September 14, 1833


Report of the Engineer in Chief of the Ithaca and Owego Railroad Company.



To the President and Directors, &c.:

GENTLEMEN,-I have the honor respectfully to submit the following Report, on the Reconnoissance (sic), Preliminary Surveys, Experimental Lines, and Final Location of your Road from Ithaca to Owego, with Plans and Profiles thereof; together with the present state of the work upon the road, and the estimated cost and time to complete the same.


It will, no doubt, be readily admitted by all who examine the subject, that this road, (in addition to the immediate advantages to be afforded by it to the villages at each end thereof, and persons living in the vicinity,) is destined to become one of the most important links in the chain of internal improvement that has yet been projected in this section of country, to connect the cities of New-York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, with the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario, and the numerous towns and villages bordering their shores.


The village of Ithaca, at the northerly termination of this railroad, is situated on the inlet of the Cayuga Lake, about one mile and a half south of it; from which place there now is, and for some years has been, a water communication with the Erie Canal, at Montezuma—with Lake Erie, at the villages of Buffalo and Black Rock—with Lake Ontario, at the village of Oswego—and with the Hudson River, at the city of Albany.


When the Ithaca and Owego Railroad is completed, this connection will be extended southerly to the Susquehanna River, at the village of Owego; from which place that river is navigable to the head of tide water at Port Deposit, for arks and rafts, at the spring and fall freshets, from about four to five weeks each spring before the Erie Canal can be used from Utica to Albany.


From the village of Owego a short route may be obtained to the city of New-York, by the way of the New-York and Erie Railroad, which is to pass through this village. A charter for this road was obtained from the Legislature of this State last winter; its friends confidently expect that it will be commenced and completed thus far at an early day. Until that is done, a large portion of the produce of this section of country must be taken through the accustomed channel to a southern market.


Lumber, grain, provisions, and other productions of this section of country, are taken every season from Owego to the city of Philadelphia, by the Susquehanna River, and Pennsylvania and Union Canals: or, passing by the Union Canal at Middletown, continue down the Susquehanna River to tide water at Port Deposit, or Havre de Grace; and from thence proceed down the Chesapeake Bay to the city of Baltimore: or, leaving the Susquehanna River, at Havre de Grace, proceed to Turkey Point, and thence passing up the Elk River to Back Creek, and through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to the Delaware River, ascend that river to Philadelphia: or, passing by the mouth of Back Creek, ascend the Elk five miles further, to Frenchtown; and from thence pass over the Newcastle and Frenchtown Railroad to the Delaware River at Newcastle, and ascend that river to Philadelphia.


A considerable amount of the lumber used by me in the construction of part of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, was brought down the Susquehanna River, from the neighborhood of Owego. This lumber, even with the addition of a heavy charge for land transportation across the Delaware peninsula, (fifteen miles,) cost less money at that time (1824) than lumber of equal quality brought down the Delaware River.


It is a circumstance worthy of observation in relation to the location of this railroad, that its summit (a marsh about 8½ miles south 400 35' east from the village of Ithaca) is also the summit which divides the waters running northerly into the Atlantic Ocean, by the way of the Beaver Meadow Brook, the Six Mile Creek, the Cayuga Lake, the Seneca and Oswego Rivers, Lake Ontario, and the River St. Lawrence; from those which descend southerly to the same ocean, through the Cattatunk and Owego Creeks, the Susquehanna River, and the Chesapeake Bay.


This summit swamp is three feet below the level of the railroad at that place, and above the level of the




Above the
level of the

Susquehanna River at Owego,

189 ft.


