Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Lunch & Learn Lecture | Perkins Center for the Arts

View of the Pennsauken area landscape from the historic Delair Bridge, a vital rail link between Southern New Jersey and the national rail network. Understanding the history of the landscape plays a significant role in much of my work, the Lunch and Learn lecture will provide insight into my creative process and how I integrate these themes into my work

View of the Pennsauken area landscape from the historic Delair Bridge, a vital rail link between Southern New Jersey and the national rail network. Understanding the history of the landscape plays a significant role in much of my work, the Lunch and Learn lecture will provide insight into my creative process and how I integrate these themes into my work

Much of my work has drawn inspiration from the history of the local landscape and the influence the industrial age had in the Northeastern region. Please join me next week at the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ for an informal talk about my projects and how social and industrial history inspires and informs my work, including the Relic and Watershed series as well as my ongoing project From the Main Line, a contemporary survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The event is January 5th from 12:30-1:30 in the historic home of the Perkins family on Evergreen Lawn in Moorestown, New Jersey. Lunch & Learn features culturally focused lectures, demonstrations, performances, and more. The series is designed to connect with and introduce opportunities to working and retired adults with interest in learning more about the cultural connections, creators and opportunities existing in South Jersey. Admission is free and attendees are encouraged to bring their lunch to the event.

Lunch & Learn: Photographs & History
January 5th, 2017 12:30-1:30PM

Perkins Center for the Arts – Moorestown
395 Kings Highway
Moorestown, NJ 08057 United States
856-235-6488

In Retrospect

Summer break has certainly allowed for time to stop and think about the evolution of my creative work, in particular my documentation of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Since January I have put together several public lectures that provided an opportunity to look at my own work from a perspective that is very different from the process of just making images. Writing these lectures, I began to articulate my process and approach which connects my photographic endeavors to a life long curiosity that inspires me explore the very subjects I have been enamored with since childhood.

A lone commuter detrains from a Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines train at the Gardens Station on the Ocean City Branch, October 1950. This facility was located between North Street and Battersea in the neighborhood along modern day Sindia Road and was abandoned in late 1958. It was photographs like this that captivated me at an early age and today   hangs in my office to remind me of my early curiosity of railroad history. Photograph by Robert L. Long, collection of the author.

A lone commuter detrains from a Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines train at the Gardens Station on the Ocean City Branch, October 1950. This facility was located between North Street and Battersea in the neighborhood along modern day Sindia Road and was abandoned in late 1958. It was photographs like this that captivated me at an early age and today hangs in my office to remind me of my early curiosity of railroad history. Photograph by Robert L. Long, collection of the author.

At an early age we all form some unhealthy obsession with inanimate objects, whether it be trains, trucks, legos or even dolls, but at some point most grow out of it. Not me! Since the age of three I've have had a fascination with railroads. I loved the models and of course enjoyed seeing freight or passenger trains pass by, but what really peaked my curiosity was the idea of where those trains were going and why. I grew up in Southern New Jersey, a place where regularly scheduled passenger trains whisked people to the shore resorts of Atlantic City, Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May over 75 years ago. The region was home to the unique operations of the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines where bitter rivals the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad came together after a consolidation of operations in the 1930's. Providing through passenger service, Camden-Philadelphia ferry service, commuter and freight operations this system thrived in the summer months moving countless vacationers by rail to the resorts and offered scaled down operations after the peak summer season. By the time I was alive, the former PRSL network had become a part of Conrail, and the few remaining passenger runs would come to an end in 1982.

I remember the former PRSL RDC cars in Cape May and Lindenwold and occasional trips to Philadelphia with my father and grandfather recall seeing the inside of Reading Terminal's 1890's train shed and the countless trains that passed behind the Philadelphia Civic Center. Expressing an interest in trains, one summer our baby sitter took my brother and I to visit her uncle who worked at Pavonia  Yard in Camden the major terminal for former PRSL operations; We visited the hump yard, Brown interlocking tower in South Camden and even rode a locomotive on the industrial tracks near Bulson Street Yard. I was bit…even more curious, about why these lines existed, wanting to know about the stations and facilities that survived and the industries the railroad served. Many times I begged my father to take Atlantic Ave along the Clementon Branch just to follow the tracks in hopes to spot some old artifact or a view of one of the stations. I turned to books like By Rail to the Boardwalk, The Atlantic City Railroad, The Trail of the Blue Comet, and Trains to America's Playground, many of them books from members of the local West Jersey Chapter of the NRHS. These books were my gateway to feeding a curiosity that would never subside. Through subsequent travels with my father to Altoona including an infamous snowy hike up to MG tower near the famous Horseshoe Curve and road trips with friends once I was licensed to drive, I continued to explore both close to home and along the former PRR, using very basic photography to document what I saw.

