Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Interview | The Trackside Photographer

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Edd Fuller, editor of The Trackside Photographer; a blog focused on the railroad landscape. I am excited to share this interview about my ongoing work and how it ties into a central theme inspired by history. The following is the interview in its entirety as it was posted last week on The Trackside Photographer. Enjoy! 


Trackside Interview #3 - Michael Froio

Michael Froio is a photographer who focuses on the history of the industrial era and its relation to the modern landscape. His work has been published by the National Railway Historical Society, and he has presented lectures for the Center For Railroad Photography & Art, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and chapters of the National Railway Historical Society and Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. Michael teaches photography at Drexel University and manages the school’s darkroom and photography facilities. Michael’s work may be seen on his website

The expansive Rockville Bridge stretches across the Susquehanna River, and remains the worlds longest stone arch bridge. Rockville a testament to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s engineering legacy, part of Michael’s ongoing project From the Mainline, a culmination of interests and ideas focused on the railroad and the landscape it travels.

The expansive Rockville Bridge stretches across the Susquehanna River, and remains the worlds longest stone arch bridge. Rockville a testament to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s engineering legacy, part of Michael’s ongoing project From the Mainline, a culmination of interests and ideas focused on the railroad and the landscape it travels.

Edd Fuller, Editor, The Trackside Photographer - Michael, I want to thank you for your generosity in sharing your work with our readers and for taking the time to talk with us. I usually start by asking about your interest in railroads, and we will get to that later, but first let’s talk about photography. You have chosen a career in photography. How did that come about?

Michael Froio - Thanks, Edd, It is a pleasure, and honor, to share my work with the Trackside Photographer, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what you are doing.

How did I get into photography? Hm. Well, I always had an interest in making photographs, at least since my young teenage years. At that time it very simply tied into my interest in trains. I wasn’t particularly good at making train photos, but while exploring the railroad (often with my father) I was always compelled to document what we found. When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Taking prerequisite classes like English lit and math classes bored me out of my mind. A friend and classmate mentioned he was taking a photo class, so I enrolled in Photo 110. My professor, Rachael Fermi (granddaughter of Enrico Fermi - the creator of the atomic bomb) was an incredible character. She did a terrific job teaching the foundations of photography while encouraging creativity, craft and an understanding of composition. After a few classes, I took a job as a lab monitor, mixing chemicals and managing the darkroom, typically during the evening hours. It was during this post that I fell in love with photography and the idea of teaching.

Moving on from Community College, I enrolled in Drexel University’s Photography Program. I found Drexel’s program was a perfect balance of technical and creative instruction; not an art school type program, but a curriculum focusing on how to visually communicate through photographs, and that they could function in both a commercial or fine art context. I think the course that had the most significant impact on me was the Large Format class. It was a challenging course technically (I still hold the record for reshoots of my exposure and development test for the zone system) but by far the most rewarding, producing these large, 4◊5î negatives. After graduating, I began work in the field as Assistant Facilities Manager at the Drexel Photo Program, and was then promoted to Facilities Manager. Working in an environment I’ve been invested in has been incredibly rewarding, including being part of bringing the 10,000sq. ft. facility into the 21st century, several lab re-designs and helping develop an evolving curriculum. I am also very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach in the Program, including foundation coursework for our majors, and an Advanced Black & White Printing course, among others. Drexel not only helps me to sustain my family and provides an opportunity to teach, but also affords me the ability to pursue my personal work, allowing me to find my purpose in photography.

Edd - Much of your photography has focused on the industrial landscape and architectural history. What sparked that interest?

Michael - As an artist, you go with your gut. I responded to these types of places without knowing why, but from the first time I composed an image of a building or landscape, the gears were turning. What is it about this site? Why am I compelled to make a photo here? It’s intuition at first, the eye sees something long before the mind connects the dots. I had to sort of go with it. It took time to understand that my interest in photographing a landscape or type of architecture comes from a fascination with our history, whether civic, industrial, or social. It took time to see the inter-relatedness of civic institutions, industry and architecture; to see that public buildings spoke to the wealth, power, progress and civic pride cities large and small shared, but that purpose-driven industrial architecture and landscapes were the working class spaces behind that civic pride. This notion still compels me to make photographs today, whether along the Main Line or anywhere else; our country’s history is a significant thread that continues to weave throughout my creative work.

Bordentown Bluffs, Crosswicks Creek, Mercer County, New Jersey.

Bordentown Bluffs, Crosswicks Creek, Mercer County, New Jersey.

Edd - On your website, I particularly enjoy the photography in The Watershed Project which is not about railroads. You write that it  "is about the beauty of the benign and unremarked place, challenging our perception of the natural landscape..." This seems to apply to your railroad photography as well. Tell us a bit about this project, and how it fits with your overall vision of the landscape.

Michael - The watershed project was a logical progression of my senior thesis work, both of which largely took place in Southern New Jersey and the Delaware Valley. For thesis, I was looking at the open spaces of Salem and Cumberland Counties, mainly farmland, recognizing that such space has unfortunately become rare in the so-called Garden State. Through work on that project, I began taking notice of beautiful, unconstructed spaces of a wholly different type in the same region, mainly along the Delaware River and Bay. They were undefined areas, places that didn’t seem to have a purpose on their face, but where locals would hike, hunt, fish, etc. Were these preserved spaces? Did they belong to a more extensive network? What was the purpose of these places? How did these swaths come to exist? As I continued to examine these areas, I expanded my reach into less idyllic places, where these fringe, improvised landscapes abutted industry - airports, refineries, or dredging dumps. These were the places you might see from a highway, seemingly barren spaces. Yet, once you entered them and escaped the noise of the neighboring areas I found many were incredibly beautiful, seeming more pristine and isolated than any number of curated, patrolled, trafficked National or State Park areas. All these places made me think more and more about how we perceive the landscape around us. We understand farmland; it has a purpose, it produces a tangible result, as do industrial spaces. Parks are designed for recreation, cities and town centers are designed to serve the needs of their populations. But these unremarked tracts remain mostly undefined. The French term Terrain Vague highlights the idea that these spaces represent a diversion from our traditional understanding of the landscape and how we as a society identify with and interface with these areas. They are landscapes that may have once had a purpose but have become places void of definition - neither park, nor act of preservation nor productive, planned, commercial or social spaces. Yet they become places where only locals with intimate knowledge of the area have reason or standing to redefine the area with no need of a formal plan. The Watershed project and the previous works that lead to it, were an important part of learning how to understand and interpret the landscape.

Edd - Your work encompasses many different aspects of industrial and architectural history, but the railroad seems to hold pride of place. How did your interest in railroads come about?

Michael - While it is all interrelated, the railroad is at the beginning of it all, it was what compelled me to pick up a camera in the first place. The work featured on my website is organized in three succinct portfolios and speaks to an evolution of sorts in the way I work, the Main Line Project being the current capstone. It started with a desire to better understand the landscape, which came with the Watershed portfolio and all previous projects that led me there. The Relic portfolio helped to develop an understanding of how to weave history into creative works, and how photography can be a documentation tool while still being original. The Main Line Project was the culmination of those ideas, as well as countless other creative discoveries that have come as result of the ongoing work.

Edd - How did the Main Line Project come about?

Michael - The idea of the Main Line project was not a new one; in fact, I started it initially as my thesis work, and failed miserably because I didn’t understand what it was that I wanted to portray within the concept of the railroad itself. When I began the Main Line Project, in 2007, six years after that failure, the first year of photographs barely acknowledged the railroad at all, instead focusing on towns and industry along the line. It was my usual approach from work on the Watershed and Relic projects, but in a different environment. It wasn’t until I read an essay by John Stilgoe and his seminal book The Metropolitan Corridor that a light went off. Stilgoe’s concepts of breaking down and understanding constituent elements within the whole of the railroad landscape were right there in front of me, and I had been photographing these attributes without even realizing it. Remember that whole gut reaction first then the mind connects the dots? Well, here I was. Not long after that discovery, I began looking at ways to expand the reach of the project, ways to better connect the contemporary work within the historical framework of the subject. I found the research aspect of the project was generating as much excitement for me as being out in the field making photographs. As a result of my research, my imagery was more informed, my work process was more productive, and my viewpoint was evolving. As a result, the railroad itself began to play a more prominent role in the project since it takes, as you say, pride of place, the very thing that sparked this whole photography thing for me.

