Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Shenks Ferry

Green Hill Road underpass on the Atglen and Susquehanna. This alignment diverges from the Susquehanna Valley heading east toward Quarryville in Southern Lancaster County.

Green Hill Road underpass on the Atglen and Susquehanna. This alignment diverges from the Susquehanna Valley heading east toward Quarryville in Southern Lancaster County.

Low Grade | A&S Branch: Moving geographically southeast from Safe harbor on the Atglen & Susquehanna and Columbia & Port Deposit we come to an area know as Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township. Here the elevation difference becomes readily evident between the two alignments with the A&S running on a high fill diverging from the river valley heading east to Atglen. Along this stretch is the Green Hill Road underpass, a massive masonry tunnel bisecting the high fill and survives as a great example of the engineering undertaken to construct this high volume freight bypass.

USGS topographical map circa 1912 of the area around Shenks Ferry. You will note that on the east side of the river where both the A&S Branch and C&PD are located is referred to as Shenks Ferry Station. Also of note is the Pequea Electric Trolley Line that follows the Pequea Creek below Colemanville.

USGS topographical map circa 1912 of the area around Shenks Ferry. You will note that on the east side of the river where both the A&S Branch and C&PD are located is referred to as Shenks Ferry Station. Also of note is the Pequea Electric Trolley Line that follows the Pequea Creek below Colemanville.

The area was initially documented as being inhabited by European colonists in the early 1800's, however when Donald Cadzow of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission excavated a Native American village near Shenks Ferry in the 1930’s he uncovered a civilization that had been lost for almost 400 years. Cadzow had initially thought he had dicovered some unusual Susquehannock artifacts but later realized he had uncovered a new Native American group. This group was given the name the Shenks Ferry People due to the locale of where they were first discovered, but nobody knows what they actually called themselves. Evidence suggests that this site has been used as a hunting camp by different Native American groups for about 4000 years or 2000 years before Christ, it also suggests that the Shenks Ferry culture first appears in this area around 1300 AD. The Shenks Ferry People are identified as pre-historic, which means that there was no written history from the group. Most Native groups, like the Shenks Ferry People, passed their history and culture down orally, so when the last person died this information died with them. It wasn't until archaeologists began studying their villages that this lost history began to reappear. Still, not much is known about the history of the Shenks Ferry People, nor do we know where they came from. Without a written history of the group all that is known about them is what can be learned from material dug up by archaeologists at their villages.

Alternate view of the Green Hill underpass shows the extensive stone work and size of this underpass, a considerable expense for an unpaved road.

Alternate view of the Green Hill underpass shows the extensive stone work and size of this underpass, a considerable expense for an unpaved road.

Dynamite plant near Colemanville, close to Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township, Pennsylvania. Several weeks before the dedication of the A&S Branch an explosion on June 9, 1906 would claim 11 lives, leveling the entire facility and surrounding woods. The decimation of the casualties was so bad that a single common casket was used for remains of all lost in the tragedy. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Dynamite plant near Colemanville, close to Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township, Pennsylvania. Several weeks before the dedication of the A&S Branch an explosion on June 9, 1906 would claim 11 lives, leveling the entire facility and surrounding woods. The decimation of the casualties was so bad that a single common casket was used for remains of all lost in the tragedy. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Conestoga River Bridge at Safe Harbor

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Since the construction of the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad in 1877 trains have operated through Safe Harbor, where the Conestoga River joins the Susquehanna. When construction of the A&S began in 1902 the route was planned to diverge from the Port Road six miles north at Creswell beginning a gentle climb out of the Susquehanna Valley. The first formidable obstacles the PRR would encounter on the new alignment would be the approach and spanning of the Conestoga River Valley. Beginning excavation in 1903 contractor H. S. Kerbaugh converted a former rolling mill in Safe Harbor to provide compressed air to drill pilot holes for blasting in the rock face high above. The dynamite would be hoisted up the cliffs by hand, detonated and the process was repeated. The resulting debris caused the Port Road below to be closed for extended periods of time due to the dangerous conditions, which often buried the right of way.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Perhaps one of the more dramatic locations on the PRR, the new A&S Bridge would stretch 1560’ in length at roughly 100’ higher than the Port Road below. While construction was underway on the new span a flood in 1904 would destroy the Port Road Bridge. Taking advantage of the ongoing construction, engineers decided to incorporate a new crossing on the Port Road, rather than rebuild the existing stone arch bridge. The new span would provide a stronger bridge for the growing freight traffic with the added benefit of increased clearance from the Conestoga River below.

