Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Sadsbury | Six Miles of Fill

A temporary wooden trestle supports two diminutive 3-foot gauge steam locomotives and their hopper cars, used to haul fill material from land holdings along Zion Hill to the   six   mile   fill Charles A. Sims & Company constructed for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch  .

A temporary wooden trestle supports two diminutive 3-foot gauge steam locomotives and their hopper cars, used to haul fill material from land holdings along Zion Hill to the six mile fill Charles A. Sims & Company constructed for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch.

Concurrent to the improvements on the main line at North Bend railroad contractor, Charles A. Sims & Company of Philadelphia was awarded the contract to complete the grading and masonry work for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna project in 1903. Sim's crews began the monumental task of building the new right of way in Sadsbury Township between Atglen (A&S milepost 3.3) west to Milepost 9, just beyond Lamparter Road, a total of almost six miles. Diverging from the shared right of way of the PRR Main Line that ran alongside the ridge of the North Valley Hills, the new line required a massive earthen fill to maintain the gentle grade as it veered southwest into the rolling countryside of Southern Lancaster County, making the ascent to Mars Hill Summit. 

Workers pose in front of the masonry work of the 60' arch spanning Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. While it appears that much of the stonework is complete, the task of backfilling the span and wing walls is yet to be completed as construction progresses west toward Mars Hill Summit. 

Workers pose in front of the masonry work of the 60' arch spanning Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. While it appears that much of the stonework is complete, the task of backfilling the span and wing walls is yet to be completed as construction progresses west toward Mars Hill Summit. 

Material excavated from various improvement projects had been stockpiled on landholdings in the vicinity of Zion Hill. A six-mile narrow-gauge railroad was constructed to transport the fill material from these deposits, crossing over the mainline on a wooden trestle and on to the new right-of-way via temporary trackage. The usual assortment of manpower, steam shovels and a copious amount of dynamite were then employed to generate additional material needed to construct the new right of way. Part of this six-mile segment involved building the first bridge from the east; a large 60' single-arch masonry structure that spanned the historic Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. The stone arch and wing walls were erected and then backfilled with material hauled in by Sim's narrow gauge railroad, a process repeated countless times as the line reached further west into Lancaster County. 

While Sim's length of the A&S and the rest of the branch has found a renewed purpose as a recreational resource since abandonment in the Conrail era, the arch at Noble Road remains a symbolic portal, marking the crossing from Chester to Lancaster County. More importantly, it is a reminder of the stark contrast between the A&S and the role it played in our national railway network and the quiet life on the farm, typical of Southern Lancaster County. 

Lancaster County | Main Line Tour Recap

Greetings! As we wind down from Summer and enjoy the Fall like weather that seemed to come a month early in the Northeast, I wanted to take a moment to play catch up on a few things as I prepare to release some new content on the Main Line tour of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. We left off in southeastern Lancaster County chronicling the Main Line and Atglen & Susquehanna Branch as they approach the Chester County line along the South Valley Hills. Before I get started on new content, I figured it might be fun to put together a post recapping some of the articles that lead up the current position in the series since they have spread out over two years! 


On the Main Line

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the main line, but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the main line, but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

Crossing Mine Ridge | Passing through the pastoral Lancaster County landscape the eastbound ascent of Mine Ridge takes the PRR mainline around a series of reverse curves that carry the railroad over the 560’ summit dividing the Pequea and Chester Valleys. Gap, a quaint community whose history dates back to when William Penn visited the area late in the 1600’s is located at the crossroads of the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike and the Newport Turnpike.


Typical views between Lancaster and Lehman Place Junction include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views between Lancaster and Lehman Place Junction include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.


God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County - Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad snakes its way through small hamlets like Bird in Hand, Ronks, Gordonville, Leaman Place Junction and Kinzer arcing gently through the heart of central eastern Lancaster County. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonite farmers offering a unique contrast between modern living and the simple life these people traditionally live.


The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

The Downingtown & Lancaster Branch | On Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path from the Main Line and Low Grade as we leave the Lancaster area to explore the former Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad, an interesting branch line operation that may have been the result of early efforts to expand the PRR soon after its charter. 


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.

William H Brown: The Tale Of Two Bridges 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 the chief engineer, his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant.


As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic not serving the City of Lancaster; 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 is visible 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 broad area around the railroad 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 not serving the City of Lancaster; 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 is visible 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 broad area around the railroad 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.

