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.  

The Engineer And the Contractor

BY 1903 William H. Brown, the man who earned the nickname the stone man for his preference of masonry bridge construction was winding down a rewarding 44-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, 32 of which he served as Chief Engineer. Brown's tenure was part of an era that was arguably one of the most transformative times for the PRR's infrastructure and right of way. His role in the construction of the Low Grade, especially the Atglen & Susquehanna segment would be his last major project before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Brown had come full circle in life having been born and raised in the same rolling countryside of Southern Lancaster County where he'd close out an impressive career.

One of seven cuts and a fill illustrated in this Manor Township view in Southern Lancaster County. Chief Engineer, William, H Brown, saw to it that the ablest contractors were employed to complete this challenging work promptly. The Manor section was contracted to Patricius McManus a very accomplished railroad builder and neighbor of Brown. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC

One of seven cuts and a fill illustrated in this Manor Township view in Southern Lancaster County. Chief Engineer, William, H Brown, saw to it that the ablest contractors were employed to complete this challenging work promptly. The Manor section was contracted to Patricius McManus a very accomplished railroad builder and neighbor of Brown. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC

Throughout Brown's tenure in the Engineering Department, he relied on skilled contractors to undertake the task of completing a project, among them was arguably one of the most prominent railroad builders of the time, the McManus Construction Company.  By the time construction commenced on the A&S, Patricius McManus, president, and general manager had over 37 years of experience managing railroad construction projects.  McManus started his first project for the Sunbury & Lewistown building 11 miles of track at just 19 years old, developing an impressive portfolio of projects including the double tracking of the Reading's Atlantic City Railroad. The PRR also contracted McManus for the expansion and double tracking of the electrified WJ&S line between Camden and Atlantic City via Newfield as well as various components of the Philadelphia Terminal Division including the terminal trackage for Broad Street Station.  Brown and McManus shared a common thread in their lives and careers, coming from similar social circles, rising from humble roots to the upper echelon of society; they were both self-made success stories. Both Brown and McManus lived in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia, for a time as next-door neighbors, an area regarded as the home of the nouveau riche, outcasts from the old blue-blooded money of railroad executives on the fabled Main Line to Paoli.

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

L. Patricius McManus, Railroad Contractor. R. William H. Brown, Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

L. Patricius McManus, Railroad Contractor. R. William H. Brown, Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

When Brown parceled out eight contracts for grading and excavating the A&S in 1903, the engineering department knew that no section would be particularly easy. While some places required less significant work than others the line through Providence Township would be an imposing endeavor requiring the railroad to carve a path through the rolling hills since the local topography offered none. Brown charged McManus to execute this segment; Working west from Quarryville, equipment was brought in on an existing branch line via Lancaster and distributed by temporary trackage, moving in construction materials and supplies. Blasting and steam shovels did the grunt work of digging cuts through the hills, some up to 90' deep. McManus's crew of 300 men excavated some 1.3 million cubic yards of rock and earth creating seven cuts and a massive fill in the roughly 8 miles of line through the Township alone.

Brown closed out his storied career on March 1st, 1906 just shy of the dedication of the A&S on July 27th, but McManus's company would soon be involved with the construction of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Cut-Off between Park Summit and Milford, Pennsylvania another remarkable accomplishment of railroad engineering. Though Brown's Low Grade is abandoned now, so many other projects he and McManus worked on together remain a vital part of rail operations for the successors of the Pennsylvania Railroad, a testament to the     
formidable team of Engineer and Contractor. 

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.

PRR Main Line: Salunga-Landisville

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

Continuing east on the Main Line we come to Salunga-Landisville in East Hempfield Twp, Lancaster County. The small community’s unique name derives from two sources: Salunga derives from the nearby Chiquesalunga (now Chickies or Chiques) Creek and Landisville coming from the town’s first postmaster John Landis.  The small town was host to the main line of the PRR, which was the former Harrisburg & Lancaster route, as well as the Reading & Columbia a railroad chartered in 1857 to connect the city of Reading with the Chesapeake Bay region by way of the Susquehanna Tidewater Canal in Columbia, PA. Later leased by the Philadelphia & Reading Railway the line was extended into Lancaster City and Marietta, PA providing competition for the PRR in the local iron producing and agricultural regions while offering up to 10 passenger trains a day at its peak.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of    The Broad Way    web archive.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of The Broad Way web archive.