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Chief Engineer, William H. Brown would design the bridges utilizing different style spans to meet the specific needs of each route. The A&S bridge, much longer in length included a 300’ pin connected Pratt deck truss over the river supplemented by plate girder viaducts on steel bents - nine spans measuring 480’ to the north and seventeen spans to south measuring 780’. The bridge would carry two main tracks at height of almost 150 above the creek. Down below on the Port Road, the new bridge would feature 3 riveted deck plate girder spans carrying the two main tracks at a height of 55’ above the 1905 water line.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

The steel work for the bridge was fabricated in Steelton by PRR owned subsidiary Pennsylvania Steel and was erected by contractor H.S. Kerbaugh Inc. who had been one of two key contractors during the A&S project. The construction of the masonry piers and retaining walls was unique in that the upper and lower spans shared a monolithic L shaped pier on either side of the river. The piers for the main A&S span went up as the falsework was constructed to support the new 300’ Pratt deck truss, once this was completed, assembly of the approach viaducts proceeded, the northern first then the southern approach. When the majority of the high level erection was completed, contractors could commence work on the lower level Port Road bridge. By July of 1906, trains were running on the A&S and the Port Road, which had suffered from months of closure and restriction due to the construction, would finally resume normal operations later that year in August.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

In 1930 construction would commence to build the northern most of three Depression Era hydroelectric dams along the Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor. Erected just above the confluence of the Conestoga River the first turbine went online in December of 1931 and by 1940 a total of seven were in operation. Two of these turbines were dedicated to generating the 25 Hz single-phase power required to feed the Pennsylvania Railroad’s newly electrified railroad. By 1938, the final phases of the electrification were complete and included the A&S, Port Road, Columbia Branch and Main Line west to Harrisburg. With the eastern main line and freight network complete, power from Safe Harbor began supplying the PRR grid, with tethers of high voltage transmission lines mounted above the tracks, feeding various substations along the PRR’s electrified territory. The railroad understood the value of the Public Works project and the advantage of a renewable energy source. Today Safe Harbor operates 12 turbine generator units and continues to supply the Northeast passenger rail network today.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

Turkey Hill

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA.  Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA. Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of  Mytopo.com

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of Mytopo.com

The name of the family owned Turkey Hill based dairy business dates back several generations to Armor Frey during the Great Depression. Starting as a small supplement to make ends meet, Frey built his dairy route into a profitable company, with his sons taking over in 1947. It wasn’t until the 1980's however that the name Turkey Hill made it into most of our lives when the Frey family made a considerable investment in growing their ice cream production. By 1981 independent markets in the Philadelphia area picked up the product line and soon after Turkey Hill would be one of America’s best-known dairies.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The forward thinking company installed two wind turbines on Turkey Hill in 2010 to provide up to 7.2 kWh or 25% of their facility’s power demands. The towers stand at 262 feet and are the tallest structures in Lancaster County. Ironically the same bluff that Armor Frey allegedly watched the sunrise from everyday before going to work is part of Lancaster County’s Frey Farm Landfill site, a massive facility that handles Lancaster County’s waste that cannot be converted to energy or recycled. While the facility is considerable in size, they have taken great measure to preserve the environmental integrity of the areas rich with wildlife and ornithological diversity. Currently Lancaster County is developing a walk in park and hiking trails to enjoy the breathtaking view from atop of Turkey Hill. Though I have yet to explore this particular location, you can be certain that I will report back with images from this prominent scenic viewpoint!

