Photographs & History

Photographs and History

William H. Rau: Understanding the Past

The Evolution of the Philadelphia Terminal When William H. Rau was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad he found himself illustrating a company on the verge of unprecedented growth and change. Through the rest of the 1890s and well into the 20th Century the Pennsylvania Railroad would embark on some of its most ambitious system improvements to expand main line and terminal capacities. Philadelphia, the corporate headquarters of the Pennsylvania Railroad was a focal point for many of these improvements, including new yards, stations, grade separations and electrification projects.

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

1891 photograph of the original Broad Street Station reveals a terminal that is less than one year from undergoing "modernization" by noted architect Frank Furness. During that project the station would see the elimination of the multiple train sheds in favor of a single glass and iron shelter covering 16 tracks that measured roughly 600’ long, 300 wide and 100 feet above the tracks. Note the ongoing construction of  Philadelphia City Hall, including the pedestal that the iconic William Penn statue will stand on. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

During this evolution the railroad commissioned photographers like Rau and William N. Jennings to meticulously catalogue the progress of various projects. This effort by the railroad connects to an important part of the Main Line Project, the use of historical imagery to inform viewers (and photographer) of the past significance of a given subject or place. This imagery allows us to visualize the continual change of the Philadelphia Terminal from the original Broad Street Station to construction of the north-south gateway we know today as 30th Street Station. By examining the images we gain a perspective of the complex changes during the Philadelphia improvements, a subject which will warrant further in depth discussion at another time.

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

This image illustrates the changes to Broad Street Station during the 1892 modernization. Note that the railroad left the original canopies in place where possible to protect passengers until the new shed was complete. Despite the heavy construction the railroad would not allow the project to interrupt passenger service. This was typical practice on the Pennsylvania Railroad. William N. Jennings photograph, Collection of Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

Beginning in the mid 1920's the Pennsylvnia Railroad sought to eliminate Broad Street Station, replacing it with two new stations and modifying another existing station to provide three primary facilities serving commuter, east-west and north- south passenger service. 30th Street Station would be built on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, necessitating extensive changes to the rail yards pictured here, including the elimination of the railroad shops and West Philadelphia Station in the bottom right corner. This image is looking east from the office tower built by the PRR on 32nd Street, known today as the University Crossings Apartment Complex. Photograph by William N. Jennings, courtesy of the Charlie Horan Collection. 

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This view reveals a perspective of the finished Philadelphia Improvements showing how the Pennsylvania Railroad's efforts continue to serve the traveling public today. Seventy six years after the 30th Street Station complex opened, the matching steam plant and neighboring Pullman commissary would be demolished to make way for a parking lot and maintenance facility for Amtrak. Just two weeks after this photo the landscape would change yet again with the removal of the iconic steam plant, known affectionately to Drexel University students as the Drexel Shaft.

This post is part of a lecture I will present this Thursday, March 7th from 6-7 PM at the Library Company of Philadelphia, who has on deposit over 450 original Rau images from the Pennsylvania Railroad Commission, as well as an extensive collection of William Jennings photographs. If you are in the Philadelphia area I encourage you to RSVP for the lecture at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The presentation will discuss how the dialogue between a historic and contemporary photo project evolves and will include a few original prints from Rau and myself in addition to the excellent exhibition, Frank Furness: Working on the Railroads. The Furness installation includes an amazing collection of artifacts, photographs and architectural drawings of architectural commissions for the Reading, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads.

Remembering the Conrail OCS

While I typically keep this to fairly current work of my own, I was recently going through some old slides that I made through the 1990s. Finding the images below were pretty special considering two of three of these locomotives would be lovingly restored to their Pennsy liveries by Bennett Levin and his Juniata Terminal Company. Although the Conrail "Office Car Special" (OCS) trains are of the past, their legacy lives on.

Having made its reverse move from the High Line onto Amtrak at Arsenal Interlocking, the consist runs its final few miles North into 30th Street Station, seen here coming and going near South Street.

Having made its reverse move from the High Line onto Amtrak at Arsenal Interlocking, the consist runs its final few miles North into 30th Street Station, seen here coming and going near South Street.

In July of 1998, I was a student in Philadelphia and was in close proximity of Amtrak's 30th Street Station. Through a friend I learned that Conrail would be running a series of "Farewell" trips with their beautiful business train complete with all three E units and a full assortment of cars including the Budd built full length dome car #55, a former Santa Fe car that graced the San Francisco Chief among other consists, and of course the former VIA Rail Pullman Standard Car #9 a Theater Observation Car. When I received the call in regard to its evening arrival in Philadelphia, a good friend and I ventured track side for one of the last views of a Conrail "OCS" train. Within months the process of Norfolk Southern and CSX carving up the Conrail system would begin and the trademark Brunswick Green train set would be spit up or auctioned off.

CR 4020 a former Pennsy E8A, one of two that would go on to be restored by Bennett Levin's Juniata Terminal Company shares company with NJT GP40PH-2 No. 4146. This former GP40 locomotive that was actually rebuilt by Conrail's Juniata Shop in 1993 in a program for NJT. The photo was taken within Penn Interlocking located on the north side of 30th Street Station.