Ohio River at_ the mouth of the
Muskingum,           -           -



Lake Erie,        -           -           -



Genesee River at the Erie Canal,



Seneca Lake, -             -           -



Rome, summit, (old Canal,)    -



Erie Canal at Utica,     -           -



Erie Canal at Syracuse and Sa‑
lina,  -           -           -           -



Cayuga Lake at Ithaca -          -



Seneca River at the Erie Canal,



Oneida Lake,   -           -           -



Onondaga Lake, - -



Lake Ontario,  -           -           -



Atlantic Ocean,           -           -




The waters of the Cattatunk Creek and Beaver Meadow Brook approach within 300 yards of each other, in this swampy piece of ground, which for 300 yards in length, and 150 yards in breadth, varies less than three feet in elevation.


This swamp is situated in a remarkable pass between two ranges of hills or mountains of rock, from 400 to 500 feet in height, which stretch along the valleys of the Six Mile and Cattatunk Creeks, nearly the whole length of the road; being, nevertheless, frequently broken and interrupted by deep ravines, formed by tributaries to the Cattatunk and Six Mile Creeks. The valley formed by the Beaver Meadow Brook and Six Mile Creek, and their tributaries, between the summit and Ithaca, varies in breadth from about 90 to from 1600 to 1700 yards, except at the falls about two miles southeast of Ithaca, where the water rushes through a chasm in the rock several hundred feet in length, and from forty to sixty feet in height and breadth. This valley consists of side-lying ground and rock, with sinuous and undulating surfaces of great acclivity, varying laterally from 10 to 100 feet in elevation, and is indented by deep and broad ravines, extending in most places from the foot of the mountain on either side, to near the bed of the Beaver Meadow and Six Mile Creeks: and taken together, present formidable obstacles to the location of a railroad at a reasonable cost, with either moderate slopes or gentle curves.


The valley formed by the Cattatunk Creek and its tributaties (sic), between the summit and Owego, is of a different character from that north of the summit; here the breadth of the valley increases as you proceed southerly as far as the village of Candor, at which place it has a breadth of from 4,000 to 5,000 feet; from this village southerly to within about two miles of Owego, the valley again decreases to a breadth of only 2,000 feet, and then opens into the valleys of the Owego Creek and Susquehanna River.


From the summit to Owego, a narrow slip of flat, or bottom land, may generally be found along the sides of the Cattatunk; it, however, is not always to be found on the same side of that creek. This creek has a tortuous course as it meanders through those flats—sometimes washing the foot of the rock on one side of the valley, and then again (almost immediately) deflecting abruptly across to the foot of the rocks upon the opposite side.


In addition to the obstacles thus presented to the location of this part of the road, in the vicinity of, or upon any one side of the Cattatunk, (without destroying its utility, by abrupt curves, or sacrificing the prospects of the stockholders by heavy cuttings, and high embankments, or grades of great acclivity,) it was found that this portion of the bed of the valley consisted in places of a succession of shelves, or tables of land, from ten to twenty and thirty feet above the flat or bottom land; these shelves in many places approach the creek, and in some instances form spurs of land; in other instances steep side-lying hills; and in many instances, the shelves or table land upon opposite sides of the Cattatunk nearly interlock, or pass by each other at abrupt turns of that creek, and thus present very formidable obstacles to straight lines, gentle curves, and grades.


In addition to the preceding obstacles to a good location at a moderate cost, a considerable part of the valley was in a high state of cultivation, covered with numerous buildings, which it was desirable should be saved if practicable.


After having made these reconnoissances (sic), the small capital of the company to make this great extent of road, over such a section of country, admonished me that the utmost circumspection and care in the location, as well as in the choice of materials for the road, were indispensably necessary in order to insure a profitable investment of the stockholders' money.


Having stated the preceding facts to the Directors, (some of whom accompanied me along the whole route selected for this railroad,) and the difficulties connected therewith, they unhesitatingly concurred with me in opinion, as to the measures to be taken to obtain a good location, and thus enable me to make their road at a moderate cost: to obtain this object, they approved of the plan I recommended, viz.: not to make a final location of the road until every part of the valley had been thoroughly examined by surveys, and levels of sections run across it, at short distances apart; together with measurements of all the buildings, and other improvements, that might be in the way of a good location.


