Photographs & History

Photographs and History

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

Leaving the city of Lancaster the PRR Main Line snakes its way across the rich agricultural landscape of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in central eastern Lancaster County. 

Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad snakes its way through small hamlets like Bird in Hand, Ronks, Gordonville, Leaman Place Junction and Kinzer arcing gently through the heart of central eastern Lancaster County. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonite farmers offering a unique contrast between modern living and the simple life these people traditionally live.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The Main Line, part of the original Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was the site of several improvements including grade separation and curve realignments along the route. Often in winter while riding the south side of the train the bare trees reveal traces of abandoned alignments especially around Kinzer where an early stone arch bridge and small fill once crossed Vintage Road south of the “new” main line. Eastbound trains face a .56% ruling grade approaching the crossing of Mine Ridge on a typical stretch of right of way for the PRR; Several brick freight houses survive, all constructed in a similar style around 1860, W.H. Brown era overpasses and culverts and two notable stone masonry arch bridges that cross the Mill Creek near Smoketown and the Pequea Creek in Paradise, all under a veil of catenary from the final 1938 phase of electrification.  

At Leaman Place Junction, connection was made with the Strasburg Railroad now a well known tourist operation that was originally chartered in 1832 to connect with the P&C. Operational by 1837 utilizing horse drawn coaches on rails the Strasburg purchased a locomotive constructed by the Norris Locomotive Works named the William Penn in 1851. 

 

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

By the 20th Century the Strasburg had changed ownership several times and passenger ridership suffered from the competition of Conestoga Traction Company’s streetcar routes into the city of Lancaster. Ultimately the line was put up for abandonment in the late 1950’s when Henry K Long, an area railfan organized a non-profit to save the line.  Commencing tourist operations in 1959 the Strasburg railroad has been a cornerstone of Lancaster County’s tourism trade offering steam powered train rides through the unspoiled PA Dutch countryside. The railroad has been unique in its mission, centered not only on operations but also working to preserve the historical landscape and feel of a turn of the century railroad while running a healthy freight business and a full service shop for Strasburg and contract restorations.

A Ride on the Pennsylvania

Though I have spent some seven years documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad I can count on one hand how many times I have actually rode the original Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. This past weekend I graduated to three fingers making the round trip to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia. This one however was no ordinary trip; in fact it was quite special, for it was made on two privately owned historic rail cars; Bennett and Eric Levin’s lovingly restored Warrior Ridge and the Pennsylvania 120 a former PRR business car. As an invited guest myself and several others were lucky enough to see the landscape that that PRR has traveled since its completion in 1852, traveling through places I was all to familiar with but not always from the perspective of the passenger.

"Storm lifting in the Packsaddle", William H. Rau photograph. The Packsaddle is one of several locations that were used during various illustration and photographic campaigns on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

"Storm lifting in the Packsaddle", William H. Rau photograph. The Packsaddle is one of several locations that were used during various illustration and photographic campaigns on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

It got me thinking as several of us discussed various facets of the PRR including illustrative and photographic campaigns undertaken over the years by the company. These campaigns were geared around flaunting the scenic vistas along this prolific engineered corridor; some are revisited several times, in particular during the second half of the 19th Century. Riding in a car that served PRR President Walter Franklin among other officials, I could imagine the conversations and acknowledgment of these beautiful locations that seemed to captivate railroad men whether it was because they conquered a particularly difficult pass there or because the beauty was just that breathtaking.

For over 160 years the PRR has traversed this natural landscape following the majestic Susquehanna, Juniata, Conemaugh and Allegheny Rivers among others. Throughout that time countless passengers gazed out the window at areas commanding names like Warrior Ridge, The Packsaddle, Mineral Point and Jacks Narrows. Let us not forget how many experience the westbound ascent of Horseshoe curve out of Altoona, entering the famous engineering landmark high above Burgoon Run one quickly gets a sense of the curve's purpose, watching an eastbound descend the mountain across the valley at a noticeably higher elevation. Places like this were engineered by brilliant and driven men on the backs of cheap labor wielding pick axes and shovels, they are a testament of what was possible in the by gone era of industrialization. But yet they still survive, moving countless trains on a given day, a refined version of J. Edgar Thomson’s engineering genius. Besides the trains themselves little has changed from when Frederick Gutekunst or William Rau left footprints in the cinders making the large format images that preserved this rugged beauty. I have always been fascinated by the undefined spaces the railroad travels, the areas in-between the towns, cities and villages that create a sort of rhythm that illustrates the growth and progress the railroads fostered along the line, watching the ever changing landscape from the window of train who’s predecessors we owe our Nation’s existence to.

