Lehigh Valley Railroad engine 2089 pulls the Black Diamond passenger express at the Ithaca, New York, station, 1927. Courtesy of The History Center in Tompkins County.
by Gene Endres
The Black Diamond Trail is a “rail trail” of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It follows the former Lehigh Valley Railroad route from Cass Park in Ithaca to Taughannock Falls State Park in the Town of Ulysses. A railroad from Ithaca to Geneva was chartered in June of 1870 and completed in September of 1873.1 When the railroad introduced a new deluxe train in 1896, it was named the Black Diamond after the road’s principal freight: anthracite coal, known as “black diamonds.” The name was chosen in a nationwide contest, won by Charles M. Montgomery, a hotel clerk in Toledo, Ohio. He received $25.1
The final passenger train through Ithaca ran in May of 1959, and the railroad grade up West Hill was disused except for a power line right-of-way. State Parks acquired rights to this path as a recreational route to Taughannock, with a relatively gentle grade, opening the new trail in the fall of 2016.
Gene Endres has lived in the Ithaca area since 1973, after growing up and being educated in northern New Jersey. Working for Ithaca College as an audio engineer, he also contributed many articles to the Ithaca Times, including a long-term series of “Postcards from the Finger Lakes.” He is fascinated by maps, railroads, and history and is contributing to the Names on the Land–Tompkins County project.
1 Fisher, Charles E. “America’s Most Famous Trains,” Railroad History (Bulletin of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society): pp.24–26. A Reprint of Bulletins No. 1 and 2 (1921).
2 Lee, Hardy Campbell. A History of Railroads in Tompkins County, DeWitt Historical Society, an imprint of The History Center in Tompkins County, Third Edition, 2008, revised and expanded by Winton G. Rossiter and John Marcham, p.31.