Photographs & History

Photographs and History

William H Brown: The Tale of Two Bridges

In a beautiful image by William H. Rau we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In a beautiful image by William H. Rau we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1881 a rising figure in the Pennsylvania Railroad by the name of William H. Brown was promoted to chief engineer. At 45 years old the Lancaster County native had 31 years under his belt working his way from a rod man on a survey crew in 1850 to the top of one of the most ambitious engineering departments in the railroad world. Brown had a reputation for knowing every grade, curve and crossing on the PRR. As chief engineer his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant during the 19th and early 20th centuries, implementing various programs of improvements up until his retirement in 1906. According to his obituary in the New York Times he, “made 133 changes and revisions to the Main Line, built fourteen elevated railways through cities, forty-one tunnels, and 163 stone bridges, including [the world's largest] Rockville stone bridge.” The last point was perhaps one his more notable achievements and certainly one of the most recognizable today; the stone masonry arch bridge.

The connection between Brown's first two stone bridges are linked to various correspondence in the planning stages for both locations. Born from the endorsement of stone bridges during the four track expansion, they diverged at the time of design. The Conestoga is two tracks with provisions for expansion (note protruding stone work along the arches) the Conemaugh bridge designed and built with four tracks. Both survive today and remain in active service on Amtrak's Keystone corridor and Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh line respectively. Left detail; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right detail William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

The connection between Brown's first two stone bridges are linked to various correspondence in the planning stages for both locations. Born from the endorsement of stone bridges during the four track expansion, they diverged at the time of design. The Conestoga is two tracks with provisions for expansion (note protruding stone work along the arches) the Conemaugh bridge designed and built with four tracks. Both survive today and remain in active service on Amtrak's Keystone corridor and Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh line respectively. Left detail; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right detail William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Two of the earliest spans Brown designed for the Main Line were the crossing of the Conemaugh River in Johnstown and the Conestoga in Lancaster. Though bid separately both were originally to be constructed utilizing iron truss spans until Pittsburgh Division superintendent Robert Pitcairn endorsed the use of stone to Brown instead. Touting stone’s strength, durability and its abundant supply on the PRR, the stone bridge would be a long term solution, able to support the growing traffic and heavier trains the PRR was becoming accustomed to. It was there that the course divided for the two bridges. The Conemaugh bridge was built as planned with four tracks and the first to prove Pitcairn’s endorsement true surviving the wrath of the great flood of 1889 just a year after its completion.

With bridge renewals a major part of the program to expand the PRR’s trademark four track main line across the state of Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Creek bridge in Coatesville and the Conestoga bridge in Lancaster were the last remaining two track spans west from Philadelphia. As discussed previously, the Lancaster terminal was also a choke point in the movement of traffic necessitating the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off. Just to the east of the junction of this new route with the old main was the Conestoga River, a 61-mile tributary of the Susquehanna. The crossing of the Conestoga saw several successive bridges built for the railroad; the first a 1400’ long series of wood lattice truss spans dating from the P&C which was consumed by fire and later replaced with a fill and a shortened series of iron Whipple trusses around the Civil War. Though Brown had considered another iron design for Conestoga in 1887 its design ultimately followed the fate of the Conemaugh bridge, choosing to use stone instead. Though initial correspondence suggests the Conestoga bridge was to be a four-track span, costs and traffic levels dictated a compromise in design, building a two-track span with provisions in place for expansion. As a result the five arch, 329’ long stone masonry bridge was constructed with foundations to support a four track span. In addition, contractors left stones protruding from the southern side of the bridge, which would allow for any expansion to tie into the existing structure when demand necessitated. Completed in 1888 traffic grew through the next decade but plans were on the horizon that would direct freight off the main line to a new dedicated low-grade from Atglen to Columbia, by-passing Lancaster all together. Though the span in Coatesville was replaced in 1906 to support the combined traffic demands east of Atglen the Conestoga bridge was never expanded, nor was the main line between Lancaster and Royalton since the PRR now had three two-track routes for both freight and passenger moves via the Main Line, Atglen & Susquehanna low grade and the Columbia branch.

Today many of Brown’s bridges are still in service without remark; the only exception of course is Shock’s Mills, which partially failed during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Building like the Romans for an empire in the transportation world, Mr. Brown and other people like him on competing railroads represented the pinnacle of engineering, design and forethought that built the United States and are largely responsible for the rail networks we have today.

New Line: PRR's Lancaster Cut-Off

1912 Sanborn Map Illustrating the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off which would divert traffic away from the PRR's congested Old Main through the city center. Map collection of the Penn State University Library.

1912 Sanborn Map Illustrating the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off which would divert traffic away from the PRR's congested Old Main through the city center. Map collection of the Penn State University Library.