Landisville was a unique place on the Pennsy because the R&C and PRR routes intersected at grade, something that didn’t exist for much of the modern PRR Main Line east of Pittsburgh. Right in the heart of town the R&C, running perpendicular to the PRR and Old Harrisburg Pike (Main St.) crossed the two-track PRR main line with connecting tracks in the northeast and southwest quadrants of the intersection. The junction was protected by the PRR using an early standard design wood frame  tower similar to Shore and Lemoyne, which was located in the southwest quadrant of the intersection accompanied by a small frame station on the southeast side of the crossing. Located just across the tracks in the northeast quadrant was a railroad hotel providing convenient accommodations for passengers. NV tower named such for  its telegraph call letters eventually gave way as traffic on the R&C diminished and the operator was moved to the station building next door. Landis as it was later known, as was a part time facility, occupied by a freight agent that handled the Reading – PRR interchange traffic and local customers including John Bergner & Sons Company, Keystone Boiler & Foundry and Chiques Milling among others, most of which in support of the local agricultural industry.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

The agent here was qualified as an operator and was able to control the interlocking, which was usually set to automatic for PRR traffic, to allow a Reading train to cross the main by using a small table top Union Switch & Signal machine that consisted of five levers and three timer run-downs for signals. In a brief conversation with veteran tower operator Don Rittler, he recalls a time working the tower during track maintenance, utilizing the single crossover to divert traffic around work crews. Don lamented about the difficulty understanding the Reading Railroad dispatchers who would call to report an approaching “Buck” the nickname for the R&C local, most of the dispatchers were of German-Dutch descent and often had very thick accents. By 1985 various segments of the R&C were abandoned eliminating the need for the crossing of the PRR and thus Landis was closed. Parts of the R&C route survive including a short segment from the junction at Landisville to the southern border of East Hempfield Township to serve an industrial complex and is operated as the Landisville Railroad.

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

PRR Main Line: Little Chiques Creek

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Moving east from Mount Joy the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad spans Little Chiques Creek. Originally known as Little Chiquesalunga Creek  which derives its name from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish, the creek runs some 20 miles in a southerly direction to join Chiques Creek a mile before it empties out into the Susquehanna River in Marietta.  The two track bridge was constructed in 1885 measuring 450' in length and 40' high, replacing an iron truss span during upgrades to the right of way under William H. Brown. The masonry bridge was unique in construction from Brown's later bridges utilizing brick lined arches and an intergrated countering pier that ran perpendicular to the span. With the special photographic train posed on the bridge, William H. Rau has set his 18x22" view camera up on the bank of the creek looking south (judging by the movement of the water) to capture a bridge that was less than ten years old. This same span continues to serve its intended purpose carrying Amtrak Keystone trains between Lancaster and Harrisburg.

Mount Joy on the Philadelphia Division

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

The borough of Mount Joy was established in 1812, its name deriving not from a local geographic feature but the English surname Mountjoy, which was bought to the colonies by settlers from Ireland. Situated in the rich agricultural landscape of western Lancaster County, Mount Joy is flanked by the village of Florin to the west and Little Chiques Creek to the east.

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In 1836 the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad began service between Mount Joy and Lancaster with subsequent through service to Harrisburg beginning in 1838 due to delays excavating a tunnel to the west in Elizabethtown. The H&L was a private enterprise founded by James Buchanan and Simon Cameron, both would later rise to important posts in government – Buchanan our 15th President and Cameron the Secretary of War during the Lincoln Administration. The line was initially constructed as a means to connect the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad with the Cumberland Valley in Harrisburg. The H&L was one of the first private railroads purchased by the PRR, who contracted operation of the company in 1848 establishing a direct route between Harrisburg and Philadelphia (via the P&C at Lancaster) and later purchased the operation outright in 1917.