"The Horse Shoe Curve, Pennsylvania Railroad" Illustration of the engineering landmark envisioned by  J. Edgar Thomson from an 1895 travel book which illustrates the scenic highlights of the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line. Collection of the author. 

"The Horse Shoe Curve, Pennsylvania Railroad" Illustration of the engineering landmark envisioned by  J. Edgar Thomson from an 1895 travel book which illustrates the scenic highlights of the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line. Collection of the author. 

Yes this weekend was a welcome distraction, a reminder of why I embarked on this project, to document and share a railroad so historic and massive that its reputation and design lasted longer the company itself. To spend time on the railroad with like minded folks on a pair of beautifully restored private cars was exactly what I needed to put into perspective the past, present and future of railroading on the Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels. In regard to preservation, I take off my hat to people like the Levin’s who share the legacy of railroad travel in style and take every opportunity to see to it their guests are comfortable and having a good time. And to my fellow travel mates, I made some new friends and shared some great stories about the very railroad that bought us all together. Though the Pennsylvania Railroad has been gone for quite some time it is experiences like this that reinforce that the spirit and pride of the former Standard Railroad of the World is still very much alive through so many people and their work to preserve our railroad heritage. This is a trip that will stick with me for quite a long time!

William H. Rau: Using Historical Works For Artistic Guidance

Often times as an artist inspiration comes from many sources, mine takes root from a fascination of railroads, geography, architecture and history. With consideration of the Main Line Project there came another major source of inspiration: the photographic work of William H. Rau.

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Born in 1855, Rau was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer whose relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad spanned his career in the business. Though he had numerous assignments with the railroad over the years, it would be two commissions that brought Rau to our attention in the 20th Century. The first assignment was from June to September 1891, the second, April to July of 1893. The commission employed the relatively new concept of advertising photography to entice the leisure traveler to explore the American landscape by way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Illustrating the terrain and destinations along the system, Rau worked with a mammoth plate view camera in the field, traveling in a customized passenger coach complete with living quarters and darkroom.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

In 2002 the Library Company of Philadelphia mounted an exhibition of original prints by Rau from the 1890’s commissions in conjunction with the release of a companion book titled “Travelling the Pennsylvania Railroad” published by University of Penn Press. The exhibition hit home with me for many reasons, providing not only a view of the Pennsylvania Railroad over 100 years ago but by also appealing to my photographic sensibility. Like Rau I was using the view camera to craft thoughtful, creative and technically resolved images that can function on both a documentary and artistic level. Rau’s mammoth plate images provided insight for an approach to photographing not just the trains but also the infrastructure of a railroad and the landscape it traversed. This exhibition and subsequent book was the seed that would germinate into the Main Line Project some five years later.

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

In 2006, having been out college more than five years, I was making work and exhibiting as much as possible. I had finished a two-year Career Development Fellowship with the Philadelphia based Center for Emerging Visual Artists and was teaching at Drexel University. My projects focused on the Delaware River Watershed and later documenting historic but obsolete structures in and around the Philadelphia area. Though I was having a fair amount of success with the work, I couldn’t help but think more about Rau’s PRR commissions. Using his work as a starting point could provide insight on how to revisit the very subject that led me to pick up a camera in the first place – the railroad. In the spring of 2007 I applied for and received an Alumni Travel Grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists to photograph the surviving railroad and landscape along the former PRR between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the segment I was most familiar with. With the Rau book always by my side I made several trips building the conceptual framework of the project. Drawing from approaches utilized in past work, I photographed everything along the route, compiling an assortment of over a hundred images that ran the gamut, some good, some bad; others that became the cornerstones of how the project would evolve.

