Photographs & History

Photographs and History

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

Leaving the city of Lancaster the PRR Main Line snakes its way across the rich agricultural landscape of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in central 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.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The Main Line, part of the original Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was the site of several improvements including grade separation and curve realignments along the route. Often in winter while riding the south side of the train the bare trees reveal traces of abandoned alignments especially around Kinzer where an early stone arch bridge and small fill once crossed Vintage Road south of the “new” main line. Eastbound trains face a .56% ruling grade approaching the crossing of Mine Ridge on a typical stretch of right of way for the PRR; Several brick freight houses survive, all constructed in a similar style around 1860, W.H. Brown era overpasses and culverts and two notable stone masonry arch bridges that cross the Mill Creek near Smoketown and the Pequea Creek in Paradise, all under a veil of catenary from the final 1938 phase of electrification.  

At Leaman Place Junction, connection was made with the Strasburg Railroad now a well known tourist operation that was originally chartered in 1832 to connect with the P&C. Operational by 1837 utilizing horse drawn coaches on rails the Strasburg purchased a locomotive constructed by the Norris Locomotive Works named the William Penn in 1851. 

 

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

By the 20th Century the Strasburg had changed ownership several times and passenger ridership suffered from the competition of Conestoga Traction Company’s streetcar routes into the city of Lancaster. Ultimately the line was put up for abandonment in the late 1950’s when Henry K Long, an area railfan organized a non-profit to save the line.  Commencing tourist operations in 1959 the Strasburg railroad has been a cornerstone of Lancaster County’s tourism trade offering steam powered train rides through the unspoiled PA Dutch countryside. The railroad has been unique in its mission, centered not only on operations but also working to preserve the historical landscape and feel of a turn of the century railroad while running a healthy freight business and a full service shop for Strasburg and contract restorations.

Shenks Ferry

Green Hill Road underpass on the Atglen and Susquehanna. This alignment diverges from the Susquehanna Valley heading east toward Quarryville in Southern Lancaster County.

Green Hill Road underpass on the Atglen and Susquehanna. This alignment diverges from the Susquehanna Valley heading east toward Quarryville in Southern Lancaster County.

Low Grade | A&S Branch: Moving geographically southeast from Safe harbor on the Atglen & Susquehanna and Columbia & Port Deposit we come to an area know as Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township. Here the elevation difference becomes readily evident between the two alignments with the A&S running on a high fill diverging from the river valley heading east to Atglen. Along this stretch is the Green Hill Road underpass, a massive masonry tunnel bisecting the high fill and survives as a great example of the engineering undertaken to construct this high volume freight bypass.

USGS topographical map circa 1912 of the area around Shenks Ferry. You will note that on the east side of the river where both the A&S Branch and C&PD are located is referred to as Shenks Ferry Station. Also of note is the Pequea Electric Trolley Line that follows the Pequea Creek below Colemanville.

USGS topographical map circa 1912 of the area around Shenks Ferry. You will note that on the east side of the river where both the A&S Branch and C&PD are located is referred to as Shenks Ferry Station. Also of note is the Pequea Electric Trolley Line that follows the Pequea Creek below Colemanville.

The area was initially documented as being inhabited by European colonists in the early 1800's, however when Donald Cadzow of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission excavated a Native American village near Shenks Ferry in the 1930’s he uncovered a civilization that had been lost for almost 400 years. Cadzow had initially thought he had dicovered some unusual Susquehannock artifacts but later realized he had uncovered a new Native American group. This group was given the name the Shenks Ferry People due to the locale of where they were first discovered, but nobody knows what they actually called themselves. Evidence suggests that this site has been used as a hunting camp by different Native American groups for about 4000 years or 2000 years before Christ, it also suggests that the Shenks Ferry culture first appears in this area around 1300 AD. The Shenks Ferry People are identified as pre-historic, which means that there was no written history from the group. Most Native groups, like the Shenks Ferry People, passed their history and culture down orally, so when the last person died this information died with them. It wasn't until archaeologists began studying their villages that this lost history began to reappear. Still, not much is known about the history of the Shenks Ferry People, nor do we know where they came from. Without a written history of the group all that is known about them is what can be learned from material dug up by archaeologists at their villages.

Alternate view of the Green Hill underpass shows the extensive stone work and size of this underpass, a considerable expense for an unpaved road.

Alternate view of the Green Hill underpass shows the extensive stone work and size of this underpass, a considerable expense for an unpaved road.

Dynamite plant near Colemanville, close to Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township, Pennsylvania. Several weeks before the dedication of the A&S Branch an explosion on June 9, 1906 would claim 11 lives, leveling the entire facility and surrounding woods. The decimation of the casualties was so bad that a single common casket was used for remains of all lost in the tragedy. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Dynamite plant near Colemanville, close to Shenks Ferry in Conestoga Township, Pennsylvania. Several weeks before the dedication of the A&S Branch an explosion on June 9, 1906 would claim 11 lives, leveling the entire facility and surrounding woods. The decimation of the casualties was so bad that a single common casket was used for remains of all lost in the tragedy. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.