Surveyors plotted the original route through the heart of Mount Joy approaching from the west, north and parallel to Main Street. Shortly after the arrival of the railroad, agricultural related industry as well as furnaces and manufacturing quickly developed with the promise of connections to distant markets. Initially the H&L operated a passenger station at the corner Main and Barbara streets, part of railroad-operated hotel. It was in this vicinity that the original right of way made a dramatic turn south through the center of town in a congested two block area, crossing almost all east west streets at grade between Barbara and Jacobs Streets, straightening again between Sassafras Alley and East Donegal St and finally crossing Little Chiques Creek on the east end of town.

In 1876 a new wood frame station was constructed at the crossing of Market Street replacing the original H&L arrangement and included enlarged facilities for both freight and passengers and an agent’s quarters. The new station was surrounded by industry like the Philip Frank malting facility and the Brandt & Manning mill, which likely provided materials to the A. Bube Brewery on Market St which survives today as microbrewery and restaurant.

Main Line Improvements of the 1890's

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

Like many early railroad grades the existing alignment laid out in the 1830’s was less than ideal for the aspirations of the PRR approaching the end of the 19th Century. Part of the greater system improvements program under Chief Engineer William H. Brown, Mount Joy underwent changes between 1892 and 1896 that would improve rail service and the quality of life for many residents by eliminating grade crossings and the reverse curve through town. The PRR purchased land between Jacob (now W. Henry St.) and West Donegal Streets from Marietta Ave west to the town limits for construction of the new alignment.

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

The railroad was built below grade eliminating any road crossings and straightened the line a great deal, a great benefit to the railroad who would eventually use this line primarily for fast moving passenger trains. Though the PRR was known for its four-track system, this line between Royalton and Dillerville always remained two tracks due to most freight being diverted over the Columbia Branch and A&S at Parkesburg.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

With the opening of the new line, the old H&L alignment was abandoned east of Barbara Street with the western half retained to access the numerous industries located on the now stub end spur. The 1876 passenger station remained for many years as an agent office while a replacement station was built on the new main line in 1896. Featuring a design similar to some suburban stations on the Philadelphia Terminal Division’s Chestnut Hill line the new facility had a street level station house with agent quarters and passenger shelters in the narrow cut below at track level.

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

In 1938 more change came to Mount Joy when the PRR initiated the final phase of electrification between Paoli and Harrisburg on both the main line and freight routes. Today Amtrak operates the line as part of the New York City- Harrisburg Keystone Service providing limited service at Mount Joy. Both the 1876 and 1896 stations have been lost and at the present time an Amshack bus shelter provides limited facilities for passengers. The county, borough and Amtrak aim to build an improved transportation center in the vicinity of the existing station, part of a plan to redevelop downtown Mount Joy and improve transportation access.  The surviving H&L alignment is now owned by Spangler’s Flour Mill and is serviced by Norfolk Southern Corporation crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster.

Celebrating Labor Day on the Pennsylvania Railroad

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

September 1st, 1849 marks a day of significant history in the early years of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1838 State and Philadelphia officials acknowledged the failure of the Main Line of Public Works and the need for a privately owned all rail route to preserve Philadelphia’s western trade. As a result surveyor, Charles L. Schlatter was sent to the wilds of western Pennsylvania to survey various routes for such a potential venture. Schlatter returned with three options; the one selected would follow the Juniata and Conemaugh Rivers, and by 1845 the legislature was asked to charter such a railroad.

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Much to the dislike of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad who was attempting to build a line into Pittsburgh, the State Legislature passed an act on April 13th, 1846 incorporating the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The new company recruited J. Edgar Thomson as Cheif Engineer, and by early in 1847, the railroad let contracts to begin construction of the first 20 miles west of Harrisburg and 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, to meet requirements to make the B&O’s Pennsylvania charter null and void. By the end of 1848 more contracts for the grading of roadbed would total 117 miles of right of way west of Harrisburg to Logans Narrows. The anticipated operations to commence between Harrisburg and Lewistown by 1848, however, due to problems constructing the Susquehanna River bridge, the difficulty of obtaining rails fast enough and the overall lack of labor the opening would be delayed for some time.