Opening in 1883 the Lancaster Cut-Off was part of a series of main line improvements to eliminate excessive grades, traffic congestion and operational issues associated with the original main line through downtown Lancaster. Under the direction of chief engineer William H. Brown a two-track bypass running along the city’s north side was constructed between Dillerville and an interlocking named CG where it joined the existing main line just west of the Conestoga River. Though originally designed to divert only through trains away from Lancaster the improved line became the preferred routing because of the continuing problems operating through the busy city center. As a result service to the station on Queen Street declined, stirring complaints from city officials who demanded better passenger rail service.

Interior view of the concourse bridge waiting area in the 1928-29 passenger station that replaced the antiquated Queen Street station facility on the Old Main.

Interior view of the concourse bridge waiting area in the 1928-29 passenger station that replaced the antiquated Queen Street station facility on the Old Main.

Complaints continued well into the 20th century until city officials and the PRR began negotiations for a new passenger station to be located on the Cut-Off. Construction of the new facility began in August of 1928 and was dedicated dedication on April 27th of 1929. Situated between Lititz Pike and North Prince Street the beautiful brick and limestone colonial revival styled station featured a second floor waiting room with large arched windows and limestone walls. A concourse bridge over the main line connected the waiting room with 2 high level platforms while baggage was moved via a subterranean tunnel and elevators from the neighboring express building located immediately west of the station.

This plate drawing of the consolidated CORK interlocking plant circa 1963 illustrates the expansiveness of the consolidated territory which was once controlled be three separate towers. Plate drawing collection of  The Broad Way.

This plate drawing of the consolidated CORK interlocking plant circa 1963 illustrates the expansiveness of the consolidated territory which was once controlled be three separate towers. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way.

The construction of the new facility also necessitated additional track capacity since the old line would be largely abandoned after this project was complete. Sidings and runners were added to the two main tracks through the station complex. A new interlocking tower aptly named Lancaster controlled the new station trackage in addition to consolidating three existing interlocking towers: DV (Dillerville) - junction with the Old Line, Cut-off, Columbia branch and H&L to Harrisburg, CG (Conestoga) junction of the old main, cut-off and main line east and ES - junction with the New Holland Branch and end of the four track main line just east of the Conestoga bridge. Later renamed Cork this standard design tower of the Depression era was constructed of brick with a copper clad bay and hip roof. Inside the tower a 67 lever Union Switch & Signal Model 14 interlocking machine controlled the expansive physical plant.

As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic that did not service the City of Lancaster, today the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off the grade of the Old Line can be spotted at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The expansive area around the main looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and main line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic that did not service the City of Lancaster, today the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off the grade of the Old Line can be spotted at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The expansive area around the main looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and main line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

Cork remained operational into the 21st century, during the Keystone Corridor rebuild several revisions to the interlocking simplified the infrastructure in the area pairing out the various control points and retrofitting the old building with new CTC like control boards mounted directly to the old interlocking machine. By the close of the first quarter of 2013 Cork’s local control was cut-over to Amtrak’s centralized dispatching center in Delaware, ending 84 years of continual service under three different railroads. Despite the loss of CORK the PRR passenger station continues to serve the city of Lancaster  undergoing a slow and expensive renovation that will renew its facade and interior while adding modern amenities like climate control and new electrical systems. It is unclear to the author if additional retail spaces will be developed in the lower level but the facility seems to be ripe with opportunity for travelers who visit the county seat, home to a vibrant arts and tourism region. Only time will tell what the final development of the Lancaster passenger station will bring but today it continues to serve its intended purpose maintaining the Pennsylvania Railroad's presence in the city of Lancaster.

Dillerville: Lancaster's Western Gateway

Dillerville Junction was a complex interlocking controlling access to several important lines on the PRR in the northwestern corner of Lancaster. This remarkable view looking railroad west from the Lancaster Cut-Off depicts the new line veering off to the right connecting with the H&L line to Harrisburg. The old alignment of the H&L into Dillerville and Lancaster still exists and is where Rau's photographic train is sitting behind the interlocking tower. Straight ahead is the connection to the Columbia Branch while the tracks that fan off to the left from that line in the distance  are the original alignment and connection to the Old Main to the Queen Street station. The last line of note through the junction is the single track passing left to right in front of the tower crossing all of the PRR tracks at grade, this was the Reading Company's Lancaster Branch, part of its Reading & Columbia Division which terminated at the foot of North Prince Street. The meticulous landscaping, track and ballast work reflect a railroad that took great pride in their physical plant. Image circa 1888 by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Dillerville Junction was a complex interlocking controlling access to several important lines on the PRR in the northwestern corner of Lancaster. This remarkable view looking railroad west from the Lancaster Cut-Off depicts the new line veering off to the right connecting with the H&L line to Harrisburg. The old alignment of the H&L into Dillerville and Lancaster still exists and is where Rau's photographic train is sitting behind the interlocking tower. Straight ahead is the connection to the Columbia Branch while the tracks that fan off to the left from that line in the distance  are the original alignment and connection to the Old Main to the Queen Street station. The last line of note through the junction is the single track passing left to right in front of the tower crossing all of the PRR tracks at grade, this was the Reading Company's Lancaster Branch, part of its Reading & Columbia Division which terminated at the foot of North Prince Street. The meticulous landscaping, track and ballast work reflect a railroad that took great pride in their physical plant. Image circa 1888 by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1835 Revolutionary War officer and Sheriff of Lancaster County, Adam Diller founded Dillerville, a one time separate settlement in Lancaster’s northwest corner. In June of the same year Diller would grant the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad a 1.5-acre plot to construct a depot. From these meager beginnings Dillerville would develop to become the western gateway of the Lancaster terminal, evolving with continual improvements after the PRR assumed control of the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroads.