Northbound Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. 

Northbound Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, Wilmington, Delaware. 

Edd - Your photographs in From the Main Line reflect the history of a railroad, but that history is interpreted in the context of the current landscape, which your black & white photographs capture beautifully. I sense though that your interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad extends beyond the railroad itself. What does the railroad tell us about the culture and history that lies along the tracks?

Michael - The railroad is the thematic tie that binds the project together (if you’ll pardon the pun), but for me, since the Pennsylvania Railroad ceased to exist well before my time, it’s the remaining contemporary landscape rather that reflects back to the railroad and its connections to neighboring towns and the landscape. For example, in the modern context, the railroad is often just passing through, void of any link to the town. In other places, there survives just a fragment from a more significant system or merely a scar in the landscape. I have always considered the railroad as a sort of linear history corridor, and along that tangent, one can learn how settlements were founded, thrived, withered, centralized and so on. This inhabited landscape repeats over and over again, showing the once significant relationship between the railroad and these cities and small towns, all through the back lots of America. It is also important to recognize that the railroad wasn’t always the first connection between these towns; early trade routes, canal systems, and other vital parts of early civilization and commerce all intertwined with the railroad corridor. All of these elements in the landscape create a dialogue, my job as a photographer is to interpret those connections, all the while making meaningful photographs.

Edd - You mention the work of William H. Rau as having influenced your work, How do Rau’s late 19th and early 20th century photographs of the Pennsylvania Railroad inform your 21st century understanding?

Michael - Every year, I give a lecture to one of our resident faculty member’s Photo History Classes, about the dialog between contemporary and historical works of art. The lecture is held at the Library Company of Philadelphia, where the Rau collection is on deposit. The visit gives students an opportunity to see how historical works can influence contemporary imagery, placing side by side Rau’s original prints commissioned by the PRR with my own. The discussion of dialog, in my case with Rau’s work, has been a multifaceted and informative relationship.

In 2003 I first discovered Rau’s work when visiting an exhibition at the Library Company titled "Traveling the Pennsylvania Railroad." I wasn’t particularly captivated by 19th Century work at the time, but the press images looked great, and the subject certainly could not be rivaled. My knee-jerk reaction to this work was, "Wow! How could work made over 120 years ago feel so contemporary?" I loved that his work was about the railroad, but distinct from any work I had ever seen previously. In all books or publications I’d been exposed to, the train itself took a prominent role in the photograph. I found Rau’s work so compelling in its difference from this paradigm in that Rau’s work focused on the destination, the engineering marvel of the railroad itself and how it brought order and civility to the landscape. The train itself was secondary, it was more of a harmonious, machine in the garden if you will. Of course, I bought the book that accompanied the exhibition and studied the images. That show in 2003 planted the seed that led me back to the railroad when I applied for a grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists to begin the Main Line project in 2007.

Previously, I mentioned when I started the Main Line project my work focused more on the landscape, hardly acknowledging the railroad, something I had not quite figured out how to incorporate subtly. I turned to the Rau Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia for insight, contacting Prints and Photographs Curator Sarah Weatherwax, who was very gracious with her time, allowing me to study reference prints and then later Rau’s original mammoth plate albumen prints. Having Rau’s work in front of me, one on one, was pivotal, it was like a recharge of the creative battery in between photo trips. Rau’s work as a photographer was spectacular; they were crisp, sharp gorgeous prints, gleaming with information. More importantly, the content helped me understand a railroad that was becoming worthy of its self-proclaimed title, "The Standard Railroad of the World," with details of the railroad’s extensive system-wide improvements carefully tucked away in corners of these massive photographic prints.

I continue to take inspiration from Rau today, but I’ve also turned to his predecessors, like Purviance and Gutekunst who were also commissioned to photograph the PRR in earlier times. Outside of the PRR commissions, photographers like William Henry Jackson, AJ Russel, and Carleton Watkins who were being commissioned to document the opening of the west by rail also provide great insight on how the railroad changed our relationship with the landscape.

Abandoned Pratt Deck Truss Bridge, spanning the Little Juniata River, part of the remains of the former Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad, a PRR subsidiary.  

Abandoned Pratt Deck Truss Bridge, spanning the Little Juniata River, part of the remains of the former Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad, a PRR subsidiary.  

Edd - I know that a lot of research goes into a project like “From the Main Line.” Tell us about your working methods in the field. What do you look for? What draws you into a scene. Do you know where you are going to shoot in advance, or do you find your photographs while exploring the area?

Michael - I have found a synergy between what I like to call armchair scouting, historical research and my fieldwork. There is obviously a great deal of initial planning, especially since I often have limited time to travel. I do most of my scouting on Google Maps, saving and marking locations, based on previous visits, target locations, or intriguing names or landmarks within the landscape. I’ll note what time of day the light is right for a particular area, say a prayer to the cloud gods, and then start planning a trip. When I get out in the field, I do reference the maps, but the serendipity of discovery in the field is also very important. I can’t tell you how many times I have obsessed over a location only to get there and be disappointed, but on the way to that place find some incredible scene. Research indeed informs and helps to plan a trip, but I still rely on my intuition in the field while making photographs.

Its tough to say what draws me in to a particular scene; Sometimes it’s a subject, whether it be a relic or landmark of the railroad, town or a natural feature. There are however, with in those more spontaneous moments, the combination of light, feeling, and often a sense of scale or a dramatic play between the railroad and surrounding landscape that will make for a great image. There isn’t a specific formula that I can say goes into making an image like this, but there is nothing more exciting on a day shooting than being enroute to a location at dawn, and that morning light is playing in the clouds, or across the trees. That first photograph of the day is always critical, once it happens, its game on until the end of the day.

Outside of shooting or actively planning a trip, I am constantly analyzing my work, looking at prints or even on screen, conducting a mental audit of an area, looking to decide if I have enough work to convey a sense of place to a given area, before I move on to other locations. So far I haven’t been able to just turn my back on an area and say “I’m done here,” but the goal is to convey a story for each region or division within the project, touching on the character of the landscape, towns and the defining attributes of the railroad itself.

Edd - There is a consistency of vision in your black and white work that forms a strong unifying element in “From the Main Line." Most of this work is done in large format film. What prompted you to work in this way? What does large format black & white film bring to the project?

Michael - I don’t want to demystify the notion that large format has a great deal to do with the product, but to be honest, as I look back and begin to incorporate more and more digital capture I realize it was more my approach, composition, and style, that unify the work. Large format for me is a tool; at the time I started the project it was the main tool I used simply because digital wasn’t there yet, not for me. How can you justify trading a 5x7 negative for a 20-megapixel camera? You can’t; they aren’t even in the same ballpark. There are merits of the large format camera and I do love using it, as it provides a wonderful connection to the craft of making photographs. But once I started working with the advancing technology of digital capture in depth, during my commissioned work for Conrail I began to see how powerful this tool could be when used correctly.

When I commit myself to change like moving to digital, it’s after I have weighed all benefits and drawbacks of each tool. I have a few friends I will often confide in, who are not necessarily photographers, but people who will give me their honest opinion, whether I like it or not. One of these people, Anthony, a dear friend, who would often roll his eyes and harass me when the digital camera came out, sat down one evening with some work prints I made. He had never seen any of the digital work printed, just either on camera or on a laptop after a day of shooting. He sat there quietly thumbing through the prints, sighed and looked at me and said, “you’re right, the change to digital has not impacted your vision, your work, not in a negative anyway.” That was the confirmation that my transition into using digital capture was successful. A change in tool didn’t impact my vision. There are a lot of people who will argue the merits of film or digital, but after many years making pictures, the results are what matter to me. The tool you use to make pictures, whether it has a sheet of film loaded in it or a 50mp sensor, makes no difference to me, as long as you do it well.

