Photographs & History

Photographs and History

From Iron Fortunes to Railroads: A Brief History on McKim, Mead and White

From modest beginnings with a commission for the Coleman family in the iron rich hills of the Lebanon Valley to becoming one of the most important American architectural firms, McKim, Mead and White began building its legacy in the village of Cornwall, Pennsylvania in 1880.

Stanford White's first commission with McKim, Mead and White was Alden Villa. This interior detail is of the foyer and main staircase. Cornwall, Pennsylvania.

Stanford White's first commission with McKim, Mead and White was Alden Villa. This interior detail is of the foyer and main staircase. Cornwall, Pennsylvania.

It all began when a 25-year-old Stanford White set sail for Europe to visit his long time friend, the American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1878. White had been working as the head draftsman for the noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson, where he had befriended Charles McKim.  McKim left Hobson in 1872 looking to develop his own firm joining William Rutherford Mead and later in 1877, William Bigelow, McKim’s brother-in-law to create McKim, Mead and Bigelow.  In short time during the course of the partnership with Bigelow, McKim’s marriage failed and as a result Bigelow left the firm. Looking to fill the vacancy McKim joined White at the last minute traveling to Europe in an effort to recruit him to join the firm. Their trip to Paris would be an inspirational time and upon their return, White came on board with McKim and Mead to create one of the most prolific firms in American history. Though McKim was already on his way to being well established and White had a great deal of creative freedom under Henry Hobson Richardson on account of his ailing health they would now be able to fully express their creative aesthetic under the auspices of McKim, Mead and White.

Shortly after starting the firm, White began work on what is arguably his earliest residential commission, a project with Ann Caroline Coleman in 1880 to construct a home for her son Robert Percy Alden and his new wife Mary Ida Warren in the iron hills of Cornwall, Pennsylvania.  Some have theorized White was given the commission because of his status as junior partner having to make the lengthy trips from New York City to Central Pennsylvania, often working on the train to develop his design. Overlooking the Coleman’s profitable iron foundries, the unique home, reflects White’s influence from working with Richardson while drawing from his European travel sketches and his contributions to the shingle style vocabulary that would become typical of the young firm. The house itself and the interiors within had a great variety of styling seen through out the firm’s commissions in the coming years. Alden Villa or Millwood as it would be referred to was a unique formative design that reflected a young and talented architect refining his own vernacular.

During the firm’s most creative period (1879-1915) McKim, Mead and White received nearly 1000 commissions, many of which are considered some of America’s most important buildings. Within the firm, Mead focused on running the office, while McKim and White were the creative minds, designing private homes, institutional and commercial commissions. Among these were estates for the cultural elite of New York, constructing villas on Long Island and Newport, Rhode Island. Highlights of the commercial and institutional commissions included the National Museum of American History in Washington DC, the Brooklyn Museum, New York University, Hotel Pennsylvania, Rhode Island State House and the New York and Boston Public Libraries among others.

Birds Eye View of Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1910. The colonnades and entries to the station building were the first of three elements in the processional sequence, the portal. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Birds Eye View of Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1910. The colonnades and entries to the station building were the first of three elements in the processional sequence, the portal. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Main Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1908-1910. This design was based on the Frigidarium or cold pool of the Baths of Caracalla, Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Main Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1908-1910. This design was based on the Frigidarium or cold pool of the Baths of Caracalla, Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Track level and concourses, prior to completion (note panks over track area bottom left). Exact year unknown but roughly between 1908-10.  This space also referenced the baths of Caracalla while acknowledging the modern methods of train shed construction. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress  .