Originally the location where the PRR predecessors split away heading west on their respective routes, DV interlocking as it became known, developed into a far more complex facility with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off in 1883. The second know tower in this location was completed in 1884 for the new cut-off utilizing Armstrong levers to control lower quadrant semaphore signals and switch points throughout the junction. This tower was built in the typical style of that era with Victorian details including a slate shingled hip roof and center cupola similar to surviving examples like LEMO tower now located in Strasburg, PA and SHORE at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia. DV was an important facility, directing trains to the Columbia Branch, Old Main, H&L line to Harrisburg and the Lancaster Cut-Off / Main Line east. On either side of the interlocking there were several yards servicing industries on the Old Main and the later plants of Armstrong World Industries and its predecessors. Adding to the complexity of this interlocking was an at grade crossing of the R&C division of the Reading Company who’s Lancaster Branch terminated at the foot of Prince Street in the north west corner of the city.

This view looks west depicting the first tower at Dillerville around 1880. To the left is the Columbia Branch of the former P&C  and to the right is the former H&L to Harrisburg. Note the sign on this early wood frame octagonal switch tower which proclaims an exact distance of 69 and 30/100 miles to Philadelphia and 283 and 70/100 miles to Pittsburgh. Another noteworthy detail is the early signals utilized to govern traffic at the junction. As evident from Rau's photo in 1888 this junction would be greatly reconfigured with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-off. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

This view looks west depicting the first tower at Dillerville around 1880. To the left is the Columbia Branch of the former P&C  and to the right is the former H&L to Harrisburg. Note the sign on this early wood frame octagonal switch tower which proclaims an exact distance of 69 and 30/100 miles to Philadelphia and 283 and 70/100 miles to Pittsburgh. Another noteworthy detail is the early signals utilized to govern traffic at the junction. As evident from Rau's photo in 1888 this junction would be greatly reconfigured with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-off. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In the late 1920s DV interlocking was part of a consolidation project in preparation for the opening of a new passenger station complex on the Cut-Off centralizing several towers into Lancaster Tower, which was later renamed Cork for its proximity to the PRR’s largest freight customer in the city, Crown Cork & Seal (Armstrong). Another component to this improvements program involved partial abandonment of the Old Line retaining only the segment from West Yard to the freight houses on Water Street. Dillerville Yard continued to serve as a local base of freight operations for the diverse manufacturing and agricultural consignees in the city and beyond on both the Main Line and New Holland Branch.

Views looking east and west from the footbridge off Liberty Street in the Dillerville area of Lancaster. (L) Looking west on the Old Main one can see the catenary poles of the Lancaster Cut-Off in the distance coming in from the right. At DV interlocking this line crossed at grade with the Columbia Branch and connected to the former H&L to head west to Harrisburg. (R) Looking east was the remaining segment of the former Old Main which recently terminated at the foot of Mulberry Street and Harrisburg Avenue. Here a bulk transfer trestle, crew base and engine storage area were all recently abandoned when NS completed the new H. Craig Lewis yard part of  the Lancaster Northwest Gateway redevelopment project. 

Views looking east and west from the footbridge off Liberty Street in the Dillerville area of Lancaster. (L) Looking west on the Old Main one can see the catenary poles of the Lancaster Cut-Off in the distance coming in from the right. At DV interlocking this line crossed at grade with the Columbia Branch and connected to the former H&L to head west to Harrisburg. (R) Looking east was the remaining segment of the former Old Main which recently terminated at the foot of Mulberry Street and Harrisburg Avenue. Here a bulk transfer trestle, crew base and engine storage area were all recently abandoned when NS completed the new H. Craig Lewis yard part of  the Lancaster Northwest Gateway redevelopment project. 

