Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Edgar Thomson Works

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

Since the first heat of molten steel was tapped in 1875 The Edgar Thomson Works has produced steel continuously along the banks of the Monongahela River in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Constructed by Andrew Carnegie the plant was named in honor of his friend and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson. Carnegie’s mill would be the prototype for many modern facilities to come, making use of the Bessemer process, an innovative way to economically mass produce steel by forcing air through molten iron to remove impurities by oxidation. The mill occupies the site of the historic battle where French and Indian Troops defeated the expedition of General Edward Braddock on July 9, 1755. Flanked by Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River the locale offers waterfront access to receive raw materials and ship finished product on the Ohio and Mississippi River networks.

In 1892 the Edgar Thomson Works would be part of one most violent labor strikes in American history, the Homestead strike.  In an attempt to disband the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in Carnegie’s Homestead Works, Henry Clay Frick and Carnegie locked out workers when negotiations for the union organization went sour. Employees at the Homestead works picketed for roughly five days, with plant workers at both the Thomson and Duquesne Works joining in sympathy. Picketing turned violent when plant owners brought in the Pinkerton Guards instigating a full-scale riot that resulted in ten deaths and thousands of injuries. State Governor Robert Pattison sent two brigades of the State Militia to disperse the chaos and resume operations with temporary strike breakers. Mill owners continued fighting the efforts to unionize steel labor for years, causing other violent outbreaks until 1942 when the AA finally merged with others to create the United Steel Workers Union, gaining momentum to unionize major steel mills all together.

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

In 1901 Carnegie Steel was merged with the Federal and National Steel Companies under the direction of J.P. Morgan among other partners creating US Steel. Once the largest steel producer in the world, US Steel still produces roughly 25 percent of America’s domestic steel at several major facilities in the United States. Operations at the Edgar Thomson Plant continue and now employ a basic oxygen furnace and continuous caster in addition to the remaining blast furnaces. Operated under the auspices of the Mon Valley Works  this operation is the last integrated steel mill in the Pittsburgh area with coke produced at the Clairton Works to the south, raw steel produced at the ET plant and finishing into coil and galvanized products takes place at the Irvin Works.

Though the Edgar Thompson plant was served by numerous railroads most of it was done through interchange with the Union Railroad a wholly owned subsidiary of US Steel that was established in 1894 prior to Carnegie’s sale of the ET works. The Union Railroad grew into an expansive system connecting Carnegie’s Bessemer & Lake Erie with the industrial Mon Valley moving raw materials from Lake Erie and finished product to market. The Pennsylvania’s primary source of interchange was at Kenny Yard on the Monongahela Branch across from the works in Kennywood, Pennsylvania. Other companies interchanged with the Union Railroad including the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Baltimore and Ohio and the Western Maryland most via the P&LE gateway at Connellsville.

Philadelphia Division: Steelton

View of Pennsylvania Steel Works, Steelton, Pennsylvania circa 1909,Collection of the Library of Congress. Inset image a vintage stock certificate of Pennsylvania Steel Company Circa  1882. Collection of  VintageStocksandBonds.blogspot.com

View of Pennsylvania Steel Works, Steelton, Pennsylvania circa 1909,Collection of the Library of Congress. Inset image a vintage stock certificate of Pennsylvania Steel Company Circa  1882. Collection of VintageStocksandBonds.blogspot.com

Philadelphia Division: Steelton

Leaving Harrisburg station and State Interlocking both the mainline and Columbia branch follow the east bank of the Susquehanna River through the industrial town of Steelton. Incorporated in 1880 the town was host to Pennsylvania Steel, originally owned by fierce competitors the Pennsylvania Railroad and Philadelphia & Reading.  Sold to Bethlehem Steel in 1915, the plant included four blast furnaces, billet mills, blooming mills and open-hearth facilities. At one time Steelton produced structural steel, rail, bar, pipe and other specialty products for the railroad industry  which  continues today under successor ArcelorMittal. Though the PRR and Reading served the Pennsylvania Steel facility, the Steelton & Highspire Railroad provided in plant switching through out the various facilties as well as working the interchange points with the parent roads. A majority of this activity ran right along North Front Street in the town's commercial district where at any time one could find multiple crews working.

View looking west down Blackberry Alley, Steelton, Pennsylvania. Note the massive steel facilities that dominate the western view from the hill.

View looking west down Blackberry Alley, Steelton, Pennsylvania. Note the massive steel facilities that dominate the western view from the hill.