Delair viaduct, span replacement project documentation for Conrail Shared Assets Operation, Port Richmond section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Delair viaduct, span replacement project documentation for Conrail Shared Assets Operation, Port Richmond section, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Edd - Several years ago, you were commissioned by Conrail Shared Assets to document the reconstruction of the Delair Bridge in New Jersey. From black & white view cameras to color video production is quite a leap, but you bring it off beautifully. Tell us about how this project came about and how you decided on the best way to tell this story.

Michael - The commissioned work for Conrail Shared Assets came from a working relationship with, and mutual respect for, railroad engineering and history within the company’s engineering department. When I was first approached about the span replacement project at Delair, a video was being considered to document six 3-day, 72-hour outages, which were being planned over a 15-month period. 72 hours of video per outage meant 432 hours of raw footage. Who has the time to watch that, never mind the resources to archive, cull from, and edit such a massive collection? Did they want a feature film as a result? We proposed instead the use of time-lapse, essentially taking sequences of still photos at timed intervals, and then processing the stills into video clips. We could still convey the scope of work while touching upon all the needs of the client, and each outage could be distilled down to a three or six-minute edit.

There was, however, one minor hitch. At the time, I had not taken digital capture very seriously, not to mention that I’d never even worked in video at all. I knew I was approaching the deep end of the pool, but it is often opportunities like this that afford the ability to grow and learn. Another challenge for me as an image-maker was knowing that there was no possible way I could do this on my own. To rectify that, I contacted Samuel Markey, a former student who was now working with time-lapse and video in his own business. Our work ethic, ideas, and personalities synced perfectly. It was the right move. With each outage, we quickly learned what did and did not work and what we needed, in terms of both equipment and visuals. It was also very fortuitous to have a client who was open to ideas, suggestions and supporting whatever ridiculous request we may have thrown at them. Over three years Sam and I continued to push production levels as we worked on three major projects for Conrail - two at Delair, and one at Paulsboro, NJ. We forged relationships with the contractors and Conrail’s Bridge & Building and Engineering departments, delivering a product that was visually interesting while meeting the needs of the client for documentation. In the end, we got to be in places nobody from the outside would have access to, to make a meaningful and creative documentation of large-scale engineering projects in the railroad tradition. Overall, it was a fantastic and educational experience.

Edd - Creatively, what is your greatest challenge?

Michael - I think my biggest creative challenge is how to draw a diverse audience to my work, especially the Main Line Project. The success of this project so far has been the fact that it can function on multiple levels ñ historical, engineering, landscape studies, transportation, contemporary photography, etc. I am always looking for feedback, trying to edge out where the best responses to my work originate, be they blog publications, single images, portfolios, and exhibitions. Trying to keep my work fresh and relevant is my biggest priority. I often get asked, “When will the project be done?” I don’t know… I am still learning, still enjoying the discovery process and the dialog with the landscape and historical works. I feel like the project still has plenty of energy, the challenge is how to harness, and it keep it exciting, for me and for my audience.

Controlled Burn, along Alloway Creek, New Bridge Road, Salem County New Jersey. 

Controlled Burn, along Alloway Creek, New Bridge Road, Salem County New Jersey. 

Edd - What projects are you currently working on? Any new projects in the pipeline?

Michael - I wouldn’t necessarily say there are any new projects in the pipe, but rather evolutions of existing work. I continue to explore my native area of Southern New Jersey. The idea of making a long-standing body of work about a familiar landscape or place is fascinating to me. It is something that evolves alongside your life, while you take root and raise a family, a process that changes our views with age. These life experiences change how we perceive things, the landscape included. It’s exciting to me to have a back burner project to step in and out of occasionally, that I don’t have to think about too much, but can occasionally revisit. It allows time for the oft-viewed, rarely seen landscape to rest, and my vision to watch the change and evolution of photographs, slowly take place. It’s a familiar place to test out ideas, to keep the tools sharp if you will.

Edd - One of the concerns that is often voiced by organizations devoted to historic preservation is “Where are the young people who will carry on this work?” Since you teach young photographers who are just starting out, I am curious if any of your students display any interest in documenting and interpreting the past, or are they more tuned in to the trendier aspects of contemporary photography.

Michael – It’s interesting; photo students seem to come wired with an interest of all things old, maybe it’s the historical connection with photographic traditions, perhaps it’s nostalgia, or the modern urban exploration phenomenon, but students do indeed incorporate these notions into their work in various ways. Some students focus on documenting industrial and social landscapes, and when they do, of course, we all (faculty) encourage them to find their voice and how they can use it to make a living. Every student is different, and you have to leave your work out of the equation, to ensure they understand why they are drawn to a subject, and not just teaching them to emulate someone else’s work without understanding why. It is a delicate balance, as landscapes and history are not for everyone, but I do think there is a contingent of young adults that will carry the torch in preservation. I also think the next generation of preservationists and hobbyists are bringing a significant change in how we present and share ideas and organize and socialize with groups.

Making photographs can often be mainly a solitary exercise, especially for me, wandering the ruins of a vanished railroad or other forgotten spaces in-between. Beyond image capture, processing is also a solo act, alone in a darkroom, studio or office. But photography doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and sharing results is key to the undertaking. This is the advantage the next generation of preservationists and hobbyists will have, the enhanced ability to find and organize social groups to present and share ideas. It’s this difference I think will keep the goals of documentation and preservation alive and well moving forward.

Edd - The curriculum at Drexel requires photography majors to learn film photography and darkroom processing. What do students in this digital age, many of whom have never been exposed to “analog” photography, make of this? And why do you think that learning what is now seen by many as obsolete, is important to their education?

Michael - We don’t teach a lot of film-based technique, but what we do teach is incredibly important to the education of a photographer. The most important benefit of a student working in large or medium format film is that it teaches the student to slow down - how to look, think, and craft an image on the ground glass, how to meter and expose, develop and print the negative. Regardless of the tool, it’s important to learn that every step in the process is intertwined. It’s not that these skills can’t be learned in digital, but learning film technique forces the issue, because the results are absolute. If you go through all the steps, run the film, and the negative is less than optimal, you have to do it again, attempting to figure out what you did wrong in your process. If you have a RAW file that is poorly exposed, there are still options to recover something. In short, with film, the stakes are higher. You can’t teach “too much” of the “how” and “why”, the critical thinking part of the process. It’s this that’s too easy to lose in a photographic education absent of the analog process. After mastering those problem-solving skills, whatever tool a photographer chooses from the toolbox will be treated the same. Each format has its purpose, and today, there is nothing better or worse between them. Anyone arguing solely for the merit of film-based capture is romanticizing the process, and one asserting the supremacy of digital likely never understood or experienced what film is truly capable of. It’s a tool, just like the hammer. What matters, in the end, is how you use it.

Former Pennsylvania Railroad 1888 Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River.

Former Pennsylvania Railroad 1888 Pratt truss bridge spanning the Susquehanna River.

Edd - You have a strong affinity for black & white in your own work, and of course you still work with film. How do you think your work would be different if you were working in digital color?

Michael - I learned color in the darkroom during my education and never really felt connected to it, the process was limiting, and the introduction of color to a photograph brought a whole new layer of subjectivity to an image. Now that I shoot a good bit of work digitally, I do see my work in color, albeit briefly, and so far, it’s done nothing for me, my mind just tunes it out. I certainly admire what others are doing in color, and of course, the big names like Richard Misrach, Edward Burtynsky, and Robert Polidori are awe-inspiring, but I’m just not feeling it for my work. Much of my work is focused on places outside their times, adding color would change this significantly. It would be too connected to reality and the present.

Edd - Railroads are an unusually visual subject. Railfans are photographers almost by definition. I can’t think of any special interest that has as strong a connection to photography as railroading. Why do you suppose this is?