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The first segment of the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed and open for service providing a connection with the Canal and Turnpike system on September 1st, 1849. Though one of the easier segments of the original PRR construction this important date begins a chapter in rail transportation history that would forever change the landscape of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With much fan fare, the first through train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh departed On December 10th, 1852 commencing operation on the PRR which has been in continual service since. With the evolution of the PRR’s route in the 19th Century, advancements in technology and engineering the State’s first east west rail line would develop into a conduit of industry and commerce. The very same route that visionaries like C.L. Schlatter and J. Edgar Thomson laid out and successor William H. Brown improved upon survives today as a vital transportation link in the Norfolk Southern rail network, remaining in regular service for over 165 years.

Though for many of Labor Day marks the end of summer, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the countless men and woman that work to keep our rail networks viable, maintaining a transportation system that has been vital to American life for generations. Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend!

Main Line Tour Resumes!

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

There is a rich history associated with what became known as the Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Starting in the mid 1830’s the State owned Main Line of Public Works would construct a railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania connecting to a network of canals that was intended to compete with the Erie Canal. The system was troubled from the start as the advent of the railroad quickly triumphed over the slow, seasonal travel of the canals. The 1846 charter of the Pennsylvania Railroad eliminated any chance of the system succeeding as the new railroad paralleled the canal from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Upon arrival at the Ohio River, the young PRR looked to expand from its current terminal points aiming to secure access to lines reaching West as well as to Philadelphia and New York. Initially the PRR had negotiated the right to operate over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway in 1853 but poor track conditions, a result of the Main Line of Public Works financial distress, presented major limitations.

Seeking an alternative to the P&C the PRR surveyed a route in 1853 known as the Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad, a route that would bypass the P&C all together, creating direct competition while taking away some of the State Works only railroad revenue. Construction however never took place, as the PRR finally purchased the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857 for $7.5 million. This purchase included the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad providing exclusive control of the railroad to Philadelphia.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

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Another formative railroad in the evolution of the PRR expansion east from Harrisburg was the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad. It was chartered in 1837 to connect Harrisburg and Lancaster to the Portsmouth Canal Basin in modern day Middletown. One of its founders and first president was a young James Buchanan who would later become the United State’s 15th President. Indicated by its name, this route provided an attractive connection with the PRR in Harrisburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in Lancaster via the new line, eliminating part of slow trip on the P&C. In 1848 the PRR contracted a lease for 20 years, which was later extended to 999 years to operate the HPMtJ&L, making it the first of many independent railroads the PRR would absorb to build its empire.

As the railroad expanded and traffic grew, this main line network proved to be outdated to meet the needs of the PRR. Extensive rebuilding, expansion, realignment and added infrastructure continued to alter the railroad landscape in bucolic Lancaster County. By the 1880s Chief engineer William H. Brown had begun improving the main line, expanding the route to the trademark four-track main line, and replacing lighter bridges with the ubiquitous stone arch bridge he became known for. Though these improvements alleviated congestion, the undulating grades of these alignments, which dated from the formative years of American railroad development, were far from ideal for the future.

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Enter PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt who undertook a monumental system improvements project between 1902 and 1906 to eliminate operational bottlenecks and further modernize the PRR network. Cassatt and Brown would begin constructing what Chief Engineer and 3rd PRR President J. Edgar Thompson had envisioned many years before. Building a Low Grade route that provided freight traffic a dedicated right of way free of major grades, obstructions and curvature that would span the system between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, with the intention of going as far east as Colonia, New Jersey as well as a by-pass of the original Main Line into Philadelphia along Darby Creek.

