Photographs & History

Photographs and History

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

 

Preserving the legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19th Century. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Chickies Rock

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

Chickies Rock is a unique geological feature along the Susquehanna River known as an anticline, an arch of exposed rock arranged in layers that bend in opposite directions from its peak. Chickies is classified as the largest example of its kind on the East Coast. This particular location also played a significant role during the Civil War. As a highpoint along the Susquehanna River, the bluff was a strategic location for the Union Army during the Confederate’s occupation of Wrightsville across from Columbia during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Railway would build a trolley line north from Columbia to the peak of the Rocks where it also constructed an amusement park. The line scaled 1900 feet up the west side of Chickies Hill Road on a 6% grade abruptly turning toward the peak to access the park. Opening in 1893 the line later extended down to Marietta providing both towns access to the popular recreation area. The trolley line and park continued to operate until its abandonment in April of 1932.

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the  NY Public Library System

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the NY Public Library System

Looking to the north from Chickies Rock one can see the PRR York Haven line, the former alignment of the Columbia branch and the town of Marietta. The rail lines converge at the base of the rocks to squeeze south (railroad east) on a narrow flat along side the Susquehanna River. It was at this location during the construction of the low-grade that the PRR decided it would build the York Haven line out on a fill to avoid the curving profile of the older alignment between here and Columbia. As a result Kerbaugh Lake, named after one of the biggest contractors on the low-grade project was created. Though referred to as a lake the area was really a low laying swamp with poor drainage that separated the two alignments. In 1936 the flood prone Susquehanna rose to levels that consumed the new fill destroying the vital low-grade, flooding Kerbaugh Lake and the Columbia branch along the shore. The devastation required months to rebuild the York Haven line and forced the decision to abandon the older Columbia branch alignment. During this period the PRR also filled in Kerbaugh Lake and improved drainage in the area by installing several culverts between the lake and Susquehanna under the right of way. Today most of this area is part of the Chickies Rock Park operated by the Lancaster County Parks Department and provides some beautiful views along various trails following the former Columbia branch between Marietta and old Kerbaugh Lake in addition to park high above on Chickies Rock itself.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.