Between trips I contacted the Library Company to inquire about viewing the Rau Collection for further inspiration. Knowing that the book reproduced 50 plates from a larger collection of 463 individual images I could tell just by the published inventory list that I needed to see more. With the help of the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah Weatherwax, I began reviewing small reference prints and later original 18x22” contact prints. There was something magical about looking at this work in person, to be able to hold and interact with it minus the glass and polish of an exhibition. Seeing the sheen of vintage albumen prints and the endless amounts of detail from an image made from a negative of the same size was a true sensory experience. It was a first hand view of a historical photographic process, a cohesive collection of how one photographer viewed the world and the landscape that was in front of his lens.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though Rau’s work was playing a big part in molding my project I did not want this to become a re-photographic survey, getting mired down in finding the exact locations and times Rau made pictures. Instead my relationship with Rau was an open dialogue, one that takes influence from the imagery while considering the modern landscape and rail corridor. Recognizing that Rau was commissioned to make this work, for me it was much bigger than just an assignment. I was working to discover the history tied to a railroad corridor that has largely shaped the landscape throughout the Northeast and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - about using Rau’s work to inspire and inform me of a past time in the landscape and on the railroad. The act of gleaning information from Rau’s images added yet another layer of depth in my relationship to his work.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Around this time I began working with Amtrak’s engineering department and historic architect John Bowie Associates who were in the midst of documenting various historical facilities along the Northeast Corridor. It was the relationships that developed during this phase (which continue today) that helped me better understand more of the physical and economic history of the PRR and appreciate just how pivotal this era was to the company. Rau’s images reveal an evolution: a railroad building a physical plant that would be worthy of the claim of being the Standard Railroad of the World. In the 1890’s massive system wide improvements were well underway that would include construction of the countless stone bridges that remain today among other large scale engineering projects. At the same time the photos give a nod to antiquity, the relics of street running and canals that were giving way to a grade separated four track main line that stretched from New York City to Pittsburgh.

Rau’s imagery provided a comprehensive study of a railroad about to hit its prime and a landscape that would see continual transformation because of its presence. The ability to gain such a clear perspective of the PRR in one cohesive body of work afforded the visual “before” to my after. Understanding the history of this great railroad in conjunction with the aesthetical response to Rau’s photos provide a sort of spiritual guidance in making images for the Main Line Project. Inspired in different ways by his work I consider channeling my inner Rau every time I pick up a camera and look to a subject like the former Pennsylvania Railroad.

PRR Main Line: Little Chiques Creek

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Moving east from Mount Joy the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad spans Little Chiques Creek. Originally known as Little Chiquesalunga Creek  which derives its name from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish, the creek runs some 20 miles in a southerly direction to join Chiques Creek a mile before it empties out into the Susquehanna River in Marietta.  The two track bridge was constructed in 1885 measuring 450' in length and 40' high, replacing an iron truss span during upgrades to the right of way under William H. Brown. The masonry bridge was unique in construction from Brown's later bridges utilizing brick lined arches and an intergrated countering pier that ran perpendicular to the span. With the special photographic train posed on the bridge, William H. Rau has set his 18x22" view camera up on the bank of the creek looking south (judging by the movement of the water) to capture a bridge that was less than ten years old. This same span continues to serve its intended purpose carrying Amtrak Keystone trains between Lancaster and Harrisburg.

William H. Rau: Understanding the Past

The Evolution of the Philadelphia Terminal When William H. Rau was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad he found himself illustrating a company on the verge of unprecedented growth and change. Through the rest of the 1890s and well into the 20th Century the Pennsylvania Railroad would embark on some of its most ambitious system improvements to expand main line and terminal capacities. Philadelphia, the corporate headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad was a focal point for many of these improvements, including new yards, stations, grade separations and electrification projects.

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

During this evolution the railroad commissioned photographers like Rau and William N. Jennings to meticulously catalogue the progress of various projects. This effort by the railroad connects to an important part of the Main Line Project, the use of historical imagery to inform viewers (and photographer) of the past significance of a given subject or place. This imagery allows us to visualize the continual change of the Philadelphia Terminal from the original Broad Street Station to construction of the north-south gateway we know today as 30th Street Station. By examining the images we gain a perspective of the complex changes during the Philadelphia improvements, a subject which will warrant further in depth discussion at another time.

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This post is part of a lecture I will present this Thursday, March 7th from 6-7 PM at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit over 450 original Rau images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission, as well as an extensive collection of William Jennings photographs. If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The Furness installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of architectural commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

Lecture This Week!