A major piece of the this network was the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a two track main line that ran from a connection with the Northern Central south of Harrisburg, improving upon existing trackage to a location just south of Columbia, where the branch diverged off on what was the largest piece of new construction the PRR had taken on to date. Running across the rolling hills of Southern Lancaster County through cuts and fills, the A&S would connect back to the Main Line at Parkesburg continuing on a shared right of way to Thorndale where the routes split yet again, with the Low Grade continuing on the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch and the Trenton Cut-Off to Morrisville, and the Main Line into Philadelphia via Paoli. Opening in 1906, the A&S thrived for many years providing the capacity the railroad needed to handle the spike in traffic during World War I and II but would later fall prey to the Penn Central merger and subsequent creation of Conrail. As Amtrak inherited the main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, efforts were made to separate freight and passenger operations on the new railroads, forever changing the PRR network on the Philadelphia Division.

Starting next week we will resume our exploration of both routes, with many new photos, graphics and historical images to tell the story of the evolution of this important division on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Conestoga River Bridge at Safe Harbor

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Since the construction of the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad in 1877 trains have operated through Safe Harbor, where the Conestoga River joins the Susquehanna. When construction of the A&S began in 1902 the route was planned to diverge from the Port Road six miles north at Creswell beginning a gentle climb out of the Susquehanna Valley. The first formidable obstacles the PRR would encounter on the new alignment would be the approach and spanning of the Conestoga River Valley. Beginning excavation in 1903 contractor H. S. Kerbaugh converted a former rolling mill in Safe Harbor to provide compressed air to drill pilot holes for blasting in the rock face high above. The dynamite would be hoisted up the cliffs by hand, detonated and the process was repeated. The resulting debris caused the Port Road below to be closed for extended periods of time due to the dangerous conditions, which often buried the right of way.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Perhaps one of the more dramatic locations on the PRR, the new A&S Bridge would stretch 1560’ in length at roughly 100’ higher than the Port Road below. While construction was underway on the new span a flood in 1904 would destroy the Port Road Bridge. Taking advantage of the ongoing construction, engineers decided to incorporate a new crossing on the Port Road, rather than rebuild the existing stone arch bridge. The new span would provide a stronger bridge for the growing freight traffic with the added benefit of increased clearance from the Conestoga River below.

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Chief Engineer, William H. Brown would design the bridges utilizing different style spans to meet the specific needs of each route. The A&S bridge, much longer in length included a 300’ pin connected Pratt deck truss over the river supplemented by plate girder viaducts on steel bents - nine spans measuring 480’ to the north and seventeen spans to south measuring 780’. The bridge would carry two main tracks at height of almost 150 above the creek. Down below on the Port Road, the new bridge would feature 3 riveted deck plate girder spans carrying the two main tracks at a height of 55’ above the 1905 water line.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

The steel work for the bridge was fabricated in Steelton by PRR owned subsidiary Pennsylvania Steel and was erected by contractor H.S. Kerbaugh Inc. who had been one of two key contractors during the A&S project. The construction of the masonry piers and retaining walls was unique in that the upper and lower spans shared a monolithic L shaped pier on either side of the river. The piers for the main A&S span went up as the falsework was constructed to support the new 300’ Pratt deck truss, once this was completed, assembly of the approach viaducts proceeded, the northern first then the southern approach. When the majority of the high level erection was completed, contractors could commence work on the lower level Port Road bridge. By July of 1906, trains were running on the A&S and the Port Road, which had suffered from months of closure and restriction due to the construction, would finally resume normal operations later that year in August.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

In 1930 construction would commence to build the northern most of three Depression Era hydroelectric dams along the Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor. Erected just above the confluence of the Conestoga River the first turbine went online in December of 1931 and by 1940 a total of seven were in operation. Two of these turbines were dedicated to generating the 25 Hz single-phase power required to feed the Pennsylvania Railroad’s newly electrified railroad. By 1938, the final phases of the electrification were complete and included the A&S, Port Road, Columbia Branch and Main Line west to Harrisburg. With the eastern main line and freight network complete, power from Safe Harbor began supplying the PRR grid, with tethers of high voltage transmission lines mounted above the tracks, feeding various substations along the PRR’s electrified territory. The railroad understood the value of the Public Works project and the advantage of a renewable energy source. Today Safe Harbor operates 12 turbine generator units and continues to supply the Northeast passenger rail network today.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