Track level and concourses, prior to completion (note panks over track area bottom left). Exact year unknown but roughly between 1908-10.  This space also referenced the baths of Caracalla while acknowledging the modern methods of train shed construction. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Unfortunately tragedy didn’t stop here, as the Pennsylvania Railroad would destroy Pennsylvania Station in 1963 at just over 50 years old. The cash strapped railroad optioned the air rights to Penn Station, calling for the demolition of the head house and train shed replacing it with a new office complex and sporting arena. Plans for the new Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden were announced in 1962 and demolition began in ’63. A concession for the air rights was that the Pennsylvania Railroad would receive a modern smaller subterranean terminal and 25% stake in the new Madison Square Garden Complex at no cost. What seemed to be an unimaginable act quickly took place as demolition began sparking an international outrage. While the destruction of Penn Station was allowed the act was certainly not unnoticed. Within 18 months of the demolition, New York City would enact the first landmarks preservation act in America making the lost station the poster child for historic preservation. Though a tragic end to an unwinding legacy, the legendary firm of McKim, Mead and White is survived by many of the magnificent buildings they created during their time, including Alden Villa in the village of Cornwall, Pennsylvania, a commission from the iron empire of the Coleman family of Lebanon County.

Main Line Tour Resumes!

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

There is a rich history associated with what became known as the Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Starting in the mid 1830’s the State owned Main Line of Public Works would construct a railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania connecting to a network of canals that was intended to compete with the Erie Canal. The system was troubled from the start as the advent of the railroad quickly triumphed over the slow, seasonal travel of the canals. The 1846 charter of the Pennsylvania Railroad eliminated any chance of the system succeeding as the new railroad paralleled the canal from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Upon arrival at the Ohio River, the young PRR looked to expand from its current terminal points aiming to secure access to lines reaching West as well as to Philadelphia and New York. Initially the PRR had negotiated the right to operate over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway in 1853 but poor track conditions, a result of the Main Line of Public Works financial distress, presented major limitations.

Seeking an alternative to the P&C the PRR surveyed a route in 1853 known as the Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad, a route that would bypass the P&C all together, creating direct competition while taking away some of the State Works only railroad revenue. Construction however never took place, as the PRR finally purchased the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857 for $7.5 million. This purchase included the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad providing exclusive control of the railroad to Philadelphia.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

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Another formative railroad in the evolution of the PRR expansion east from Harrisburg was the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad. It was chartered in 1837 to connect Harrisburg and Lancaster to the Portsmouth Canal Basin in modern day Middletown. One of its founders and first president was a young James Buchanan who would later become the United State’s 15th President. Indicated by its name, this route provided an attractive connection with the PRR in Harrisburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in Lancaster via the new line, eliminating part of slow trip on the P&C. In 1848 the PRR contracted a lease for 20 years, which was later extended to 999 years to operate the HPMtJ&L, making it the first of many independent railroads the PRR would absorb to build its empire.

As the railroad expanded and traffic grew, this main line network proved to be outdated to meet the needs of the PRR. Extensive rebuilding, expansion, realignment and added infrastructure continued to alter the railroad landscape in bucolic Lancaster County. By the 1880s Chief engineer William H. Brown had begun improving the main line, expanding the route to the trademark four-track main line, and replacing lighter bridges with the ubiquitous stone arch bridge he became known for. Though these improvements alleviated congestion, the undulating grades of these alignments, which dated from the formative years of American railroad development, were far from ideal for the future.

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Enter PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt who undertook a monumental system improvements project between 1902 and 1906 to eliminate operational bottlenecks and further modernize the PRR network. Cassatt and Brown would begin constructing what Chief Engineer and 3rd PRR President J. Edgar Thompson had envisioned many years before. Building a Low Grade route that provided freight traffic a dedicated right of way free of major grades, obstructions and curvature that would span the system between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, with the intention of going as far east as Colonia, New Jersey as well as a by-pass of the original Main Line into Philadelphia along Darby Creek.

A major piece of the this network was the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a two track main line that ran from a connection with the Northern Central south of Harrisburg, improving upon existing trackage to a location just south of Columbia, where the branch diverged off on what was the largest piece of new construction the PRR had taken on to date. Running across the rolling hills of Southern Lancaster County through cuts and fills, the A&S would connect back to the Main Line at Parkesburg continuing on a shared right of way to Thorndale where the routes split yet again, with the Low Grade continuing on the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch and the Trenton Cut-Off to Morrisville, and the Main Line into Philadelphia via Paoli. Opening in 1906, the A&S thrived for many years providing the capacity the railroad needed to handle the spike in traffic during World War I and II but would later fall prey to the Penn Central merger and subsequent creation of Conrail. As Amtrak inherited the main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, efforts were made to separate freight and passenger operations on the new railroads, forever changing the PRR network on the Philadelphia Division.

