site. If you have any information, photos, etc., of the pre-1900 Fall Brook interests, which would help illuminate this site, we would love to include them. While we occasionally purchase and collect original artifacts and instruments, photos and scans of relevant materials are greatly appreciated. If used on this site, you will be appropriately credited, and will be rewarded with one of the Fall Brook Route coffee mugs.
"Remarkable evidence of the safety of traveling on well managed railways is furnished by a report of the present Fall Brook railway system. In 30 years, it has carried about 6,000,000 passengers. It was originally only 53 miles long, but has been gradually extended, until its main line and branches are 250 miles in length. During the first ten years, when 1,000,000 passengers were carried, not one was killed or injured. In the next 20 years, when passengers numbered over 5,000,000, no passengers were killed and only six injured, two of these suffering because of their own carelessness or misconduct. How these figures compare with larger roads that have more accidents, but also carry more passengers we do not know, except that railway travling is the safest method of conveyance yet devised, but the record of a road that in 30 years kills no passengers is worthy of special attention." (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Journal - 1893)