In accordance with this plan, a base line was surveyed and leveled (sic) from Ithaca to Owego, through the whole extent of the valleys of the Six Mile, Beaver Meadow, Cattatunk, and Owego Creeks; beginning at an iron bolt placed by myself in the wharf at the Inlet of the Cayuga Lake, at the ordinary level of that lake during the summer months. Lines were then surveyed and leveled (sic), across the whole bed of the valley, at stations generally about five hundred feet apart on this base line, and at right angles thereto; and in cases where it was judged needful for the purpose of obtaining a better location for the road, these surveys were farther extended to the foot of each hill.


In addition to the surveys and levels of these cross lines, every road, building, creek, and other object worthy of note, (and which, if practicable, were to be avoided in the final location of the road,) were measured, and the whole of the information thus obtained was laid down upon maps on a large scale; and all the elevations that had been taken of stations upon the base and cross lines, and of such other points as presented obstacles to the attainment of the best location, were written in figures at their proper places upon the same map.


Upon this map experimental lines and curves were projected with great facility during the winter season, and with as much certainty as could have been acquired by many surveys, levels, and examinations, made in the field: and in the spring these experimental lines and curves, from the summit of the road southerly to the Susquehanna River, (the lines and curves north of the summit having been previously laid out, and that part of the road put under contract,) being transited and leveled (sic), fully tested the great advantage of the preliminary surveys and maps.


Although a good location for part of the road was thus obtained, yet in consideration of the small capital to be expended it was considered good economy to expend some time in making further examinations, in order to save expense where it was practicable to be done, in crossing and re-crossing the Cattatunk Creek, passing around spurs of hills, and ascending or descending from the shelves or table land found upon both sides of that creek.


The point of land projecting from the west hill, from the county line, 11 miles south-easterly from Ithaca, extends so far easterly as to leave only a valley 200 yards in width between it and the east hill, for the passage of the waters of the Cattatunk. As this point of land (the top of which is level for a considerable distance) lays directly across the track selected as the most eligible for the ground lying to the north and to the south of that place; and the table land upon its top was found so high above the low ground on each side of it, as to have required too great an expenditure of money in deep cutting and heavy embankments, to be adopted, it was therefore avoided by passing in the valley around the foot of that spur, with a curve of 7,000 feet radius, the valley not admitting of a longer curve.


The bend in the line at this place made it necessary to encounter deep cutting and heavy embankments through a low point of the east hill, near Mr. Lane's tavern, which projected into the swamp, north of the county line: or to apply one or more reverse curves to avoid it, in doing which, the line was again thrown upon upland requiring deep cutting and heavy embankments to the north of that place.


Various lines were run to avoid the deep cutting at Lane's hill, and after a careful examination of all of them, and of the infirm ground in the swamp north of that hill, it was found, that to make the best road, it would be the best economy to encounter that deep cut; the straight line crossing that hill has, therefore, been adopted.


This cut consists principally of gravel, and is 2,300 feet in length, with an average height of 14 feet, the greatest height being 21 feet.


By the aid of an economical plan of constructing dry walls to save the excavation of large slopes on the sides of the deep cut, the cost of this cut, including the great length of embankment to be made with this excavation at each end of the hill, will not much exceed the same length of road grade north of the summit.


Important savings to the company were also made by these re-examinations, aided by the maps before spoken of, by reducing the curves at the eastern and western spurs of hills near the village of Candor, the most northerly of which passed around the eastern point of the hill, at Booth's mill pond, near the junction of the northern and western branches of the Cattatunk Creek. This curve was reduced to 7,000 feet radius, to avoid crossing and re-crossing the northerly branch of that creek; but it became necessary, by such removal of the line, to cross the more rapid Shanandagan Creek near its junction with the Cattatunk, about one mile north of the mill pond.


