The Chautauqua Railroad Letterbox series is hidden in Western New York along the 30 miles of Chautauqua County's Rails to Trails. Chautauqua's Rails to Trails is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The ability to develop and maintain these multi-use trails depends on the volunteer labor and financial support of its members and the memberships of other organizations. Contributions are tax deductable. For more information, call 1 (716) 269-3666, or write: Chautauqua Rails to Trails, Mayville Train Depot, Route 394, P.O. Box 151, Mayville New York 14757, or click on the link above to visit their website (http://www2.cecomet.net/crtt).
I am a member of CRTT and have attended both social gatherings and work parties to maintain the trails. Big Jim, the trail manager of CRTT, has had letterboxing explained to him. He says it's not his personal cup of tea, but if it brings more people to use the trails, he's all in favor of it. The trails run from the Township of Portland in the north to the Township of Sherman in the south and are over thirty miles from end to end. The property is not quite continuous, but we're working on it. Occasionally, the 'trail' goes along the shoulder of a country road. CRTT owns the former railroad land including the right of way, a full fifty feet to either side of the center of the trail. All boxes will be found on CRTT property, not along the roads. Please do not trespass on the private property that edges the trails.
"Hear the rush of the mighty engines, hear the lonesome hobos call..."
Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. If you bring a garbage bag with you, we'll appreciate it. Be sure to bring your nature books. Hundreds of birds, animals and flowers have been identified. The trail is used by hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, joggers, naturalists, horseback riders, bird-watchers, and of course, letterboxers. P-) No motorcycles, ATVs or motorized vehicles allowed. Thank you. Please be courteous, slower trail users please keep right, faster trail users please give warning when passing. Pets welcome on leash only. The trail is also practice ground for surveyor students. Keep an eye out for survey and trail markers, they may come in handy. For the most part, the trail is hard-packed earth and kids can ride their bicycles most of the way. We can drive a repair truck to almost any point of the trail. There is the occasional downed tree (which gets removed as soon as we find out about it), or muddy section or small slope which needs to be climbed. The section between School Street and Highland Avenue is paved. The section north of Webster Road is gravelled. It will require an able-bodied person to go after the letterboxes as they are not on the trail itself.
Each letterbox in the series is a railroad station. Each stamp is a different type of railroad car. While both the station names and the railroad cars have been inspired by towns, historical markers, landmarks, and sights along the trail, it wasn't always possible to put the station or the stamp near its inspiration. Keep a sharp eye on the map and while on the trail and you should be able to spot the inspiration for everything. Anyone who sends me a complete list of which railroad car is in which station will be mailed a Certificate of Completion naming them an "Engineer of the Chautauqua Railroad Letterbox Series" My e-mail address is: email@example.com. If you're planning ahead, drop me a line. If my schedule permits, I'll walk the trails with you. If you're planning to do the entire trail in one day, make an early start of it. It will take you 10-12 hours to get all the letterboxes.
Patronize our local merchants. You might find the local maps of the county to be more useful than the AAA maps. **HINT!!** You might want to also check out the other letterboxes in Chautauqua County: Brightly Shining, Dunkirk View, Hawk Watch (confirmed missing), Knight's Tour (confirmed missing), Lake Erie Picnic, Little Bluebird (confirmed missing), Little Fishie (confirmed missing), Luensman Overlook, Primoris Arca, Silliness at Chautauqua Gorge, and True Blue Rose. And more to come. P-)
"He's leaving... on that midnight train to Georgia..."
Definitions: "Limited Parking" -- 1 or 2 cars; "Some Parking" -- 3 or 4 cars; "Parking" -- 5 or more cars; "Train Depot" -- actual, physical building; "Train Station" -- a letterbox. (El:XXXX') -- The trail is XXXX feet above sea level at this point. The ancient Romans defined a mile as a thousand paces. So do I.
The Chautauqua Railroad Letterbox series starts in Portland Park on Route 20. The park has shelters with picnic tables, porta-pottys and a playground. The perfect spot to start a letterbox run. The old Portland train depot is now the Town of Portland Historical Society Railroad Depot Museum. The Brocton Recreation Trail begins on the eastern side of the park heading south. Fifty paces past the park will put you between two stream beds, one active, one dry. If you're there the day after a heavy rain, the dry bed will have a small stream, the active bed will be a small river. Portland Station is behind the northern-most tree growing out of the rocks on the far side of the dry streambed. [*Sigh!* No it's not. Confirmed missing. I will carve a replacement shortly and find a different hiding place. Apparently this one wasn't as good as I thought.] The trail passes through the Village of Brocton via School street in back of the high school. When you're on the paved section of The Brocton Recreation trail, look for a large boulder. Brocton Station lies behind it. A concrete block is not a boulder. The trail crosses Highland Avenue, and apparently stops at Webster Road. It doesn't. Go directly across Webster Road and continue parallel to the driveway and shelter where the farm equipment is stored. You'll be passing by numerous vineyards. In the fall, you can take a deep breath and almost smell the wine. The trail ends at Ellicott Road. The next stretch of former railroad line is on privately owned land. There is parking available in Portland Park, on Highland Avenue, and on Ellicott Road. The parking areas at the foot of School street, and on Webster Road are private property. Please do not park there.
"Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Track 29..."
The 'trail' continues along the shoulder of Ellicott Road (1.6 miles), heading west and turns south onto Thayer Road (0.6 miles). If you drive a mile and a half south on Thayer, you can visit Luensman Overview Park and see Dunkirk, enjoy the view, have a picnic, or watch for hawks(confirmed missing). Lots of hawks. The Alison Wells Ney Trail begins at Thayer Road. (El:700') Actually, if you're a completist, the trail extends some 300 yards northeast from this point before abruptly terminating at a private property border. The main trail heads south of Brocton, runs southward to Prospect Road, and gently climbs the Lake Erie Escarpment, offering vistas of Lake Erie. Two hundred paces past Prospect Road will put you on the landbridge marking the spot of the 1872 Christmas Eve train wreck. A railroad trestle at this spot collapsed sending the train into the gully below, killing 23 people. An additional three hundred fifty paces of hiking will bring you to a bench where you can sit and rest. Five trees sharing a common base are nearby. Prospect Station sits in the center. The trail continues west for a short time and then turns back to head east. It then turns abruptly south and ends at Bliss Road. Parking is available at Thayer Road and Prospect Road. There's a picnic table in the shade at Prospect Road if you want to break for lunch. Limited parking is at Woleben Road and Finley Road (El:1000') where the trail crosses the roads.
Across from Bliss Road, (El:1250') The Laurie A. Baer trail, one of the shortest named sections of the Chautauqua Rails to Trails, begins. It passes south thru the wetlands and woods and ends at the Niagara Mohawk right-of-way on Plank Road. Somewhere on Laurie's trail, is an old railroad bridge. To the west of the bridge are wetlands. If you sit patiently and quietly, you can watch the Great Blue Herons fish for their dinner before returning to their nests. To the east is a beaver dam, now abandoned by its builders. Twelve paces east of the dam is a single crab apple tree. Chautauqua Station hides at its base. Parking is available at Plank Road. (El:1325')
"On a warm summer evening, on a train bound for nowhere..."
The next stretch of former railroad property is on privately owned land and we're still working on acquiring it. The 'trail' takes to the shoulder of Plank Road and travels south (1.0 miles) to Honeysette Road. The trail resumes off Honeysette Road. (0.2 miles) You'll come into Mayville on a path along Lake Chautauqua. You'll cross Sea Lion Drive, where the HMS Sealion was built.
The Sea Lion is a full-scale replica of a 16th century three-masted, square-rigged English merchant sailing ship. She was originally comissioned on Chatauqua Lake in Mayville, New York in 1985. In 1992, she was sold to The Buffalo Maritime Society and taken to Buffalo, New York. She operated in Lake Erie Harbor until she sank in 1999. She was raised in 2000 and towed to her current location in Barcelona Harbor, New York where she's being re-built by The Sea Lion Restoration Group To see her, simply take Route 394 North out of Mayville. The route ends right at Barcelona Harbor on Lake Erie.
"... on a train they call The City of New Orleans, ..."
The trail follows the Lake Chauatauqua shoreline and comes out alongside the Watermark Restaurant. Continue south to the Mayville Train Depot, the home of Chautauqua County's Rails to Trails. If you're there during visiting hours, drop in. There's a huge map of the entire trail system that takes up one whole wall. Sign the visitor's book and state you're a letterboxer. This will help me promote letterboxing to the organization. Parking is available in Mayville. If you're doing this in two trips, this is probably the ideal break point. In addition to lovely picnic spots along the lake, there are numerous restaurants in Mayville as well as other attractions in Mayville.
Behind the Mayville Train Depot is Jesse, a pillar of the community and a shining example to all who know him. To Jesse's left are the three crying sisters. If you're into Geocaching, check the hip pocket of the middle sister. P-) After you've replaced the geocache, go directly to the lake by the shortest possible route. Watch your step. When you reach the lake, turn around and come halfway back. Stamp in at Mayville Station . The trail continues southward to the loveliest belle on the lake. After you've paid your regards to the lady, continue southward to the bandstand gazebo where the seating is both patriotic and environmentally safe. If you're here at sunrise or sunset, sit and watch the Great Blue Herons feeding on the lake. After they've finished their dinner, follow the setting sun.
"Drivin' that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you'd better, watch your speed."
The trail begins (El:1325') beyond the red wappat behind Boxcar Barney. What? You don't have a red wappat in your town? How about a nice blue one? Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. P-( The trail passes through woodlands and farmland, across the top of Chautauqua Lake, ending at Route 430. (El:1425') The iron rods on side of trail are from old mechanical switch levers from the tracks in Mayville. There is NO parking available on Route 430.