Turkey Hill

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA.  Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA. Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of  Mytopo.com

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of Mytopo.com

The name of the family owned Turkey Hill based dairy business dates back several generations to Armor Frey during the Great Depression. Starting as a small supplement to make ends meet, Frey built his dairy route into a profitable company, with his sons taking over in 1947. It wasn’t until the 1980's however that the name Turkey Hill made it into most of our lives when the Frey family made a considerable investment in growing their ice cream production. By 1981 independent markets in the Philadelphia area picked up the product line and soon after Turkey Hill would be one of America’s best-known dairies.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The forward thinking company installed two wind turbines on Turkey Hill in 2010 to provide up to 7.2 kWh or 25% of their facility’s power demands. The towers stand at 262 feet and are the tallest structures in Lancaster County. Ironically the same bluff that Armor Frey allegedly watched the sunrise from everyday before going to work is part of Lancaster County’s Frey Farm Landfill site, a massive facility that handles Lancaster County’s waste that cannot be converted to energy or recycled. While the facility is considerable in size, they have taken great measure to preserve the environmental integrity of the areas rich with wildlife and ornithological diversity. Currently Lancaster County is developing a walk in park and hiking trails to enjoy the breathtaking view from atop of Turkey Hill. Though I have yet to explore this particular location, you can be certain that I will report back with images from this prominent scenic viewpoint!

Creswell Station

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Port and Cres interlocking, controlled by the operator in Cola tower, which was in Columbia. Interlocking plate collection of       The Broad Way    .

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Port and Cres interlocking, controlled by the operator in Cola tower, which was in Columbia. Interlocking plate collection of The Broad Way.

Just five miles south of Columbia we come to a small village named Creswell Station, the location where the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch diverges from the Columbia & Port Deposit.  By far the longest stretch of new trackage built during the Low Grade project the diverging A&S alignment runs roughly 33 miles from Creswell across Lancaster County to the main line connection in Parkesburg. South from this junction (railroad east) the C&PD and A&S ran parallel along the Susquehanna as far south as Shenks Ferry with the A&S climbing a gentle .3% grade accumulating a significant difference in elevation between the two routes.

Wide view of Port Interlocking and the Susquehanna River. Note the grade separation with the A&S branch beginning the gentle climb over the Port Road .

Wide view of Port Interlocking and the Susquehanna River. Note the grade separation with the A&S branch beginning the gentle climb over the Port Road .

Originally controlled locally by an interlocking tower, two remote control points know as Port and Cres were implemented during the 1938 electrification project, controlling a single jump-over arrangement allowing the two lines to intersect with out fouling the opposing main track. Controlled by the operator in Cola tower, this was one of several remote controlled interlocking points along the A&S and C&PD. Port controlled the east and west connections between the A&S and Port Road and was the boundary between the Chesapeake and Philadelphia Divisions. Cres controlled the convergence of the two main tracks to one on the eastern limit of the interlocking on the Port Road. The C&PD to the south/ east of here was all single track with passing and sidings.

A&S jump-over bridge looking east at Port/ Cres interlocking. The track below is the westward main track of the Columbia and Port Deposit branch. Around the bend below is Cres, where this track meets with the eastward main and narrows to one track. Note the transmission poles that are still used to support Amtrak’s feeder line from Safe Harbor to Royalton preserving for now some of the visual characteristics of the original PRR infrastructure.

A&S jump-over bridge looking east at Port/ Cres interlocking. The track below is the westward main track of the Columbia and Port Deposit branch. Around the bend below is Cres, where this track meets with the eastward main and narrows to one track. Note the transmission poles that are still used to support Amtrak’s feeder line from Safe Harbor to Royalton preserving for now some of the visual characteristics of the original PRR infrastructure.