To have avoided the crossing of the Cattatunk Creek, at Booth's mill pond; by passing around the foot of the high land at that place, and crossing the creek at the village of Candor, would have required too small a curve to be safe for cars passing that place under high velocities; in addition to which, a small curve at this place would have made it necessary to make another small curve at the village of Candor, attended with more cost in excavation and embankment, or in removing buildings, than the re-crossing of the creek at that village. A due regard to economy, and safety, recommended the adoption of the line that crossed the Cattatunk at the head of Booth's mill pond, upon a curve having a radius of 7,000 feet, and re-crossing that creek at Candor.


The next crossing and re-crossing places for the road over the Cattatunk, are at Chidsey's mill pond, eight miles north of Owego, which lies in crescent form, at the foot of a steep side-ling hill of the same form, upon the east side of the Cattatunk, which is composed of hard pan, clay, and quick-sand, well known to be very expensive to excavate, and bad materials for road. To have constructed the road along the east side of this pond, to avoid crossing and re-crossing it near this place, would not only have required a small curve along the pond, but another small return curve would have been necessary to get the road upon favorable ground for its continuance southerly. Such line would have been very expensive, even if no regard were had to the injury to be done to Mr. Chidsey, by passing through his mill yard, and thus damaging his property.


After crossing to the west side of the Cattatunk Creek at the head of Chidsey's mill pond, it was found impracticable to continue upon that side of the creek, with due regard to cost and to curves, on account of the ledges of rock, deep cuttings and heavy embankments, that must have been encountered at Robinson's mill pond, and Williams' hill.


These were avoided, by crossing to the east side of the Cattatunk below Chidsey's mill, re-crossing it to the west at Anderson's Island and Williams' hill, and again re-crossing the Cattatunk Creek, for the last time at Mr. Woodbridge's lane and bridge. The road embankment will, nevertheless, be slightly washed by this creek at three places to the south of this bridge.


The crossing at Anderson's Island, and re-crossing at Mr. Woodbridge's, were made necessary by the easterly course of the creek, from that island to a steep and crescent form of the east hill, composed of clay and quick-sand, or hard pan; and by the westerly course of the creek, on and near Mr. Woodbridge's land, until it again washes the foot of a steep west hill; along which it runs nearly to its junction with a rapid flood brook, from a valley of the westerly range of hills.


The line of road generally crosses the Cattatunk Creek with considerable obliquity, and some extra expense must be incurred, to pass the streams under the road, as nearly at right angles as practicable. It, however, crosses the Owego Creek, (about two miles from the village of Owego,) nearly at right angles.


This is considered the most difficult stream upon the line to pass in safety, and will require a heavy expenditure of money, as may be seen by the accompanying estimate of masonry, &c. The Cattatunk Creek, from Candor to Owego, being in times of freshets navigable for arks, the viaducts to be built across that stream must, of course, be elevated to such a height as to admit of their passing under them.


The road bridges, built across that creek by the inhabitants of the country, are from 9 to 12 feet above the level of low water, at those places. Several of them have been built for many years, and all of them have been found sufficiently elevated to admit of the passage of arks descending that stream.


When the prices of lumber and fuel, in the valley of the Cattatunk, are so much increased as to make it the interest of the inhabitants to clear off the hills, or mountains, bounding the valley of that creek; the rain and melted snow descending from those mountains without being checked in their passage by any vegetable growth, may be expected to increase the height of the floods in that creek; and of course to give that water an uninterrupted passage under the railroad, the height and length of the viaducts to be built across the creeks, must be increased beyond what might now be considered ample dimensions for them.


These increased dimensions for the viaducts, (of which there must be in number 8 small and 8 large ones, and together amount to from 960 to 1030 feet in length,) will considerably increase this item of expense in the construction of the road—not probably chargeable to grading.


The great abundance of building stone to be found in the neighborhood of the Cattatunk and Owego Creeks, will enable me, with good economy, to substitute abutments and piers of solid masonry, for wooden trussels (sic), in building the viaducts across those creeks.


