About the Central NY Chapter, NRHS

The Central New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society commemorates the past, present and future of our railroad heritage.

The importance of the railroads to the growth and expansion of the United States is a compelling story. We all share a genuine interest in this all-encompassing industry which has woven an iron path across the face of the nation.

It was this interest in preserving what had passed and what lay ahead that in 1935 inspired a group of historians to form the National Railway Historical Society. From fewer than 40 people, the NRHS grew to include more than 20,000 men and women, making it the nation’s largest rail historical society.

What is now the Central New York Chapter traces its roots to a meeting on Friday evening, Feb. 23, 1940. Six Syracuse members of a national group known as the Railroad Enthusiasts Inc. met at the DL&W freight office in Syracuse to discuss forming a local “division.” There were already divisions of the RRE in Rochester and Buffalo. A Buffalo member came to help organize the “Central New York Division.” This information was found in the Chapter archives in a formal leather bound “Minutes” book, curiously embossed “Syracuse Division Railroad Enthusiasts, Inc.”

The minutes revealed that because of WWII, meeting attendance dropped to as low as three or four people. But, in January 1942, the division had 31 members. Roland Cole was chairman, Hobart Price was vice chairman, George Phelps was 2nd vice chairman, and James McFarlane was secretary/treasurer. The last entry for the division was “10 pm, Tuesday Evening, Jan. 12, 1943.” They stated that “the next meeting would be held at a member’s home at his convenience.” There was no mention of any problems. “A discussion followed on the club’s national affiliation for 1943. No conclusions were drawn except that we would keep our charter in the Railroad Enthusiasts.”

The next page states “National Railway Historical Society Inc., Syracuse Chapter, Minutes.” The first entry is the May 1, 1946, meeting. “Meeting was held at the home of Roland Cole, 1608 W. Genesee Street, and officers elected” – Charles Rich, president; and James McFarlane secretary/treasurer; Clemens Straub vice president (field trips); Les Auborn, vice president (publicity); and Ben Franklin, entertainment committee. There was no mention of national affiliation paperwork. The National Charter followed the lead of Buffalo and Rochester, which switched to the NRHS a few years earlier.

The Central New York Chapter, NRHS, is a historical and educational group dedicated to enhancing your enjoyment, knowledge, and involvement with railroads in and around Central New York. The Chapter was incorporated in the State of New York on September 19, 1966, as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. As such, contributions to the Chapter are tax deductible.

Current Chapter membership is around 150. We are one of more than 160 chapters of the National Railway Historical Society, which has a membership of around 13,000. We meet monthly at the NYS Fairgrounds.

In addition to meetings, the Chapter is involved in equipment and locomotive restoration, museum restoration programs, photography sessions, seminars at Syracuse University, railroading theme shows, model train displays, railfan excursions, and maintenance of a Chapter library and archives.

Chapter projects include…

    • Historic railroad equipment at the New York State Fairgrounds
    • The annual Great New York State Model Train Fair each November at the NYS Fairgrounds
    • Martisco Station Museum (former NYC Auburn Branch station)
    • Central Square Station Museum (former NYO&W and NYC station)
    • Restored two EMD E8 diesel passenger locomotives, painted DL&W Railroad scheme in honor of local RR heritage
    • Participation with “Operation Lifesaver” program, a national organization promoting railroad safety
    • Participated in former OnTrack train operation in Syracuse
    • Host of 1998 NRHS national convention
    • Host of 2008 NRHS national NRHS Directors meeting
    • Restored NYC caboose 19144 at NYS Fairgrounds in 2019

Many of our accomplishments are achieved by volunteers from within our ranks.