Where The Heck Is Galena, NY?
Published: February 5th, 2020
By: Joe Angelino

Perhaps you’ve seen that retired and modified school bus which drives all over central New York. The one with the bicycle racks and racing decals is the one of which I write. Emblazoned on both sides in bold red letters, of varying font sizes, is Galena Growlers.

The Galena Growlers is a middle school-high school mountain bicycle racing team with riders and coaches from the Norwich and Sherburne area. They have many boys and girls as members, and they race their mountain bikes on trails all over New York State. The goal of the Galena Growlers is to get “more kids on bikes.” More kids on bikes mean heathier, stronger youth who are learning sportsmanship along with a lesson of responsibility toward the environment and trail stewardship.

Robert Baker is the energetic force behind the Galena Growlers, and the driver of the bus is also on his resume. Energetic force is an understatement to describe Rob. This is a guy who used to run from his North Norwich home to Earlville and back – for fun. Rob is a Naval Academy graduate who chose a career of leading Marines. Now retired from active duty, he returned to upstate New York to continue his good deeds.

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But what about that name, Galena Growlers? Is Galena a place, a thing, or an animal? Earlier it was mentioned Rob hails from North Norwich, which is how half of the Galena Growlers name came into use. Stay with me, because the column takes a turn backward here.

In the days before Interstate highways, the railroads were the only way to travel a long distance across the land. Laying down a single track mainline meant meticulous coordination was needed when it came to the speed and direction of trains. Head-on collisions were always a lousy occurrence for railroad passengers and trainmen. For some reason, these “cornfield meets” happened frequently in North Norwich.

Part of the reason trains repeatedly smashed into each in an around North Norwich was its name. It was very similar in sound and letters to the larger station a few miles south, Norwich. Remember, railroads of the period depended on telegraph – the dots and dashes of long ago – to transmit information about trains passing stations along the main line. A telegraph operator had to quickly discern the difference between electric “ticks” spelling the names of the two stations. This proved vexing, sometimes with deadly results. Something in North Norwich had to change.

In the November 1897 edition of the Travelers Official Guide of the Railroads & Steam Navigation Lines, on page 35, it states; the Delaware & Lackawanna R.R. named station at North Norwich, NY on the Utica Division has been changed to Galena. There is no mention found when the competitor (and parallel) New York Ontario & Western R.R. changed the name of their adjacent station. There are O&W ticket stubs from the early 20th century, also using the name Galena.

While on the topic of trains, Galena, and racing, here’s a tale passed on by generations of railroad families (mine included) in the Norwich area. For nearly a century, two railroads served Norwich. Both had passenger stations on East Main St, the DL&W, as mentioned earlier, and the NYO&W. The tracks of each railroad converged just north of Borden Ave and were side-by-side for miles. A short trek on the Greenway Hiking Trail proves just how close the two tracks were.

The parallel tracks continued north, behind the plaza, then visible in the field across from BOCES, through Galena until a point north of North Norwich where the DL&W went toward Sherburne, and the NYO&W went toward Smyrna. There is still an overpass where the current NYS&W railroad crosses over the abandoned rail bed of the O&W.

There are accounts of northbound trains on both railroads simultaneously departing their respective Norwich stations as talented engineers managed their speed. Hence, the two trains were side-by-side, traveling toward Galena. Sometimes the competitive spirit of the men couldn’t be contained, and the race was on. It is said passengers would cheer and jeer at the people on the opposite train.

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In contrast, some frightened passengers complained to the conductors about the unauthorized speed contest. At least once, the competition was so fierce, neither train made the mandatory stop at Galena. They continued north at high speed, leaving gawking passengers on the platform.

Now that we know where Galena, New York, is located, here are some other Galena facts. Just in case you happen to find yourself facing Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Galena is Latin for lead sulfide. There are 21 communities named Galena in the United States and one in Canada and another in Australia. There is a lovely park behind the North Norwich Town Hall named Galena Park, and also a namesake housing development called Galena Manor just off Route 12.

If you see Rob Baker and the big yellow bus, ask him about the second half of the name of his youth bicycle team; Growlers. Surely that doesn’t refer to the bottles used to transport beer.