CR 4020 a former Pennsy E8A, one of two that would go on to be restored by Bennett Levin's Juniata Terminal Company shares company with NJT GP40PH-2 No. 4146. This former GP40 locomotive that was actually rebuilt by Conrail's Juniata Shop in 1993 in a program for NJT. The photo was taken within Penn Interlocking located on the north side of 30th Street Station.

Downingtown

The Downingtown Station area as it appears today is one of the Stops of both the SEPTA regional Thorndale trains and Amtrak Keystone Service.

The Downingtown Station area as it appears today is one of the Stops of both the SEPTA regional Thorndale trains and Amtrak Keystone Service.

Having both the PRR Mainline and the Philadelphia and Trenton Branch also known as the Trenton Cut-off approaching the junction of Thorndale, Downingtown had significance for the PRR. The Interlocking "Down" was the Eastern end of of three interlockings including the Junction with the New Holland Branch and Chester Valley Yard. Further West at "Thorn" block and interlocking station, the junction of the Mainline and P&T Branch and "Caln" the Western Limits of the small yard facility, a one time Coaling Station and Junction of the P&T. The Downingtown area provided many car loadings with textile mills, manufacturing as and quarry activity in the area. The train station located along West Lancaster Ave is now a simple affair, the original being destroyed by fire in 1992. With few signs of it's former owner, the Station area still presents some references to the past when one looks across the tracks at businesses and historic buildings on the North Side of Lancaster Ave, some dating back to the early  1900's.

Philadelphia Division Travels

Overbrook

Overbrook Station is a great example of the Old Mainline of the PRR. With the original train station complete with intricate woodwork, position light signals and functioning interlocking tower one could only wonder when the Broadway Limited is going through! Overbrook tower originally served the West End of sprawling freight yards in West Philadelphia that served the PRR at the Junction of the Mainline, Schuylkill Valley Branch, West Philadelphia Elevated Branch, PB&W, and Tidewater terminals at both Greenwich and Girard Point.

Tulpehocken Station on the PRR Chesnut Hill Branch

The Tulpehocken Station as it appeared prior to its renovation in 2009.

The Tulpehocken Station as it appeared prior to its renovation in 2009.

Now served by the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), this station was built for the PRR to serve the suburban Chestnut Hill Branch in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, 8.5 railroad miles from Suburban Station. Built in 1878 by architects William Brown and William B. Powell, the station was occupied by either agent or business up until 1978. Since then the building has been unoccupied and has suffered from neglect, until local efforts worked to preserve this historic structure.

Currently the building is being restored, starting from an initiative taken by the West Central Germantown Neighbors working with SEPTA, Philadelphia City Planning, and local politicians, the local residents raised funds to match a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Spring of 2009, SEPTA had received Federal Stimulus Funds to restore the structure in an attempt to bring business back to this quaint PRR station as well as other gems along this short branch.

Schuylkill Branch on the Philadelphia Terminal Division

Although the Philadelphia Terminal Division has quite a bit of its original infrastructure in tact, serving its predecessors well, there are a few relics left that fell victim to redundancy during the Penn Central Era and into the creation of Conrail and local Commuter  Agency SEPTA. The PRR Schuylkill Division left the Mainline at Valley Junction located at 52nd Street in West Philadelphia and ran North along the Namesake River, through Norristown, Pottsville, and on to Wilkes-Barre, giving a direct access to the Anthracite Fields and lines North and West via Scranton. The Schuylkill Division followed the Mainline of long time rival Reading Company  often times following each other on opposite sides of the River.

Former PRR Bridge from Green Lane Bridge on the Schuylkill River.

Former PRR Bridge from Green Lane Bridge on the Schuylkill River.

Manayunk, a Northern manufacturing center in Philadelphia, situated on the East Bank of the Schuylkill River was one of the first towns the Division encountered, marked by a branch on the West Bank to serve Pencoyd Steel and beautiful Reinforced Concrete Arch Bridge across the River and Canal entering Manayunk proper near Green Lane slightly North of the downtown business district.

Perched on the hill above the commercial area, the station was located at the corner of Dupont and High Streets in a residential area, far less convenient than the Reading Company's direct access to the business district from their service that paralleled Main St by a block on a dedicated grade separated mainline running South to North through town.

View of the Southbound Platform and Catenary Post Guide Wires.

View of the Southbound Platform and Catenary Post Guide Wires.

Although the division and it's northern reaches were severed in 1976 with the formation of Conrail, SEPTA continued to use the Line into Manayunk until 1990 as part of the R-6 Service. At this point service was cut back due to deterioration of the Concrete Bridge across the Schuylkill, which consequently has been restored but has had all tracks and overhead catenary removed.

Although, really a separate Division, the Schuylkill Division played a major part in supping the home city of the PRR with a steady stream of clean burning Anthracite coal for heat, manufacturing, and export via Pier 124. In addition it provided access to the Lehigh Valley Railroad creating a gateway to New York, New England, and Canada.

View of Mainline Looking North from from abandoned Platform.

View of Mainline Looking North from from abandoned Platform.

Today the mainline right of way is void of trackage and often a dumping ground, strewn with trash through the norther part of Manayunk, until one reaches the bike path on the North Side of town near the site of the former Spring Mill train station. From there one can bike all the away to Valley Forge and eventually it is hoped that the path will be reclaimed to extend through the historic Anthracite Regions of North Eastern Pennsylvania