Michael - I think there are a lot of hobby groups that make a natural fit with photography; of avid hikers many landscape photographers are made, and birding another one, but yes, photography is indeed a prevalent predilection in the railfan community. The connection appears to goes back to preservation again, be it of moments, places or things; and nostalgia for the railroad generally, since subjects loaded with nostalgia seem to be prime targets. Sometimes they seek to answer questions: What was that branch line’s purpose? How many passenger trains stopped at this now dilapidated depot? Or express a regional fandom. Countless fallen flag railroads each have their cult following; in many cases, their fans never even saw the original road in operation. Fortunately for all of us interested in this genre, preservation by photograph has been intertwined with the railroad itself since the dawn of photography, creating a visual anthology of railroading by both professional and amateur photographers alike. Still today, the only thing constant in the railroad industry is change, and photography seems to be the most common form of preservation.

Outside of the simple “preservation by photograph” approach, some railfans try to emulate the greats like Shaughnessy, Plowden, Hastings, Steinheimer, and Link. That is a beautiful thing; it reflects an intelligent and passionate response to the visual proficiency of these noted photographers, who left an undeniable mark on the entire industry and hobby. Technology has also played a significant role in the advancement of the genre. The flexibility of higher level ISO sensitivity in digital, the extended dynamic range, instant feedback, and being limited by only the space on their memory card, photographers have advanced their rail photography to levels that would make some of the greats envious. The point is, what drives a lot of these people is passion, whether they are good at making photographs, or it is a simple visual record to model a structure, you really can’t deny the important intersection of railroads and photography in our community.

Franklin Boro, and Main Line, from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

Franklin Boro, and Main Line, from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

Edd - Do you have a favorite among your own photographs, one that is particularly meaningful to you? Tell us about it.

Michael - I am always hesitant to answer questions like this, but if I had to single one out, I’d say, Franklin Boro, from East Conemaugh, PA is pretty damn close. I remember seeing it on the ground glass, it was an image I made while I was reading Stilgoe’s Metropolitan Corridor, and it reinforces the connection between the railroad and the landscape. Layers of history stacked up on the mountainside, having seen an evolution of transportation and industrial history from those lofty views. Some would see a place like this as sad or depressing; I find these types of locations intriguing and beautiful. It’s a key image in the project.

Edd - And one last question. If you could spend a day photographing alongside any photographer from any era in the history of photography, who would it be, and why?

Michael - That is easy, William H Rau, however, I would need a little more than a day! I’d love to be in the meetings with PRR officials planning Rau’s campaigns in the 1890’s. To see what the expectations were from the client, and understand what Rau brought to the table, how they came to select the locations and the logistics of access. Being in the field would be interesting to see how they handled his photographic train and moving that incredibly bulky camera (his smallest was a 18x22” glass plate camera) all around an active railroad. I can only imagine some dispatcher pounding out messages on the telegraph telling the crew to move him along so he could get back to running trains!

Edd - I look forward to seeing where your exploration of the railroad landscape takes you, and thanks for letting us come along for the ride!

Michael - As always Edd, thank you, it’s a pleasure to be able to present my work like this, you don’t always have the opportunity to reflect back on your projects and ideas. This interview has been a great way to analyze my perspectives and assess how my ideas in photography and preservation have developed over the years. I know my approach to the subject is different from a lot of photographers interested in railroading, I hope this shed a little light on how and why I make the images I do. Thanks again for the opportunity, and keep up the great work on The Trackside Photographer!

Christiana | Last Stop in Lancaster County

Previously, on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline we left off in Lancaster County at Mine Ridge, the highest point on the PRR east of the Alleghenies. The route closely follows the original 1834 alignment of the PRR's predecessor, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, crossing through a gap in the ridge between Lancaster and Chester Counties and the divide between the Susquehanna and Deleware Watersheds. From the west, the line climbs the grade between Kinzer and Gap on a series of reverse curves in short succession following a brief tangent, attaining the summit at roughly milepost 50. The eastward descent starts into another  1-degree curve positioning the line into a long straight until reaching Christiana, the last station along the line in Lancaster County. In Christiana, the line again navigates another series of reverse curves flanking the town center followed by a sharp curve at North Bend where the line crosses into Chester County.

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century .

A modern-day view of the 1912 era Christiana train station. While manufacturing has left communities like this, the historical character and old buildings speak to the Borough's importance in industrial history throughout the United States in the 19th Century.

The area around Christiana took root in the 1690's after King Charles II granted William Penn 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River. Originally part of Chester County, Sadsbury Township was part of a land transfer to establish Lancaster Country in 1729. As a result, Sadsbury Township spanned the new county line, and thus became two separate townships by the same name in each of the neighboring counties. By the dawn of the 19th Century, Christiana began to develop around the crossroads of the Lancaster and the Gap & Newport Turnpikes, both major eastern trade routes. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 would rival many of these roads taking away commerce and trade from the port city of Philadelphia, thus affecting developing towns along the way. The Commonwealth's answer was to build a state-owned system utilizing a railroad between Philadelphia and the Susquehanna River and a canal system west to Pittsburgh, including a series of inclined planes to cross the Alleghenies. The new rail line, called the Philadelphia & Columbia, brought great promise for developing communities like Christianna. The railroad and the larger Mainline of Public Works would allow people and industry to connect with markets outside their region, providing a potentially unlimited opportunity for commerce.

The P&C commenced operations in 1834, around the same time local businessman, William Noble constructed a foundry and blacksmith shop along the line in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County. Ten years later Hugh McClarron opened a grain and produce business, and by 1846 Samuel L. Denney purchased the foundry from Noble, adding a machine shop to the operation. By 1847 the growing village became officially known as Christiana, named for Noble's first wife. Denny's endeavor followed suit, and the new Christiana Machine became a focal point of industrial commerce in the area. 

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

View looking west from the mainline, showing the old (left) and new (right) alignments of the right of way. Soon the old right of way and overpass would be removed. Cattle pens and a siding in the immediate foreground are in the vicinity of the freight house which still stands today. Note the absence of the fourth track which indicates that this view was before 1895. Library of Congress HAER collection.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

Annotated map of the Borough of Christiana illustrating the original P&C alignment (red) and the relocated mainline (white), part of the PRR's line improvements completed in 1895. Note the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch in the bottom left, which would not be completed until 1906, joins the right of way to the east of here.

By the 1880's the failed Mainline of Public Works had long since been sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, putting Christiana alongside one of the most ambitious interstate rail transportation systems in the land. The town itself thrived, now a borough of 800 residents, complete with a new library association, bank, and town newspaper. Christiana was home to a diverse base of manufacturing with much of its output shipped by rail. Christiana Machine, once again under new ownership, evolved from making farming implements to the production of water turbine equipment and later other elements for power transmission systems for shipment all over the developing nation.

Growing with the ever-increasing traffic demands the PRR was amidst an era of improvements in the 1890's, addressing both capacity and infrastructure limitations. Symbolized by the PRR's impressive stone bridges and four-track system, the improvements program targeted issues that stemmed from the early construction of the right of way. In this particular region, the engineers and contractors building the P&C mainline encountered springs, and quicksand while excavating the pass over the Gap Summit. The compromise was less cutting to avoid the muck resulting in steeper grades. Cheif Engineer William H. Brown looked to finish what the P&C could not accomplish some fifty years before.  As a result, measures were taken to re-grade and realign the railroad between Gap and North Bend. 

In Christiana, the tracks were shifted from the old P&C right-of-way to a new alignment altogether, moving the tracks some  150' to reduce the curvature and accommodate the expansion of the right of way to four tracks. The realignment necessitated moving the large brick freight house some 40' east and the abandonment of the existing Bridge Street overpass. Construction of its replacement called for the use of a "new" Whipple style iron truss span, repurposed from improvements undertaken on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, where the mainline crossed White Clay Creek below Wilmington. 

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

The remains of the original Philadelphia & Columbia stone arch bridge crossing Pine Creek still survive despite being part of the right of way that was abandoned during the 1890's line improvements between Gap and Atglen, Pennsylvania. The structures at the left are part of what was Christiana Machine, one of the first industries in Sadsbury Township to take advantage of the railroad's expanded market reach.

At North Bend, where the railroad arcs from a north-south to an east-west orientation through the gap in the North Valley Hills, a substantial cut was excavated at the base of Zion Hill,  accommodating the wider right-of-way, reducing curvature from the previous P&C alignment. The 1895 annual report from the PRR notes the completion of this segment of four track line from Atglen to Gap, among other places. Not much else would change in Christiana except for the construction of a modest new passenger facility and pedestrian subway along the Gay Street underpass in 1912. 

While Christiana lost passenger service in 1952, the station remained open as a Railway Express office until 1962. Though much of the region's manufacturing shifted away from smaller communities like Christiana, the landmark brick freight house and passenger station survive, the former becoming the home of the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who restored the building to its original condition. The Lancaster Chapter, chartered in 1936 is the founding Chapter of NRHS and a very accomplished group in the field of preservation of railroad structures and equipment.  The mainline today serves the Amtrak Keystone Corridor, hosting some thirty trains a day, still rolling through Christiana and the right of way improvements of the late 1800's.

 

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.

Rau Symposium This Week!

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

The work of William Rau has played a tremendous role in the ongoing project, From the Main Line, providing both inspirations in an aesthetic and historical context. Learn more about my relationship with Rau's work for the Pennsylvania Railroad this week at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona, where I will present a lecture on Wednesday, August 16th. (Left Image by William H. Rau, collection of the Altoona Public Library)

Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: This Wednesday, August 16
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition William H Rau, Urban, Rural, Rail, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape." 

If you are in the area, please join us! The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org. 

Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail
On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona

The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see! 

Summer News and Events

Greetings! I hope everyone is having a great summer and taking some much deserved time off to enjoy the season with family and friends. Here is a quick list of some upcoming and ongoing events pertaining to the Main Line Project! 

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   Semi-automatic signals beckon outside the window of the station waiting room in Chester, Pennsylvania on the former Chesapeake Division   mainline   to Washington D.C., 2016.

Semi-automatic signals beckon outside the window of the station waiting room in Chester, Pennsylvania on the former Chesapeake Division mainline to Washington D.C., 2016.

They All Fall Down | Lamenting the loss of a classic PRR Signal - The Position Light
I am very excited to have a new article featured on the blog, The Trackside Photographer this week. The piece focuses on the Pennsylvania Railroad's classic Position Light signals, many of which face an uncertain future as railroads push to implement Positive Train Control. It's a sizable article featuring a lot of imagery, several which have never been published. Please pay the Trackside Photographer a visit if you haven't already, they are doing a fantastic job featuring a diverse range of photographers and writers whose work focuses on the railroad landscape, it's an honor to have work published there! 

Plate 36. B.Q. Tower and Signals - Bellewood, Pennsylvania, Middle Division (III-895), William H Rau, Altoona Public Library Collection. One of 27 images currently on display in the exhibition William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona.  

Plate 36. B.Q. Tower and Signals - Bellewood, Pennsylvania, Middle Division (III-895), William H Rau, Altoona Public Library Collection. One of 27 images currently on display in the exhibition William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona.  

Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail

On view through September 9th, 2017. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art - Altoona

The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see! 

Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: August 16

In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape." 

The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org. 

Pop- Up Exhibition: The Study at University City - Philadelphia
On display through September 30th. 

An excellent opportunity came up recently to showcase some work from the Main Line Project, at the Study, a beautiful new Hotel in University City, central to Drexel University's campus at 33rd and Chestnut Streets, in Philadelphia. The small show includes ten pieces from the project and is free and open to the public. If you're in the area, please stop in and have a look! 

The Study at University City, 20 S 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA

Exhibition & Press: William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail

It goes without saying that the work of William H. Rau has had a tremendous influence on my ongoing project, From the Main Line, so it gives me great pleasure to announce that I will have several pieces included in an exhibition at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art titled William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail in the heart of Pennsylvania Railroad territory, Altoona, Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs through September 9th and will include a symposium on August 16th in which I will discuss the role of Rau's imagery and how it has both informed and influenced my own. The exhibition has already received some terrific feedback, including this recent feature in the Altoona Mirror. I look forward to sharing more about this incredible show while continuing to explore the dialog with Rau's imagery for both inspiration and historical reference in documenting the former Standard Railroad of the World

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Quadruple Track – Tanks, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Rau’s work captured the Allegheny landscape of the 1890s

SAMA-Altoona exhibits more vintage photographs
By Altoona Mirror Staff Writer  - Cherie Hicks

Another batch of cutting-edge photographs that captured the Allegheny landscape in the 1890s is now on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.

“William H. Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail” features 27 albumem and sepia-toned photographs taken by the commercial photographer who was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The show, curated by Penn State Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether, runs through Sept. 9.

The exhibition takes viewers on a “photographic trip with Rau,” in which “hidden worlds become exposed ‘openings,'” a late 19th-century term used to describe landscape and landscape photography, Fether said.

“It shows not just the landscape that the railroad carved through, but the mark that the railroad made on the landscape and in the communities it created,” she said.

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

Main Line, looking west, Altoona, Pennsylvania. One of four images from the Main Line project accompanying the collection of Rau images in the exhibition at SAMA- Altoona

The exhibition follows the different PRR divisions that Rau tracked, from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City to Pittsburgh. Rau (rhymes with how) was a successful commercial photographer in Philadelphia when the PRR commissioned him to travel its main line and take pictures of the beautiful scenery in an effort to lure tourists onboard trains.

“Today, these photographs are a testament to the emergence of photography used to promote travel and tourism,” Fether said. “Attracting the young and old, rich and poor, to the glamor of railroad travel, the rails provided an opportunity to participate in the power of acute observation from the window of a passenger car and experience new communities along the way.”

Rau, who died in 1920, produced a total of 463 photographs in his project, 273 of which are considered the Altoona collection and are owned by the Altoona Area Public Library and housed by SAMA. The other photos from the railroad project are owned by The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The current show is a follow-up to another exhibition of Rau photographs that Fether curated at SAMA-Altoona in 2015. With the museum only able to display about three dozen at a time, Fether said she had a theme in mind as she sifted through binders of 8-by-10-inch prints in the Altoona collection of Rau’s work.

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

Philadelphia, 50th Street Yard (West), c. 1891. William H. Rau. The Altoona Public Library Collection

As she was culling, she searched online for other Rau-related work and stumbled on Michael Froio, a Drexel University professor of photography whose contemporary work has been influenced by Rau.

“Even as the railroad has declined, there’s a timelessness to these pictures,” Fether said. “What do they look like today? That is why I reached out to Michael.”

The exhibition includes four black-and-white, contemporary pieces from Froio’s own project called From the Main Line that complement and pay homage to Rau’s photographs, Fether said. One such work is called “Main Line Looking West, Altoona, Pennsylvania,” and Froio said he clearly remembers the first time he saw Rau’s work.

“While I was instantly captivated by the subject matter in Rau’s photographs, it was more the approach of his work that left a lasting mark, illustrating not only the railroad but the engineering, landscape and architecture along the line,” he said. “The imagery by Rau left us with a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age.”

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

In Images like "Woodvale Yard, Franklin Boro, Pennsylvania", Rau's work both informs and inspires through understanding the history of place while responding to aesthetically choices like the use of light, composition and technical process. 

It shows “the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process,” Froio said.

Fether explained that part of Rau’s allure was how technically advanced he was for his time, experimenting with new photographic methods and constantly perfecting the process. Most of his pictures were printed on albumen photographic paper, or a paper coated with egg white and chemicals. PRR provided him with his own rail car, in which he could sleep and produce negatives and prints, and Rau did not disappoint.

