Looking east into Jacks Narrows from the Mapleton area we see the fabled PRR Middle Division turning south in a bend along the Juniata River. Note the access road to the left, which prior to abandonment, was the former number three and four track, which were part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's famous Broadway mainline. Located in Huntingdon County, Jack's Narrows is the name of a glen in Jack's Mountain that runs over two miles long between the towns of Mt Union and Mapleton, Pennsylvania. Jack's Mountain itself soars to 2,321 feet and creates a narrow gorge funneling the Juniata River, US Highway Rt 22, and the former Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division from east to west. With little access in the narrows, the railroad runs on the southern bank leaving Mt Union's interchange with East Broad Top Railroad behind, heading west to re-emerge in the sleepy town of Mapleton. Roughly midway in the narrows was a lonely outpost staffed by PRR tower operators for an interlocking tower aptly called "Jacks". The name of the mountain and narrows took their name from Captain Jack Armstrong, early pioneer and Indian trader who traversed this area frequently from roughly 1730 to 1744. He was allegedly murdered by the Indians and buried on the Juniata shore near this famous gateway.
Photographs & History
Built under the supervision of Chief Engineer Alexander C Shand, Middle Division Bridge Number 147 was completed in 1906. In a tradition started by PRR Chief Engineer William H Brown, with his bridge in Johstown PA spanning the Conemaugh River, the bridge was built of cut stone because of its low maintenance and increased durability over early steel and iron structures. The bridge spanning the Juniata River on the Southeast Side of Mt Union consists of six segmental stone arch spans each 100' in length and 58' wide. Because the bridge consists of an even number of spans, the Center Pier was expanded by 8' to create a visible center to the bridge, a nod to traditional bridge building techniques in which an odd number of spans was utilized to define the center of the structure. Bridge number 147 brings the former four track main of the PRR into Mt. Union on an elevated fill, avoiding grade crossings through the once bustling interchange town with the East Broad Top Railroad. Today, the bridge serves the Norfolk Southern Corporation's busy two track Pittsburgh Line, though later altered with reinforced concrete casing, the bridge remains another great example of PRR's tradition of Cut Stone masonry bridges that were built to last.
Mt Union Pennsylvania was the location of interchange between the Pennsylvania Railroad and narrow gauge coal hauler, the East Broad Top Railroad. The 3' gauge EBT ran as a common carrier until 1956, interchanging freight with the PRR in a elaborate facility located on the South East edge of town, where coal and other goods were transferred from the narrow gauge equipment to standard gauge cars. Today deep in the woods between East Shirley Street and Logging Road 44018 lays the remains of interchange facilities, still full of lines of former EBT hopper cars and boxcars rotting away amongst intricate dual gauge trackage that allowed both the EBT and PRR to navigate the facility.
From Franklin St, the Railroad continues West toward the Juniata River and its physical connection to the Former PRR Middle Division. Along the line on East Pennsylvania Ave and Small Street are structures typical of old company housing and local amenities in this rural Pennsylvania town.
Mt Union is truly a treasure for the historian, and speaks of many little towns that made the fabric of our industrial culture. Mt Union and many other towns like it, still provide the clues of a different time for anybody who takes the time to explore the sleepy streets off the beaten path.