In 2009 Norfolk Southern, successor of PRR operations in the area (through the purchase of Conrail) began a major reconfiguration of Dillerville Yard in order to accommodate the $75 million Lancaster Northwest Gateway Project, which is developing acres of unused brown fields to provide expansion opportunities for both Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin & Marshal College. Earlier this year the last of the remaining PRR era facilities including the pedestrian bridge, trans-load facility and engine terminal were abandoned after NS dedicated new facilities in a yard named after the late H. Craig Lewis state senator and former NS VP of corporate affairs. Part of more than a century of urban renewal the Northwest Gateway Project is the last effort in removing all rail activity from the city center including the industries the railroads once served completing an effort that began in the 1880's with the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off.

Lancaster Terminal: The Old Main

Postcard view of the ornate Victorian styled PRR station located at N. Queen and E. Chestnut Streets in the city of Lancaster. Collection of the author. 

Postcard view of the ornate Victorian styled PRR station located at N. Queen and E. Chestnut Streets in the city of Lancaster. Collection of the author. 

Lancaster Old Main: The original main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad made a gentle southern arc from the area of Dillerville in the northwest corner of the city limits to where it crossed the Conestoga in the northeast, intersecting busy streets through the growing city of Lancaster. The line was the combination of routes built by the Philadelphia & Columbia (P&C) and Harrisburg & Lancaster (H&L) railroads. The P&C, part of the state built Main Line of Public Works, was a through route connecting Philadelphia to the east and Columbia to the west. The H&L was an early private venture that terminated in Lancaster connecting the P&C via its own main line directly to Elizabethtown and Harrisburg. Shortly after the charter and beginning of construction on the main line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh the PRR contracted a 20-year agreement with the H&L in 1848, part of an effort to secure a direct route to Philadelphia. J. Edgar Thompson would accomplished this goal when the PRR finally assumed operations of the P&C in 1857, part of its $7.5 million purchase of the Main Line of Public Works. With the reorganization of both lines into the PRR, traffic patterns west from Lancaster evolved to a pattern familiar to contemporary operations with passenger trains favoring the more direct H&L and the P&C for freight traffic.

1912 map detail showing the congested area surrounding the original alignment of the Philadelphia and Columbia route which became the PRR's original main line through Lancaster. The station was located at Queen and Chestnut Streets (location 25 on the map) and the freight terminal was on the corner of Prince and Walnut Streets (upper left from station). Map collection of the Penn State University Library

1912 map detail showing the congested area surrounding the original alignment of the Philadelphia and Columbia route which became the PRR's original main line through Lancaster. The station was located at Queen and Chestnut Streets (location 25 on the map) and the freight terminal was on the corner of Prince and Walnut Streets (upper left from station). Map collection of the Penn State University Library

After the PRR purchased the P&C it immediately took initiatives to replace primitive station facilities run out of a local inn. The result was a beautiful train shed and station built between Queen and North Christian Streets parallel to Chestnut Street. While a drastic improvement from previous arrangements it would prove to be a stopgap measurement for the fast growing railroad. Larger operational issues existed to the west of the station in a maze of trackage servicing both PRR owned freight houses and numerous industries most of which was at grade with the city streets. Adding to the congestion was the connection to the Quarryville Branch and interchange with the Reading Company’s R&C Division all within the city limits.

Images detailing both the freight terminal and industrial tracks the spurred off the main line (left) and the western view from the passenger station shed looking out on the crossing of N. Queen Street. These images reinforce the complicated and dangerous operating conditions the city and railroad faced on a daily basis. Both images courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Images detailing both the freight terminal and industrial tracks the spurred off the main line (left) and the western view from the passenger station shed looking out on the crossing of N. Queen Street. These images reinforce the complicated and dangerous operating conditions the city and railroad faced on a daily basis. Both images courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Serving as the sole through route into the 1880’s the PRR addressed the limitations of the Old Main by constructing a bypass known as the Lancaster Cut-Off. After the 1883 opening of this new route only trains serving Lancaster navigated the city route. Despite the growth and increasing need for more rail transportation the unfortunate reality was the mighty PRR was diverting more and more trains away from the Queen Street station in favor of the new by-pass. The net result meant mounting political pressure on the PRR from city government to provide residents and visitors improved rail transportation, an issue  that would continue well into the 1920’s. This era marks the beginning of an effort of urban renewal that continues to change how people and the railroads interface with the city of Lancaster. In future posts we will continue the discussion of how and when the PRR diverted operations away from the Old Main and how successors have continued to revise and improve local facilities and operations.

Lancaster's Railroad History | A Brief Overview

The city of Lancaster has a rich and diverse history that began in the late 1600’s as a part of the Penn’s Woods Charter, a 45,000 square mile land grant to establish an English Quaker Colony in the New World. The area of Lancaster would develop and flourish around rich agricultural land and the development of iron forges throughout the 1700’s. As iron production increased the need to develop road networks became necessary to bring in raw materials and transport finished product to market, the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike was one of the first, opening in 1795. Lancaster held the honor of being the state capitol from 1799-1812 and was incorporated as a city in 1818 developing at the crossroads of trade routes connecting Philadelphia with manufacturing centers like Columbia, York, Lebanon and Portsmouth (Middletown).

