A train trip through Upstate New York aboard Amtrak takes you past many farms; fields of corn, apple orchards, and dairy cows flashing by outside the window. Yet there is one place along the Empire Corridor where the state’s cornucopia of agricultural abundance comes in direct contact with our intercity passenger rail system – the farmers market at the Utica train station.
Oneida County Public Market
For many years, my rail fan group has met on one Saturday in August at The Trackside Restaurant, located in the old station lunchroom and bar inside Utica Union Station. Arriving early, I always make a stop at the Oneida County Public Market, which is located at the station. The market is in a parking lot and the former Railroad Express Agency freight house just east of the main station building.
Since it was established in 2011, it has operated as a year-round produce market open every Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. At the market, you’ll find a large crowd of locals buying from a multitude of venders that sell everything from fresh produce to various handicrafts, jams, jellies, syrups, and preserves.
On one occasion, I recall as a passenger train came into the station. A vendor ran to the platform, delivering a big bag of caramel popcorn to an Amtrak crewmember, who had called ahead!
Historic Union Station
One of the attractions of the Oneida County Public Market is the opportunity to visit historic Union Station in Utica. The station opened in 1914 to serve the New York Central Railroad; the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad; and the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad. In 1975, the station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The monumental Beaux-Arts building is three stories high, with a granite first floor and buff-colored brick above. The façade is crowned by a brick parapet, with a large public clock flanked by eagles over the main entrance.
The station’s interior is an architectural treasure. The main waiting room rivals Grand Central Terminal in style and is also of considerable size. The interior walls are faced with gray Vermont and Knoxville marbles. Its coffered and barrel-vaulted ceiling rises 35 feet above the terrazzo floor and rows of wooden benches. It’s supported by a central row of columns faced with Botticino marble.
In addition to freight and passenger rail service, the complex also included office space for the New York Central Railroad. Back then, there was a lunchroom and bar, an opulent space which is now the Trackside Restaurant. The original barber shop, once common in train stations, remains in operation.
After World War II, the station deteriorated with the decline of rail travel, leading to an effort by State Assemblyman Nicholas J. Calogero and the fledgling Landmarks Society of Greater Utica to save the building. Restoration started when Oneida County purchased the station in 1978 from the Penn Central Railroad. Today the building is home to county offices, an office of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Oneida County Tourism Welcome Center.
Besides Amtrak, the Boehlert Transportation Center at Union Station is a terminal for the CENTRO local transit buses, and Greyhound, Trailways and Coach USA intercity buses. The Adirondack Scenic Railway also operates out of the station for its sightseeing excursions and seasonal and holiday trains.
To experience the “Handshake City”, hop on Amtrak to Utica. It’s an opportunity to see an historic train station, and after a visit to the Oneida County Public Market, you won’t go home empty handed.
TAKE AMTRAK! Utica is easily accessible by train, with four daily roundtrips on Amtrak. From the Hudson River Valley and Western New York, you can daytrip to Utica, arriving in the late morning on the first train and taking a late–afternoon train home.
Beyond the Utica Station
Downtown Utica has several restaurants and hotels within a mile of the station, including the historic Hotel Utica.
Home to generations of immigrants, Utica has a diverse culture and cuisine scene, thanks to a recent influx of refugees, including Bosnians, Burmese, Latinos, Russians, and Vietnamese.
Historic building buffs should check out the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute which is housed in a building designed by the Philip Johnson, the celebrated mid-20th century postmodern architect, and the Stanley Center for the Arts, located in a former baroque-style movie palace.
Utica Union Station is a true “union station” in that it serves by two railroads, Amtrak and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (ASR). The ASR has been in operation for almost three decades. It’s manned by volunteers and operates over state–owned tracks into the Great North Woods.
The railroad was built in the 1890s, originally traveling from Utica to Montreal through the Adirondacks. It was established by William Seward Webb, a businessman, public figure, and friend of the Vanderbilt’s, to provide access to the summer resorts and timberlands within what’s now the Adirondack Park.
By the early 20th century, the railroad merged into the mighty New York Central, becoming its Adirondack Division. After World War II, freight rail traffic declined, which led to the line’s abandonment in 1972.
To preserve the line for future use, New York State purchased the portion from Remsen (north of Utica) to Lake Placid. The first attempt at restoring service came during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Finally, in 1992, the ASR began successful, continuous operation of the train. In addition to running trains, it also maintains the tracks for the state.
The ASR also has several specials trains through the year, such as at Easter and during fall foliage season. The most popular are its Polar Express holiday excursions in November and December.
In 2019, the state government announced a $13 million investment in the railroad that will allow the ASR to extend its operations to Tupper Lake, home of The Wild Center, the expansive natural history museum of the Adirondacks and a popular attraction. The plan includes upgrades to Tupper Lake’s historic train station and building a maintenance facility.
The state also is helping fund a new maintenance facility near Utica Union Station, the ASR’s southern terminus. The 4,800 square-foot building will have two tracks, an inspection pit, and a repair room.
If you’re looking for a fun train ride into the wilderness, take Amtrak to Utica Union Station and ride the Adirondack Scenic Railroad northbound to adventure!