Creswell Station

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Port and Cres interlocking, controlled by the operator in Cola tower, which was in Columbia. Interlocking plate collection of       The Broad Way    .

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Port and Cres interlocking, controlled by the operator in Cola tower, which was in Columbia. Interlocking plate collection of The Broad Way.

Just five miles south of Columbia we come to a small village named Creswell Station, the location where the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch diverges from the Columbia & Port Deposit.  By far the longest stretch of new trackage built during the Low Grade project the diverging A&S alignment runs roughly 33 miles from Creswell across Lancaster County to the main line connection in Parkesburg. South from this junction (railroad east) the C&PD and A&S ran parallel along the Susquehanna as far south as Shenks Ferry with the A&S climbing a gentle .3% grade accumulating a significant difference in elevation between the two routes.

Wide view of Port Interlocking and the Susquehanna River. Note the grade separation with the A&S branch beginning the gentle climb over the Port Road .

Wide view of Port Interlocking and the Susquehanna River. Note the grade separation with the A&S branch beginning the gentle climb over the Port Road .

Originally controlled locally by an interlocking tower, two remote control points know as Port and Cres were implemented during the 1938 electrification project, controlling a single jump-over arrangement allowing the two lines to intersect with out fouling the opposing main track. Controlled by the operator in Cola tower, this was one of several remote controlled interlocking points along the A&S and C&PD. Port controlled the east and west connections between the A&S and Port Road and was the boundary between the Chesapeake and Philadelphia Divisions. Cres controlled the convergence of the two main tracks to one on the eastern limit of the interlocking on the Port Road. The C&PD to the south/ east of here was all single track with passing and sidings.

A&S jump-over bridge looking east at Port/ Cres interlocking. The track below is the westward main track of the Columbia and Port Deposit branch. Around the bend below is Cres, where this track meets with the eastward main and narrows to one track. Note the transmission poles that are still used to support Amtrak’s feeder line from Safe Harbor to Royalton preserving for now some of the visual characteristics of the original PRR infrastructure.

A&S jump-over bridge looking east at Port/ Cres interlocking. The track below is the westward main track of the Columbia and Port Deposit branch. Around the bend below is Cres, where this track meets with the eastward main and narrows to one track. Note the transmission poles that are still used to support Amtrak’s feeder line from Safe Harbor to Royalton preserving for now some of the visual characteristics of the original PRR infrastructure.

Creswell Station served as a strategic junction until Conrail abandoned the A&S branch in favor of the Reading Main Line in December of 1988. The A&S languished for many years, rusting away until the property was turned over to the local municipalities to create a network of rail trails for the general public. Though the segment from Creswell to Shenks Ferry has yet to be converted, planning has begun to transform this former right of way into a linear park along the beautiful Susquehanna River.

Atglen and Susquehanna Branch

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Atglen and Susquehanna Branch was an integral segment of the Low Grade network, a through route dedicated to freight traffic that stretched approximately 140 miles from Morrisville to Enola, bypassing the congestion of Philadelphia and Lancaster.  At a price of nearly $20 million dollars, the A&S Branch spanned Lancaster County creating the final link of this ambitious project. Constructed on earthen fill and etched through the stone hills of the Chester and Susquehanna Valleys the route connected to the Northern Central Railway at Wago Junction continuing east to Parkesburg where it linked back to the main line. A major piece of this route would include a new 33-mile segment between Cresswell and Parkesburg. To construct the A&S the Pennsylvania Railroad excavated an estimated 22 million yards of earth and rock while building roughly 80 bridges and culverts to create a modern superhighway for freight traffic.  At the time of its dedication on July 27, 1906, the line would be the largest construction project in the railroad’s history to date. Once completed, the A&S and the larger Low Grade would give the PRR an unrivalled route that provided access to all the major port cities the railroad served with a vital link to the four track main line system west.