New Line: PRR's Lancaster Cut-Off | 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.


The Atglen & Susquehanna Branch

This 1906 view shows the wood frame tower at Quarryville (Milepost 10.8), the first interlocking tower west of Parkesburg. "Q" had control over the two main tracks and four additional sidings to manage helper movements assisting trains to Mars Hill Summit. Additionally, four water columns were available to top off steam locomotive tenders on their journey east or west. Image collection of William L. Seigford

This 1906 view shows the wood frame tower at Quarryville (Milepost 10.8), the first interlocking tower west of Parkesburg. "Q" had control over the two main tracks and four additional sidings to manage helper movements assisting trains to Mars Hill Summit. Additionally, four water columns were available to top off steam locomotive tenders on their journey east or west. Image collection of William L. Seigford

Managing The Line: Communications On The A&S | Running over 53 miles in length the PRR's Atglen & Susquehanna Branch was a shining example of modern railway construction, running across rolling countryside and up the Susquehanna River on a gentle gradient. Fittingly for such a contemporary piece of railroad engineering, another advancement of modern times accompanied the line: the telephone.


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

Quarryville: 19th Century Railroading With Big Aspirations | 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.


This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

The Engineer And The Contractor | BY 1903 William H. Brown, the man who earned the nickname the stone man for his preference of masonry bridge construction was winding down a rewarding 44-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, 32 of which he served as Chief Engineer. Brown's tenure was part of an era that was arguably one of the most transformative times for the PRR's infrastructure and right of way. His role in the construction of the Low Grade, especially the Atglen & Susquehanna segment would be his last major project before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.


An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

The Cost Of Labor: Constructing The A&S | Today when you walk along the path of the former Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade it is a very peaceful experience. There’s no shortage of lush foliage shrouding rock cuts blasted out of the rolling hills, the elevated fills and stone masonry look they were there since the beginning of time, and the railroad itself is long gone. Today it is hard to fathom the purpose of such a resource and even more challenging to imagine the human struggle that was involved in creating such a line.


View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

Revisiting The Atglen & Susquehanna | Returning to the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, part of the PRR’s Low Grade freight network we pick up from Shenk’s Ferry where the line pulls away from the Susquehanna River to cross southern Lancaster County. From the high fill above the river the A&S makes a hard turn east to face the first formidable obstacle; crossing the switch back divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the rugged Pequea Valley.

New Website is Live!

Dear Friends, Since the Library Company lecture early in March I have fallen off the radar, but for good reason! I am excited to announce my revamped website, michaelfroio.com which just went live! I have been considering a change in service  for a while and finally began the process a few weeks ago after seeing the huge improvement in image quality and functionality that my new host, Livebooks offers. On the new site you will find more and larger images for the Main Line Project which was in desperate need of an update, including text on each of the Regions/ Divisions covered in the three portfolios. In addition to the Main Line Project you will find the Relic and Watershed Portfolios have been freshened up and reorganized for improved navigation. Of course the site still maintains a link to the blog, sections for news and updates, contact info and social media. I hope you take the time to check out the site, please feel free to email me with any feedback. I should note that the new site utilizes a Flash based template, and IOs users will be pointed to an HTML mirror site which looks and functions much like the main site.

Again the website address is www.michaelfroio.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best Regards,

Michael Froio

Summer Road Trips!

Quarry, Crooked Road, near Hulls Cove, Mount Desert Island, ME 2009

Quarry, Crooked Road, near Hulls Cove, Mount Desert Island, ME 2009

Normally I keep to the railroad work I have been doing, but there are a lot of other things that get my attention with or without a camera in hand (or more appropriately on tripod). The Summer season is not always the most productive time photographically but its a chance to take the family, load up the car, and explore new places. As this posts we will be visiting a special place in Maine on Mount Dessert Island. We visited a few years back and were given a great opportunity to go back again this year. While some day I may do something with the photographs, for now making these pictures is a way to just explore a different place, in the quiet still of early morning, my preferred time to photograph. Over the Summer I hope to share more un-published works from those times where the work doesn't fit into the greater idea of ongoing projects but stand on their own as single images. Stay tuned for more of this work and continued exploration of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad! Have a great summer, take trip, explore somewhere new, even if its close by!