Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Celebrating Horseshoe

The Kittanning Reservoir occupies the gap created by Burgoon Run, where J. Edgar Thomson was faced with a decision of spanning the gap or filling the smaller Glen White and Kittanning Runs. The purpose of utilizing the horseshoe design is evident in the elevation changes of the railroad, visible above the gap along the left and right hillsides. 

The Kittanning Reservoir occupies the gap created by Burgoon Run, where J. Edgar Thomson was faced with a decision of spanning the gap or filling the smaller Glen White and Kittanning Runs. The purpose of utilizing the horseshoe design is evident in the elevation changes of the railroad, visible above the gap along the left and right hillsides. 

In 1851 J. Edgar Thomson, the first Chief Engineer of the young Pennsylvania Railroad began construction of the Mountain Division between the Johnstown area and Altoona.  Thomson faced two significant obstacles on the division, how to tunnel through the solid rock walls near the summit and how to get the Main Line from Altoona west up the mountain.

An eastbound descends into Horseshoe Curve, seen from the Kittanning Reservoir. 

An eastbound descends into Horseshoe Curve, seen from the Kittanning Reservoir. 

Thomson's endeavor for the PRR was not the first route over the Alleghenies in Blair County. The Allegheny Portage Railroad, part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works completed in 1834, utilized a series ten inclined planes, five on either side of the summit, to surmount the Alleghenies. It proved to be a slow and dangerous part of an already arduous journey that required train, canal and these inclined planes to travel across the Commonwealth, taking some 4.5 days. 

View eastward from atop of Tunnel Hill, where Thomson faced the challenge of building the line through solid rock requiring cuts and tunnels nearing the Summit. 

View eastward from atop of Tunnel Hill, where Thomson faced the challenge of building the line through solid rock requiring cuts and tunnels nearing the Summit. 

Thomson opted to by-pass the troubled Main Line of Public Works and the APRR all together, turning west from the Juniata Valley in Altoona. To maintain a route with a ruling grade of 1.8% the new railroad would hug the foothills toward the summit, utilizing the natural topography of the ridge to Kittanning Point. Here, the Kittanning and Glen White Runs converge in the valley of Burgoon Run creating a significant challenge. Faced with a decision of spanning the considerable gap of Burgoon Run, Thomson, instead employed Irish laborers wielding pickaxes and shovels to fill the gaps of Kittanning and Glen White Run and thus completing the arced curve around Burgoon Run that became known as the Horseshoe Curve.

A helper set nears the point of the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, west of the Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnels. 

A helper set nears the point of the Allegheny Summit in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, west of the Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnels. 


The line over the Alleghenies and Horse Shoe Curve opened on for service on February 15, 1854. Though the State Works attempted to improve their route by opening the New Portage Railroad in 1855, it ultimately failed, later becoming part of the PRR system, serving as an alternative route in times where traffic warranted its use. After 164 years of continual operation Horseshoe Curve continues to be a vital piece of rail transportation infrastructure, a testament to Thomson’s engineering ability in constructing one of the most celebrated railroads in American history. 

Rau Symposium This Week!

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: This Wednesday, August 16
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition William H Rau, Urban, Rural, Rail, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape." 

If you are in the area, please join us! The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org. 

Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail
On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona

The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see! 

Exhibition & Press: William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail

It goes without saying that the work of William H. Rau has had a tremendous influence on my ongoing project, From the Main Line, so it gives me great pleasure to announce that I will have several pieces included in an exhibition at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art titled William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail in the heart of Pennsylvania Railroad territory, Altoona, Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs through September 9th and will include a symposium on August 16th in which I will discuss the role of Rau's imagery and how it has both informed and influenced my own. The exhibition has already received some terrific feedback, including this recent feature in the Altoona Mirror. I look forward to sharing more about this incredible show while continuing to explore the dialog with Rau's imagery for both inspiration and historical reference in documenting the former Standard Railroad of the World

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Rau’s work captured the Allegheny landscape of the 1890s

SAMA-Altoona exhibits more vintage photographs
By Altoona Mirror Staff Writer  - Cherie Hicks

Another batch of cutting-edge photographs that captured the Allegheny landscape in the 1890s is now on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.

“William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail” features 27 albumem and sepia-toned photographs taken by the commercial photographer who was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The show, curated by Penn State Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether, runs through Sept. 9.

The exhibition takes viewers on a “photographic trip with Rau,” in which “hidden worlds become exposed ‘openings,'” a late 19th-century term used to describe landscape and landscape photography, Fether said.

“It shows not just the landscape that the railroad carved through, but the mark that the railroad made on the landscape and in the communities it created,” she said.