East Broad Top steam line-up, Rockhill Furnace, October, 1999. One of the projects I successfully incorporated the railroad into my collegiate experience was a Advanced Documentary class. I spent 8 weekend in the fall of 1999 driving several hundred miles to photograph the fabled East Broad Top Railroad. Little did I know then, this would be the last year they had four locomotives under steam, let alone the railroad would be shuttered today. 

East Broad Top steam line-up, Rockhill Furnace, October, 1999. One of the projects I successfully incorporated the railroad into my collegiate experience was a Advanced Documentary class. I spent 8 weekend in the fall of 1999 driving several hundred miles to photograph the fabled East Broad Top Railroad. Little did I know then, this would be the last year they had four locomotives under steam, let alone the railroad would be shuttered today. 

This led to another unhealthy obsession, the need to understand and master the photographic process. A typical teenager trying to find their voice, I found the the whole medium fascinating - it was one that was both technical and creative. After a few courses in community college, I had decided to pursue photography enrolling in Drexel University's Photography Program in 1998. While attending Drexel in West Philadelphia I was surrounded by landmarks of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s sprawling terminal facilities including 30th Street Station, the West Philadelphia Elevated Branch, Penn Coach Yard and Powelton Ave Yards. Though my interest in railroads had taken a back seat to other subjects, I had always found myself captivated by places and things that I had learned about through my research of railroad operations. On occasion I turned to railroads for subject matter in class projects but more often gravitated to the landscape, enjoying the sanctity of the open spaces of rural Southern New Jersey and the vernacular architecture of farming and agricultural communities. I spent considerable time exploring and photographing places along the Delaware River, trying to understand issues on land usage and how industry and recreational activities impacted the landscape. I took inspiration by a host of  photographers like William Clift, Frank Gholke, Art Sinsabaugh, Walker Evans and George Tice. Reading the book, They All Fall Down, I was taken by the tireless work of Richard Nickel to photograph and preserve the buildings of famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan in the 1960's and 70's which sparked my own interest to document landmark buildings that were once prominent structures in Philadelphia society. Eventually termed the Relic Project this work would be the first in which I realized that my work was more than just "fine art" but could serve as a means for preservation, something that Nickel had taken so serious it literally killed him. 

Erdner Warehouses, Woodstown, NJ. This image was from a series that started in college, photographing the agricultural regions of Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, what little is left of the Garden State of New Jersey. 

Erdner Warehouses, Woodstown, NJ. This image was from a series that started in college, photographing the agricultural regions of Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, what little is left of the Garden State of New Jersey. 

The diversity of my explorations contributed to building a visual toolbox that would guide my work after graduation. Free of worry about what others thought about my work, or what grade I would receive, photography was about what I wanted to do with the creative process. It took several years of experience and understanding that came from different projects but with time I gravitated back to the very subject that started it all: the railroad and not just the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines but the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Where would the project go? What should the work look like? I really didn’t know, but if I didn’t take the chance in 2007, I wouldn’t be here sharing this with you today. The Main Line Project and the rest of my photographic endeavors are the culmination of life long interests, the intersection of a love affair of trains, history, architecture and geography.

This article is the first of a series of posts that explore the Main Line Project, its origins, methodologies and ideas that not only influence this project but the way I generally explore art and life.

Summer Break

As summer begins I have taken a few weeks to look back at the first half of the year, and for the first time was able to take a breath. So far 2013 has been a year of considerable progress for my project documenting the Pennsylvania Railroad. With four lectures, six photographic site visits, an article published online with Trains Magazine, a new website and over 20 blog posts I have come to a point where a little break is in order.

My work isn't just centered around the Pennsylvania Railroad, it also explores places of natural beauty and of a historic nature. The summer is often a relaxed time when I venture out with my family to explore new places and revisit old favorites, sometimes to make photos, but more often just to share the diverse history and landscape with the kids.  Delaware River at Washington's Crossing, Pennsylvania. 

My work isn't just centered around the Pennsylvania Railroad, it also explores places of natural beauty and of a historic nature. The summer is often a relaxed time when I venture out with my family to explore new places and revisit old favorites, sometimes to make photos, but more often just to share the diverse history and landscape with the kids.Delaware River at Washington's Crossing, Pennsylvania. 

