Penfield Station: The area’s first railroad station

Jim Burlingame
Westbound steam engine passing the Penfield Station, circa 1950. Washington Street crossing is in the foreground.

A short time ago, I wrote of the village train station at the end of Main Street. Below is a little history of the station that preceded it.

The New York Central and Hudson River RR was constructed through this region in 1853. Shortly thereafter in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passed through the same area.

A new station was erected in 1884 and called Penfield Station. Located on Washington Street north of the tracks, it was the place for all the people in the area to catch a ride on the railroad to points east and west. It thrived until East Rochester, Pittsford and Fairport had their own stations. A well-known victim of this new means of travel was the Erie Canal, which also served these villages. Weeks were replaced with days to go from New York City to Chicago.

In May 1897, the new village of Despatch (later called East Rochester) was dedicated with a large barbecue. ER already had its own station at that time, so on March 1, 1898, the last passenger train stopped at the old Penfield Station building. After that, all passenger traffic was diverted to the ER station. Penfield Station became a strictly freight stop.

The station slowly decayed until it was purchased in the 1960s by a local businessman and leased to two village residents: Joe Taverrite and a future mayor of the village Pete Quinzi. They remodeled it into a nightclub called The Freight House. The business closed in 1981. A fire occurred in August 1982. Shortly after that, another nightclub called ER Junction opened for business. Unfortunately, it only lasted three years. On July 22, 1985, another fire destroyed most of the rear of the building.

Again, the building sat vacant for two years until a former restaurant manager Stan Slade stepped forward with an idea that merged his passion for model trains and the historical significance of the building: Despatch Junction, a model train shop.

Stan opened his shop in 1987. He was and still is known as the man you go to see if you needed repairs or were interested in purchasing a model train. He also has a large collection of historical model trains for sale.

All went well until a warm day in May 2014, when a fire broke out on the loading dock of his business. When the local fireman arrived, the flames were going through the roof. The majority of his stock was lost in the blaze.

Not to be discouraged, he immediately planned on rebuilding. This he did, and it is a beauty. He is one of the last full-service model train dealers in central and western New York. If you need something, he most likely has it.

Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester.