The history of the Adirondack Division began before New York Central's presence in the area. The narrow gauge Herkimer, Newport & Poland line had been built in 1882. William Seward Webb acquired this line, standard gauged it in 1891 and extended it to Remsen. He then set out to build a line northward through the Adirondack Mountains from Remsen to Malone. Construction was completed in record time and he began service in the fall of 1892 with through trains from Herkimer to Montreal. He included branch service from Lake Clear Junction to Saranac Lake.
In May, 1893, The New York Central took over Webb's line, then known as the Mohawk & Malone, operated it as their Adirondack Division, and changed the southern terminus from Herkimer to Utica. Mileposts, however, always tied to Herkimer, hence the "H" prefix on milepost references. The NYC soon extended its Saranac Lake branch though town to join the earlier built narrow gauge Delaware & Hudson and these two lines shared a new union station in Saranac Lake. From there, the dual-gauge Saranac and Lake Placid Railway soon opened so that NYC connecting trains from Lake Clear Junction ran through Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. The D&H standard-gauged their line in 1903 and dual gauge tracks were removed.
Several branch lines were added to the Adirondack Division over the years including one from Fulton Chain (now Thendara) to Old Forge, another from Clearwater (now Carter) to Raquette Lake, and several lines operated by forest products companies and loggers. Many of the latter were short lived. And the Adirondack Division interchanged with the New York & Ottawa at Faust (later Tupper Lake Junction). This line later became the NYC’s Ottawa Division.
With the explosive growth of Adirondack tourism, traffic grew rapidly on the Adirondack Division and by the 1920s there were ten passenger trains a day (five up and five down), and on Friday afternoons during the summer months a sleeper left Grand Central with through service to Lake Placid, often running in as many as five sections.
In 1940 a connection was created from a point about five miles north of Loon Lake to the adjacent D&H line. This enable D&H trains to run over NYC tracks to Lake Clear Junction and then on to Lake Placid. The D&H then abandoned their right of way from this new connection into Saranac Lake. When the D&H finally pulled out of the area in 1946 they sold their 10-mile right of way between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to the New York Central.
Through passenger service from Utica to Montreal had ceased in 1953, however commuter runs from Malone to Montreal ran until 1958. The line from Utica to Adirondack Junction was largely intact until 1960, when the line was cut from Gabriels to Malone. In 1962 tracks were removed from Lake Clear Junction to Gabriels, and in 1983 from Malone to Canadian border. The NYC right of way from Lake Clear Junction north to Malone was closed and sold to Niagara Mohawk who uses it for power lines. Service on the Adirondack Division had begun to decline during the depression and by 1966 when passenger service ceased there was only one daily train each way.
The Adirondack Division passed to Penn Central control in 1968. The last regular freight service was in 1972. After a brief resurrection during the 1980 Olympics, the line lay in disrepair. A group of investors reopened the line in time for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and hoped to keep it running indefinitely after that but their efforts were not successful and operations lasted less than two years. In 1992 the Adirondack Scenic Railroad was organized and began operating summer tourist excursions trains between Thendara and Minnehaha. This operation became extremely popular and has expanded to several trains running out of Thendara, some north to Carter and some south as far as Otter Lake. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad hopes to eventually operate trains on the surviving portions of Adirondack Division track, from Remsen to Lake Placid.
—by Frank Carey