Erie Railroad Biography - Cassie Mabie

From the February, 1919 issue of Erie Railroad Magazine:

There is nothing I know of that keeps its youth
Half so well as a tree and truth.

Thus philosophized good Dr. Holmes in his time, but we may now add the Erie railroad employe to this youthful list, particularly if he has the good fortune to live among the healthful green hills of old Rockland county, New York, where at Sparkill, within a mile of Piermont, the terminus of the original line of the Erie, there live the two oldest Erie veterans, "Cassie" Mabie and "Garry" Iseman.

Mr. Mabie, who is now in the 103d year of his age, is probably one of the oldest men now living. He was born on a farm within 300 yards of the spot where he now and always has lived, on August 4, 1816. He is the son of Adolphus Mabie and Rachel Bell, families that have their roots in the earliest settlements. His sire was a Revolutionary patriot, and "Cassie" treasures the old flint-lock musket with which his dad fought at the battle of Haarlem Heights.

A more gruesome relic is an old tomahawk given him by his grandmother, who had it from her Indian neighbors, and "Cassie" remembers well hearing his father-in-law, Ralph Ver Bryck, tell how he melted up his pewter plates for bullets.

"Cassie" was a young man when construction was begun of the ten-mile section of the Piermont end of the route on August 15, 1838, but his memory still recalls virile pictures of those pioneer days when he drove an ox-cart during the building of it.

For several years past he has been blind, and does not leave his room, but his mind is active, and his general health good, and he likes to have the current events, particularly of the great war, read to him.

A neighborly little walk over the hills from the Mabie home will bring us to see "Garry" Iseman, where the latch-string is always out and a characteristic welcome awaits one. "Garry" is unique in Erie annals, being the oldest engineer now living. He was born near Piermont on May 18, 1824, and is now 95 years young and running strong.

"Garry" was five years old when Horatio Allen ran the "Stourbridge Lion," the first locomotive on this continent, on the D. & H., in 1829; but in 1836, when but a lad of 12 years, he was driving a dirt cart in the construction work in the building of the Piermont "branch."

In 1845 "Garry" entered the Erie employ as a fireman. There were at that time only five old wood-burning engines, and "Garry" fired on No. 2.

In 1847 he was made an engineer, and ran on the first regular run from Piermont to Port Jervis. So far as known he is the last survivor of that historic event.

"Garry" is very much of a man; he is very human, and one might say sui generis; and his humor, unstudied and spontaneous, enlivens his reminiscences, which are a delight to his callers.

On a recent visit we found him enjoying his usual good health. Of course, we had to inspect his famous wood-pile, for "Garry" keeps fit by chopping wood, and he has a pile of it as big as a house. He also finds time to go fishing in the Hudson frequently, and his many friends confidently expect him to continue to nourish like a green old oak when a hundred years have gone.

CORNELIUS MABIE, known far and wide among railroad men as the oldest living man of his craft, died August 20 (1920) at Sparkill, N.Y., aged 104 years. He was born within a few hundred yards of his last home, August 4, 1816. When oxen were doing the freighting business in the 30's, preceding most of the canals, "Casey" Mabie wielded a whip; when canals were built he helped build the lock houses along the banks; and when work on the Erie railroad was begun he turned his hand on this job, too, for he was a good carpenter. He helped build many of the first stations west of Piermont.

Of late years Mr. Mabie had been blind and confined rather closely to his home. A sketch of his life, written for the ERIE RAILROAD MAGAZINE by the late Col. John S. Bell, contains the following:

"Casey" (Cornelius) Mabie was born at Tappan, Rockland county, New York, August 4, 1816. He is still living in the house he built in the early forties, a few hundred feet from where he was born.

At the age of 24, in 1840, he began work — a carpenter for the New York & Erie Railroad. He helped construct the freight depot at the end of the pier, and also the shops at Piermont; and with my father (five years older than he), they built what stations the railroad had between Piermont and Suffern, which didn't amount to much.

He worked for the company many years. For the past twelve years he has been blind, otherwise in excellent health. I visited him once, and sometimes twice, each year. I have known him since I was big enough to remember anybody. Notwithstanding I am much younger than he, he is exceedingly glad to have me call on him. These visits of mine began five or six years ago. Until that time I hadn't seen him in many years. There is no one now living whom he knew when he was a boy.

After the opening of the road in 1861 to Dunkirk he and a few others, including my father, were given passes by the then president of the road for a trip over the Erie. They were gone about a week. I remember the occasion. He spoke of that to me a short time ago. That was the first and only time he was ever so far away from home. He practically lived and worked in the neighborhood of where he lived and Piermont for eighty-five years.

Mr. Mabie three years ago sent a letter to the editor of the ERIE RAILROAD MAGAZINE, in which he said he had had read to him from the November, 1916, Magazine an article entitled "Freight Trains Without Rails." He said he was much interested in the story. He took occasion also to say that he had passed the century mark, making reference to what was contained in the following lines:

"I'm growing fonder of my staff;
I'm growing dimmer in my eyes;
I'm growing fainter in my laugh;
I'm growing deeper in my sighs;
I'm growing careless in my dress;
I'm growing frugal in my gold;
I'm growing wise—I'm growing—yes,
I'm growing old."

These lines impelled Mr. Mabie to write as follows:

"I fill that bill with the exception that for the past dozen years or more I am blind. I, too, have driven oxen when the wagon was filled, sometimes with apples, corn, potatoes, wood, cider and many other things; also the plow, but never in a country where there were Indians, deer and antelope or sage hens. But I have driven them where there were no railroads, and before there were any railroads in the world. I first worked on the old New York & Erie seventy-seven years ago, when I was but twenty-three years old, and I doubt if there is another man now living that worked on the "Old Erie" when I first worked on the road."

Back to Erie Page