“It is an absolute honor to be a part of this show, having a chance to hang work next to Rau’s,” Froio said.

Froio and Fether will be lead speakers at a symposium on Rau’s work and legacy at SAMA-Altoona on Aug. 16 at 11 a.m. Froio will discuss Rau’s influence on his own work. Fether said she will explain how the exhibition evolved. She also will explain some writings that are part of the show from John Stilgoe, a professor of the history of landscape development at Harvard University, and others on the “art and practice of ‘seeing’ landscape.”

The public is invited to the program, which costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members) and includes lunch. Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing altoona@sama-art.org.

Johnstown: Remembering the Great Flood of 1889

On May 30th, 1889 storms struck the Conemaugh Valley in Cambria County, dumping an estimated 6-10 inches of rain on the region. Tributaries and creeks flooded their banks, swelling the Conemaugh River with raging currents and miscellaneous debris. Fourteen miles east of the bustling city of Johnstown concerns were escalating at the elite South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club where a former reservoir for the Mainline of Public Works turned recreational lake, began to rise to dangerous levels. Lake Conemaugh had been stripped of its fail-safes after the Pubic Works system was abandoned and had no way of relieving the rising floodwaters. Various efforts to mitigate the high water were considered but were too little, too late, in a last ditch effort messengers were dispatched to South Fork to report the dangerous situation to neighboring towns via telegraph.

"The Johnstown Calamity" by George Baker depicts the devastation of the great flood, note homes tossed on their side as the waters recede leaving nothing but mud in an area that was once a residential neighborhood. Image collection of the New York Public Library.

"The Johnstown Calamity" by George Baker depicts the devastation of the great flood, note homes tossed on their side as the waters recede leaving nothing but mud in an area that was once a residential neighborhood. Image collection of the New York Public Library.

By the afternoon of May 31st, Johnstown was already experiencing flooding in various areas but at approximately 3:10PM the situation grew far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. The dam holding back Lake Conemaugh collapsed, releasing some 20 million tons of water into the Conemaugh River valley. Taking approximately 40 minutes to drain the lake, flood waters raged through the valley taking less than an hour to reach the city of Johnstown, picking up houses, trees and even a railroad viaduct in its course. By the time it hit Johnstown the wall of floodwater was estimated to be 60’ high in places and traveling at 40 miles per hour.  The flood entered town in the areas of East Conemaugh and Woodvale leveling rail yards, tossing passenger trains and causing major damage to the Gautier Iron Works, picking up even more debris including barbed wire manufactured at the mills. Flood waters tore through the center of Johnstown which is hemmed in by the Stoney Creek and Conemaugh Rivers on the the valley floor becoming the epicenter of disaster. Spreading across the city the floodwaters washed back and forth forcing debris against the PRR stone viaduct near the Cambria Iron Works creating further peril during the situation. The unintended dam became engulfed in flames creating a 70’ high wall that had to eventually be blasted away after waters receded.

The great stone bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line played a large role in the devastation during the flood when debris washed across the valley piling up against the bridge creating an unintended dam, trapping flood victims in a 70' high debris pile that burned for three days. After the fire and flood water subsided clearing of the bridge required the expertise of "Dynamite Bill" Flynn and a 900 man crewtaking 3 months to complete the task. Photograph by Ernest Walter Histed, collection of the Library of Congress.

The great stone bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line played a large role in the devastation during the flood when debris washed across the valley piling up against the bridge creating an unintended dam, trapping flood victims in a 70' high debris pile that burned for three days. After the fire and flood water subsided clearing of the bridge required the expertise of "Dynamite Bill" Flynn and a 900 man crewtaking 3 months to complete the task. Photograph by Ernest Walter Histed, collection of the Library of Congress.

Efforts were mobilized immediately to provide disaster relief and recovery. The Pennsylvania Railroad restored the railroad west to Pittsburgh and was running trains by June 2nd bringing in manpower and supplies. Clara Barton, a nurse and founder of the Red Cross arrived on June 5th, staying for more than five months to lead the group’s first major disaster relief effort. The flood, the result of the of the South Fork Hunting Club’s negligence to properly maintain the earthen dam ultimately took 2,209 lives, 16,000 homes and cost $17 million in property damage, making the Great Flood of 1889 one of the worst floods to hit the US in the 19th Century.

Spring News & Events

Allegany National Photography Competition and Exhibition: I am very pleased to have a piece from the Main Line Series included in the 2nd annual Allegany National Photography Competition. This exhibition runs from April 8th to the 30th in the Allegany Arts Council’s beautiful Saville Gallery in historic downtown Cumberland, Maryland. Situated in the beautiful Allegany mountains the exhibition melds the region's rich concentration of photographic artists with an influx of national photographers through the juried competition. Juror Stephen Perloff is founder and editor of The Photo Review, a critical journal of fine art photography. Publishing since 1976, The Photo Review covers photography issues and events throughout the country and serves as a central resource for the Mid-Atlantic region. Perloff is to host a lecture Friday April 8th in the Schwab Gallery and the opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Saturday, April 9th from 6-8 PM. Gallery hours for the exhibition are Tuesday - Saturday, 11AM-5PM. The Allegany Arts Council is located at 9 N. Centre Street, Cumberland, MD 21502. For more information on the lecture, exhibition and the Allegany Arts Council please visit their website or call (301) 777-ARTS (2787).

From the Main Line | Exhibition: Continuing in its second month, my solo exhibition featuring work from the Main Line project is on display at the Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania. Plan a trip to see the exhibition and visit some area attractions; the city is very easy to navigate and there are several wonderful places to stay in town and of course, plenty of choices for lunch and dinner. The exhibition runs through April 30th and is open M-F 10 AM - 6 PM, Sat. 10 AM - 5 PM. The Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building, 515 Center Street, Scranton, PA 18503. 

 

From the Main Line | Upcoming Exhibiton

I am excited to share the details on my upcoming exhibition in Scranton, Pennsylvania featuring work from the ongoing project, From the Main Line. Scranton, though never served by the PRR could not be more of an appropriate venue to put together an exhibition exploring the relationship between railroads and the landscapes they travel. The Electric City is situated in the heart of Anthracite Coal Country and has a rich history largely associated with being at the crossroads of six railroad companies at its peak and home to the the sprawling Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad locomotive shops.  The railroads played an important role in the city of Scranton, providing extensive access to the nation's rail network while providing a wealth of jobs to the regional economy, much like the many places I’ve photographed throughout my time on the PRR.

Today Scranton is home to several major universities, the Steamtown National Historical Site as well as several other interpretive museums that explore the role railroads and coal played in the regional economy. Plan a trip to see the exhibition and visit some area attractions; the city is very easy to navigate and there are several wonderful places to stay in town and of course, plenty of choices for lunch and dinner. The exhibition opens next Friday, March 4th and will run through April 30th at the Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Hope to see some familiar faces at the opening!

Sincerely, 

Michael Froio

Crossing Mine Ridge

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. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the main line towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the main line of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the main line towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the main line of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

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. The small village of roughly 1900 residents is divided by the first pair of significant curves on the main line including the 4° Eby’s curve and the 4° Gap curve. To attain the summit the railroad climbs a .56% ruling grade and enters a cut on the Gap curve through Mine Ridge, limiting trains to a maximum of 50mph. Through William H. Brown's improvement years there were several attempts to reduce curvature of the route, but an ambitious project was proposed to eliminate the curves all together in the first quarter of the 20th century. With an estimated cost of $2.7 million, the realignment would require the removal of a large piece of Mine Ridge to eliminate a total of four curves with one large gentle arc, increasing speeds from 50 to 90 mph and reducing average travel time by 1.5 minutes. Alas the realignment was deemed too costly for the time and was never revisited, leaving the same basic arrangement that survives today now part of Amtrak's Keystone Line.

Watershed Project - Upcoming Exhibition

Bluffs on Crosswicks Creek, near Bordentown, New Jersey. This is one of 14  images from the Watershed series that will be part of an exhibition at the Perkins Center for Arts - Collingswood. The show opens Saturday, March 14th with a reception from 6-9pm.