During the 1938 electrification project, the A&S and the rest of the Low Grade would see the change from steam to electric locomotives with power coming from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant located on the Susquehanna River. This early “green” facility not only powered the trains of the A&S but through a tether of high voltage transmission lines along the route, fed major sub-stations along the Main Line and what is know today as the Northeast Corridor. The engineering accomplishment would serve the PRR well through the onslaught of traffic during World War II without major issue, but after the war, traffic would decline sending many railroads into financial crisis. Through bankruptcy and merger the ill-fated Penn Central and subsequent creation of Conrail, the A&S and other parts of the Low Grade would be abandoned in favor of the former Reading route to Harrisburg. On December 19th, 1988 the last freight train would traverse the A&S bringing an end to 82 years of freight service on this remarkable piece of railroad.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Since the last train the right of way languished in abandonment, however the transmission lines were retained to continue feeding the substations on the former PRR electrified network. In 2011 Amtrak moved to upgrade the former catenary / transmission line supports with modern mono-poles, while the local municipalities have taken possession of the right of way with some creating a beautiful rail-trail route through the heart of Lancaster County.

Over the next several months we will explore the A&S in detail, looking at the modern remains as well as historical images of the line during construction and operation. I am excited to share a thorough account of an engineering project that speaks to the ability and character of the Pennsylvania Railroad and their claim to being the Standard Railroad of the World!

Columbia, Pennsylvania: 20th Century and the PRR Improvements Project

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

By the late 1800’s the Pennsylvania Railroad had developed into a well-heeled transportation system but the rapid growth of industry would necessitate system wide improvements to bring the railroad into the 20th century. In 1902 PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt and Chief Engineer William H. Brown would embark on a series of projects to eliminate bottlenecks and operational problems across the system. 

After the PRR acquired control of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway through the purchase of the Main Line of Public Works in 1857, various segments were improved during the second half of the 19th century. The route between Philadelphia and Lancaster became an integral part of the PRR Main Line connecting with the former Harrisburg & Lancaster creating the line we know today as Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor. The western end of the P&C would become a branch connecting the industrial and agricultural areas of Lancaster and Columbia. Due to the stiff grades both segments were less than ideal for heavy freight traffic. In addition to the P&C property accessing Columbia, the PRR had also gained controlled of the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad’s Columbia branch via Royalton and the Columbia & Port Deposit by the mid to late 1800's, further establishing Columbia as an important railroad hub. Though much of these water level alignments provided a network to move freight to Harrisburg, Cassatt sought to build a new route east from Columbia running across Lancaster County to create a modern freight bypass from New York and Philadelphia to the Harrisburg area and the main line west.

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of    The Broad Way   .

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of The Broad Way.

The Low Grade as it was planned would run right through Columbia using the current alignment. From the east and west new construction would connect existing segments of the H&L and C&PD creating an improved main line designed to move freight on a new grade separated line. This new route would divert most freight traffic off the main line all together between Parkesburg and Harrisburg. Enola yard was completed in 1906 as part of the low grade project functioning as the western anchor for all freight trains and motive power between the Philadelphia and Middle Divisions. As a result Columbia importance as a major terminal would diminish due to its close proximity to the new facility, resulting in a significant loss of jobs in the area. Compounded by the diminishing local industry, a result of depleted ore and lumber resources, Columbia’s economy would begin a downward trend that continued through the Great Depression.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

More change came on the PRR with the electrification of their network of rail lines in the Northeast.  One of the last segments of the ambitious project was completed in 1938 affording the PRR the benefit of electric traction on the Low Grade, Columbia branch and Columbia & Port Deposit. During the electrification project, the PRR also consolidated many of the early towers with two modern CTC facilities controlling most of this freight network. Cola tower in Columbia controlled all trains on the Columbia Branch to Lancaster, roughly forty miles of the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch including the junction with the A&S Branch at Port and the York Haven Line west to Shocks Mill. Cola’s jurisdiction over the C&PD was unique in that most of the line was actually under control of the Baltimore Dispatcher and was considered part of the Chesapeake Division, while Cola was part of the Philadelphia Division.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

