Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Christiana | Last Stop in Lancaster County

Previously, on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline we left off in Lancaster County at Mine Ridge, the highest point on the PRR east of the Alleghenies. The route closely follows the original 1834 alignment of the PRR's predecessor, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, crossing through a gap in the ridge between Lancaster and Chester Counties and the divide between the Susquehanna and Deleware Watersheds. From the west, the line climbs the grade between Kinzer and Gap on a series of reverse curves in short succession following a brief tangent, attaining the summit at roughly milepost 50. The eastward descent starts into another  1-degree curve positioning the line into a long straight until reaching Christiana, the last station along the line in Lancaster County. In Christiana, the line again navigates another series of reverse curves flanking the town center followed by a sharp curve at North Bend where the line crosses into Chester County.

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century.

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century.

The area around Christiana took root in the 1690's after King Charles II granted William Penn 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River. Originally part of Chester County, Sadsbury Township was part of a land transfer to establish Lancaster Country in 1729. As a result, Sadsbury Township spanned the new county line, and thus became two separate townships by the same name in each of the neighboring counties. By the dawn of the 19th Century, Christiana began to develop around the crossroads of the Lancaster and the Gap & Newport Turnpikes, both major eastern trade routes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 would rival many of these roads taking away commerce and trade from the port city of Philadelphia, thus affecting developing towns along the way. The Commonwealth's answer was to build a state-owned system utilizing a railroad between Philadelphia and the Susquehanna River and a canal system west to Pittsburgh, including a series of inclined planes to cross the Alleghenies. The new rail line, called the Philadelphia & Columbia, brought great promise for developing communities like Christianna. The railroad and the larger Mainline of Public Works would allow people and industry to connect with markets outside their region, providing a potentially unlimited opportunity for commerce.

The P&C commenced operations in 1834, around the same time local businessman, William Noble constructed a foundry and blacksmith shop along the line in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County. Ten years later Hugh McClarron opened a grain and produce business, and by 1846 Samuel L. Denney purchased the foundry from Noble, adding a machine shop to the operation. By 1847 the growing village became officially known as Christiana, named for Noble's first wife. Denny's endeavor followed suit, and the new Christiana Machine became a focal point of industrial commerce in the area. 

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

By the 1880's the failed Mainline of Public Works had long since been sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, putting Christiana alongside one of the most ambitious interstate rail transportation systems in the land. The town itself thrived, now a borough of 800 residents, complete with a new library association, bank, and town newspaper. Christiana was home to a diverse base of manufacturing with much of its output shipped by rail. Christiana Machine, once again under new ownership, evolved from making farming implements to the production of water turbine equipment and later other elements for power transmission systems for shipment all over the developing nation.

Growing with the ever-increasing traffic demands the PRR was amidst an era of improvements in the 1890's, addressing both capacity and infrastructure limitations. Symbolized by the PRR's impressive stone bridges and four-track system, the improvements program targeted issues that stemmed from the early construction of the right of way. In this particular region, the engineers and contractors building the P&C mainline encountered springs, and quicksand while excavating the pass over the Gap Summit. The compromise was less cutting to avoid the muck resulting in steeper grades. Cheif Engineer William H. Brown looked to finish what the P&C could not accomplish some fifty years before.  As a result, measures were taken to re-grade and realign the railroad between Gap and North Bend. 

In Christiana, the tracks were shifted from the old P&C right-of-way to a new alignment altogether, moving the tracks some  150' to reduce the curvature and accommodate the expansion of the right of way to four tracks. The realignment necessitated moving the large brick freight house some 40' east and the abandonment of the existing Bridge Street overpass. Construction of its replacement called for the use of a "new" Whipple style iron truss span, repurposed from improvements undertaken on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, where the mainline crossed White Clay Creek below Wilmington. 

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

At North Bend, where the railroad arcs from a north-south to an east-west orientation through the gap in the North Valley Hills, a substantial cut was excavated at the base of Zion Hill,  accommodating the wider right-of-way, reducing curvature from the previous P&C alignment. The 1895 annual report from the PRR notes the completion of this segment of four track line from Atglen to Gap, among other places. Not much else would change in Christiana except for the construction of a modest new passenger facility and pedestrian subway along the Gay Street underpass in 1912. 

While Christiana lost passenger service in 1952, the station remained open as a Railway Express office until 1962. Though much of the region's manufacturing shifted away from smaller communities like Christiana, the landmark brick freight house and passenger station survive, the former becoming the home of the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who restored the building to its original condition. The Lancaster Chapter, chartered in 1936 is the founding Chapter of NRHS and a very accomplished group in the field of preservation of railroad structures and equipment.  The mainline today serves the Amtrak Keystone Corridor, hosting some thirty trains a day, still rolling through Christiana and the right of way improvements of the late 1800's.