City of Lancaster, circa 1864. David Rumsey Map Collection.

City of Lancaster, circa 1864. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Early in the first quarter of the 19th Century construction of the Erie Canal put the state of New York at a great  advantage over Philadelphia and the Comonwealth in trade and commerce. In an effort to compete, Pennsylvania would embark on a similar project known as the Main Line of Public Works, an ambitious network that utilized a multimodal system of railroads and canals. While the Erie Canal was in use by 1821, Pennsylvania did not break ground until 1828 and the network was not complete until 1834. What would determine success of these networks was ultimately the topography. The Commonwealth was far more challenging than the water level route of the Erie putting the Main Line of Public Works at a major disadvantage. The Main Line of Public Works  network required multiple transfers to move cargo from train to boat in Columbia, back to train in Hollidaysburg, onto inclined planes to surmount the Alleghenies, and back to boat in Johnstown.  Though the trip was a vast improvement over wagon travel, it was still hampered by logistics and weather. Though woefully under-engineered the only potential success of this network was found on the east end, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad which ran the 82 miles between its namesake towns with Lancaster along the way.

Detail of an 1855 map illustrating the Pennsylvania Railroad system and its connections. This map shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pinegrove Railroad which was to bypass the Philadelphia & Columbia to gain access to Philadelphia prior to the Commonwealth and the PRR coming to an agreement on the sale price of the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857. Map collection of the Library of Congress. 

Detail of an 1855 map illustrating the Pennsylvania Railroad system and its connections. This map shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pinegrove Railroad which was to bypass the Philadelphia & Columbia to gain access to Philadelphia prior to the Commonwealth and the PRR coming to an agreement on the sale price of the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857. Map collection of the Library of Congress. 

The potential success of this new railroad spurred private ventures to construct connecting lines like the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad (H&L for short) which completed its route in 1838 bypassing the train-boat transfer in Columbia and thus connecting local industry to an all rail route to Philadelphia. Recognizing the overall failure of the Main Line of Public Works the Commonwealth deemed that a private venture should be chartered to construct an all rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh in order to preserve and improve trade and commerce, therefore in 1846 the Pennsylvania Railroad was born. Once the PRR route was complete to Pittsburgh, lines east of Harrisburg including the H&L and P&C became the object of desire for the young railroad striving to complete an exclusive rail network between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An operating arrangement was established with the H&L in 1848 leaving one last lynch pin, the now cash starved P&C. The Commonwealth offered the entire Main Line of Public Works system for sale in 1854 but it wasn’t until 1857 that the PRR would agree to purchase the system for $7.5 million, almost a third of the original asking price. This purchase secured the final segment of a wholly owned rail route between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while also providing the surplus canal right of way that would be crucial to expanding and improving the main line west of Harrisburg. With the potential for increased traffic the railroad began improvements to its main line system, an endeavor that would continue on and off well into the 20th Century. Antiquated facilities in Lancaster were a continuing concern; construction commenced on a new station in 1860, several bridges were improved, the physical plant expanded and finally a by-pass route was built around the congested city center in 1883. By 1904 the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to the Conestoga River was four tracks wide. In Lancaster the complex terminal reduced down from four tracks to two on the east end, splitting twice, once between the old main and the 1883 Lancaster cut-off and again at Dillerville where the old main (former H&L) connected back to the cut-off and the former P&C diverged to Columbia. Though plagued by the two track bottleneck over the Conestoga for some time, completion of the Atglen & Susquehanna branch in 1906 diverted a considerable amount of freight traffic away from Lancaster to the east and the two track Conestoga Bridge would remain as is, adequate to handle the remaining traffic on the main line.

One of many early improvements in the Lancaster terminal area was the stone bridge over the Conestoga River where the main line from the east entered Lancaster. Designed by Chief Engineer William H. Brown and completed in 1887 the two track Conestoga Bridge is unique in its design as the south side was left with protruding stonework to allow for further expansion had the railroad required additional capacity. Though this bridge was an operational bottleneck when the mai nline east was four-tracked subsequent construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna branch alleviated much of the through freight congestion in the Lancaster area.  Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.     