Like many industrial towns through out the east, Steelton and neighboring Highspire are not the job and economic centers they once were, but nonetheless they survive and still depend on the remaining heavy industry and trade jobs associated with steel production. Flanked along the hillside, overlooking the mill, many one time company homes, churches and small businesses make up the culturally diverse neighborhoods of Steelton. The view of the sprawling works will forever remind the residents of how Steelton came to be and its contributions to the growth of America.

Munhall Yard on the PRR Mon Line

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad Interchange. From left to right, the first four tracks serve as the interchange leads for Munhall Yard, the last two are the main tracks of the Mon Line, now a double stack bypass for NS container trains with clearance issues on the mainline through Pittsburgh proper. Note the US Steel Edgar Thompson Works in the background in the industrial town of Braddock across the Monongahela River.

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad Interchange. From left to right, the first four tracks serve as the interchange leads for Munhall Yard, the last two are the main tracks of the Mon Line, now a double stack bypass for NS container trains with clearance issues on the mainline through Pittsburgh proper. Note the US Steel Edgar Thompson Works in the background in the industrial town of Braddock across the Monongahela River.

Formerly known as Munhall Yard, this location on the former PRR Mon Line (short for Monongahela, the River the line follows)  was an important interchange with Union Railroad, operated by  United States Steel (USS). The Union Railroad at one time served several major steel making facilities in the Pittsburgh area and remains integral to the Irvin Works, Edgar Thompson Works, Clairton Coke production facility hauling raw materials and finished product to the mills and interchanges. To the southeast of this location the Mon line Connects with the Port Perry Branch, crossing the Monongahela River and eventually connecting to the Mainline near Pitcarin. From that junction the Mon continues south to connect with famed Monongahela Railroad in West Brownsville PA. In the background, across the river is the last remaining integrated mill in Pittsburgh, the Edgar Thompson Works of United States Steel, still a major customer of the railroads.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Five: Johnstown Proper: Although Johnstown has lost a good deal of manufacturing the City still has a lot to offer including several great museums, walking tours, the historic Inclined Plane to Westmont, Point Park and a Minor League Baseball Stadium among other key features that are part of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. Below are several images made over the past five years of the City Center, exploring both the City's relationship with the railroads as well as the landscape and architecture in general.

View looking Northeast of Franklin Street Bridge across the Stoneycreek River from Somerset Street. Building on the far side is the Conrad Building which dates from 1900  .

View looking Northeast of Franklin Street Bridge across the Stoneycreek River from Somerset Street. Building on the far side is the Conrad Building which dates from 1900.

View of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, demolished some time after this visit in 2007, for the Northrop Grumman Technology Park that now occupies the site  .

View of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, demolished some time after this visit in 2007, for the Northrop Grumman Technology Park that now occupies the site.

View from Flood Wall, Stoney Creek River and Franklin St Bridge. The church to the right is the Trinity United Methodist Church.

View from Flood Wall, Stoney Creek River and Franklin St Bridge. The church to the right is the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Support tracks and an interchange yard that runs parallel to Washington St fans out behind the Gautier Works in town, illustrating the Work’s dependency on the railroad to transport both raw and finished materials from just one of the many divisions of the Bethlehem Works.

Support tracks and an interchange yard that runs parallel to Washington St fans out behind the Gautier Works in town, illustrating the Work’s dependency on the railroad to transport both raw and finished materials from just one of the many divisions of the Bethlehem Works.

Leaving the Gautier Works complex behind the C&BL crosses the Conemaugh River on a impressive through truss span, and ducks under the PRR mainline just East of the Johnstown train station.

Leaving the Gautier Works complex behind the C&BL crosses the Conemaugh River on a impressive through truss span, and ducks under the PRR mainline just East of the Johnstown train station.

Just past the C&BL underpass is the train station the PRR built in 1916 by famous Architect Kenneth M. Murchison of New York City. Murchison is also known for his historic designs of the surviving Delaware and Lackawanna Stations in Hoboken NJ and Scranton PA as well as Baltimore’s Union Station (later known as Baltimore Penn Station for the dominate service of the PRR).  The station, just recently donated to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association is intended to become a cornerstone to the downtown tourism development and provides a beautiful entry to a City on the verge of rebirth as an Industrial and Cultural Heritage Center in Western PA.

