Remembering Penn Yan's passenger depot

Gary Pinneo
The site of the former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station is this lot on East Elm Street, across the tracks from Morgan’s Grocery.

The railroad station was the first place visitors would see upon entering a town and there was considerable civic pride in the depot’s appearance. Each community wanted a distinctive building since its size and style affected the town’s status in relationship to its neighbor’s. A large town usually warranted a larger and more attractive station. But many smaller towns, not to be outdone, put great emphasis on the looks of their smaller scale station. After all, it was the entry point to their town — “The Gateway”.

Frequently, towns would build parks and gardens around their railroad stations and the railroad would hostgarden competitions along the line to beautify the area.

In the days before the advent of the automobile and the telephone, the depot was the principal transportation and communication center in the town and often the social center too. Train time was the most important time of the day. It was not unusual for everyone in town to know the passenger train schedule by heart. Hearing that train whistle in the distance, people would remark, “It must be the 6:57 from Elmira!” or some other train. Train time also meant the mail was in. Since the railroad used the telegraph to dispatch their trains, the station was also the telegraph office in most small towns. As a result, the telegraph operator or the station agent had the best connection to the outside world. They were the first to know and get important news and information including weather forecasts and updates.

Mail was delivered by train. Railway Post Office cars ( RPO’s) were the U.S. Post Office on wheels. The Railway Express Agency (REA) was the forerunner of the modern day express services such as UPS or FedEx.

Penn Yan had two train stations at one time.   The Pennsylvania Depot was located on East Elm Street across the tracks from where Morgan’s Grocery is located. The New York Central Railroad had a station on the outlet just down from Birkett Mills. This was a spur line off the Fall Brook Line that ran from Lyons to Corning.

Passenger service on this line was discontinued in 1952. The railroad was washed out by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The railroad right away is now the Keuka Outlet Trail.