Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Changing Pace: Other Attributes of the Main Line Project

As the main line tour progresses I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my blog posts during my seemingly endless research on the physical plant of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. In the process of producing this tour I have been ignoring a large part of the project, the towns the railroad traveled through. These places large and small developed around natural resources and manufacturing, much of which revolved around iron and steel production. The landscape of Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West VA first began expanding because of natural and man-made waterways, which provided industry with a means of transportation to expand their markets. Though a major advancement, canals and rivers were subject to seasonal changes shutting down shipping with the winter freeze and summer droughts. It quickly became evident that a better mode of transportation was needed and the railroad was the answer. Politicians, lobbyists and industrial magnates fought for access to prime locations, rail lines were chartered, built and continually improved through the late 19th Century.  As a result towns along the railroad boomed, people were no longer in isolated communities but part of an industrial chain that drove the American economy. With the new ability to move large quantities of raw material and finished product across the country the steel industry expanded and so did the need for labor. Immigrants came by the thousands to places scattered across the region to work the mills, mines and for the railroads. The ethnic diversity was reflected in the various churches, neighborhoods and shops that brought the familiar comforts of the old country to this new place of work. Throughout the years there have been high times and lows in many of these towns, rocked by labor disputes, natural disasters and the eventual decline of the American steel industry.

The view from Singer Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania exemplifies the somber beauty of mill towns across Pennsylvania. Homes cling to the hillsides and business districts look toward the mill, once the focal point to the local economy. Today countless places like Johnstown are a quiet memorial to the era of steel and manufacturing across the region. 

The view from Singer Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania exemplifies the somber beauty of mill towns across Pennsylvania. Homes cling to the hillsides and business districts look toward the mill, once the focal point to the local economy. Today countless places like Johnstown are a quiet memorial to the era of steel and manufacturing across the region. 

Today many of these places serve as a monument to industry and a way of life that has disappeared. The villages, company towns and entire sections of cities often look onto the mill, celebrating the pride and prosperity these now abandoned places once provided for many hard working families. I have found myself completely entranced by places like Johnstown and Braddock, places that are a fraction of their former self, wondering what it was like when these places were in their prime. In residential areas there is little uniformity from house to house with the exceptions of clusters of company housing yet all of these places look oddly the same. Frame houses on hill sides, all slightly modified over the years or just plain neglected, empty streets and brown fields, virtually deserted town squares flanked with grand commercial buildings constructed of stone and terracotta, town by town the theme repeats.

East Conemaugh was situated across from the Franklin Works of Cambria Iron, later Bethlehem Steel. The mills are gone and the rail yards empty, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad still enters town on the far side of the Conemaugh River, the final resting place of engineer John Hess who used his locomotive whistle to warn the townspeople of the impending destruction of the great flood of 1889. 

East Conemaugh was situated across from the Franklin Works of Cambria Iron, later Bethlehem Steel. The mills are gone and the rail yards empty, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad still enters town on the far side of the Conemaugh River, the final resting place of engineer John Hess who used his locomotive whistle to warn the townspeople of the impending destruction of the great flood of 1889. 

Like much of my work, this imagery is an observation, part of connecting the dots to understand a particular place or landscape. To many its a bleak and depressing place, I am often asked why bother visiting let alone taking pictures, some locals even get mad that an outsider would objectify their struggling community. To me the typical mill town is a comforting and familiar place, one of repetition and rhythm. You can find something different in every visit, grand and ornate homes in a row of company buildings, five story apartment houses in a town that doesn’t even rate a gas station, and the rail line that once fed this industrial giant snaking along from town to town. This is where the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad once travelled, the towns it built, nurtured and its predecessors served until the industry dried up. The railroad still thrives but like many places, the trains don’t stop here anymore. The mill town is a place of beauty in its own right, and I am happy to have experienced every one of them and look forward to sharing a different viewpoint of the built landscape that came as result of the railroads and industry. Over the coming months you can expect images celebrating these places as work continues on understanding the late Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travelled. Enjoy!

Ohio River Connecting Bridge

View of Ohio River Connecting Bridge from California Ave in Woods Run Section of Pittsburgh on the North Bank of the Ohio River. Note the diverging trestle,the left leading to Island Ave Yard and right to the Fort Wayne Line. The Mainline is just visible below Ohio River Boulevard in the foreground. The first large through span crosses the Main Channel and measures 508' while the further spans the Back Channel and measures 406', all maintaining a clearance of 68' to the Ohio River below. 

View of Ohio River Connecting Bridge from California Ave in Woods Run Section of Pittsburgh on the North Bank of the Ohio River. Note the diverging trestle,the left leading to Island Ave Yard and right to the Fort Wayne Line. The Mainline is just visible below Ohio River Boulevard in the foreground. The first large through span crosses the Main Channel and measures 508' while the further spans the Back Channel and measures 406', all maintaining a clearance of 68' to the Ohio River below. 

Moving to the Western Limits of Pittsburgh from Wilmerding, we come to a key location on the PRR Eastern Division Mainline. Three miles from the Pittsburgh Division boundary and  Penn Station proper, the Ohio River Connecting Bridge served as the western end to a freight bypass early on routing trains around the congested Pennsy terminal in Pittsburgh by means of the Port Perry Branch from Pitcairn Yard, the Monongahela Line and the Ohio Connecting Bridge to rejoin the Fort Wayne Mainline.

OCBridge

On the South bank of the Ohio River, a "branch" came West from the junction of the Monongahela Line and Panhandle Main across from the City Center, through a complicated junction, the Scully Branch made connection with OC Bridge at Esplen Interlocking. From here the East leg of a Wye directs traffic to the Fort Wayne line accross the OC, and the West Leg moves traffic from the the Fort Wayne to the Panhandle via the Scully Branch connection in Carnegie PA. On the North side of the bridge, a fly-over junction with the Fort Wayne Line ties the East leg of the Wye into Island Ave Yard, the Mainline East, and the Conemaugh Line via Federal St. On the West leg the Panhandle makes a long descent to Jacks Run interlocking (later renamed CP Bell in Conrail's CTC project) allowing bi-directional access for diverting traffic around the City Center.

The bridge itself deserves some attention, originally being built in 1890 as the single track Ohio Connecting Railroad Bridge, after completion and several years of service, the key structure proved worthy of expansion. Started in 1913 and completed in 1915 construction took place in full Pennsy fashion. Engineers expanded the structure from single to double track, literally at times around the existing structure to avoid shutting the connection down causing major delays to rail traffic. Once completed the new bridge complimented several other projects, mainly the Brilliant Branch to add another bypass for traffic to and from  the Panhandle around the station area, onto the Conemaugh Line, then back to the Main in East Liberty via the new 1.8 mile four tracked Brilliant Branch.

Unlike the Panhandle Mainline and the Brilliant Branch, the OC Bridge still serves the busy Mon Line bypass for Norfolk Southern, moving long intermodal and heavy mineral traffic around the City Center, a testament to the construction and forward thinking of engineering staff who built the Standard Railroad of the World.