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Within two miles' distance from my house westward along South Creek Rd. near East Palmyra are three remnants reminiscent of the history of the tiny hamlet and the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.  There is the South Creek Rd. railroad bridge half of which was installed about 100 years ago.  The other half was replaced just one day before the infamous September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on our country.  Nearby are two large blocks of concrete that probably once supported an overhead signal or a water spout that provided water for steam engines and "cattle cooling."  (ref East Palmyra Remembered:  The Story of a Hamlet) 

The third and least visible to passersby, is a stone and concrete underpass built in 1939.  It is a rarity not only in the Town of Palmyra, but also in Wayne County and although unknown for sure, it is entirely possible it is the only such structure left in the entire state.

The NYCHRR was first built across the area during the mid-1800's, literally slicing many farms in half including what was then the Caleb Beal farm in East Palmyra and which now belongs to Brandon Hoad.  The steel rails were laid roughly parallel to the Erie Canal and in many places crossed or paralleled the meandering Ganargua, or Mud Creek, as well.  In those days, cattle were pastured on the native grasses that grew on the creek flats and crops were planted on any drier more tillable portions.  Underpasses or tunnels were built perpendicular to the rails to accommodate the random crossing by the cattle and to make cropland easily accessible without danger of trains and slow-moving farm equipment collisions.

Such an underpass is located a few hundred feet north and west of my house.  As late as three years ago, our dairy herd still crossed under the railroad through this underpass during the summer months to the pasture that lay between the railroad and the creek.  However, to reach our creek flat cropland with equipment, we used a grade crossing since the underpass was usually at least ankle-deep in water and most of our machinery was too tall to fit under the nine-foot high opening.

Interestingly, around the turn of the century a neighboring farmer came to legal blows with the railroad company when they eliminated the underpass on his farm.  According to a May 1906 issue of Wayne County Journal,  "...action was brought by James Reeves in 1901 demanding restoration of an under grade crossing beneath the NYC tracks on the Reeves farm in East Palmyra which had been in existence for more than fifty years and was walled up requiring Reeves to use a grade crossing some distance away. ..."   Reeves' son Edwin won the case, but meantime had sold the farm after his father died and settled for $600 damages.  The new owner, Charles Hoad, did not seek action to rebuild the underpass.

Whereas the Reeves crossing would have been used for equipment only, the one on our farm was needed to allow the cows free access to the other side of the tracks.  To block the underpass would have been a very economic hardship for the owners and would no doubt have come back to haunt the railroad via an expensive lawsuit.  It was cheaper for them to rebuild the tunnel than to be hauled into court by the landowners.  At this time, we can only imagine the changes that would have come had this underpass been eliminated.  It could have changed the nature of the farming enterprise, or forced the family out of business and perhaps East Palmyra would have taken on a whole new persona.

As with all bodies of flowing water, the course of Mud Creek is ever changing.  The meandering nature of the incessant eastbound current constantly erodes the outside curves of the creek banks during both flood and dry seasons.  Also, it is not necessarily the nature of cattle to follow their leader single file, and over the years, those cows that chose not to stay on the path occasionally slid down the bank taking some of the soil as they went.  Over time, the action of their travel and that of the moving water has narrowed the path to where it is now impassible.  Today, the underpass, or culvert as some call it, is merely a passageway for excess runoff water to flow toward the creek and a reminder of days gone by in the history of East Palmyra, Wayne County, New York.


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