The superstructure of wood to be laid upon those abutments and piers, if made after the model exhibited, and recommended to your Honorable Board, will, it is believed, be sufficiently firm to admit the spaces between them to be increased to forty feet.


When these superstructures of wood decay, instead of replacing them with wood, they may be substituted by arches of solid masonry, by buiding (sic) an additional pier between each of those now to be erected.


From these reconnoissances (sic), surveys, and examinations, it became manifest that the maps before mentioned (which comprised the elevations and improvements of the whole district of country deemed at all eligible for the location of your railroad) had enabled me, at a very small cost, to select for this road the most gentle grades, (the maximum rise being reduced to 2113/100 feet per mile,) curves of the greatest radii, (being from 7,000 to 100,000 feet, except at the villages at the northerly and southerly terminations of the road,) straight lines of the greatest length, and a route the most eligible and least costly that the country would afford; and that, too, with more certainty of being the best, and at much less cost than it could have been done without these preliminary surveys and maps.


I now have the satisfaction of assuring your Honorable Board, that the whole road is located, (except about one mile at the village of Owego, which has been omitted at the request of some of the Directors,) and that it is my firm and honest conviction, that by the above mentioned mode of proceeding in making the preliminary surveys and maps, I have obtained the most eligible routes, grades and curves the most gentle, with straight lines connecting them of the greatest length that the country would afford; and that the cost of constructing the road (taking into consideration the natural obstacles to be overcome) will be found unusually small, and much less than could have been reasonably anticipated, by any person having only the slightest claim to experience in works of this kind; and further, that the plan and location which has been adopted, will save to the stockholders in the construction of their road, a sum of money amounting to at least one third of the whole cost of grading it; and that the amount of work to be done upon it is so reduced, as also to save one year in the time required for its construction, when compared with the best location that could have been obtained without the aid of those preliminary surveys and maps.


It affords me much pleasure, gentlemen, to be assured that your Honorable Board appreciate the savings thus made by me; and to know that you have done me the kindness, as well as the justice, to award me your unanimous approbation.


Preliminary Surveys and Experimental Lines,
preparatory to the final location of the Inclined
Planes at the Ithaca Hill.


One of the most formidable obstacles that has presented itself in the location of this railroad, is the great elevation of the ground at the summit between Ithaca and Owego, over which the railroad had to be taken; and the unfavorable situation of the land and rocks between that summit and the Ithaca flats.


This summit, as before mentioned, lies 8½ miles south-easterly from the village of Ithaca, and is 596 feet above the level of the Cayuga Lake at its summer height.


The Ithaca flat is about one mile in breadth between the Inlet bridge and the foot of the hill bounding it to the south; the greatest elevation that could be obtained (at a moderate cost) for the road at the foot of that hill, by building it upon embankment from the Inlet to that place, did not exceed 12 feet above the level of the lake; which being taken from the elevation of the swamp at the summit, (596 feet,) left an elevation of 584 feet between the Ithaca flats and the summit swamp, to be overcome in a distance of 7½ miles, by locomotive or stationary power; and amounts to an average rise of 78 feet per mile for this whole distance; which is a greater ascent than has yet been overcome by locomotive engines, constructed upon the most improved plan.


The valley of the Beaver Meadow and Six Mile Creeks was, upon examination, found to present insurmountable obstacles to the attainment of this grade, for this part of the road, within the means of the company's funds; it, therefore, became needful to resort to stationary power to overcome so much of this elevation as could not be attained, by applying to the ground between the inclined plane and the summit, an uniform or undulating grade, within the maximum ascent fixed upon for the whole of the road, (except the inclined plane,)  ?????? of a foot rise to 100 feet of base, or 2? ??/100 feet per mile.


An experimental line was run from the summit northerly, on a grade descending uniformly, at the rate of 5/10 of a foot base, to 100 feet of perpendicular rise, or 26 4/10 feet per mile, as far as it could be done with any prospect of success; this line and grade was found to be ineligible.