The Low Grade and electrification would survive the Penn Central debacle but ultimately met its demise after the creation of Conrail. Due to the high cost of electric supply charges, the aging infrastructure and the dependency on Amtrak to move trains east of Parkesburg it was decided to abandon an integral part of the system in favor of the neighboring Reading Railroad Main Line ending over 80 years of service on perhaps one of Cassatt and Brown’s greatest achievements. The Columbia and Port Deposit survives as Norfolk Southern’s artery to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Port of Baltimore. The former P&C to Lancaster provides NS a dedicated connection to Dillerville yard servicing the industrial areas around the seat of Lancaster County. Though not what used to be Columbia still sees a parade of freight daily, though mostly nocturnal, moving freight as Cassatt had envisioned over a century ago.

Susquehanna Reprise

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Though we've discussed the trials and tribulations the Pennsylvania Railroad endured sharing the banks of the Susquehanna River, particularly on the Columbia and York Haven lines, I would like to take a chance to celebrate the river itself. The Susquehanna runs approximately 464 miles from the uplands of New York and Western Pennsylvania to create the longest river on the east coast to drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The river's watershed drains some 27,500 square miles encompassing nearly half of the State of Pennsylvania. The broad shallow river winds a wandering course to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland. Through various routes including the mainline, York Haven, Port Road and Northern Central the PRR follows considerable lengths of the Susquehanna. In particular, for this post at least, we celebrate some of the natural beauty of the mighty river in context of Lancaster County and the PRR York Haven and Columbia branch. Enjoy!

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Royalton's Early Transportation Roots

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In a strip of land between the former Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad's Columbia branch and the Susquehanna River in modern day Royalton, Pennsylvania lays one of the few remaining clues of another transportation empire that succumbed to the practicality of the railroads. The State owned Mainline of Public Works was completed in 1834 creating a multimodal transportation network to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in direct competition with the Erie Canal. Consisting of over 273 miles of canal and 120 miles of railroad, the system utilized various modes of transport based on  geographic necessity. The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad connected its namesake towns to the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The Eastern Division ran 43 miles north from Columbia along the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties.  The canal made a northern connection to the Juniata Division Canal at Duncan’s Island and intermediate connections to Harrisburg and the Union Canal in Middletown. The Juniata Division paralelled the Juniata River making connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg where canal boats were then transported by rail over a series of inclined planes to cross the Allegheny ridge at a summit of 2322 feet above sea level. West of the Allegheny summit the Portage Road  made connection to the Western Division Canal in the City of Johnstown following the path of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of  http://maley.net/atlas/ .

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of http://maley.net/atlas/.

The dangerous and slow inclined planes of the Portage Road along with the canals would prove to be the downfall of the Public Works system limited by capacity and the seasonal nature of operations. The vast and diverse infrastructure needed constant work, many cases in remote areas making the system costly to maintain. By the 1840’s some investors began to look to the railroad as a better transportation solution and in 1846 the charter to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, a privately owned rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would challenge the Public Works System running almost exactly the same route. While the benefit of rail transportation over the Public Works was quickly realized subsequent expansion east to Philadelphia in 1854 would create the first all rail route across the state, dealing the final blow to the canals and Portage Railroad. The PRR eventually purchased most of the bankrupt Public Works system from the state to improve their mainline, often offering favorable routes alongside of towns rather than the early street running alignments of the original 1846 railroad.

Philadelphia Division: Royalton

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of  The Broad Way . 