One of many early improvements in the Lancaster terminal area was the stone bridge over the Conestoga River where the main line from the east entered Lancaster. Designed by Chief Engineer William H. Brown and completed in 1887 the two track Conestoga Bridge is unique in its design as the south side was left with protruding stonework to allow for further expansion had the railroad required additional capacity. Though this bridge was an operational bottleneck when the mai nline east was four-tracked subsequent construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna branch alleviated much of the through freight congestion in the Lancaster area.  Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

 

Terminal improvements continued in the 1920’s including the abandonment of the old main and 1860 station in favor of a new passenger station on the cut-off providing expanded train service, the result of political pressure and some gentle encouragement from Armstrong Cork a major PRR customer in Lancaster. Around the same time electrification was sweeping the eastern main line, preparations were being made to modernize area interlocking plants which were centralized to a single tower appropriately named Lancaster (renamed CORK a few years after its construction for the neighboring plant of Armstrong Cork). In 1938 electrification of the Paoli – Harrisburg main line, Low Grade and Columbia branch were complete; Electric locomotives were now hauling the bulk of freight and passenger trains west to Harrisburg, leaving steam and later diesel propulsion to switch sprawling industries scattered about on the remaining sections of the old main, Dillerville area, Quarryville and New Holland branches.

Part of the last wave of Pennsylvania Railroad improvements in the Lancaster area was the 1927 abandonment of the old main line and station through town and the opening of the new passenger station on what was formerly the Lancaster Cut-Off, now essentially the new main line. Further improvements came in 1938 with the completion of the final phase of electrification including the main line from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Low Grade and Columbia branch. Illustrated here in a view looking east is the new station facility and Cork interlocking tower which consolidated control of several interlockings in the Lancaster area. Image collection of the author.

Part of the last wave of Pennsylvania Railroad improvements in the Lancaster area was the 1927 abandonment of the old main line and station through town and the opening of the new passenger station on what was formerly the Lancaster Cut-Off, now essentially the new main line. Further improvements came in 1938 with the completion of the final phase of electrification including the main line from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Low Grade and Columbia branch. Illustrated here in a view looking east is the new station facility and Cork interlocking tower which consolidated control of several interlockings in the Lancaster area. Image collection of the author.

Lancaster and the railroad thrived during the surge of World War II traffic but as peacetime settled in, the PRR began to show its age, left with mounting debts and a worn out physical plant. With a decrease in traffic and increasing competition from trucking the rationing of their physical plant began in the early 1960’s removing two of the main tracks east of the Conestoga Bridge to Parkesburg. Traffic continued to diminish and the ill-fated merger of the NYC and PRR drained cash away from much needed infrastructure improvements. In 1971 Amtrak was created to preserve national passenger train service, on the Harrisburg Line the new company slowly began carving away at money loosing  local, regional and long distance services the PRR once provided. In 1976 Conrail assumed control of freight operations in the Lancaster/Dillerville area which continues to generating traffic from a number of large industrial plants and new distribution warehouses. In the late 1990’s the future of Lancaster’s railroads faced more changes. Conrail was split up by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corporation, the later which assumed control of Lancaster freight operations. Amtrak’s Keystone Line was designated a high-speed corridor and work slowly began to rebuild the Harrisburg - Philadelphia main line for hourly electrified service once again. In 2008 Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster General Hospital struck an agreement with NS to develop the land along the former old main that was retained for yard and bulk transfer facilites for the railroad. NS commenced a long-term project to move, reconfigure and expand Dillerville Yard all of which was completed at the close of 2013. Today contractors are removing the remaining traces of the old main changing the local landscape forever. Amtrak’s rebuilding of the former PRR Main Line is largely complete including the tumultuous rehab of Lancaster’s 1929 depot, the streamlining of the physical plant and the closing of Cork tower, one of a few left on the former PRR system. Though the PRR has been absent from the Lancaster area for over 45 years its legacy remains a vital infrastructure to the local economy. Over the next few months we will spend some time exploring the various lines and history of the Lancaster area including current and historic facilities.

PRR Main Line: Salunga-Landisville

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

Continuing east on the Main Line we come to Salunga-Landisville in East Hempfield Twp, Lancaster County. The small community’s unique name derives from two sources: Salunga derives from the nearby Chiquesalunga (now Chickies or Chiques) Creek and Landisville coming from the town’s first postmaster John Landis.  The small town was host to the main line of the PRR, which was the former Harrisburg & Lancaster route, as well as the Reading & Columbia a railroad chartered in 1857 to connect the city of Reading with the Chesapeake Bay region by way of the Susquehanna Tidewater Canal in Columbia, PA. Later leased by the Philadelphia & Reading Railway the line was extended into Lancaster City and Marietta, PA providing competition for the PRR in the local iron producing and agricultural regions while offering up to 10 passenger trains a day at its peak.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of    The Broad Way    web archive.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of The Broad Way web archive.