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

The exhibition follows the different PRR divisions that Rau tracked, from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City to Pittsburgh. Rau (rhymes with how) was a successful commercial photographer in Philadelphia when the PRR commissioned him to travel its main line and take pictures of the beautiful scenery in an effort to lure tourists onboard trains.

“Today, these photographs are a testament to the emergence of photography used to promote travel and tourism,” Fether said. “Attracting the young and old, rich and poor, to the glamor of railroad travel, the rails provided an opportunity to participate in the power of acute observation from the window of a passenger car and experience new communities along the way.”

Rau, who died in 1920, produced a total of 463 photographs in his project, 273 of which are considered the Altoona collection and are owned by the Altoona Area Public Library and housed by SAMA. The other photos from the railroad project are owned by The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The current show is a follow-up to another exhibition of Rau photographs that Fether curated at SAMA-Altoona in 2015. With the museum only able to display about three dozen at a time, Fether said she had a theme in mind as she sifted through binders of 8-by-10-inch prints in the Altoona collection of Rau’s work.

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

As she was culling, she searched online for other Rau-related work and stumbled on Michael Froio, a Drexel University professor of photography whose contemporary work has been influenced by Rau.

“Even as the railroad has declined, there’s a timelessness to these pictures,” Fether said. “What do they look like today? That is why I reached out to Michael.”

The exhibition includes four black-and-white, contemporary pieces from Froio’s own project called From the Main Line that complement and pay homage to Rau’s photographs, Fether said. One such work is called “Main Line Looking West, Altoona, Pennsylvania,” and Froio said he clearly remembers the first time he saw Rau’s work.

“While I was instantly captivated by the subject matter in Rau’s photographs, it was more the approach of his work that left a lasting mark, illustrating not only the railroad but the engineering, landscape and architecture along the line,” he said. “The imagery by Rau left us with a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age.”

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

It shows “the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process,” Froio said.

Fether explained that part of Rau’s allure was how technically advanced he was for his time, experimenting with new photographic methods and constantly perfecting the process. Most of his pictures were printed on albumen photographic paper, or a paper coated with egg white and chemicals. PRR provided him with his own rail car, in which he could sleep and produce negatives and prints, and Rau did not disappoint.

“It is an absolute honor to be a part of this show, having a chance to hang work next to Rau’s,” Froio said.

Froio and Fether will be lead speakers at a symposium on Rau’s work and legacy at SAMA-Altoona on Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. Froio will discuss Rau’s influence on his own work. Fether said she will explain how the exhibition evolved. She also will explain some writings that are part of the show from John Stilgoe, a professor of the history of landscape development at Harvard University, and others on the “art and practice of ‘seeing’ landscape.”

The public is invited to the program, which costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members) and includes lunch. Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org.

PRR: Summit of the Allegheny Mountains

PRR

At the Summit of the Allegheny Range we look east on Sugar Run Valley in Cambria County PA. Immediately below us #3 track exits the New Portage Tunnel, this is the eastbound main commonly referred to as "the slide" on account of its 2.0 to 2.36 grade descending the Summit. Joining from the left, tracks 1 and 2 curve around from Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnel (now just the newer Gallitzin Tunnel since Conrail increased clearances on the line in the 1990's). While the line is quiet during a steady mid-day rain, activity here can be quite impressive, watching west-bounds top the Allegheny Range and eastbound trains begin there descent to Horseshoe Curve and ultimately Altoona the eastern base of the climb.

ALTO Tower

ALTO tower stands guard over the Western Limits of the interlocking and the junction of the Holidaysburg Branch that leaves the Main to the left.

ALTO tower stands guard over the Western Limits of the interlocking and the junction of the Holidaysburg Branch that leaves the Main to the left.

Looking west from the 17th Street Bridge, no less than four main tracks pass underneath you and in front of ALTO tower, the last remaining tower of 6 that originally guided trains through the busy terminal area of Altoona PA. Built in 1910, the quaint but weathered structure stands equipped with a typical Union Switch and Signal Electro-pneumatic interlocking plant. Through consolidation over the years, the tower's territory was expanded with the addition of CTC machines to control traffic through SLOPE (West of Alto), ANTIS, HOMER, ROSE, AND WORKS (All East of ALTO).

In addition to the steady flow of traffic coming off Horseshoe Curve eastbound, heavy westbounds will stop for helpers here for the assist up the stiff grade to the summit of the Allegheny Mountains. While Altoona is not the Company town it was for the PRR, Norfolk Southern utilizes the Juniata Shops for heavy overhaul projects for both their equipment and contract work to other railroads. In addition the heritage and stories of the PRR live on at the Altoona Railroader's Memorial Museum, soon to be the home again to K4's 1361.