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way

Straddling the towns of Middletown and Royalton in Dauphin County, Royalton interlocking was a strategic point where most freight and passenger traffic separated for the trip east to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Approximately 10 miles east from State Interlocking the mainline and Columbia branch (today Norfolk Southern's Royalton branch) ran along side each other with the freight operating on tracks furthest to the north. The Columbia branch, which drops south along the Susquehanna diverted freight trains away from the main at Royalton requiring traffic to cross into the path of the busy passenger main. To avoid this potential traffic disruption the PRR applied a proven technique of building a fly-over to allow all tracks/trains to gain proper position without the need to physically cross or intersect the other route.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

Prior to the late 1950's Royalton interlocking was controlled by a two story frame tower that sat on the eastern side of the tracks (railroad was oriented north - south here). The early interlocking plant was of an older design using a mechanical armstrong complex to control the switches and signals between the mainline and Columbia branch. The Columbia branch served as a back road connection from the mainline and freight yards in Harrisburg  to the low-grade route via Shocks Mill allowing freight from all directions to bypass congestion in Enola when necessary. In the late 1950’s Royalton interlocking was made a remote facility named Roy with control given to the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg. Evidence of this project survives in the form of a single story relay house that rests on the foundation of the former tower. As part of Amtrak’s Keystone Line rehab, Roy was rebuilt once again providing Amtrak with a set of crossovers for operational flexibility (the line is now governed by Rule 261-allowing bi-directional traffic flow) while maintaining the connection to the Royalton branch.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

Special thanks to Mr. Don Rittler, who's input on operations at Royalton provided some insight on this relatively obscure facility on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Don worked as a tower operator for the PRR and its successors in the Harrisburg region from 1937-1979.

Chickies Rock

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

Chickies Rock is a unique geological feature along the Susquehanna River known as an anticline, an arch of exposed rock arranged in layers that bend in opposite directions from its peak. Chickies is classified as the largest example of its kind on the East Coast. This particular location also played a significant role during the Civil War. As a highpoint along the Susquehanna River, the bluff was a strategic location for the Union Army during the Confederate’s occupation of Wrightsville across from Columbia during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Railway would build a trolley line north from Columbia to the peak of the Rocks where it also constructed an amusement park. The line scaled 1900 feet up the west side of Chickies Hill Road on a 6% grade abruptly turning toward the peak to access the park. Opening in 1893 the line later extended down to Marietta providing both towns access to the popular recreation area. The trolley line and park continued to operate until its abandonment in April of 1932.

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the  NY Public Library System

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the NY Public Library System

Looking to the north from Chickies Rock one can see the PRR York Haven line, the former alignment of the Columbia branch and the town of Marietta. The rail lines converge at the base of the rocks to squeeze south (railroad east) on a narrow flat along side the Susquehanna River. It was at this location during the construction of the low-grade that the PRR decided it would build the York Haven line out on a fill to avoid the curving profile of the older alignment between here and Columbia. As a result Kerbaugh Lake, named after one of the biggest contractors on the low-grade project was created. Though referred to as a lake the area was really a low laying swamp with poor drainage that separated the two alignments. In 1936 the flood prone Susquehanna rose to levels that consumed the new fill destroying the vital low-grade, flooding Kerbaugh Lake and the Columbia branch along the shore. The devastation required months to rebuild the York Haven line and forced the decision to abandon the older Columbia branch alignment. During this period the PRR also filled in Kerbaugh Lake and improved drainage in the area by installing several culverts between the lake and Susquehanna under the right of way. Today most of this area is part of the Chickies Rock Park operated by the Lancaster County Parks Department and provides some beautiful views along various trails following the former Columbia branch between Marietta and old Kerbaugh Lake in addition to park high above on Chickies Rock itself.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

Philadelphia Division: Rowenna - Marietta

Continuing East on the York Haven line from Shocks Mill Bridge, we encounter more history on the fabled low-grade project of Alexander Cassatt. The east bank of the Susquehanna River was host to two major modes of transportation by the mid 1800’s, the Public Works Canal and the Columbia Branch of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad. By the time plans came for the new low-grade the canals had been largely abandoned for some time, however the Columbia Branch became a vital link to the original Philadelphia and Columbia as well as the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad providing connections to the mainline via Royalton. While designing the new low-grade the Columbia branch was the choice line to connect the Northern Central via the new Shocks Mills bridge, the old alignment would require revisions to fit the requirements of the new line. By the turn of the century Cassatt’s low-grade project would bring big changes to the local railroad scene. With the consolidation and construction of the new freight network many of the older track alignments were abandoned in favor of a separate right of way to avoid pedestrian and street traffic. Common to many locations on the PRR, these abandoned segments were either sold off or utilized as stub end tracks to serve industries still active near the town centers.