Landisville was a unique place on the Pennsy because the R&C and PRR routes intersected at grade, something that didn’t exist for much of the modern PRR Main Line east of Pittsburgh. Right in the heart of town the R&C, running perpendicular to the PRR and Old Harrisburg Pike (Main St.) crossed the two-track PRR main line with connecting tracks in the northeast and southwest quadrants of the intersection. The junction was protected by the PRR using an early standard design wood frame  tower similar to Shore and Lemoyne, which was located in the southwest quadrant of the intersection accompanied by a small frame station on the southeast side of the crossing. Located just across the tracks in the northeast quadrant was a railroad hotel providing convenient accommodations for passengers. NV tower named such for  its telegraph call letters eventually gave way as traffic on the R&C diminished and the operator was moved to the station building next door. Landis as it was later known, as was a part time facility, occupied by a freight agent that handled the Reading – PRR interchange traffic and local customers including John Bergner & Sons Company, Keystone Boiler & Foundry and Chiques Milling among others, most of which in support of the local agricultural industry.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

The agent here was qualified as an operator and was able to control the interlocking, which was usually set to automatic for PRR traffic, to allow a Reading train to cross the main by using a small table top Union Switch & Signal machine that consisted of five levers and three timer run-downs for signals. In a brief conversation with veteran tower operator Don Rittler, he recalls a time working the tower during track maintenance, utilizing the single crossover to divert traffic around work crews. Don lamented about the difficulty understanding the Reading Railroad dispatchers who would call to report an approaching “Buck” the nickname for the R&C local, most of the dispatchers were of German-Dutch descent and often had very thick accents. By 1985 various segments of the R&C were abandoned eliminating the need for the crossing of the PRR and thus Landis was closed. Parts of the R&C route survive including a short segment from the junction at Landisville to the southern border of East Hempfield Township to serve an industrial complex and is operated as the Landisville Railroad.

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

Mount Joy on the Philadelphia Division

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

The borough of Mount Joy was established in 1812, its name deriving not from a local geographic feature but the English surname Mountjoy, which was bought to the colonies by settlers from Ireland. Situated in the rich agricultural landscape of western Lancaster County, Mount Joy is flanked by the village of Florin to the west and Little Chiques Creek to the east.

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In 1836 the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad began service between Mount Joy and Lancaster with subsequent through service to Harrisburg beginning in 1838 due to delays excavating a tunnel to the west in Elizabethtown. The H&L was a private enterprise founded by James Buchanan and Simon Cameron, both would later rise to important posts in government – Buchanan our 15th President and Cameron the Secretary of War during the Lincoln Administration. The line was initially constructed as a means to connect the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad with the Cumberland Valley in Harrisburg. The H&L was one of the first private railroads purchased by the PRR, who contracted operation of the company in 1848 establishing a direct route between Harrisburg and Philadelphia (via the P&C at Lancaster) and later purchased the operation outright in 1917.

Surveyors plotted the original route through the heart of Mount Joy approaching from the west, north and parallel to Main Street. Shortly after the arrival of the railroad, agricultural related industry as well as furnaces and manufacturing quickly developed with the promise of connections to distant markets. Initially the H&L operated a passenger station at the corner Main and Barbara streets, part of railroad-operated hotel. It was in this vicinity that the original right of way made a dramatic turn south through the center of town in a congested two block area, crossing almost all east west streets at grade between Barbara and Jacobs Streets, straightening again between Sassafras Alley and East Donegal St and finally crossing Little Chiques Creek on the east end of town.

In 1876 a new wood frame station was constructed at the crossing of Market Street replacing the original H&L arrangement and included enlarged facilities for both freight and passengers and an agent’s quarters. The new station was surrounded by industry like the Philip Frank malting facility and the Brandt & Manning mill, which likely provided materials to the A. Bube Brewery on Market St which survives today as microbrewery and restaurant.

Main Line Improvements of the 1890's

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

Like many early railroad grades the existing alignment laid out in the 1830’s was less than ideal for the aspirations of the PRR approaching the end of the 19th Century. Part of the greater system improvements program under Chief Engineer William H. Brown, Mount Joy underwent changes between 1892 and 1896 that would improve rail service and the quality of life for many residents by eliminating grade crossings and the reverse curve through town. The PRR purchased land between Jacob (now W. Henry St.) and West Donegal Streets from Marietta Ave west to the town limits for construction of the new alignment.

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

The railroad was built below grade eliminating any road crossings and straightened the line a great deal, a great benefit to the railroad who would eventually use this line primarily for fast moving passenger trains. Though the PRR was known for its four-track system, this line between Royalton and Dillerville always remained two tracks due to most freight being diverted over the Columbia Branch and A&S at Parkesburg.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

With the opening of the new line, the old H&L alignment was abandoned east of Barbara Street with the western half retained to access the numerous industries located on the now stub end spur. The 1876 passenger station remained for many years as an agent office while a replacement station was built on the new main line in 1896. Featuring a design similar to some suburban stations on the Philadelphia Terminal Division’s Chestnut Hill line the new facility had a street level station house with agent quarters and passenger shelters in the narrow cut below at track level.