Creswell Station served as a strategic junction until Conrail abandoned the A&S branch in favor of the Reading Main Line in December of 1988. The A&S languished for many years, rusting away until the property was turned over to the local municipalities to create a network of rail trails for the general public. Though the segment from Creswell to Shenks Ferry has yet to be converted, planning has begun to transform this former right of way into a linear park along the beautiful Susquehanna River.

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!

Columbia, Pennsylvania: 20th Century and the PRR Improvements Project

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

By the late 1800’s the Pennsylvania Railroad had developed into a well-heeled transportation system but the rapid growth of industry would necessitate system wide improvements to bring the railroad into the 20th century. In 1902 PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt and Chief Engineer William H. Brown would embark on a series of projects to eliminate bottlenecks and operational problems across the system. 

After the PRR acquired control of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway through the purchase of the Main Line of Public Works in 1857, various segments were improved during the second half of the 19th century. The route between Philadelphia and Lancaster became an integral part of the PRR Main Line connecting with the former Harrisburg & Lancaster creating the line we know today as Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor. The western end of the P&C would become a branch connecting the industrial and agricultural areas of Lancaster and Columbia. Due to the stiff grades both segments were less than ideal for heavy freight traffic. In addition to the P&C property accessing Columbia, the PRR had also gained controlled of the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad’s Columbia branch via Royalton and the Columbia & Port Deposit by the mid to late 1800's, further establishing Columbia as an important railroad hub. Though much of these water level alignments provided a network to move freight to Harrisburg, Cassatt sought to build a new route east from Columbia running across Lancaster County to create a modern freight bypass from New York and Philadelphia to the Harrisburg area and the main line west.

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of    The Broad Way   .

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of The Broad Way.

The Low Grade as it was planned would run right through Columbia using the current alignment. From the east and west new construction would connect existing segments of the H&L and C&PD creating an improved main line designed to move freight on a new grade separated line. This new route would divert most freight traffic off the main line all together between Parkesburg and Harrisburg. Enola yard was completed in 1906 as part of the low grade project functioning as the western anchor for all freight trains and motive power between the Philadelphia and Middle Divisions. As a result Columbia importance as a major terminal would diminish due to its close proximity to the new facility, resulting in a significant loss of jobs in the area. Compounded by the diminishing local industry, a result of depleted ore and lumber resources, Columbia’s economy would begin a downward trend that continued through the Great Depression.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

More change came on the PRR with the electrification of their network of rail lines in the Northeast.  One of the last segments of the ambitious project was completed in 1938 affording the PRR the benefit of electric traction on the Low Grade, Columbia branch and Columbia & Port Deposit. During the electrification project, the PRR also consolidated many of the early towers with two modern CTC facilities controlling most of this freight network. Cola tower in Columbia controlled all trains on the Columbia Branch to Lancaster, roughly forty miles of the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch including the junction with the A&S Branch at Port and the York Haven Line west to Shocks Mill. Cola’s jurisdiction over the C&PD was unique in that most of the line was actually under control of the Baltimore Dispatcher and was considered part of the Chesapeake Division, while Cola was part of the Philadelphia Division.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

The Low Grade and electrification would survive the Penn Central debacle but ultimately met its demise after the creation of Conrail. Due to the high cost of electric supply charges, the aging infrastructure and the dependency on Amtrak to move trains east of Parkesburg it was decided to abandon an integral part of the system in favor of the neighboring Reading Railroad Main Line ending over 80 years of service on perhaps one of Cassatt and Brown’s greatest achievements. The Columbia and Port Deposit survives as Norfolk Southern’s artery to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Port of Baltimore. The former P&C to Lancaster provides NS a dedicated connection to Dillerville yard servicing the industrial areas around the seat of Lancaster County. Though not what used to be Columbia still sees a parade of freight daily, though mostly nocturnal, moving freight as Cassatt had envisioned over a century ago.

