Throughout the past month, a ride through the Village of Walden could’ve turned into a longer and louder drive than predicted. Since early September, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has conducted extensive roadwork in the local area which included digging up some old history.
On August 2, the Village of Walden announced paving beginning September 12 on both Route 52 and Route 208 that would include resurfacing and grinding. This area runs through the center of Walden, which is home to many century-old trolley tracks. Local historians have expressed an urgency to “save the rails” and preserve these local tracks.
Town of Montgomery Historian Mary Ellen Matise has been advocating for this preservation. “It would be nice if they gave us just two sections that you could put side by side so that you can put a historic marker with it.”
The trolley dates back to Newburgh around 1886, a couple years after the city was electrified. The method of transportation became an immediate success.
According to a 2002 Record article by Don Herron, the trolley used horse power for eight years before switching to electricity. Around 1884, the trolley became known as the Newburgh Electric Railway. A year later, the trolley was traveling to Walden.
The trolley ran from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. with the last route going back to Walden. Matise explains the trolley had many different purposes.
“I could commute to work. And people from Newburgh who wanted to work in the nice shops would come here [Walden]. People don’t think about that, but that’s what was going on. That was part of it. They also had freight cars that would bring freight, so you could transport product from here [Walden] to Newburgh and from the river to here [Walden] because the river was a big commercial enterprise.”
Herron writes that the age of buses around 1925 is what stopped the trolley for good.
So what happens to the tracks?
Walden’s Village Manager, John Revella stated that the old trolley tracks dug up belong to the state.
“We had and have no control over the tracks,” said Revella.
According to Revella, the contractor removed only one block of old tracks. After removal the village asked for samples for the local historical society but Revella said they were not in good condition. “The pieces removed were in very poor condition, very heavy and cumbersome.” Despite this, the village still offered to give this to the local historical society.
According to Barbara Imbasciani, president of The Historical Society of Walden and the Wallkill Valley, she heard about the village getting a rail for them. There has been no handover yet.
When asked what the Historical Society would do with the rail, Imbasciani mentioned that the Veterans Park voiced an interest in displaying a rail at their last meeting.
“The Society would be willing to work with another organization to display the rail in a place that would allow the most village residents access to see and appreciate the history involved,” said Imbasciani.
Matise also mentions that the infrastructure should have been abandoned after the trolley company became defunct. “Who does it belong to? Does it belong to the public? If it belongs to the public, is it really just the state’s or can the public say ‘hey, we would still like to have that as a historic artifact.’”
There has been no conclusive answer on where the dug up trolley track will end up, however, the DOT contractor told Revella they’ll most likely finish the roadwork this week.