Bluffs on Crosswicks Creek, near Bordentown, New Jersey. This is one of 14  images from the Watershed series that will be part of an exhibition at the Perkins Center for Arts - Collingswood. The show opens Saturday, March 14th with a reception from 6-9pm.

Watershed: The southern half of the Delaware River Basin is steeped in history, once the backbone of shipping and manufacturing and home to countless communities along its banks. The Delaware itself and the many unremarked tributaries that feed into it play host to a diverse Eco system that thrives along side industrial sites, refineries and countless miles of swamp and unremarked landscapes covered in bay grass, scrub pines and oaks. There is a feeling of emptiness in these landscapes, an absence of human life. Scars left behind from dredging dumps and brownfield sites only highlight nature’s resilience to recover these swaths, its ability to thrive even under the duress of neighboring highway noise, pollution and encroaching housing developments. The Watershed Project is about the beauty of the benign and unremarked place challenging our perception of the natural landscape while celebrating an important resource of the greater Delaware Valley.

I am excited to announce that I will be included in a three person exhibition that will open next Saturday, March 14th at the Perkins Center for the Arts in their Collingswood location.  Along with artists Keith Yahrling and Amy Becker I will be showing work from the Watershed Project. The exhibition runs from March 14 - May 2, 2015 with an opening reception on Saturday, March 14 from 6-9 pm. The Perkins Collingswood facility is located at 30 Irvin Ave., Collingswood, NJ 08108. Normal exhibition hours are Tuesdays & Thursdays 10 am – 2 pm, Saturday 10am – 2 pm. The exhibition and opening is free and open to the public. Collingswood offers some terrific options for dining so its a perfect opportunity to get out for a night of art and entertainment. Hope to see you there!

The Edgar Thomson Works

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

Since the first heat of molten steel was tapped in 1875 The Edgar Thomson Works has produced steel continuously along the banks of the Monongahela River in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Constructed by Andrew Carnegie the plant was named in honor of his friend and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson. Carnegie’s mill would be the prototype for many modern facilities to come, making use of the Bessemer process, an innovative way to economically mass produce steel by forcing air through molten iron to remove impurities by oxidation. The mill occupies the site of the historic battle where French and Indian Troops defeated the expedition of General Edward Braddock on July 9, 1755. Flanked by Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River the locale offers waterfront access to receive raw materials and ship finished product on the Ohio and Mississippi River networks.

In 1892 the Edgar Thomson Works would be part of one most violent labor strikes in American history, the Homestead strike.  In an attempt to disband the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in Carnegie’s Homestead Works, Henry Clay Frick and Carnegie locked out workers when negotiations for the union organization went sour. Employees at the Homestead works picketed for roughly five days, with plant workers at both the Thomson and Duquesne Works joining in sympathy. Picketing turned violent when plant owners brought in the Pinkerton Guards instigating a full-scale riot that resulted in ten deaths and thousands of injuries. State Governor Robert Pattison sent two brigades of the State Militia to disperse the chaos and resume operations with temporary strike breakers. Mill owners continued fighting the efforts to unionize steel labor for years, causing other violent outbreaks until 1942 when the AA finally merged with others to create the United Steel Workers Union, gaining momentum to unionize major steel mills all together.

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

In 1901 Carnegie Steel was merged with the Federal and National Steel Companies under the direction of J.P. Morgan among other partners creating US Steel. Once the largest steel producer in the world, US Steel still produces roughly 25 percent of America’s domestic steel at several major facilities in the United States. Operations at the Edgar Thomson Plant continue and now employ a basic oxygen furnace and continuous caster in addition to the remaining blast furnaces. Operated under the auspices of the Mon Valley Works  this operation is the last integrated steel mill in the Pittsburgh area with coke produced at the Clairton Works to the south, raw steel produced at the ET plant and finishing into coil and galvanized products takes place at the Irvin Works.

Though the Edgar Thompson plant was served by numerous railroads most of it was done through interchange with the Union Railroad a wholly owned subsidiary of US Steel that was established in 1894 prior to Carnegie’s sale of the ET works. The Union Railroad grew into an expansive system connecting Carnegie’s Bessemer & Lake Erie with the industrial Mon Valley moving raw materials from Lake Erie and finished product to market. The Pennsylvania’s primary source of interchange was at Kenny Yard on the Monongahela Branch across from the works in Kennywood, Pennsylvania. Other companies interchanged with the Union Railroad including the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Baltimore and Ohio and the Western Maryland most via the P&LE gateway at Connellsville.

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!

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.

Conewago and the Lebanon Valley Gateway

Plate#91: View of the Conewago Gorge by photographer William H. Rau, during his first photographic commission with the Pennsylvania Railroad to illustrate the destinations and scenery along the system. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Plate#91: View of the Conewago Gorge by photographer William H. Rau, during his first photographic commission with the Pennsylvania Railroad to illustrate the destinations and scenery along the system. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Leaving Royalton behind the main line begins a sustained climb to Elizabethtown with a ruling grade of .84%. Four miles east from the junction of the Royalton Branch the main line, running on the alignment of the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad crosses the Conewago Creek valley. Lenape for “At the Rapids”, the Conewago is actually two creeks of the same name: One running from the west to the Susquehanna River in York County the other coming from the east from the headwaters of Lake Conewago in Mt Gretna, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania to the Susquehanna near the village of Falmouth.

Pennsylvania Railroad Track Chart showing the grade and track profile between Highspire and Rheems. Note the junction with the Lebanon Branch at approximately Milepost 90 in Conewago, this branch had an interesting history connected with the Coleman Family iron dynasty of the late 1800's. Excerpts of track charts collection   Keystone Crossings  .

Pennsylvania Railroad Track Chart showing the grade and track profile between Highspire and Rheems. Note the junction with the Lebanon Branch at approximately Milepost 90 in Conewago, this branch had an interesting history connected with the Coleman Family iron dynasty of the late 1800's. Excerpts of track charts collection Keystone Crossings.

(Inset) Post card view of the 1885 Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad station in Lebanon, Pennsylvania designed by noted architect George Watson Hewitt. This building survives today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

(Inset) Post card view of the 1885 Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad station in Lebanon, Pennsylvania designed by noted architect George Watson Hewitt. This building survives today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

By the 1840’s iron forges to the north of Mt. Gretna owned by various descendants of Robert Coleman flourished in Lebanon with transportation access provided primarily by way of the Union Canal. The area’s close proximity to the Anthracite Regions, the Cornwall iron ore hills, an abundance of timber for charcoal/ coke production and local limestone quarries provided the catalyst for growth and development of an industry, which would become the backbone of Lebanon County and the Commonwealth of PA. To feed the forges William Coleman and cousin George Dawson Coleman constructed the North Lebanon Railroad In 1853 connecting the ore hills and forges near Cornwall to the Union Canal landings in Lebanon. By 1870 the railroad was renamed the Cornwall Railroad, interchanging with the Lebanon Valley Railroad, a line that was absorbed by the Philadelphia and Reading. As mining progressed at the Cornwall Ore Hills Company another line, The Spiral Railroad was constructed in Cornwall to facilitate moving material from the pit mines, loading the raw ore into Cornwall RR rail cars. The material would then head out to Lebanon for processing and concentration to be used in local iron production. By 1884 the Cornwall RR would also construct another route the Cornwall and Mount Hope Railroad, providing access to the P&R’s Reading and Columbia Branch allowing interchange freight and connecting passenger services via Manheim. 

For a long time the Cornwall Railroad ran with no competition until 1883 when Robert H Coleman, a cousin to William Freeman the president of the Cornwall Railroad and son to the founder to the North Lebanon Railroad, would open a competing railroad, the Cornwall and Lebanon, creating considerable angst between the two operations. Running southwest from Lebanon to Cornwall then onto the resort town of Mt. Gretna following the Conewago Creek Valley, the new line provided a direct connection to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Conewago, opening markets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and points west. Consequently in the following year, the aging Cornwall Furnaces ceased production, unable to compete with larger mills like Johnstown, Bethlehem and Steelton. Lackawanna Iron and Steel purchased the facilities and iron mines in 1894, later becoming a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel whom operated the mines into the 1970’s.

