Photographs & History

Photographs and History

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.

40 Years | A Brief History of Conrail

Two Conrail trains part ways at iconic Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line over the Alleghenies, October 21, 1988. Image courtesy of  Mike Danneman

Two Conrail trains part ways at iconic Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line over the Alleghenies, October 21, 1988. Image courtesy of Mike Danneman

At the close of the 1960’s railroads of the Northeast struggled with mounting debts, declining traffic and deferred maintenance. Coal, once the railroads mainstay traffic source, took a nosedive as the nation’s appetite for oil increased, triggering financial panic among many rail carriers in the Mid-Atlantic. The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central, once bitter rivals, merged into the Penn Central creating perhaps the most infamous face for the ensuing financial disaster seven major carriers faced in the early 1970’s. In order to avoid the complete collapse of railroading in the east, congress enacted the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1974 (commonly referred to the 3R Act). The Act provided interim funding for the struggling carriers while creating Consolidated Rail Corporation, a government funded private company. Under the Act the United States Railway Association prepared a plan to determine what lines of the seven carriers would be incorporated in the final system plan to be transferred to Conrail. This plan would be approved by congress under the subsequent Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (4R Act) which was signed into law in February of 1976.

The original Conrail system map circa April 1st, 1976. Note the absence of the iconic Conrail logo. Collection of the Multimodalways Project

The original Conrail system map circa April 1st, 1976. Note the absence of the iconic Conrail logo. Collection of the Multimodalways Project

Conrail was incorporated in Pennsylvania the same month and began operations April 1st 1976. The company’s function was to revitalize freight service between the Northeast and Midwest, operating as a for-profit operation. In 1981 Conrail’s economic standings began to turn around showing its first profit since incorporation. Under the leadership of L. Stanley Crane, a former Southern Railway CEO, the railroad flourished, shedding an additional 4100 unprofitable and redundant miles from the system between 1981 and 1983. The Staggers Rail Act of 1981 also provided much needed deregulation of railroad rates and tariffs allowing for changes in rate structuring that dated back to the turn of the century, giving railroads the ability to better compete with trucking companies. By the time Conrail approached its 10th birthday the railroad was ready to return back to the private sector. In the fall of 1986 congress signed in the Conrail Privatization Act authorizing a public stock offering that resulted in one of the largest IPOs in US history raising $1.9 billion in 1987.

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   Tony Palladino worked for design firm Siegel & Gale when he developed the iconic Conrail logo and identity, shown here in a lettering diagram. Collection of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives. 

Tony Palladino worked for design firm Siegel & Gale when he developed the iconic Conrail logo and identity, shown here in a lettering diagram. Collection of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives. 

Conrail’s ubiquitous blue locomotives and “can opener" logo developed by designer Tony Palladino became the symbol of a profitable network, a success story for a new era of railroading which also saw the creation of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. Ironically in the 1990’s NS and CSX engaged in a takeover battle that would have created an unhealthy imbalance in northeastern rail service, the compromise was instead a split of the Conrail system. CSX would take 42% of Conrail’s assets and the former NYC properties with NS assuming the 58% balance and much of the PRR network. Interestingly enough, the final split of Conrail is similar to a merger proposal from the 1950’s in response to the proposed marriage of the New York Central and Chesapeake & Ohio. The PRR had looked to join forces with the N&W and Wabash, both of which it already had a controlling interest in. Regardless, the ICC rejected both mergers but the net result some fifty years later is the same. Outside of the major split of Conrail assets three terminals where competition was in jeopardy continues to be serviced by the jointly owned Conrail Shared Assets Operation, providing equal access for both railroads in Detroit, Northern and Southern New Jersey/ Philadelphia continuing the Conrail name that began operations 40 years ago today. 

 

Continuing A Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Happy Holidays! Seasonal Favorites from Photographs & History


Dear Friends,
 
Reflecting on another wonderful year I would like to thank you all for your continued support. The Main Line project and all its associated endeavors continue to move ahead with 2016 shaping up to be a great year for new projects, exhibitions and lectures. I have put together some of my favorite holiday posts for you to enjoy and as always new content will resume in the new year.
 
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael Froio


The Night Before Christmas | Paintings by PRR employee William W. Seigford Jr.

This time of year, family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays with traditions developed over generations. As a part of our family tradition I have the pleasure to read to my children on Christmas Eve as my father did before, the fabled poem, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. First published anonymously in December of 1823, it is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem on Christmas Eve.

The story and illustrations presented here were made in 1953 by Pennsylvania Railroad employee, William W. Seigford Jr. who maintained an office at the Harrisburg Passenger Station. They were displayed in the station during the Christmas season alternating with other decorations for several years until Seigford was transferred to Cincinnati in 1956. The paintings were never displayed in Cincinnati but remained in Seigford’s possession until he retired from Penn Central as General Foreman of Passenger Locomotives and Cars in July of 1974. After retirement he returned to the Lancaster area and subsequently donated the paintings to Amtrak’s Lancaster Passenger Station for display during the Christmas season. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central, all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 waiting room under the watchful eye of Amtrak employees Richard Peiffer and Donna Whitney, who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

I would like to acknowledge Mr. William (Bill) L. Seigford for his help on this post as well as his continued support on the Main Line Project, his knowledge and generosity have been a invaluable resource.


Lionel Trains | A Holiday Tradition

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

With modest beginnings Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900, building model trains for retail window displays to help draw consumers to their stores. In 1906 the company responded to the increasing demand for the electric trains in the consumer market and developed its trademark three-rail “standard gage” track to simplify wiring and use of accessories.  By 1915 Lionel would supplement the large standard gage with the budget minded O scale which would later become the standard size of their product lines. Lionel’s use of sharp advertising was ultimately responsible for tying model trains to Christmas, making them popular presents during the holidays, establishing traditions that survive today.  By WWI Lionel was one of three major US manufactures of toy trains, surpassing competitor Ives as the market leader by the 1920’s. Lionel’s growth and aggressive ad campaigns further led to Ives' bankruptcy in 1928. More


Giving Thanks

Collection of John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries.

Collection of John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries.

Taking a moment to think of all the men and women who sacrifice their time for the greater good of our country, those who can't celebrate with family on a day we associate with large family gatherings and bountiful feasts. From our military, police and transportation workers, take pause to give thanks to the people who make these sacrifices for the good of our nation.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Michael Froio