• Destination: Utica, New York

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by Rhinecliff
Earlier this spring, a colleague and I took our sons on a day trip to Utica, New York. (Out on #63 and back on #64.) Earlier this week, my son asked if we could do a follow up trip, so I took him again yesterday.

Notwithstanding the terrible condition of its local economy, Utica is a great city, offering something for everyone. But first, the trains. The route of #63 to Utica is about as historical has one could ever find. For those boarding in NYC or the Hudson Valley, they get to enjoy the Hudson River and all of its surrounding splendors. Then, upon leaving Schenectady, the train follows the Mohawk River (and sections of the old Erie Canal) for the remainder journey. The train passes numerous dams, locks, and ancient river towns.

Upon arriving Utica, one is welcomed by the splendid Union Station, which is now serving several important functions for the city. The old railroad offices upstairs are now occupied by various county agencies. Part of the waiting room is being used by the DMV. Amtrak still occupies its historic corner of the building. There is a great little snack bar and a railroad oriented newstand. Greyhound and Trailways has a ticket office in the station. The Adirondak Scenic Railroad has its headquarters there. The only undeveloped area is the famous old restaurant, which was recently opened as a restaurant/martini bar, but apparently didn't make it. All in all, for the railfan, Utica's Union Station is definately worth a few minutes of snooping around.

Accross the street is a neat old Children's Museum. Although the condition of its displays mirrors the area's local economy, it remains a popular attraction for children. Unfortunately, too many of the Museum's exhibits are now simply junk -- like the computers that don't work, the battery operated toys that have never had their batteries replaced. The impression one gets is that nothing is ever really fixed after it is installed. But there is still a lot of fun exhibits for kids, and it is well worth a visit. Plan on staying about 75 to 120 minutes.

Outside of the Children's museum are several interesting pieces of railroad equipment that the kids always really enjoyed. There is a caboose, a Santa Fe dining car, an engine, and an old steam locomotive. The equipment was maintained by a separate historical society, and they used to open it to the public every Saturday. Unfortunately, however, they had a falling out with the Children's Museum regaring the supply of power, and the railroad historical society now appears to have abandoned the equipment. Classic Utica. But still neat to check out with the kids for a few minutes.

The next site we explored was the Utica Zoo. The Zoo is about 4 miles from Union Station, and not on a bus route, so an $8.00 cab fare, plus tip, is required. The cab company was very helpful, and they are perfectly happy to take reservations for the return downtown. Like everthing else in Utica, the Zoo is struggling financially. But like everything else, it remains a really nice place to visit. Some of the major animals that can be found include monkeys, bears, tigers, sea lions, birds of all varieties, reptiles, and a variety of other animals. The Zoo has a make-shift pizza hut on the property, which offers reasonably good lunch fare. Plan on spending 2 hours at the Zoo.

The last great attraction, which I checked out only on my second trip, is the F.X. Matt Brewery on Varick Street -- home of the venerable Utica Club and all of the Saranac varitals. It is located in the historic West End Section of Utica, off the beaten path, in a warehouse district that should really be a national landmark. Again, this section of Utica is a little too far to walk from the station, and I do not think it is on a bus route, either. Thus, it's best to take a cab from the station, which costs 5.50 plus tip. Tours are offered on the Hour. If #64 is late (which it almost always is), the 4:00 p.m. tour is a great way to wind up a full day of activities. The tours run about an hour. I believe the Brewery is something like the second oldest family run brewery in America, and something like the 12th largest brewery in America overall. It has a great visiters shop, and $5.00 buys admission to the tour and 2 free beers. Be sure to check out the famous historical mugs that are offered in the gift shop.

If #64 is really late, the bars on Varick street look like they might be a good place to spend some time (although I have never had the opportunity). Another worthy place if the kids are not too exhausted and still reasonably behaved would be the old Utica Hotel, which has been lovingly restored. I'm told it has a great bar.

So for those who enjoy taking train-related trips, but who need a little more than just the train-ride to make it worthwhile, Utica, New York is well worth the visit.

  by David Benton
Thanks for that Rhinecliff . Great idea to have a destination guide on here , and hopefully we'll see more .

  by EastCleveland
It sounds as if you had a great trip, Mr. Rhinecliff. I agree, that particular train station is a genuine classic that has fortunately survived. Utica is definitely a worthwhile Amtrak destination for a day or two -- or even a bit longer if you include a day excursion on the Adirondack Scenic, especially in the autumn.

As for Utica Club beer. . .

When I was a kid during the 50s and 60s, my family often traveled overnight on the New York Central. I remember pulling into Schenectady one cold winter's night, and peering out the window of our westbound train through the clouds of steam (from the heating system) that had a mysterious way of swirling around the exterior of the car.

As if on cue, the mists suddenly parted in true "Twilight Zone" fashion. And I looked up to see two enormous, cartoon-like beer steins hovering in the night sky.

Both were staring down at me from a gloomily-lit billboard, perched atop a shadowy old warehouse next to the station. As I recall, the billboard's headline was "Hello people, we're the Utica Club mugs."

I was seven years old. My family wasn't from that part of the world. I knew we were still several stops east of Utica. So I had no idea what Utica Club was. But that dreary, eerie, late night glimpse of the deserted platform, the decrepit old station, and that creepy billboard dimly glowing on that rooftop -- half-hidden by steam in the dark -- is one of my most vivid memories from my family's New York Central years.