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

In 1938 more change came to Mount Joy when the PRR initiated the final phase of electrification between Paoli and Harrisburg on both the main line and freight routes. Today Amtrak operates the line as part of the New York City- Harrisburg Keystone Service providing limited service at Mount Joy. Both the 1876 and 1896 stations have been lost and at the present time an Amshack bus shelter provides limited facilities for passengers. The county, borough and Amtrak aim to build an improved transportation center in the vicinity of the existing station, part of a plan to redevelop downtown Mount Joy and improve transportation access.  The surviving H&L alignment is now owned by Spangler’s Flour Mill and is serviced by Norfolk Southern Corporation crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster.

Elizabethtown on the Philadelphia Division

Trackside view of the main station building and former baggage elevator tower. This station underwent a renovation beging in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce but served by Amtrak's Keystone and Pennsylvanian Service. 

Trackside view of the main station building and former baggage elevator tower. This station underwent a renovation beging in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce but served by Amtrak's Keystone and Pennsylvanian Service. 

The borough of Elizabethtown found its origins in the 1730’s when Thomas Harris purchased a large piece of land and established a trading post along Conoy Creek in what would become western Lancaster County. Known as the Bear Tavern the buisness and land was later purchased by Barnabas Hughes who came from County Donegal, Ireland to establish a town named in his wife’s honor. Elizabethtown was one of the earliest communities settled in the County and owed its early existence to its proximity of a wagon trail that later became the Lancaster – Harrisburg Turnpike.  Elizabethtown was incorporated in 1827 and grew steadily over the years with the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad arriving in the 1830’s. By 1848 the PRR contracted a lease with the HPMtJ&L and later purchasing the line to become part of the railroad’s main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. In the 1880’s under the leadership of Pennsylvania Railroad President George Brooke Roberts, Chief Engineer William H. Brown would begin a series of improvements to the alignment between Conewago and Elizabethtown. Utilizing several cuts to maintain a .75% grade on the eastbound ascent out of the Swatara Creek Valley and eliminating the troublesome Elizabethtown Tunnel which marked the summit of the eastward grade. Part of the old main was retained to service industrial consignees and a freight house that was located to the north of the new alignment.

Interior detail of the 1915 Passenger Station built by architects Zantzinger, Borie & Medary to match their Masonic Homes Campus on the south side of the Main Line. 

Interior detail of the 1915 Passenger Station built by architects Zantzinger, Borie & Medary to match their Masonic Homes Campus on the south side of the Main Line. 

Elizabethtown was surrounded by rich farmland and for many years thrived on agriculturally related business until the early 1900’s when the Klein Chocolate Company and several shoe factories opened. Around the same time Elizabethtown College was established and later construction of the sprawling Masonic Homes campus broke ground in 1910. Designed by Philadelphia architectural firm Zantzinger, Borie & Medary the Masonic Homes were built in the Collegiate Gothic Style utilizing granite and limestone. The cornerstone of the Grand Lodge Hall was laid in 1911, and as progress continued, the PRR commissioned the same firm to build a new passenger station in a complimentary style. Featuring the same granite walls and limestone trim, the station waiting room was church like with its wood buttresses and large multi-pane windows. The station connected aesthetically with the Masonic Homes and provided direct access from station via a pedestrian underpass right to the campus grounds. With further modifications to the railroad through the area the project included grade separation, elevating the main line to its current height and was completed in 1915.

Former PRR Freight Station located along the original main line alignment prior to the 1915 grade separation through the area. From the left to right the tracks are as follows: Former Klein Chocolate Plant siding, the main industrial lead, and public delivery track/ freight house lead. Note the Main Line on the embankment with switchback siding dropping down onto the old main. The freight house was demolished early this year to make way for much needed parking at the rehabilitated Elizabethtown Amtrak Station. (Inset) 1945 Segment of a PRR CT1000 which lists all line side industries on the PRR. 

Former PRR Freight Station located along the original main line alignment prior to the 1915 grade separation through the area. From the left to right the tracks are as follows: Former Klein Chocolate Plant siding, the main industrial lead, and public delivery track/ freight house lead. Note the Main Line on the embankment with switchback siding dropping down onto the old main. The freight house was demolished early this year to make way for much needed parking at the rehabilitated Elizabethtown Amtrak Station. (Inset) 1945 Segment of a PRR CT1000 which lists all line side industries on the PRR. 

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The station served the PRR, Penn Central and Amtrak when it was shuttered in 1977 due to its deteriorating condition. In 1998 the Borough of Elizabethtown purchased the station from Amtrak and a long and costly renovation began in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the beautifully restored station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and serves Amtrak’s revamped Keystone Service Line and the daily Pennsylvanian. Unfortunately as result of the station and Keystone line rehab the need for expanded parking capacity recently necessitated the demolition of the original freight house, which was in disrepair having been vacant for some time. The old main line alignment continues to be serviced by Norfolk Southern Local H22 based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster servicing the former Klein Chocolate plant (now a division of Mars), White Oak Mills an elevator and feed facility located on High Street and the occasional car load for off site industries on the remaining public delivery track.