Mainline: Huntingdon Pennsylvania

The Huntingdon County courthouse tower is visible from the mainline on the sweeping curve entering from the east. Note the access road along the right of way which used to be the alignment of tracks 3 and 4 the former westward freight and passenger tracks respectively.

The Huntingdon County courthouse tower is visible from the mainline on the sweeping curve entering from the east. Note the access road along the right of way which used to be the alignment of tracks 3 and 4 the former westward freight and passenger tracks respectively.

Situated roughly 98 miles west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the Borough of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania sits along the beautiful Juniata River and the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline. A county seat for it’s namesake Huntingdon County, the town was situated among rich agricultural areas, healthy deposits of iron, coal and clay, and hosted manufacturing including stationary, furniture, lumber and machinery. Originally laid out by Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, Rev. William Smith in 1777 the town was dedicated as the county seat in 1789 and incorporated in 1796. The Borough was once a port on the Mainline of Public Works, and later the junction of the PRR and the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad and Coal Company. Today the town is better known for its quaint layout, beautiful landscape and Juniata College which plays host to approximately 1500 students.

Entering from the east the relocated mainline of the late 1890s runs along the former Public Works Canal alignment. Here at the mouth of Standing Stone Creek we are standing below the "new" bridge looking north toward the remains of the original alignment and stone arch bridge that runs parallel to Penn Street.

Entering from the east the relocated mainline of the late 1890s runs along the former Public Works Canal alignment. Here at the mouth of Standing Stone Creek we are standing below the "new" bridge looking north toward the remains of the original alignment and stone arch bridge that runs parallel to Penn Street.

The Pennsylvania Railroad gained its presence in the Borough in June of 1850 with the completion of a line from Harrisburg, originally entering town along Allegheny Street. Modernization and relocation of the mainline later took place in several stages; first in 1891 and then 1894-1900 constructing the standard four track system, using the original Mainline of Public Works canal as a new right of way. The project eliminated several curves, grades, and street crossings while providing the citizens of Huntingdon connections with points east and west.

The 1872 Huntingdon train station is an Italianate style brick building. Detail of the (post 1890's) trackside elevation, while the traditional PRR herringbone brick pavers undergo restoration in the Spring of 2011  .

The 1872 Huntingdon train station is an Italianate style brick building. Detail of the (post 1890's) trackside elevation, while the traditional PRR herringbone brick pavers undergo restoration in the Spring of 2011.

PRR Hunt tower has been inactive for some time but remains standing. It was operated for a short time as a museum but now houses city offices. 

PRR Hunt tower has been inactive for some time but remains standing. It was operated for a short time as a museum but now houses city offices. 

Built during the second phase of the modernization Hunt Interlocking, a brick and frame structure housed a Union Switch and Signal machine to control a revised interlocking and interchange with the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad and Coal Company (Reporting marks HBTM). The HBTM was a coal hauler chartered in the 1850′s to tap the rich semi-bituminous coal deposits and provide shippers in the Cumberland, Maryland area providing an alternative to the B&O’s monopoly on train service. Over time the railroad suffered major setbacks including the diversion of traffic off the line by the PRR to its own line between Bedford and Cumberland which led to eventual bankruptcy in the early 1950s.

The Huntingdon train station provided riders a cross platform transfer to HBTM trains which ceased operation in November of 1953. Little is left of the interchange and station tracks except for an overgrown branch diverging just west of the interlocking plant through Portstown Park, crossing on a deck girder bridge over the Juniata and running a short distance along State Road 3035. In addition to the interchange and passenger facilities, the PRR maintained a freight station and mainline icing facility west of the station area for trains of refrigerated meats and produce prior to mechanical refrigeration.

 

Today, while the mainline has been reduced to two tracks, the railroad is still very busy, though no interchange takes place with the HBTM, intermodal, merchandise and mineral traffic rolls though at speed along a mainline refined in the late 1890′s to efficiently expedite traffic to points east and west. The Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce has taken residence in former Hunt Tower, and the landmark 1872 train station has been renovated and is being used for commercial space.