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers.     Plate collection of   The Broad Way  .

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers. Plate collection of The Broad Way.

In the village of Rowenna, just east of the Shocks Mill Bridge, a segment of the old Harrisburg and Lancaster drops off the embankment where the Royalton - Columbia branch and the York Haven line meet at an interlocking simply known as Shocks. This spur continued parallel to the mainline for several miles accessing agricultural industries and a military transfer depot constructed during World War II. Sill in service today, this branch serves the former Military installation, now an industrial park as well as a feed trans-load facility off Vinegar Ferry Road.

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge  .

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge.

Just a few miles further east we enter the Borough of Marietta. Established in 1812, Marietta once boasted many river, rail and canal dependent industries. On the south end of town remnants of the old Columbia Branch surface in an isolated area bound by Chiques Creek and Furnace Road. This area, which the creek and a local iron furnace are named after (albeit different spellings) derives from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish. In different eras it has been spelled Chickies, Chikis and Chiques but all refer to this common meaning. The Chickies Furnace #1 opened in 1845 with production thriving until the late 1890’s closing due to better, more efficient facilities, most likely in nearby Steelton.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Among the foundations and rubble that remains of the former Chickies Furnace #1, the Columbia branch can be found along the old canal bed. You can spot telltale signs of PRR construction methods, the most immediate is the use of the ubiquitous 3 pipe railings on a bridge over a sluice between the canal and creek. Piers also remain from a deck bridge that carried the branch over the creek prior to the 1936 flood while the former roadbed of cinder ballast provides reference of where the line entered the area from the west. Just down stream on Chiques Creek, the York Haven line crosses the outlet to the Susquehanna on a W. H. Brown trademark 3 arch stone bridge well above high water. The history of when the Columbia branch was abandoned ties into not only the construction of the low-grade but also the great flood of 1936, subject of next week’s post!

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Philadelphia Division: Shocks Mills Bridge

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Perhaps the bane of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's existence, the Shocks Mill Bridge is of significant note among the countless stone arch bridges, overpasses and culverts constructed on the PRR during his tenure. Opened in 1903 the Shocks Mills bridge was a part of the low-grade freight only line being constructed to connect Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Situated roughly 8 miles railroad west of Columbia the strategic bridge and accompanying line linked the Northern Central in Wago with existing lines in Columbia and ultimately the new Atglen and Susquehanna further down river. The 28 arch stone bridge was over 2200 feet long spanning the Susquehanna River with trains riding approximately 60 feet above low water. A smaller sister to the beautiful Rockville Bridge further upstream, initial construction cost the PRR $1 million dollars to build the bridge and long fill on the eastern approach. However problems with the bridge developed when piers began to settling in 1904 resulting in more money and time spent to reinforce the compromised areas of the span. After this additional work the bridge endured decades of heavy use and the additional of catenary during the later electrification phase of freight lines in 1937-38.

shocksmills.001

In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes would batter the East Coast causing record floods throughout the area resulting in over 3 billion dollars in damage and causing over 128 fatalities. Cash starved Penn Central was hit hard having multiple washouts throughout the system but one of more significant would be the loss at Shocks Mill. On July 2nd, 1972 a train crew noticed problems with the center piers of the bridge as flood waters raged below during one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Soon after, six piers toward the center of the stone bridge would collapse rendering the low-grade line useless until the damage could be assessed and rebuilding could take place. Becuase the PC was under bankruptcy protection court permission was sought to rebuild the vital link. Started late in the third quarter of 1972 the new construction was completed by August of 1973 utilizing nine new concrete piers supporting deck girder spans to bridge the void. Until settling compromised a pier on the Rockville bridge in 1997 this would be the only major failure on record of the proven and sturdy construction methods Brown used during his 25 year tenure as Chief Engineer.