I look forward to time with my family and will regroup with my research and writing in a month or so. In the fall you can expect some exciting opportunities, more lectures and maybe even an exhibition in the Philadelphia area, but more on that later! For now I hope you all enjoy a wonderful and rejuvenating summer season, whether you’re out making art, exploring new places, or just spending time close to home with family. I will be staying in touch on a relaxed schedule this summer and look forward to sharing more in the future.

Thank you for your time and continued support!

Warm regards,

Michael Froio

Elizabethtown on the Philadelphia Division

Trackside view of the main station building and former baggage elevator tower. This station underwent a renovation beging in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce but served by Amtrak's Keystone and Pennsylvanian Service. 

Trackside view of the main station building and former baggage elevator tower. This station underwent a renovation beging in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce but served by Amtrak's Keystone and Pennsylvanian Service. 

The borough of Elizabethtown found its origins in the 1730’s when Thomas Harris purchased a large piece of land and established a trading post along Conoy Creek in what would become western Lancaster County. Known as the Bear Tavern the buisness and land was later purchased by Barnabas Hughes who came from County Donegal, Ireland to establish a town named in his wife’s honor. Elizabethtown was one of the earliest communities settled in the County and owed its early existence to its proximity of a wagon trail that later became the Lancaster – Harrisburg Turnpike.  Elizabethtown was incorporated in 1827 and grew steadily over the years with the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad arriving in the 1830’s. By 1848 the PRR contracted a lease with the HPMtJ&L and later purchasing the line to become part of the railroad’s main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. In the 1880’s under the leadership of Pennsylvania Railroad President George Brooke Roberts, Chief Engineer William H. Brown would begin a series of improvements to the alignment between Conewago and Elizabethtown. Utilizing several cuts to maintain a .75% grade on the eastbound ascent out of the Swatara Creek Valley and eliminating the troublesome Elizabethtown Tunnel which marked the summit of the eastward grade. Part of the old main was retained to service industrial consignees and a freight house that was located to the north of the new alignment.

Interior detail of the 1915 Passenger Station built by architects Zantzinger, Borie & Medary to match their Masonic Homes Campus on the south side of the Main Line. 

Interior detail of the 1915 Passenger Station built by architects Zantzinger, Borie & Medary to match their Masonic Homes Campus on the south side of the Main Line. 

Elizabethtown was surrounded by rich farmland and for many years thrived on agriculturally related business until the early 1900’s when the Klein Chocolate Company and several shoe factories opened. Around the same time Elizabethtown College was established and later construction of the sprawling Masonic Homes campus broke ground in 1910. Designed by Philadelphia architectural firm Zantzinger, Borie & Medary the Masonic Homes were built in the Collegiate Gothic Style utilizing granite and limestone. The cornerstone of the Grand Lodge Hall was laid in 1911, and as progress continued, the PRR commissioned the same firm to build a new passenger station in a complimentary style. Featuring the same granite walls and limestone trim, the station waiting room was church like with its wood buttresses and large multi-pane windows. The station connected aesthetically with the Masonic Homes and provided direct access from station via a pedestrian underpass right to the campus grounds. With further modifications to the railroad through the area the project included grade separation, elevating the main line to its current height and was completed in 1915.

Former PRR Freight Station located along the original main line alignment prior to the 1915 grade separation through the area. From the left to right the tracks are as follows: Former Klein Chocolate Plant siding, the main industrial lead, and public delivery track/ freight house lead. Note the Main Line on the embankment with switchback siding dropping down onto the old main. The freight house was demolished early this year to make way for much needed parking at the rehabilitated Elizabethtown Amtrak Station. (Inset) 1945 Segment of a PRR CT1000 which lists all line side industries on the PRR. 

Former PRR Freight Station located along the original main line alignment prior to the 1915 grade separation through the area. From the left to right the tracks are as follows: Former Klein Chocolate Plant siding, the main industrial lead, and public delivery track/ freight house lead. Note the Main Line on the embankment with switchback siding dropping down onto the old main. The freight house was demolished early this year to make way for much needed parking at the rehabilitated Elizabethtown Amtrak Station. (Inset) 1945 Segment of a PRR CT1000 which lists all line side industries on the PRR. 