Starting next week we will resume our exploration of both routes, with many new photos, graphics and historical images to tell the story of the evolution of this important division on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Mainline Tour: Philadelphia Division Overview

Leaving the City of Harrisburg behind we will begin to explore the various lines radiating east. On the Philadelphia Division trains traverse routes purchased under PRR President, J. Edgar Thompson in an effort to gain access to Philadelphia. Later these routes would be improved upon or supplemented during President Alexander J. Cassatt’s series of system wide improvements which focused on reducing operational problems associated with the older alignments and increasing capacity

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Understanding this network requires a look back to the early 1800’s during the building of canals as a key national transportation network. Pennsylvania followed suit with construction of the State Mainline of Public Works in 1826which was completed in 1834. The system would utilize a series of canals, inclined planes and railroads to move people and freight across the expansive countryside from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. While some considered the network an engineering marvel the seasonal and logistic limitations quickly proved impractical. In time the Mainline of Public Works would begin to struggle financially. Furthermore the State granted a charter to the Pennsylvania Railroad for construction of a private rail line connecting Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in 1846 which would be in direct competition to the Public Works network. While many protested the new technology, the PRR ultimately won building their right of way in many cases parallel to the canal alignments. Shortly after completion of this line, PRR president J. Edgar Thompson secured access east of Harrisburg via control of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad (H&L) in 1849 providing  a connection to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway (P&C) in both Lancaster and Columbia.With this connection to the State operated P&C, the only all rail network between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would be created. With limited funding however, the P&C quickly became the operational lynchpin to quality rail service due to primitive trackage and poor right of way construction. By 1857 the PRR successfully purchased all remaining properties associated with the Public Works system, abandoning most of the canal and inclined plane operations but allowing the PRR to rebuild the P&C to suit the needs of the expanding railroad.

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Around the same time the PRR would acquire access to Baltimore via control of the Northern Central in 1861 establishing connections to the mainline in Harrisburg and the former P&C and H&L near Columbia.  This line also provided connections to the Anthracite fields in Shamokin, Lake Ontario access via the Elmira Branch and a mainline to Buffalo, New York providing connections with Canadian Railways. During the system improvements of President A. J. Cassatt between 1899-1906 the Northern Central would also become the western anchor of a new freight only low-grade from New York and Philadelphia.  Built to separate heavy freight traffic from the current mainline with its winding curves and undulating grades of the original P&C and H&L, Cassatt and Chief Engineer, William H. Brown surveyed a line connecting with the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad (C&PD) near Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna River. The C&PD would become the link between Cassatt’s new low-grade, the industrial center Columbia and the Northern Central via a new bridge over the Susquehanna at Shocks Mills, providing access to existing lines to gain access to Harrisburg.  Subsequently the C&PD would also become the route of choice for moving freight to Baltimore via connection to the mainline at Perryville due to the water level alignment and lack of grades making the older NC route the default passenger line.

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Known as the Atglen and Susquehanna the new line climbed the Susquehanna River valley slowly veering east to cut across the rolling countryside of Lancaster County.  Void of road crossings, major industry, challenging gradients or curves, the line came parallel to the mainline in a hamlet known as Atglen. Junction with the mainline was in neighboring Parkesburg via a fly-over arrangement insuring no delays to both freight and passenger traffic. Continuing east the mainline hosted combined freight and passenger traffic on four track mainline for nine miles to Thorndale where freight once again left on a low-grade line known as the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch.

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Though large parts of this network have been abandoned the mainline still serves Amtrak’s successful Keystone Service while many of the lines along the Susquehanna River still connect the Norfolk Southern network to York and Baltimore via the old NC and C&PD. This segment of the mainline tour will explore the various routes the PRR used to move traffic between the Harrisburg and Philadelphia Terminals, utilizing imagery, maps and text to explain operations specific to each route.

