Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Continuing A Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

At the dawn of the industrial revolution the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout their new transportation systems, luring travellers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age; photography. Employing some the most preeminent photographers of the time, railroads outfitted special cars placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy. By no coincidence was the Pennsylvania Railroad one of the biggest supporters of this endeavor being their corporate headquarters of Philadelphia also happened to be the epicenter of photography in the US in the 19th Century. The PRR employed photographers for a multitude of tasks including the glamorous commissions to illustratate the railroad and its destinations for the Centennial and Columbian Expositions to the more mundane day-to-day documentation of massive engineering projects taking place all over the system. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railroad, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, that allows me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideals and the resulting images rich with information foster a continued dialogue with my own image making, inspiring new works from images of the past.

This is a brief excerpt form the upcoming lecture “Continuing a Legacy, Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad” which I will present on February 13th for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

 

Preserving the legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19th Century. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

William H. Rau: Using Historical Works For Artistic Guidance

Often times as an artist inspiration comes from many sources, mine takes root from a fascination of railroads, geography, architecture and history. With consideration of the Main Line Project there came another major source of inspiration: the photographic work of William H. Rau.

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Born in 1855, Rau was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer whose relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad spanned his career in the business. Though he had numerous assignments with the railroad over the years, it would be two commissions that brought Rau to our attention in the 20th Century. The first assignment was from June to September 1891, the second, April to July of 1893. The commission employed the relatively new concept of advertising photography to entice the leisure traveler to explore the American landscape by way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Illustrating the terrain and destinations along the system, Rau worked with a mammoth plate view camera in the field, traveling in a customized passenger coach complete with living quarters and darkroom.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

In 2002 the Library Company of Philadelphia mounted an exhibition of original prints by Rau from the 1890’s commissions in conjunction with the release of a companion book titled “Travelling the Pennsylvania Railroad” published by University of Penn Press. The exhibition hit home with me for many reasons, providing not only a view of the Pennsylvania Railroad over 100 years ago but by also appealing to my photographic sensibility. Like Rau I was using the view camera to craft thoughtful, creative and technically resolved images that can function on both a documentary and artistic level. Rau’s mammoth plate images provided insight for an approach to photographing not just the trains but also the infrastructure of a railroad and the landscape it traversed. This exhibition and subsequent book was the seed that would germinate into the Main Line Project some five years later.

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

In 2006, having been out college more than five years, I was making work and exhibiting as much as possible. I had finished a two-year Career Development Fellowship with the Philadelphia based Center for Emerging Visual Artists and was teaching at Drexel University. My projects focused on the Delaware River Watershed and later documenting historic but obsolete structures in and around the Philadelphia area. Though I was having a fair amount of success with the work, I couldn’t help but think more about Rau’s PRR commissions. Using his work as a starting point could provide insight on how to revisit the very subject that led me to pick up a camera in the first place – the railroad. In the spring of 2007 I applied for and received an Alumni Travel Grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists to photograph the surviving railroad and landscape along the former PRR between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the segment I was most familiar with. With the Rau book always by my side I made several trips building the conceptual framework of the project. Drawing from approaches utilized in past work, I photographed everything along the route, compiling an assortment of over a hundred images that ran the gamut, some good, some bad; others that became the cornerstones of how the project would evolve.

Between trips I contacted the Library Company to inquire about viewing the Rau Collection for further inspiration. Knowing that the book reproduced 50 plates from a larger collection of 463 individual images I could tell just by the published inventory list that I needed to see more. With the help of the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah Weatherwax, I began reviewing small reference prints and later original 18x22” contact prints. There was something magical about looking at this work in person, to be able to hold and interact with it minus the glass and polish of an exhibition. Seeing the sheen of vintage albumen prints and the endless amounts of detail from an image made from a negative of the same size was a true sensory experience. It was a first hand view of a historical photographic process, a cohesive collection of how one photographer viewed the world and the landscape that was in front of his lens.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though Rau’s work was playing a big part in molding my project I did not want this to become a re-photographic survey, getting mired down in finding the exact locations and times Rau made pictures. Instead my relationship with Rau was an open dialogue, one that takes influence from the imagery while considering the modern landscape and rail corridor. Recognizing that Rau was commissioned to make this work, for me it was much bigger than just an assignment. I was working to discover the history tied to a railroad corridor that has largely shaped the landscape throughout the Northeast and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - about using Rau’s work to inspire and inform me of a past time in the landscape and on the railroad. The act of gleaning information from Rau’s images added yet another layer of depth in my relationship to his work.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Around this time I began working with Amtrak’s engineering department and historic architect John Bowie Associates who were in the midst of documenting various historical facilities along the Northeast Corridor. It was the relationships that developed during this phase (which continue today) that helped me better understand more of the physical and economic history of the PRR and appreciate just how pivotal this era was to the company. Rau’s images reveal an evolution: a railroad building a physical plant that would be worthy of the claim of being the Standard Railroad of the World. In the 1890’s massive system wide improvements were well underway that would include construction of the countless stone bridges that remain today among other large scale engineering projects. At the same time the photos give a nod to antiquity, the relics of street running and canals that were giving way to a grade separated four track main line that stretched from New York City to Pittsburgh.

