Roundtable to Discuss Cortland County Railroad History

A panel of railroad scholars and buffs will give a presentation on “Railroads in Cortland County: Past, Present and Future” from 8-9:45 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, in SUNY Cortland’s Park Center Hall of Fame Room. Sponsored by the President’s Office and the College’s Center for Educational Exchange (CEE), the community roundtable is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served at 7:45 a.m.

All Community Roundtables are recorded and available as Webcasts on SUNY Cortland’s central Webcasting page at

This special, extended roundtable will explore the historical uses of rail service in this area as well as current and potential tourist destination opportunities. The speakers will include Sharon Todd, an associate professor of recreation, parks and leisure studies at SUNY Cortland, and Tom Trencansky, executive director of the Cayuga Nature Center.

Following the discussion, Vince Minnella, director emeritus of instructional resources at SUNY Cortland, will briefly introduce and then show the popular, 30-minute locally produced video, “That Lonesome Whistle: The Railroads of Cortland County,” to attendees who wish to stay beyond the usual ending time of 9 a.m.

The history of railroads in Central New York is rich and varied. Even decades after the railroad industry’s decline, a variety of small tourist train operations have continued intermittently in this region.

Todd will summarize results of a two-year study completed for the New York State Department of Economic Development by students in the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department at SUNY Cortland. The study explores the extent to which citizens would support and use a local tourist excursion train between Binghamton, N.Y., and Cortland. Todd will share results from a survey about ridership on the Central New York Maple Festival train, and ideas for other excursion trains and their psychological, economic, educational and community benefits.

Trencansky, a photographer of trains and railroads and the founder of the Cornell Railroad Historical Society, will share an entertaining musical presentation that highlights the scenes and long history of New York state and Cortland County railroads.

“That Lonesome Whistle” was produced by the Sperry Learning Resources Center in 1979 as a project supported by a SUNY Faculty Grant for the Improvement of Undergraduate Instruction.

A nostalgic look back at the rich history of railroads in Cortland County, the video highlights the vitality and economic impact of freight and passenger travel from the 1850s through the 1900s and on to its decline following World War II. Archival photographs take the viewer to the thriving passenger stations on Central Avenue and South Avenue. They will enjoy a virtual ride on the Cortland-Homer Horse Railway, which after becoming the Cortland and Homer Traction Company extended from South Avenue in the city to Little York in Preble.

Minnella, who produced and wrote the video script, was associate director of the Sperry Center when the video was taped. Marcia Carlson, SUNY Cortland professor emerita of recreation and leisure studies, directed the video with the help students in her Recreation Administration class. Morris Bogard, SUNY Cortland associate vice president emeritus for academic affairs, narrated the film.

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