Postcard view of the Cornwall iron ore mines circa 1922. The railroad in the image likely to be the Spiral Railroad, providing access to the three ore bearing hills at the mine site which then fed the material to both the Cornwall Railroad and Cornwall & Lebanon Railroads. 

Postcard view of the Cornwall iron ore mines circa 1922. The railroad in the image likely to be the Spiral Railroad, providing access to the three ore bearing hills at the mine site which then fed the material to both the Cornwall Railroad and Cornwall & Lebanon Railroads. 

Though the forges shut down Robert H. Coleman’s net worth in the 1880s was over 30 million dollars, owing other interests in the iron business. However his investment in the failed Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad Railway in Florida and the Financial Panic of 1893 Coleman would lose everything and his assets defaulted to debtors who took control of the Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad. Providing an ideal operation to tap the remaining ore deposits, Pennsylvania Railroad’s board of directors authorized purchase of railroad on Mar. 12, 1913 from Lackawanna Steel Company for $1.84 million; officially merging w the PRR April 15th 1918. The route continued to operate through the Penn Central until Hurricane Agnes wiped out considerable pieces of right of way and flooded the remaining pit mines operating in Cornwall.

Philadelphia Division: Steelton

View of Pennsylvania Steel Works, Steelton, Pennsylvania circa 1909,Collection of the Library of Congress. Inset image a vintage stock certificate of Pennsylvania Steel Company Circa  1882. Collection of  VintageStocksandBonds.blogspot.com

View of Pennsylvania Steel Works, Steelton, Pennsylvania circa 1909,Collection of the Library of Congress. Inset image a vintage stock certificate of Pennsylvania Steel Company Circa  1882. Collection of VintageStocksandBonds.blogspot.com

Philadelphia Division: Steelton

Leaving Harrisburg station and State Interlocking both the mainline and Columbia branch follow the east bank of the Susquehanna River through the industrial town of Steelton. Incorporated in 1880 the town was host to Pennsylvania Steel, originally owned by fierce competitors the Pennsylvania Railroad and Philadelphia & Reading.  Sold to Bethlehem Steel in 1915, the plant included four blast furnaces, billet mills, blooming mills and open-hearth facilities. At one time Steelton produced structural steel, rail, bar, pipe and other specialty products for the railroad industry  which  continues today under successor ArcelorMittal. Though the PRR and Reading served the Pennsylvania Steel facility, the Steelton & Highspire Railroad provided in plant switching through out the various facilties as well as working the interchange points with the parent roads. A majority of this activity ran right along North Front Street in the town's commercial district where at any time one could find multiple crews working.

View looking west down Blackberry Alley, Steelton, Pennsylvania. Note the massive steel facilities that dominate the western view from the hill.

View looking west down Blackberry Alley, Steelton, Pennsylvania. Note the massive steel facilities that dominate the western view from the hill.

Like many industrial towns through out the east, Steelton and neighboring Highspire are not the job and economic centers they once were, but nonetheless they survive and still depend on the remaining heavy industry and trade jobs associated with steel production. Flanked along the hillside, overlooking the mill, many one time company homes, churches and small businesses make up the culturally diverse neighborhoods of Steelton. The view of the sprawling works will forever remind the residents of how Steelton came to be and its contributions to the growth of America.

Juniata River Valley: Part 4

Confluence

In a series of single image posts, I would like to share the beauty of the Juniata River Valley, which plays host to the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed Middle Division, a four track water level raceway between Harrisburg and Altoona Pennsylvania. The Juniata, who’s name is thought derive from Iroquoian word Onayutta, meaning "Standing Stone" is roughly 104 miles long, and encompassing 3400 square miles of watershed was the original course North of Harrisburg that the Mainline Department of Public Works and later the PRR would build along to push West to Pittsburgh. At the confluence of the Susquehanna River in Duncannon Pennsylvania, the Railroad follows the broad shallow path of the River as far West as Huntingdon Pennsylvania. In the small town of Duncannon Pennsylvania, is the confluence of the beautiful Susquehanna and the Juniata Rivers. Though I have discussed Duncannon in relation to the railroad, the River deserves a special notice. In a broad sweeping view we see the wide rivers coming together, looking upstream toward the confluence. To the left is the waters of the Juniata, and right, the Susquehanna. In the distance one can see the Route 322/22 bridge spanning the Susquehanna (the bridge of the Juniata is partially obscured). This area is well known by PRR fans as the Mainline swept around a long curve right against the River and provided a beautiful backdrop on any given day.

The Juniata River Valley: Part 3

Newton_hamilton

In a series of single image posts, I would like to share the beauty of the Juniata River Valley, which plays host to the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed Middle Division, a four track water level raceway between Harrisburg and Altoona Pennsylvania. The Juniata, who’s name is thought derive from Iroquoian word Onayutta, meaning "Standing Stone" is roughly 104 miles long, and encompassing 3400 square miles of watershed was the original course North of Harrisburg that the Mainline Department of Public Works and later the PRR would build along to push West to Pittsburgh. At the confluence of the Susquehanna River in Duncannon Pennsylvania, the Railroad follows the broad shallow path of the River as far West as Huntingdon Pennsylvania. In the area West of Newton-Hamilton Pennsylvania, the Juniata River Winds South in an oxbow with the PRR Middle Division bypassing the River altogether North of the Valley. Here in the Fall of 2007 we see the Wide and shallow Juniata River looking East with early signs of Fall leaves on the mountain side. This area is accessible by Rt 103 between Mt Union and Lewistown Pennsylvania and is a nice scenic alternative to Rt 22/522 to the North.

The Juniata River Valley: Part 2

MFROIO_PPT031

In a series of single image posts, I would like to share the beauty of the Juniata River Valley, which plays host to the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed Middle Division, a four track water level raceway between Harrisburg and Altoona Pennsylvania. The Juniata, who’s name is thought derive from Iroquoian word Onayutta, meaning "Standing Stone" is roughly 104 miles long, and encompassing 3400 square miles of watershed was the original course North of Harrisburg that the Mainline of Public Works and later the PRR would build along to push West to Pittsburgh. At the confluence of the Susquehanna River in Duncannon Pennsylvania, the Railroad follows the broad shallow path of the River as far West as Huntingdon Pennsylvania. View looking West in Mill Creek Pennsylvania. The image was actually made from Trough Creek Valley Pike, the Mainline of the PRR runs on the North Bank (right hand side) in the tree line.

The Juniata River Valley: Part 1

prr4

In a series of single image posts, I would like to share the beauty of the Juniata River Valley, which plays host to the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed Middle Division, a four track water level raceway between Harrisburg and Altoona Pennsylvania. The Juniata, who’s name is thought derive from Iroquoian word Onayutta, meaning "Standing Stone" is roughly 104 miles long, and encompassing 3400 square miles of watershed was the original course North of Harrisburg that the Mainline Department of Public Works and later the PRR would build along to push West to Pittsburgh. At the confluence of the Susquehanna River in Duncannon Pennsylvania, the Railroad follows the broad shallow path of the River as far West as Huntingdon Pennsylvania. There are several crossings over the River by the PRR, many utilizing Cheif Engineer, William H Brown's trademark masonry stone arch bridges of various sizes, certainly a series of posts to be discussed in due time! Here we see the the broad course of the Juniata River looking  East of Huntingdon Pennsylvania, with the PRR mainline running on the Northern Bank in this location. In the distance to the East are the upheavals of rock, known as Jacks Narrows covered a few posts back on Photographs and History. Though the mainline has been reduced to two tracks, it still sees a variety of traffic, playing host to over 40-50 trains a day.