Rau’s imagery provided a comprehensive study of a railroad about to hit its prime and a landscape that would see continual transformation because of its presence. The ability to gain such a clear perspective of the PRR in one cohesive body of work afforded the visual “before” to my after. Understanding the history of this great railroad in conjunction with the aesthetical response to Rau’s photos provide a sort of spiritual guidance in making images for the Main Line Project. Inspired in different ways by his work I consider channeling my inner Rau every time I pick up a camera and look to a subject like the former Pennsylvania Railroad.

PRR Main Line: Little Chiques Creek

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Moving east from Mount Joy the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad spans Little Chiques Creek. Originally known as Little Chiquesalunga Creek  which derives its name from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish, the creek runs some 20 miles in a southerly direction to join Chiques Creek a mile before it empties out into the Susquehanna River in Marietta.  The two track bridge was constructed in 1885 measuring 450' in length and 40' high, replacing an iron truss span during upgrades to the right of way under William H. Brown. The masonry bridge was unique in construction from Brown's later bridges utilizing brick lined arches and an intergrated countering pier that ran perpendicular to the span. With the special photographic train posed on the bridge, William H. Rau has set his 18x22" view camera up on the bank of the creek looking south (judging by the movement of the water) to capture a bridge that was less than ten years old. This same span continues to serve its intended purpose carrying Amtrak Keystone trains between Lancaster and Harrisburg.

William H. Rau: Understanding the Past

The Evolution of the Philadelphia Terminal When William H. Rau was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad he found himself illustrating a company on the verge of unprecedented growth and change. Through the rest of the 1890s and well into the 20th Century the Pennsylvania Railroad would embark on some of its most ambitious system improvements to expand main line and terminal capacities. Philadelphia, the corporate headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad was a focal point for many of these improvements, including new yards, stations, grade separations and electrification projects.

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

During this evolution the railroad commissioned photographers like Rau and William N. Jennings to meticulously catalogue the progress of various projects. This effort by the railroad connects to an important part of the Main Line Project, the use of historical imagery to inform viewers (and photographer) of the past significance of a given subject or place. This imagery allows us to visualize the continual change of the Philadelphia Terminal from the original Broad Street Station to construction of the north-south gateway we know today as 30th Street Station. By examining the images we gain a perspective of the complex changes during the Philadelphia improvements, a subject which will warrant further in depth discussion at another time.

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This post is part of a lecture I will present this Thursday, March 7th from 6-7 PM at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit over 450 original Rau images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission, as well as an extensive collection of William Jennings photographs. If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The Furness installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of architectural commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

Lecture This Week!

Dear Friends,

Please join me at the Library Company of Philadelphia this Thursday for my lecture:

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary Photographs in Response to the Historic Works of William H Rau

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reception for members and their guests at 5:30 p.m. Program from 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

This lecture is free and open to the public with convenient public transit access from the

Septa Broad Street Line and Patco High Speed Line.

Please RSVP or call 215-546-3181 The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Hope to see you there!

Michael Froio

William H. Rau and the Pennsylvania Railroad

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

William Herman Rau, born in 1853, was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer whose relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad spanned his 35-year career in the business. Though he had numerous assignments with the railroad over the years, it would be two commissions that brought Rau to our attention in the 20th Century. The first assignment was from June to September 1891, the second, April to July of 1893. The commission utilized the relatively new concept of advertising photography to entice the leisure traveler to explore the American landscape by way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Illustrating the terrain and destinations along the system, Rau worked with a mammoth plate view camera in the field, traveling in a customized passenger coach complete with living quarters and darkroom, creating almost 500 dry plate glass negatives during the two commissions.

Plate 202: Special Photographic Train. This image depicts the locomotive and car outfitted for Rau's commissions of 1891 and 1893. The coach was specially outfitted with a complete darkroom, living quarters and a platform on the roof for Rau to set up his mammoth plate view camera to make images along the railroad. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 202: Special Photographic Train. This image depicts the locomotive and car outfitted for Rau's commissions of 1891 and 1893. The coach was specially outfitted with a complete darkroom, living quarters and a platform on the roof for Rau to set up his mammoth plate view camera to make images along the railroad. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

In April of this year, it will be 120 years since Rau’s second commission: Through those years the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad rose to the occasion during times of war and fell to its demise in an unthinkable marriage with bitter rival the New York Central. Having never experienced the Pennsylvania Railroad first hand, it was Rau’s work that led me to understand a young and expanding railroad at the dawn of the 20th Century. In the details of Rau’s rich large format albumen prints we see a railroad building for the future, a railroad that today leaves a legacy of engineering accomplishments, providing the subjects for a modern photographic survey. Working backwards to recreate a visual tour of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, the Main Line Project relies heavily on the visual clues of Rau’s work to make informed and inspired images.

