September 1st, 1849 marks a day of significant history in the early years of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1838 State and Philadelphia officials acknowledged the failure of the Main Line of Public Works and the need for a privately owned all rail route to preserve Philadelphia’s western trade. As a result surveyor, Charles L. Schlatter was sent to the wilds of western Pennsylvania to survey various routes for such a potential venture. Schlatter returned with three options; the one selected would follow the Juniata and Conemaugh Rivers, and by 1845 the legislature was asked to charter such a railroad.
Much to the dislike of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad who was attempting to build a line into Pittsburgh, the State Legislature passed an act on April 13th, 1846 incorporating the Pennsylvania Railroad. The new company recruited J. Edgar Thomson as Cheif Engineer, and by early in 1847, the railroad let contracts to begin construction of the first 20 miles west of Harrisburg and 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, to meet requirements to make the B&O’s Pennsylvania charter null and void. By the end of 1848 more contracts for the grading of roadbed would total 117 miles of right of way west of Harrisburg to Logans Narrows. The anticipated operations to commence between Harrisburg and Lewistown by 1848, however, due to problems constructing the Susquehanna River bridge, the difficulty of obtaining rails fast enough and the overall lack of labor the opening would be delayed for some time.
The first segment of the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed and open for service providing a connection with the Canal and Turnpike system on September 1st, 1849. Though one of the easier segments of the original PRR construction this important date begins a chapter in rail transportation history that would forever change the landscape of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With much fan fare, the first through train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh departed On December 10th, 1852 commencing operation on the PRR which has been in continual service since. With the evolution of the PRR’s route in the 19th Century, advancements in technology and engineering the State’s first east west rail line would develop into a conduit of industry and commerce. The very same route that visionaries like C.L. Schlatter and J. Edgar Thomson laid out and successor William H. Brown improved upon survives today as a vital transportation link in the Norfolk Southern rail network, remaining in regular service for over 165 years.
Though for many of Labor Day marks the end of summer, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the countless men and woman that work to keep our rail networks viable, maintaining a transportation system that has been vital to American life for generations. Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend!