Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Quarryville | 19th Century Railroading With Big Aspirations

TM Fowler Map circa 1903, illustrating the town of Quarryville. Though construction of the A&S had just commenced in 1903, the line is clearly depicted In the bottom left corner, complete with a connection between the new route and Quarryville Branch that was never constructed. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society scanned from Mary Boomsma

TM Fowler Map circa 1903, illustrating the town of Quarryville. Though construction of the A&S had just commenced in 1903, the line is clearly depicted In the bottom left corner, complete with a connection between the new route and Quarryville Branch that was never constructed. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society scanned from Mary Boomsma

Quarryville has always been a crossroad of activity in the fertile farmlands of Southern Lancaster County. Farmers purchased lumber, grain, and fertilizer here and reciprocally exchanged their bounties in town and beyond via the local county railroad, a lifeline to the outside world. Commonly known as the Quarryville Branch this rail line had an interesting early history that started with big hopes and ended with financial disaster. The Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad was chartered in 1871 to build a narrow gauge network between Safe Harbor and Reading via Lancaster including a branch to Quarryville, competing directly with the neighboring Reading Company subsidiary the Reading & Columbia.  Before construction commenced it was decided to build the line to standard gauge instead, but the Panic of 1873 quickly stalled progress. Falling into financial distress, the Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad was ironically leased to the Reading Company becoming an extension of its Lancaster Branch, part of the R&C. 

A typical PRR train traversing the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad between Lancaster and its southern terminus in Quarryville. Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection

A typical PRR train traversing the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad between Lancaster and its southern terminus in Quarryville. Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection

With the contract secured for the branch to Quarryville, the Reading looked to another opportunity, the potential of connecting with the B&O mainline by extending south from Quarryville to Elkton, MD, a move that would involve the financially strapped narrow gauge railroad the Lancaster, Oxford & Southern. When presented the idea of becoming a bridge route, the LO&S optimistically commenced plans to build new extensions on its existing route including a new line to Quarryville, with the intention of everything being converted to standard gauge. Once complete perhaps the small common carrier would see financial success or even be purchased at a profit by the Reading or the B&O. The plan, however, began to crumble when the Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad defaulted on their mortgage, rendering the Reading lease null and void, and the property went up for auction in 1900. At the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, a tense bidding war played out between extended representatives of the B&O, Reading Company and PRR. Charles H. Locher, a Lancaster businessman, minor shareholder of the L&RNGR and friend of the PRR attended the auction, outbidding the competition and thus protecting their coveted territory by eliminating the plan for the competitor's line once and for all. Regardless the LO&S completed the branch to Quarryville but the hopes for financial success or being converted to standard gauge were never realized, the railroad toiled in bankruptcy through 1910 scrapping its Quarryville Branch in 1917 with the rest of the railroad ceasing operation the following year. 

Quarryville Station, view before the Lancaster Oxford & Southern abandonment in 1917. Note the dual gauge trackage in the foreground, an area shared by the LO&S and the PRR. Image Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection, Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

Quarryville Station, view before the Lancaster Oxford & Southern abandonment in 1917. Note the dual gauge trackage in the foreground, an area shared by the LO&S and the PRR. Image Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection, Southern Lancaster County Historical Society

While the drama of railroad barons and hopes of back-road competition unraveled, another chapter in railroad history was playing out in the small town. The PRR commenced construction of the new Low Grade route across Southern Lancaster County. Situated at the approximate center of the eastern segment of the new Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, Quarryville was the epicenter of construction and staging between 1903 and 1906. Despite the building of the new line, it was very evident that the PRR had no intention to tap the small agricultural market with any additional resources other than the branch it maintained from Lancaster. When construction was completed the A&S cut through the Borough on an elevated fill with little more than a water stop, a telephone box and overpasses over its branch and another on Church Street. 

Pennsylvania Railroad track chart showing the grades and curvature of the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Quarryville Branch circa 1940. 

Pennsylvania Railroad track chart showing the grades and curvature of the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Quarryville Branch circa 1940. 

For the next half a century the railroads continued to operate separately from one another. As the PRR entered its final year's maintenance on marginally performing branches were often deferred, and the Quarryville Branch was certainly no exception. Entering the Penn Central era, with finances already tight, management looked to shed money-losing lines; the Quarryville Branch made the short list when the Penn Central petitioned the ICC for the abandonment of over 138 line segments in 1971. Making matters worse the branch suffered an even greater blow in 1972 when it sustained significant damage from Hurricane Agnes placing most of the branch out of service.  Regardless, the shippers in Quarryville rallied, seeking a deal with Penn Central, who had estimated that a 1700’ line connection to the A&S would come with a price tag of $130,000 a burden the broken railroad could not afford. Shippers agreed to pay the cost of construction, and the PC withdrew 2.26 miles from the ICC petition, saving the most lucrative piece of the branch and rail service to local shippers. Finally, after 67 years of trains flying over the town, Quarryville had a connection to the A&S, but that too would only last another 15 years.  

An Institution of Steam Preservation

While there are many dedicated people operating steam locomotives in 2012, an institution among those in the Northeastern United States is the Strasburg Railroad. Reborn from a weedy right of way in 1958, by a group of dedicated business men who partnered to resurrect the historic line chartered in 1832. Running through the beautiful countryside of Lancaster County Pennsylvania, the company has continued to provide generations with an opportunity to ride living history through bucolic rolling farmlands.

Number 89 a former Canadian National Mogul Type Locomotive built in 1910, stands cold in August of 2011 waiting for its routine inspection.

Number 89 a former Canadian National Mogul Type Locomotive built in 1910, stands cold in August of 2011 waiting for its routine inspection.

As I child I was fortunate enough to visit several times, and now share it with my son and daughter making the occasional trip and also visit the neighboring Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum, another treasure of the Northeast.  Currently the Strasburg rosters four running steam locomotives including former Canadian National #7312 0-6-0 built in 1908 (renumbered 31 - subsequently the first locomotive purchased and operated by the 1958 Strasburg group), 1924 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-10-0 #90 formerly of the Great Western Railway, A 1910 Mogul type, former Canadian National #89, purchased from the Green Mountain Railroad, and finally No 475, a former Class M Norfolk Western 4-8-0 built by the Baldwin Works in 1906, and finally a former Brooklyn East District 0-4-0 from the Porter Company which has been converted into an operating replica of Thomas the Tank Engine. In addition scores of beautifully restored period passenger, freight and non-revenue cars, a very special gas electric car, and even a few early diesel electric switchers!

Former Great Western Light Decapod Class 2-10-0 #90 stands on the ready track early in the morning on a foggy August day in 2011.

Former Great Western Light Decapod Class 2-10-0 #90 stands on the ready track early in the morning on a foggy August day in 2011.

Strasburg has a world class reputation for their mechanical shops, where everything is fabricated and maintained by skilled craftsmen of various trades  to keep the equipment in as new shape. These same men and women also contract out their services to other railroads and steam operators all over the Country. Something else unique about the Railroad is their dedication to preserving the landscape it operates in, the lush Amish farmlands. Several years ago, the company initiated a land trust to preserve open space along the line, putting proceeds from ticket sales into a trust to preserve the view for generations to come.

There has been quite a bit written about the historic Strasburg Railroad, but in my opinion, its best to go and visit, take a ride, chase the trains, get there early and watch the daily routine of prepping the locomotives for the day's run, or when they put them to bed at dusk. Its been instrumental in captivating my love for history, steam and the railroads that built our Country, and I hope sometime you'll have the opportunity to experience it too!