Mainline: Huntingdon Pennsylvania

The Huntingdon County courthouse tower is visible from the mainline on the sweeping curve entering from the east. Note the access road along the right of way which used to be the alignment of tracks 3 and 4 the former westward freight and passenger tracks respectively.

The Huntingdon County courthouse tower is visible from the mainline on the sweeping curve entering from the east. Note the access road along the right of way which used to be the alignment of tracks 3 and 4 the former westward freight and passenger tracks respectively.

Situated roughly 98 miles west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the Borough of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania sits along the beautiful Juniata River and the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline. A county seat for it’s namesake Huntingdon County, the town was situated among rich agricultural areas, healthy deposits of iron, coal and clay, and hosted manufacturing including stationary, furniture, lumber and machinery. Originally laid out by Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, Rev. William Smith in 1777 the town was dedicated as the county seat in 1789 and incorporated in 1796. The Borough was once a port on the Mainline of Public Works, and later the junction of the PRR and the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad and Coal Company. Today the town is better known for its quaint layout, beautiful landscape and Juniata College which plays host to approximately 1500 students.

Entering from the east the relocated mainline of the late 1890s runs along the former Public Works Canal alignment. Here at the mouth of Standing Stone Creek we are standing below the "new" bridge looking north toward the remains of the original alignment and stone arch bridge that runs parallel to Penn Street.

Entering from the east the relocated mainline of the late 1890s runs along the former Public Works Canal alignment. Here at the mouth of Standing Stone Creek we are standing below the "new" bridge looking north toward the remains of the original alignment and stone arch bridge that runs parallel to Penn Street.

The Pennsylvania Railroad gained its presence in the Borough in June of 1850 with the completion of a line from Harrisburg, originally entering town along Allegheny Street. Modernization and relocation of the mainline later took place in several stages; first in 1891 and then 1894-1900 constructing the standard four track system, using the original Mainline of Public Works canal as a new right of way. The project eliminated several curves, grades, and street crossings while providing the citizens of Huntingdon connections with points east and west.

The 1872 Huntingdon train station is an Italianate style brick building. Detail of the (post 1890's) trackside elevation, while the traditional PRR herringbone brick pavers undergo restoration in the Spring of 2011  .

The 1872 Huntingdon train station is an Italianate style brick building. Detail of the (post 1890's) trackside elevation, while the traditional PRR herringbone brick pavers undergo restoration in the Spring of 2011.

PRR Hunt tower has been inactive for some time but remains standing. It was operated for a short time as a museum but now houses city offices. 

PRR Hunt tower has been inactive for some time but remains standing. It was operated for a short time as a museum but now houses city offices. 

Built during the second phase of the modernization Hunt Interlocking, a brick and frame structure housed a Union Switch and Signal machine to control a revised interlocking and interchange with the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad and Coal Company (Reporting marks HBTM). The HBTM was a coal hauler chartered in the 1850′s to tap the rich semi-bituminous coal deposits and provide shippers in the Cumberland, Maryland area providing an alternative to the B&O’s monopoly on train service. Over time the railroad suffered major setbacks including the diversion of traffic off the line by the PRR to its own line between Bedford and Cumberland which led to eventual bankruptcy in the early 1950s.

The Huntingdon train station provided riders a cross platform transfer to HBTM trains which ceased operation in November of 1953. Little is left of the interchange and station tracks except for an overgrown branch diverging just west of the interlocking plant through Portstown Park, crossing on a deck girder bridge over the Juniata and running a short distance along State Road 3035. In addition to the interchange and passenger facilities, the PRR maintained a freight station and mainline icing facility west of the station area for trains of refrigerated meats and produce prior to mechanical refrigeration.

 

Today, while the mainline has been reduced to two tracks, the railroad is still very busy, though no interchange takes place with the HBTM, intermodal, merchandise and mineral traffic rolls though at speed along a mainline refined in the late 1890′s to efficiently expedite traffic to points east and west. The Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce has taken residence in former Hunt Tower, and the landmark 1872 train station has been renovated and is being used for commercial space.