MIDDLETOWN—It’s confirmed: Railroad memorabilia events are a guy’s thing. Boys of all ages gathered at the Mulberry Senior Center in Middletown on July 26 for the annual Middletown Railroad Day event.
Visitors browsed vendor tables to see miniature train displays, buy vintage railroad artifacts, and talk with other guys who love railroads. Guest speaker for the event was Woodbury High School student Alex Prizgintas, 14, who spoke about E.H. Harriman’s Incline Railroad.
Joe Senese, board member of the Ontario & Western Railroad Historical Society, which sponsored the event, said “The Middletown Railroad Day is where people can come and get together, talk about trains, see model displays, and buy books and all kinds of other rare memorabilia, whether it’s toys or actual vintage railroad lanterns.”
Senese noted, “We do this to keep the history of the railroads alive in the area.” He said Middletown was a hotspot for Orange County since the early 1850s when the Erie first arrived. The city evolved around the shipment of goods, and the arrival of people from New York City on their way to resort hotels in the Catskills.
The O&W was the main mode of transportation for decades. “Railroads are such an important part of America’s history. Railroads built this country.” Railroads were replaced as people switched to car and truck transport.
Guys Like Trains
When asked why guys like trains, Kingston native Sean Woltman said, “When I was a little kid, my dad introduced me to his love of railroads. Trains are big, they’re heavy. They make a crazy amount of noise. They go fast, all this big heavy equipment flying by on these rails.”
Alex Prizgintas calls trains a work of art. “They are large and industrial but just look,” as he pointed to a vintage photograph of a steam engine, “even the outline of the engine itself—it’s just so artistic and so beautiful in my eyes.”
Woltman commented on the majestic quality of trains. Powered by steam, the locomotives seem to breath. “Actually, the steam locomotives are almost live creatures.”
He likes their design. But to him there’s more to it than the train’s great looks. “For me, geography and history are all combined in the interest of railroads. For the better part of a century and a half, the railroads built what we know of as North America.”
Woltman said when he was growing up his dad would sit with him at the kitchen table and tell him that trains brought him his little bowl of Cheerios.
Woltman was wearing his father’s jacket. Father and son formed a bond through their common love of trains. He said they would sit in the car, pull up to the tracks, and wait for the train to come by. “There’s a lot of love there.”
A Young Railroad Historian
Prizgintas is the youngest member and trustee of the Woodbury Historical Society and speaks at similar events in the region. His interest in local history brought an invitation from the New York Historical Society to be a summer intern.
His father Victor Prizgintas said Alex loves history, he loves to collect, and he loves to archive. In fact, “our house has become a museum. Just like you see the tables set up here, our house has all these items set up with little definitions attached to them.”
The young Prizgintas spoke about the railroad built by 19th century magnate E.H. Harriman—the E.H.Harriman Incline Railroad. Harriman’s estate in Arden was built 1,300 feet up a mountain.
Prizgintas said an informational flier stated, “Harriman had it constructed so that he could get off the Erie Railroad in Arden and drive his personal rail-car to the incline and board a platform which would lift that car up the mountain. From there, Harriman could drive his rail-car directly to his new mansion through a special entry into the basement.”
The mountain estate known as Arden was about half of the 40,000-acre property acquired by Harriman. The main house is at the top of a mountain east of the village. The family bequeathed lands for preservation that include Bear Mountain, Harriman, and Sterling Forest state parks.
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