Written by Robert L. Matthews
posted on December 13, 2011 07:21
Part Two – Four Track Series brochures, Number 10
While this subject may not resonate with many collectors, it became a favorite of mine many years ago when, on a Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to the Canton Antique Show. While it was a good show, my hunt for Thousand Island items was disappointing until the last booth. There a Thousand Island brochure caught my attention. Having never seen the brochure before, I had no idea as to its value and asked the dealer the price. She held up two fingers but did she mean two dollars, twenty dollars or two hundred dollars? Again “how much?” The irritated dealer replied “two dollars” and Four Track Series brochures became a part of my hunt.
The purpose of Four Track Series brochures was to advertise the benefits of railroad travel and to promote the various destinations serviced by the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad [NYC&HRRR]. In the first year  there were fourteen different brochures of which “The Thousand Islands” was number 10. “Fishing among the Thousand Islands” was added the next year and was numbered 15. In addition to “The Thousand Islands” other Four Track Series’ subjects were “The Adirondack Mountains,” “Two Days at Niagara Falls” and “The Luxury of Modern Railway Travel.” Over the years, the NYC&HRRR would publish brochures numbered as high as 40.
To claim that 1893 was the first year the Four Track Series Number 10 was published may not be entirely correct as Frank H. Taylor wrote and illustrated a brochure in 1892. It lacked a copyright date and the number 10 which leads me to believe it might have been an experiment with the NYC&HRRR to determine if such a brochure was worth publishing. Could it be that Frank H. Taylor originated the idea of the Four Track Series brochures and then sold the concept to the NYC&HRRR? If you look carefully at Taylor’s 1892 brochure, focus on the blue stamp in the lower right hand corner where you will see the word “London.” It seems apparent that the Thousand Islands were being marketed, not just locally, but internationally.
If you’re curious about Frank H. Taylor, please read the article “The Man from Shady Ledge” in the January 2010 issue of Thousand Islands Life, and in the same issue “Nancy L. Gustke’s “The Special Artist”, written by S. Smith.
The 1893 “The Thousand Islands” brochure contained 32 pages plus a fold out map. The many advantages of a visit to the Thousand Islands were enumerated plus there were pictures, articles on where to stay and what to do. All one had to do was buy a railroad ticket on the NYC&HRRR, sit back, enjoy the scenery and wait for the conductor to announce “we’ll be arriving in Clayton in five minutes.” Remember this was before automobiles, buses and airplanes. The best way, and maybe the only way, to visit the Thousand Islands at that time was by rail.
Eventually Four Track Series brochures would grow to almost one hundred pages. Advertising increased and descriptions of the area’s many interests were expanded. These brochures contained so much information that they eliminated the need for guide books [and they cost just ten cents or even better, send two 2 cent postage stamps and receive the brochure by mail]. Why have a Chamber of Commerce when the railroad, hotels and the steamship lines did such a great job in promoting tourism?
Soon the Thousand Islands began to lose some of its glamour and began to share the limelight with other regions. The area still had top billing but other vacation spots were gaining in popularity. Then in 1910 the name “Four Track Series” changed. The Thousand Island brochures published by the railroad still retained the number 10 but were labeled “Travel Series.”
What are the chances of finding a Four Track Series brochure today? My guess is very slim for a couple of reasons. First, these brochures are ephemera or written material not intended to be retained. When they became outdated, people threw them away. Then how did some survive? My guess is many were kept as mementos of a great vacation. Two, they are known as crossover collectables appealing to more than just Thousand Island collectors. You might find someone with little or no interest in the Thousand Islands but will buy railroad or NYC&HRRR items. Finally, the internet has facilitated the purchase and sale of such items.
Isn’t it fortunate that railroad service helped establish the Thousand Islands as one of the premier summer vacation spots in the world – and Four Track Series, Number 10 brochures are a part of that history.
By Robert L. Matthews, Fishers Landing
This the second of three articles Robert L. Matthews will write this winter giving us a sample of Thousand Islands memorabilia. The first, TI Collectables, Part I Squiggle Glass, appeared in the November 2011 issue.
Robert is the author of two popular books: Glimpses of St. Lawrence Summer Life: Souvenirs from the Thousand Islands: Robert and Prudence Matthews Collection, and A History of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, published in 2009. Bob presented five articles last winter. He and his wife Prudence ( well known River artist whose work was presented in Hooked on Prudence in 2009) have one of the most extensive collections of Thousand Islands memorabilia. When not at their beautiful River cottage at Fisher’s Landing, they live in St. Petersburg, Florida.