For almost as long as humans have been walking on this Earth, we have used hats. Whether they be for protection from the elements (with or without cat ears), for symbolic purposes, or simply for fashion, hats still remain an important part of our wardrobe to this day. Some historical figures are even well remembered for their hats, like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats, or Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. Today’s little bit of railroad history is an unofficial railroad timetable distributed by a hat salesman in Oneida, New York. The subject has come up on this blog before, where I have admitted my love for unofficial timetables.
If you ever wondered why many railroads began explicitly printing “Official Timetable” on their publications, it was certainly in response to the practice in the later 1800s and early 1900s for local businesses to distribute self-made timetables for the nearby train station with an ad for their shop on the other side. The marketing concept is both effective, and still commonplace today. If someone has something that is functional and useful that they will have close by that has your ad on it, there is a higher likelihood that when that consumer needs something, they will turn to you. Whether it be the unofficial timetable of yesteryear, or the box of matches (although not quite as common these days), fridge magnet, or wall calendar of today, all of these products are useful but also make you remember a particular business.
Although I try to focus my collection on the Harlem Division, it was hard for me to resist this purchase. Beyond my love for unofficial timetables, this card was probably the most quirky examples I had ever seen. And how can one say no to a cute puppy hiding in a hat? If I was looking for a hat in Oneida, surely I would have purchased one from Mr. Stone!
Watson A. Stone was born in 1847 and was a life-long resident of New York, spending much of his adult life in the Oneida area. Stone was an official sales agent for Knox Hats, a noteworthy New York City-based hat company that counted many wealthy and famous as patrons. According to popular lore every American president up until Kennedy wore Knox hats, and presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was wearing a Knox-made stovepipe hat during his influential Cooper Union speech. In addition to his business selling hats and boots, assumedly to all the famous, well-to-do, and fashion-forward folks passing through Oneida, Stone was the Oneida postmaster from 1881 until his death in 1888 (which places the publication of this card at some point before that year).
Other than being cute, the timetable hearkens back to a time when Oneida was traversed by several different railroads and was a maze of railroad tracks, simply a memory today. In the late 1950s and early 1960s several sections of the New York Central main line were relocated in upstate New York, including a section near Batavia (1957), and an area from Oneida to Canastota (1965). With that relocation, New York Central trains would no longer run through downtown Oneida, dashing anyone’s plans to hop off the train and quickly pick up a fashionable hat to wear.
Today, the former railbeds through town are an informal trail system, with plans to make it an official rail trail.