Philadelphia Division: Cordorus Creek

CodorusCreek.001

During the construction of the low-grade, surveyors encountered several obstacles in the form of creeks and rivers. At approximately milepost 47 on the York Haven Line, Chief Engineer, William H. Brown handled Codorus Creek like many others around the system utilizing the standard cut stone masonry arch bridge, this one consisting of five arches. The Codorus bridge curves to the east on a high fill as  the mainline climbs toward the Shocks Mill Bridge over the Susquehanna River, less than a mile to the east.

Philadelphia Division: Cly

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Leaving the greater Harrisburg / Enola area from the west bank of the Susquehanna, the PRR's York Haven Line drops down river toward Columbia, PA. This line was a key component of PRR president Alexander J. Cassatt’s plan to build a low-grade freight bypass diverting traffic off the mainline from the Philadelphia area. Existing lines and new construction in the early 1900’s provided access to Baltimore by way of both the Northern Central via York and the Columbia and Port Deposit Branch via mainline connection at Perryville, Philadelphia via the new Atglen & Susquehanna and Lancaster via the original Philadelphia & Columbia. Running a distance of 15 miles east from Enola Yard along the former Northern Central alignment, this “branch” was actually one of the busiest electrified freight arteries in the east. Alongside the Susquehanna River in the town of Cly, the railroad maintained an interlocking here connecting the York Haven Line to the Northern Central. These lines would run parallel to Wago Junco where the NC drops southwest toward the city of York.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of  http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Cly tower was constructed in 1906; one of the few PRR interlockings utilizing an Armstrong plant of mechanical levers to control switches over the later US&S electro-mechanical installations.  Constructed of brick the two-story tower was a contrast to neighboring installations built in the late 1930’s like Cola to the east, which controlled long stretches of line utilizing a Centralized Traffic Control installation. Though an important junction the Northern Central to York was never a preferred freight route in later days of the PRR hosting passenger trains and local freight. During the Penn Central years the route suffered heavy damage as a result of Hurricane Agnes. In a dire financial situation, Penn Central opted not to rebuild the route and Cly’s importance as an interlocking diminished resulting in the eventual closing of the tower in the early 1980’s under Conrail. Today there is little left here as Norfolk Southern works to modernize this line, the catenary poles have been cut down and position light signals replaced with modern installations. While connection is still made to the branch to York in a simplified interlocking at Wago the modern Cly is a mere curve and grade crossing at milepost 54 of the Enola Branch.

Philadelphia Division: Middletown

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Continuing approximately 7 miles east from Steelton the mainline and Columbia branch arrive at historic Middletown, Pennsylvania. Skipping over Highspire, featured last year in the post, Industry Along The Line,Middletown, originally known as Portsmouth and was a significant place in early transportation history. Founded in 1755 and incorporated in 1828, Middletown is the oldest incorporated community in Dauphin County. Situated in a broad flat plain the Middletown- Royalton area was the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Canal System - part of the mainline of Public Works, the southern end of the Union Canal, and confluence of the Swatara Creek and Susquehanna River. Here many industries including boat building, lumber mills and iron works thrived in early years. The railroads arrived in the 1830's, served by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad via the Lebanon Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad via the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy & Lancaster. Soon after the railroad arrived in Middletown, the region's significance as a canal hub diminished as railroads triumphed over the inferior system. Both the Reading and PRR served the area for many years to come, but the PRR had a much larger presence with the mainline cutting right through town.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

Today both lines survive, and the town is served by three railroads: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (both PRR) and the short line Middletown and Hummelston (former RDG) which serves a few remaining industries in addition to operating tourist excursions along Swatara Creek. While Amtrak and NS appear to be on a shared mainline, two tracks are actually Amtrak's Keystone Line while the southernmost track is NS's Royalton branch. Though this segment is part of a expansive interlocking starting in the Middletown area we will discuss this railroad location in greater detail when we reach Royalton.

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.