Dear Friends,

Please join me at the Library Company of Philadelphia this Thursday for my lecture:

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary Photographs in Response to the Historic Works of William H Rau

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reception for members and their guests at 5:30 p.m. Program from 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

This lecture is free and open to the public with convenient public transit access from the

Septa Broad Street Line and Patco High Speed Line.

Please RSVP or call 215-546-3181 The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Hope to see you there!

Michael Froio

William H. Rau and the Pennsylvania Railroad

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

William Herman Rau, born in 1853, was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer whose relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad spanned his 35-year career in the business. Though he had numerous assignments with the railroad over the years, it would be two commissions that brought Rau to our attention in the 20th Century. The first assignment was from June to September 1891, the second, April to July of 1893. The commission utilized the relatively new concept of advertising photography to entice the leisure traveler to explore the American landscape by way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Illustrating the terrain and destinations along the system, Rau worked with a mammoth plate view camera in the field, traveling in a customized passenger coach complete with living quarters and darkroom, creating almost 500 dry plate glass negatives during the two commissions.

Plate 202: Special Photographic Train. This image depicts the locomotive and car outfitted for Rau's commissions of 1891 and 1893. The coach was specially outfitted with a complete darkroom, living quarters and a platform on the roof for Rau to set up his mammoth plate view camera to make images along the railroad. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 202: Special Photographic Train. This image depicts the locomotive and car outfitted for Rau's commissions of 1891 and 1893. The coach was specially outfitted with a complete darkroom, living quarters and a platform on the roof for Rau to set up his mammoth plate view camera to make images along the railroad. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

In April of this year, it will be 120 years since Rau’s second commission: Through those years the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad rose to the occasion during times of war and fell to its demise in an unthinkable marriage with bitter rival the New York Central. Having never experienced the Pennsylvania Railroad first hand, it was Rau’s work that led me to understand a young and expanding railroad at the dawn of the 20th Century. In the details of Rau’s rich large format albumen prints we see a railroad building for the future, a railroad that today leaves a legacy of engineering accomplishments, providing the subjects for a modern photographic survey. Working backwards to recreate a visual tour of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, the Main Line Project relies heavily on the visual clues of Rau’s work to make informed and inspired images.

In the coming weeks I am very excited to share more about the Rau commission and how it has impacted my project From the Main Line. These posts are part of a lecture on March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit over 450 original images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission. If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture, March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The Furness installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of architectural commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Part 1

A Dialogue with the Historic Photographs of William H. Rau

Plate 199. Stone Bridge at Johnstown by William H Rau. Collection of American Premier Underwriters

Plate 199. Stone Bridge at Johnstown by William H Rau. Collection of American Premier Underwriters

In 2003, about four years before I began the Main Line Project, I saw an exhibition of works by photographer William H Rau who was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1890’s to photograph the landscape and destinations along the main line. When I began the project in 2007, my intention was not to create a re-photographic survey but a modern portfolio of images exploring the railroad and its impact on the surrounding landscape. Rau’s work provided the first insight that a project like this could exist without the implicit use of just the trains themselves but by exploring the landscape, technology and the phenomena of the railroad corridor, which creates a uniquely built environment bridging city, country and towns alike. Rau’s commission left an impact on me that has continually evolved with the project to this day.

The stone bridge in Rau's photograph above survives today, though altered with reinforced concrete on its south side. This is one of the few images in the Main Line Project that present the opportunity to visualize the railroad 120 years ago versus today in the same (or similar) location.

The stone bridge in Rau's photograph above survives today, though altered with reinforced concrete on its south side. This is one of the few images in the Main Line Project that present the opportunity to visualize the railroad 120 years ago versus today in the same (or similar) location.

In the coming weeks I am very excited to share more about the Rau commission and how it has impacted my project From the Main Line. These posts will culminate into a lecture on March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit, over 450 original images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission. In addition to this lecture, you will be seeing more of Mr. Rau’s work on my blog thanks to the help of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the cooperation of American Premier Underwriters who owns the historic collection. Part of a larger effort to incorporate more historical imagery in my research, Rau’s photos will compliment works from the Lancaster Historical Society’s Collection and the Columbia Historic Preservation Society Collection to detail past operations, facilities and the landscape along the Main Line.

If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of Furness commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.