Numerous other lines and grades along both sides of the valley of the Six Mile Creek, as well as along the Cattatunk, were also examined; from all of which it was found to be impracticable, at a reasonable cost, to obtain a good location upon a level line, or upon one of uniform descent, either from the summit, any considerable distance southerly towards Owego, or northerly to the head of the inclined plane at Ithaca; and that an undulating line must, of necessity, be adopted for a considerable part of the whole route; it was, therefore, deemed most expedient to adopt an undulating line of gentle grade, (the maximum grade to be 21 12/100 feet per mile, or 4/10 of a foot rise to 100 feet of base,) in all cases where it would insure a saving to the company.


A good location for the road, over a considerable portion of the section of country lying between the summit swamp and the Ithaca hill, could have been obtained upon the east side of the Six Mile Creek, by encountering heavy cuttings and embankments near the mills upon that stream, and by applying to it an inclined plane and stationary power to overcome about 110 feet of elevation near the junction of the Beaver Meadow Brook with the Six Mile Creek, (about five miles south-easterly from Ithaca,) in addition to the inclined planes that must of necessity have been made in the neighborhood of Ithaca, to overcome so much of the remaining elevation between the foot of that plane (five miles from Ithaca) and the Ithaca flats, as could not be overcome by grading the road to its maximum ascent.


The great cost of making a road upon this side of the valley of the Six Mile Creek, together with the liability of increased inconvenience and damage, both to the merchant and to the company, from accidents and detention at an inclined plane such a distance (five miles) from the nearest market or village; when compared with a route that could be obtained at a less cost upon the west side the valley, without being compelled to resort to stationary power at any place, except at the Ithaca hill; where all the stationary power required for the whole road could he located at one place, and that, too, within less than half a mile of the village of Ithaca, and only about one mile from the navigable waters of the Cayuga Lake, gave advantages for the line on the west side of the valley of the Six Mile Creek, which could not be obtained for any line on the east side or in the bed of the valley of that creek: the west side of the valley of the Six Mile Creek was, therefore, selected as the most eligible for the location of the road.


After having, by means of the preliminary surveys before mentioned, found that the west side of the valley of the Six Mile Creek was the most eligible for the location of the railroad, further examinations of the ground upon that side of the valley were thereupon made, and the most eligible line and grade for the road, between the summit swamp and the head of the proposed inclined plane at Ithaca, was found to be between the elevations of 450 and 600 feet above the level of Cayuga Lake.


The most eligible route for 6½ miles of the road north of the summit, (and extending to the table land, near the top of the Ithaca hill, and within one mile of the Ithaca flats,) being thus brought to within such narrow limits, the next point to be attended to was the definitive location of this part of the route, and of the inclined plane to connect it with the road to be located upon the Ithaca flats.


The elevation of the summit swamp being, as before stated, 596 feet above the level of the Cayuga Lake, and the maximum grade for the road being fixed at 2112/100 feet descent per mile; it follows, of course, that if the ground would have admitted of the application of this maximum grade for the whole distance of 6½ miles, from the summit northerly to the head of the inclined plane, near Ithaca; that then the above elevation would have been thereby reduced 137 23/100 feet, and left the head of the plane only 458 72/100 feet above the level of the Cayuga Lake: if from this, the height of embankment (12 feet) made for the road bed at the foot of the inclined plane be taken, there would have still been left an elevation of 446 72/100 feet to be overcome by stationary power, which is 64 28/100 less than that of the line adopted.


But the ground between the head of the plane and the summit, along the line traced by this grade, was, upon examination, found to be ineligible for a good location, and it of course was rejected. Various other experimental lines and grades were applied to the ground lying between the summit and the head of the inclined planes, of which the one hereinafter described, being found the most eligible route, both as to line and to grade, that this section of the country would afford, it was adopted.

[To be continued.]

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