The trail begins at Route 430 directly across the road from the end of the Nadine and Paul Webb trail. To your far right is Schoolyard Hill, the site of the last public hanging in New York State. Contrary to story and legend, if the rope breaks, the condemned is not declared innocent and set free. He just has to wait while someone runs into town for a new rope. After all, he did bludgeon his wife to death with a fireplace poker. The trail runs southward, passing through woodlands and offering peeks at the agricultural diversity of the area. There is parking on Bentley Road, where the trail ends. (El:1525') The next stretch of former railroad is on private land.
"I've been workin' on the railroad, all the live long day..."
The 'trail' follows the shoulder of the road, south (0.05 miles) on Bentley Road, west on Hannum Road (1.2 miles), and then south on Summerdale Road (0.5 miles). The Ralph C. Sheldon, Jr. Trail begins on Summerdale Road, right where the Westside Overland Trail (El:1680') crosses Summerdale. I intend to plant letterboxes along that trail as well eventually. If you take the Westside Overland Trail north, you'll end up at Chautauqua Gorge at the end of Hammum Road. Letterbox? Of course not! Planting a letterbox in Chautauqua Gorge would be silly! P-) It's a lovely park, so do take a tour (confirmed missing, will be replaced in spring) sometime. Parking is available on Summerdale Road and Bentley Road.
The Ralph C. Sheldon, Jr. Trail passes through a New York State forest, which is public land. Watch for the signs on your right. After you pass the ninth such sign from Summerdale Road, look for a fallen tree which formerly blocked the trail. The section across the trail has been removed. The rest of the tree remains. Follow the tree back to the hollow stump it used to stand on. Mount Pleasant Station lies within. Further along the trail, as you start to get close to urban areas, you'll come across the ruins of a concrete foundation for a house. A tree stump stands where the stairs used to be. The right hand side is a concrete cistern. Summerdale Station is inside under the leaves. It's only appropriate that a ghost town station should be found in the ghost of a house!
"You can ride the little train that is rollin' down the tracks at the junction..."
The trail crosses Lyons and Nettle Hill Road. Where Nettle Hill meets Route 430 is Summerdale (El:1660'), a ghost town. If you're hoping for strange noises, mysterious sightings and an abandoned saloon with a piano that plays by itself, you're in for a big disappointment. The only surviving artifact of this town is a one-room wooden clapboard building with a rusty sign reading "Summerdale Town Hall". The building is on private property and locked up. P-(
3/4 mile south of the Nettle Road gate is another landbridge which crosses over a stream. Downstream is the ruins of mill. The miller refused to allow the railroad access through his land. Two days later, his mill burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. The cause of the blaze was never determined. The rancher who lived upstream fared much better with the railroad. He allowed them through his land provided they built an accessway for his cattle to reach the fields without having to cross the tracks. Westfield Station is in the middle of the accessway. The good news is, you're very close to it. The bad news is, you're standing on the roof!
"If you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I have gone..."
Remember that mountain climbing gear I mentioned back in "Terrain:"? This is where you can use it. It is possible to climb down the side of the landbridge bare-handed, but a length of good rope makes it a whole lot easier. The tunnel is 27 paces south of the of the survey marker located where the woods stop and and the land bridge begins. There's a 1-3/4 mile marker (as measured from the other end of the trail) nearby, but unless you know where it is you'll miss it. Westfield Station is in the tunnel.
The trail continues through wetlands, which offer habitat suitable for beavers and migrating waterfowl. Over 175 species of birds have been identified in the wetlands by bird-watchers. Limited parking is available at Titus Road, where the trail ends.(El:1560')
"Take the last train to Clarksville, and I'll meet you at the station..."
The 'trail' follows the shoulder of Titus Road for a short distance west (0.1 miles) before turning onto Kendrick Road and heading south (0.7 miles). The Sherman Recreational Trail begins where Kendrick Road meets Park Road. The trail follows an abandoned railroad line due south until it meets French Creek. Where the trail turns to follow the creek, the abandoned railroad line continues for a short distance across an old railroad bridge over French creek before terminating at the Expressway. THE BRIDGE IS NOT SAFE!!! One railing is missing completely, the other is rusted through and no longer safe. It's a three story drop into a very shallow portion of French creek. Further along the trail is a spot where you can view the old railroad bridge in perfect safety.
The Nature Conservancy has declared French creek to be the most bio-diverse waterway in Northeastern America. In addition to the usual varieties of fish you'd find in a local waterway, nearly 100 rare and endangered species can be found there. The trail follows French creek west and runs through wetlands and pasture to end at the Village Park behind the Corral restaurant. Somewhere along French creek is a stand of trees between a bridge and a dry fire hydrant. Sherman Station is at the base. If there's a bench there where you can sit and watch the water go by, you're at the wrong stand of trees. There is parking at the Village Park.
The following letterboxers are hereby officially recognized as "Engineers of the Chautauqua Railroad Letterbox Series" for having completed the entire series.