Just past the C&BL underpass is the train station the PRR built in 1916 by famous Architect Kenneth M. Murchison of New York City. Murchison is also known for his historic designs of the surviving Delaware and Lackawanna Stations in Hoboken NJ and Scranton PA as well as Baltimore’s Union Station (later known as Baltimore Penn Station for the dominate service of the PRR).  The station, just recently donated to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association is intended to become a cornerstone to the downtown tourism development and provides a beautiful entry to a City on the verge of rebirth as an Industrial and Cultural Heritage Center in Western PA.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Four: Johnstown's Old Conemaugh Section: Moving into Johnstown from Franklin we enter a historic neighborhood that at one time was served by several railroads. The Baltimore and Ohio’s Somerset & Cambria Branch was a line incorporated in 1879, to tap local coal resources and serve the Bethlehem works. Though not nearly the operation of the PRR, the B&O nonetheless maintained a presence in town. Coming up from the South along the Stonycreek River, the line comes into the Old Conemaugh Section of town and forks, moving West toward a connection with the C&BL along Washington Street, and East along the sprawling Gautier Works between Clinton and Short Street toward the former Station area and Freight house that still stands today.

View looking West on Short Street with former S&C Freight House on the right and the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert standing prominently in the center.

View looking West on Short Street with former S&C Freight House on the right and the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert standing prominently in the center.

Three very unique houses along Railroad Street in the Conemaugh Section of Johnstown.

Three very unique houses along Railroad Street in the Conemaugh Section of Johnstown.

Two Churches are evident in this view from a lot bordering the Former S&C Branch looking Northwest. The Steeple in the foreground belongs to the 1891 Zion Lutheran Church the two further towers are part of the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert built in 1895.

Two Churches are evident in this view from a lot bordering the Former S&C Branch looking Northwest. The Steeple in the foreground belongs to the 1891 Zion Lutheran Church the two further towers are part of the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert built in 1895.

View North from Matthew Street with Clinton Street side of the Gautier Works.

View North from Matthew Street with Clinton Street side of the Gautier Works.

Rear view of the 1906 Central Catholic School, part of St. Joseph's German Catholic Church on Railroad Ave. This view is from Short Street looking south

Rear view of the 1906 Central Catholic School, part of St. Joseph's German Catholic Church on Railroad Ave. This view is from Short Street looking south

View from Singer Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works behind the buildings on Railroad Street at the bottom of the hill.

View from Singer Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works behind the buildings on Railroad Street at the bottom of the hill.

As mentioned the B&O and C&BL served the Gautier Works located along Clinton Street, accessing the sprawling facility from the North Side. The Gautier Works produced wire fencing, plows and other steel products for the agriculture industry. The size of this facility is quite evident from high views such as the one afforded from the surrounding hill sides.

View of trackage along Washington Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works to the right. From  from the track layout this appeared to be an interchange area with B&O S&C Branch and the C&BL.

View of trackage along Washington Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works to the right. From  from the track layout this appeared to be an interchange area with B&O S&C Branch and the C&BL.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Three: Franklin

Franklin is directly across from East Conemaugh, spread in two small neighborhoods, the eastern section is stacked on the hillside overlooking the former mill and river valley, once a home to many steel workers and the actual “hot side” of the Johnstown Works.

View of the eastern section of Franklin from East Conemaugh.   Former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Yard in foreground. Note the Strank Memorial Bridge and old Chessie boxcar that appeared in the East Conemaugh Post last time from the opposide side of the Conemaugh River.

View of the eastern section of Franklin from East Conemaugh. Former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Yard in foreground. Note the Strank Memorial Bridge and old Chessie boxcar that appeared in the East Conemaugh Post last time from the opposide side of the Conemaugh River.

The former blast furnace and open hearth mills of the Bethlehem Johnstown Works from the Locust St. Bridge in Franklin. Note the C&BL lead that used to provide rail service into the mill.

The former blast furnace and open hearth mills of the Bethlehem Johnstown Works from the Locust St. Bridge in Franklin. Note the C&BL lead that used to provide rail service into the mill.

Further West, down Rt 271, heading South West, you cross the Conemaugh River and enter the western end of town, including a small area of housing and churches that also was home to the Rail Car Division later spun off to FreightCar America Works, which was to become one of the last remaining steel related manufacturing facilities of the former Bethlehem Johnstown Works.

Car Wash and St. John the Baptist Church from Jasper Alley.

Car Wash and St. John the Baptist Church from Jasper Alley.

Various freight cars waiting for work at the Franklin Railcar America facility   .

Various freight cars waiting for work at the Franklin Railcar America facility.

In 2008 the works closed its doors, taking much need jobs and tax revenue from this struggling little town.  As of the Fall of 2010, the facility was being leveled, ending hopes of manufacturing jobs that were once plentiful in a small town with big industry.

Stored tank cars awaiting reconditioning. The weedy yard and empty tracks of the C&BL interchange yard speak of the impending shut down of Railcar America facility which happened in 2008.

Stored tank cars awaiting reconditioning. The weedy yard and empty tracks of the C&BL interchange yard speak of the impending shut down of Railcar America facility which happened in 2008.