In the coming weeks I am very excited to share more about the Rau commission and how it has impacted my project From the Main Line. These posts are part of a lecture on March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit over 450 original images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission. If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture, March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The Furness installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of architectural commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Part 1

A Dialogue with the Historic Photographs of William H. Rau

Plate 199. Stone Bridge at Johnstown by William H Rau. Collection of American Premier Underwriters

Plate 199. Stone Bridge at Johnstown by William H Rau. Collection of American Premier Underwriters

In 2003, about four years before I began the Main Line Project, I saw an exhibition of works by photographer William H Rau who was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1890’s to photograph the landscape and destinations along the main line. When I began the project in 2007, my intention was not to create a re-photographic survey but a modern portfolio of images exploring the railroad and its impact on the surrounding landscape. Rau’s work provided the first insight that a project like this could exist without the implicit use of just the trains themselves but by exploring the landscape, technology and the phenomena of the railroad corridor, which creates a uniquely built environment bridging city, country and towns alike. Rau’s commission left an impact on me that has continually evolved with the project to this day.

The stone bridge in Rau's photograph above survives today, though altered with reinforced concrete on its south side. This is one of the few images in the Main Line Project that present the opportunity to visualize the railroad 120 years ago versus today in the same (or similar) location.

The stone bridge in Rau's photograph above survives today, though altered with reinforced concrete on its south side. This is one of the few images in the Main Line Project that present the opportunity to visualize the railroad 120 years ago versus today in the same (or similar) location.

In the coming weeks I am very excited to share more about the Rau commission and how it has impacted my project From the Main Line. These posts will culminate into a lecture on March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit, over 450 original images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission. In addition to this lecture, you will be seeing more of Mr. Rau’s work on my blog thanks to the help of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the cooperation of American Premier Underwriters who owns the historic collection. Part of a larger effort to incorporate more historical imagery in my research, Rau’s photos will compliment works from the Lancaster Historical Society’s Collection and the Columbia Historic Preservation Society Collection to detail past operations, facilities and the landscape along the Main Line.

If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture March 7th at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of Furness commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

News and Updates for Winter 2013

Dear Friends, Happy New Year! I trust that you all had a wonderful and restful holiday and have settled into the New Year. Finishing out the last quarter of 2012 proved incredibly productive for the Main Line Project. While continuing work with many wonderful people at Amtrak for a second year I have begun building new relationships, with noted preservationist Bennett Levin and Eric Levin of Conrail Shared Assets opening many new opportunities. In addition, the release of the NRHS Bulletin article on the Main Line Project and the invitation to present lectures for several events ended 2012 with a promising start to the New Year.

Park. 001
Park. 001

In 2013 we will continue the tour of the Pennsylvania Railroad, focusing on the Philadelphia Division’s fabled Low Grade route east from Columbia, Pennsylvania as well as the main line from Royalton to Philadelphia. With new content and added historical imagery you can expect a more rounded look at the history and current operations of this important division of the PRR. I have already started making new images this year continuing documentation of the extensive infrastructure along the Main Line to finish out the Harrisburg – Philadelphia segment and expand upon my work in the Philadelphia Terminal and New York Divisions for future posts.

In addition to research, writing and photography, this year marks an exciting chapter for the project with the opportunity to present my imagery and research in three lectures scheduled for the winter and early spring. See below for details on these upcoming events!

From the Main Line: Exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad today.

January 28th, 2013 7:30 PM

Though modern imagery inspired by railroad photographer William H Rau, the presentation will explore the unique landscape and vernacular associated with the Standard Railroad of the World.

West Jersey Chapter, National Railway Historical Society

625 Station Avenue, Haddon Heights NJ 08035

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary photographs in response to the historic works of William H Rau.

March 7th, 2013

This lecture will look directly at W.H. Rau’s photographs of the Pennsylvania Railroad made in the 1890's exploring their impact on the Main Line Project to understand the importance of dialog between the historic and contemporary photographer. Details to follow.

The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Conversation on Photography Annual Conference

April 12th – 14th, 2013

The Center for Railroad Photography and Art hosts this annual conference. The Center has become America’s foremost organization for interpreting the intersection of railroad art and culture with America’s history and culture.

I will discuss the ongoing photographic project (2007- present) From the Main Line, exploring the transitioning landscape along the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the former Standard Railroad of the World. Details to follow.

Lake Forest College, 555 North Sheridan Road, Lake Forrest, IL 60045

I look forward to sharing another year of history and stories from the great Pennsylvania Railroad. I encourage you all to stay in touch and please feel free to share your stories and experiences with the railroad. I am only one person in the fraternity of countless historians and enthusiasts of our railroad heritage; it is exciting for me to understand a railroad that I never had the good fortune to experience though the oral histories and photographs of others!

As always, thank you for your time and support!

Sincerely,

Michael Froio