Etown_CT100_45

The station served the PRR, Penn Central and Amtrak when it was shuttered in 1977 due to its deteriorating condition. In 1998 the Borough of Elizabethtown purchased the station from Amtrak and a long and costly renovation began in 2008 utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Today the beautifully restored station is occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and serves Amtrak’s revamped Keystone Service Line and the daily Pennsylvanian. Unfortunately as result of the station and Keystone line rehab the need for expanded parking capacity recently necessitated the demolition of the original freight house, which was in disrepair having been vacant for some time. The old main line alignment continues to be serviced by Norfolk Southern Local H22 based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster servicing the former Klein Chocolate plant (now a division of Mars), White Oak Mills an elevator and feed facility located on High Street and the occasional car load for off site industries on the remaining public delivery track.

Marysville

Froio_PRR_Series_004

View Looking East at Dawn, of the former #1 track in the foreground ascending the jump over and #4 Track in the background. Barely visible in the lower middle are the Enola running tracks. Just west of the famed Rockville Bridge and Enola Yard, the flying junction that separates Harrisburg traffic from freights in and out of the sprawling Enola Yard complex begins to come together, heading West in the sleepy backyards of residents along South Main Street in Marysville Pennsylvania. The junction included a small freight yard for the Northern Central in the mid-1800's, which later served as a processing yard for trains coming off the Northern Division from places like Erie, Buffalo, and Williamsport. Situated in a narrow stretch between the beautiful Susquehanna River and busy combined Route 11/15 the yard is not much more than cinders today, having slowly lost its importance after a direct connection was built off the West end of the Rockville Bridge to Enola Yard in 1939. In contrast the mainline and running tracks to Enola continue to serve current owner Norfolk Southern Corporation supporting a high volume of freight and intermodal traffic and the daily round trip of the Amtrak Pennsylvanian.

From the Mainline...

As most of you have seen, this blog centers around all things Pennsylvania Railroad for the most part. Even though the Railroad is what brought me to create this work, and using the blog to further it with research about location specific notes, history, etc, the landscape itself along the former PRR (and all other railroads for that matter) is an open book for interpreting how the railroad helped develop our Country. Over time, the relationship between the community and the railroads has changed, industry has gone away and the visual clues are left behind for young people that care, to piece together what once was. As a photographer, my goal to is to consider the "big picture" looking at the whole package and where the railroad fits in, hence the title, "From the Mainline". Its sort of a cultural/ historical/ industrial archeology project that is brought together with a camera.

My inspiration came from many photographers including William H Rau, Walker Evans, George Tice, David Plowden, Frank Gohlke, and William Clift to tip the iceberg, but the real drive is simple, a love for the railroad and history. Interestingly enough when I am fortunate enough to travel for this project, I have seen places and things that already have vanished with little to no recognition. I suppose its a double sided sense of loss that preservationists feel at the loss of a landmark or what most railfans feel when their favorite railroad succumbs to merger, or how O Winston Link felt when the last fire was dropped on a N&W steam locomotive, but like some I am driven to photograph at exhaustion the places and things that tie back to the past, if for nothing else, to satisfy my only personal curiosity.

Former 1911 Lincoln High school of Tyrone Pennsylvania,  Fall of 2008. Made just a few days before its complete demise. The gloomy fog is fitting for this image of what remained of the beautiful relic.

Former 1911 Lincoln High school of Tyrone Pennsylvania,  Fall of 2008. Made just a few days before its complete demise. The gloomy fog is fitting for this image of what remained of the beautiful relic.

Picture 7

Take a case in point, the Lincoln School building in Tyrone PA, built in 1911 as the new Senior High, later expanded with a Junior High wing in 1929, and then becoming the Lincoln Elementary School with the construction of a new Central High School in 1962. This building continued to serve that purpose until construction of a new facility in 1999.Eventually sold to S&A Homes, the building was slated for removal. Here is where I come in... I happened to be in the Tyrone - Huntingdon area for a trip to photograph in September of 2008, my first to the Tyrone area. While driving aimlessly as I normally do, this site caught my eye. We scoped out the location, the light was all wrong, so it was deemed necessary to come back the next morning. So we did, arriving at some ungodly hour with heavy fog, and there it stood, like a Greek or Roman ruin. A flat bed trailer presented itself for an elevated view, the negative was made, and most likely the following Monday the pillars came down. That is why I do this, every image is important, and if you are serious every one needs to count!

 

For more perspective on the historic town of Tyrone Pennsylvania please visit http://www.tyronehistory.org