Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Quarryville | 19th Century Railroading With Big Aspirations

TM Fowler Map circa 1903, illustrating the town of Quarryville. Though construction of the A&S had just commenced in 1903, the line is clearly depicted In the bottom left corner, complete with a connection between the new route and Quarryville Branch that was never constructed. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society scanned from Mary Boomsma

TM Fowler Map circa 1903, illustrating the town of Quarryville. Though construction of the A&S had just commenced in 1903, the line is clearly depicted In the bottom left corner, complete with a connection between the new route and Quarryville Branch that was never constructed. Collection of the Southern Lancaster County Historical Society scanned from Mary Boomsma

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. The Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad was chartered in 1871 to build a narrow gauge network between Safe Harbor and Reading via Lancaster including a branch to Quarryville, competing directly with the neighboring Reading Company subsidiary the Reading & Columbia.  Before construction commenced it was decided to build the line to standard gauge instead, but the Panic of 1873 quickly stalled progress. Falling into financial distress, the Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad was ironically leased to the Reading Company becoming an extension of its Lancaster Branch, part of the R&C. 

A typical PRR train traversing the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad between Lancaster and its southern terminus in Quarryville. Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection

A typical PRR train traversing the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad between Lancaster and its southern terminus in Quarryville. Walter G. Minnich Jr. collection

With the contract secured for the branch to Quarryville, the Reading looked to another opportunity, the potential of connecting with the B&O mainline by extending south from Quarryville to Elkton, MD, a move that would involve the financially strapped narrow gauge railroad the Lancaster, Oxford & Southern. When presented the idea of becoming a bridge route, the LO&S optimistically commenced plans to build new extensions on its existing route including a new line to Quarryville, with the intention of everything being converted to standard gauge. Once complete perhaps the small common carrier would see financial success or even be purchased at a profit by the Reading or the B&O. The plan, however, began to crumble when the Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Railroad defaulted on their mortgage, rendering the Reading lease null and void, and the property went up for auction in 1900. At the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, a tense bidding war played out between extended representatives of the B&O, Reading Company and PRR. Charles H. Locher, a Lancaster businessman, minor shareholder of the L&RNGR and friend of the PRR attended the auction, outbidding the competition and thus protecting their coveted territory by eliminating the plan for the competitor's line once and for all. Regardless the LO&S completed the branch to Quarryville but the hopes for financial success or being converted to standard gauge were never realized, the railroad toiled in bankruptcy through 1910 scrapping its Quarryville Branch in 1917 with the rest of the railroad ceasing operation the following year. 

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

While the drama of railroad barons and hopes of back-road competition unraveled, another chapter in railroad history was playing out in the small town. The PRR commenced construction of the new Low Grade route across Southern Lancaster County. Situated at the approximate center of the eastern segment of the new Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, Quarryville was the epicenter of construction and staging between 1903 and 1906. Despite the building of the new line, it was very evident that the PRR had no intention to tap the small agricultural market with any additional resources other than the branch it maintained from Lancaster. When construction was completed the A&S cut through the Borough on an elevated fill with little more than a water stop, a telephone box and overpasses over its branch and another on Church Street. 

Pennsylvania Railroad track chart showing the grades and curvature of the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Quarryville Branch circa 1940. 

Pennsylvania Railroad track chart showing the grades and curvature of the former Lancaster & Reading Narrow Gauge Quarryville Branch circa 1940. 

For the next half a century the railroads continued to operate separately from one another. As the PRR entered its final year's maintenance on marginally performing branches were often deferred, and the Quarryville Branch was certainly no exception. Entering the Penn Central era, with finances already tight, management looked to shed money-losing lines; the Quarryville Branch made the short list when the Penn Central petitioned the ICC for the abandonment of over 138 line segments in 1971. Making matters worse the branch suffered an even greater blow in 1972 when it sustained significant damage from Hurricane Agnes placing most of the branch out of service.  Regardless, the shippers in Quarryville rallied, seeking a deal with Penn Central, who had estimated that a 1700’ line connection to the A&S would come with a price tag of $130,000 a burden the broken railroad could not afford. Shippers agreed to pay the cost of construction, and the PC withdrew 2.26 miles from the ICC petition, saving the most lucrative piece of the branch and rail service to local shippers. Finally, after 67 years of trains flying over the town, Quarryville had a connection to the A&S, but that too would only last another 15 years.  

Atglen and Susquehanna Branch

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Atglen and Susquehanna Branch was an integral segment of the Low Grade network, a through route dedicated to freight traffic that stretched approximately 140 miles from Morrisville to Enola, bypassing the congestion of Philadelphia and Lancaster.  At a price of nearly $20 million dollars, the A&S Branch spanned Lancaster County creating the final link of this ambitious project. Constructed on earthen fill and etched through the stone hills of the Chester and Susquehanna Valleys the route connected to the Northern Central Railway at Wago Junction continuing east to Parkesburg where it linked back to the main line. A major piece of this route would include a new 33-mile segment between Cresswell and Parkesburg. To construct the A&S the Pennsylvania Railroad excavated an estimated 22 million yards of earth and rock while building roughly 80 bridges and culverts to create a modern superhighway for freight traffic.  At the time of its dedication on July 27, 1906, the line would be the largest construction project in the railroad’s history to date. Once completed, the A&S and the larger Low Grade would give the PRR an unrivalled route that provided access to all the major port cities the railroad served with a vital link to the four track main line system west.

During the 1938 electrification project, the A&S and the rest of the Low Grade would see the change from steam to electric locomotives with power coming from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant located on the Susquehanna River. This early “green” facility not only powered the trains of the A&S but through a tether of high voltage transmission lines along the route, fed major sub-stations along the Main Line and what is know today as the Northeast Corridor. The engineering accomplishment would serve the PRR well through the onslaught of traffic during World War II without major issue, but after the war, traffic would decline sending many railroads into financial crisis. Through bankruptcy and merger the ill-fated Penn Central and subsequent creation of Conrail, the A&S and other parts of the Low Grade would be abandoned in favor of the former Reading route to Harrisburg. On December 19th, 1988 the last freight train would traverse the A&S bringing an end to 82 years of freight service on this remarkable piece of railroad.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Since the last train the right of way languished in abandonment, however the transmission lines were retained to continue feeding the substations on the former PRR electrified network. In 2011 Amtrak moved to upgrade the former catenary / transmission line supports with modern mono-poles, while the local municipalities have taken possession of the right of way with some creating a beautiful rail-trail route through the heart of Lancaster County.

Over the next several months we will explore the A&S in detail, looking at the modern remains as well as historical images of the line during construction and operation. I am excited to share a thorough account of an engineering project that speaks to the ability and character of the Pennsylvania Railroad and their claim to being the Standard Railroad of the World!