My parents are both gone now. But in my mind's eye, I still see that billboard every time I pass through there on Amtrak. And every once in a while, after I get off the train somewhere down the line, I buy myself a Utica Club, too.

  by mbutte
Having grown up in Utica in the 60's and 70's (when the city's population peaked around 120,000) it is somewhat sad to go back and visit today (current city population is around 52,000!), but then few things are like what they were in our youth.

Another excellent tourist attraction in Utica is it's world renown art museum, the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute. Located on Genesee Street (Utica's main street), local bus service is avaiable directly from the door of Union Station to the door of the Museum. The 'Institute', as its known by locally, hosts smaller scale world class exhibitions in addition to having a huge permanment collection of art types of all types. For a city the size of Utica to have such a fine art museum is very rare.

The Institutes web site is: http://www.mwpai.org

  by LCJ
EastCleveland wrote: And I looked up to see two enormous, cartoon-like beer steins hovering in the night sky.

Both were staring down at me from a gloomily-lit billboard, perched atop a shadowy old warehouse next to the station. As I recall, the billboard's headline was "Hello people, we're the Utica Club mugs."
I had forgotten about these guys. Thanks for the reminder of home.

Schultz & Dooley

I remember Utica when it was thriving. In the early PC days, we had a train out of Selkirk symbolized VD-7. This was a job that dropped and picked up all the way to Dewitt. We would often work at Kelloggs (Amsterdam), Fonda, Utica, and Oneida.

Utica was often the largest part of drops and pick-ups, and often the place where the crew would take a meal break. Utica yard was a busy place - even as late as then. If the work load was especially heavy, Utica would be the point where we were relieved, too, under hours of service.

I remember, too, that Utica had a taxi company that drove extremely worn out cabs. One night, on our way back from eating, the front wheel fell off of our cab. Luckily, we weren't going too fast.

My engineer that night was the BLE LC for Selkirk. When we finally got back to the station, he went charging into the supt's office to raise a stink about the cab company PC had the contract with.

Utica was well known as a mob infested and controlled city in those days. I wonder if it still is.

  by Gilbert B Norman
Without "driving" too far off topic at a Forum covering passenger rail travel, I thought only my road, the MILW, knew how to "pick 'em" with livery concerns holding contracts to transport T&E creews.

When I was in Labor Relations, I learned from a U2T GC that one concern, let's just say "somewhere on the system", had drivers with their "problems" regarding the "eau de feu".

That was "scary stuff" to learn, and far exceeded in scope anything involving less than roadworthy taxicabs noted by Mr. LCJ. Any man who chose to gripe about that had best been afforded every right to do so with impunity.

To REALLY stray off topic, and hopefully with Mr. Benton's understanding, my "lifetime" taxicab experience likely occurred in Haiti circa 1981 where after being "hustled', girlfriend and I boarded the taxicab sitting at the top of a hill. The driver wanted an 'advance" (US "dollars please?"; as soon as I handed it to him, a "friend' came out of the bushes, and proceeded to give the taxicab a push whereby we rolled into a gas station. With the "advance', the driver then 'tanked up' and we were on our way!!!!

Insurance?? well let's just be thankful nothing occurred calling the existence or absence of such into play.

  by LCJ
In my time as an operating employee, I had the chance to see Utica's wonderful Union Station through its degradation period and into its beautiful restoration. The last time I was there was late 1985 when I interviewed with the Moh-Hud Div Supt Bob Carbaugh for a position in Dewitt (that never came to pass for a variety of reasons). I spent the whole day there meeting with several people, including Ed Strauss, who was the Asst Supt at the time.

Ed took me on a great tour of the building. I was surprised to see the top floor that was originally planned for a HQ location for NYC Lines East that never came to be. The entire top floor was never finished or used at all, as far as I know.

I had already seen the surprisingly small CTC machine in the dispatchers' quarters a few times over the years. In one small room, there was a board that covered/controlled the entire main line from Syracuse to Selkirk. One dispatcher per shift had traditionally handled that whole territory -- sometimes with apparent ease and sometimes not, depending on the talents of the individual dispatcher. It was a stressful job during the day shift because of trackwork that would require much more creativity for making meets, and having to deal with MW personnel and their need for time on track.

The marble-countered snack bar was still intact in the lower part of the building (west side), but not in use. I recalled having a couple of meals there earlier in my career.

The most amazing part of the restoration, for me, was the waiting room. They really did a great job on making that look new again.

Here's a link about the station. There's a lot of great info about it, although the font used is rather hard on the eyes!



  by CoastStarlight99
Thank you so much for your great report. My grandfather grew up in Utica, NY and delivered telegrams for Western Union at that same station. I am glad they restored it. Hopefully I will get there from here in CA someday.

Rhinecliff and all: Interesting trip to Utica-no one mentioned the Adirondack Railway - did you see any ARR trains? I thought I would mention my first impression of Utica: Back in August 1977 I took my first ride to visit my relatives in Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited. I was really enjoying my first trip via the old NYC main line and what I rcall was our dining car went bad on us-I recall it was a substantial mechanical problem. We sat for more than two hours while Amtrak and Conrail car repairman tried to fix what was wrong. In the end,the car was set out there. I recall going into Utica's station-what a interesting place and I also recall fast freight trains roaring past us sitting in the station. Since we were hours late,I recall getting into Buffalo in daylight and the ride from there west was I found out rarely if ever used by this train in daylight. I recall calling my relatives from the station in Cleveland and mentioning the lateness-they knew enough about Amtrak's late trains in the 70s to always phoning ahead to check on the train that I would be on. Utica Union looks great today-a classic was saved. Too bad the same can't be said for the city of Utica. MACTRAXX