Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Johnstown: Remembering the Great Flood of 1889

On May 30th, 1889 storms struck the Conemaugh Valley in Cambria County, dumping an estimated 6-10 inches of rain on the region. Tributaries and creeks flooded their banks, swelling the Conemaugh River with raging currents and miscellaneous debris. Fourteen miles east of the bustling city of Johnstown concerns were escalating at the elite South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club where a former reservoir for the Mainline of Public Works turned recreational lake, began to rise to dangerous levels. Lake Conemaugh had been stripped of its fail-safes after the Pubic Works system was abandoned and had no way of relieving the rising floodwaters. Various efforts to mitigate the high water were considered but were too little, too late, in a last ditch effort messengers were dispatched to South Fork to report the dangerous situation to neighboring towns via telegraph.

"The Johnstown Calamity" by George Baker depicts the devastation of the great flood, note homes tossed on their side as the waters recede leaving nothing but mud in an area that was once a residential neighborhood. Image collection of the New York Public Library.

"The Johnstown Calamity" by George Baker depicts the devastation of the great flood, note homes tossed on their side as the waters recede leaving nothing but mud in an area that was once a residential neighborhood. Image collection of the New York Public Library.

By the afternoon of May 31st, Johnstown was already experiencing flooding in various areas but at approximately 3:10PM the situation grew far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. The dam holding back Lake Conemaugh collapsed, releasing some 20 million tons of water into the Conemaugh River valley. Taking approximately 40 minutes to drain the lake, flood waters raged through the valley taking less than an hour to reach the city of Johnstown, picking up houses, trees and even a railroad viaduct in its course. By the time it hit Johnstown the wall of floodwater was estimated to be 60’ high in places and traveling at 40 miles per hour.  The flood entered town in the areas of East Conemaugh and Woodvale leveling rail yards, tossing passenger trains and causing major damage to the Gautier Iron Works, picking up even more debris including barbed wire manufactured at the mills. Flood waters tore through the center of Johnstown which is hemmed in by the Stoney Creek and Conemaugh Rivers on the the valley floor becoming the epicenter of disaster. Spreading across the city the floodwaters washed back and forth forcing debris against the PRR stone viaduct near the Cambria Iron Works creating further peril during the situation. The unintended dam became engulfed in flames creating a 70’ high wall that had to eventually be blasted away after waters receded.

The great stone bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line played a large role in the devastation during the flood when debris washed across the valley piling up against the bridge creating an unintended dam, trapping flood victims in a 70' high debris pile that burned for three days. After the fire and flood water subsided clearing of the bridge required the expertise of "Dynamite Bill" Flynn and a 900 man crewtaking 3 months to complete the task. Photograph by Ernest Walter Histed, collection of the Library of Congress.

The great stone bridge on the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line played a large role in the devastation during the flood when debris washed across the valley piling up against the bridge creating an unintended dam, trapping flood victims in a 70' high debris pile that burned for three days. After the fire and flood water subsided clearing of the bridge required the expertise of "Dynamite Bill" Flynn and a 900 man crewtaking 3 months to complete the task. Photograph by Ernest Walter Histed, collection of the Library of Congress.

Efforts were mobilized immediately to provide disaster relief and recovery. The Pennsylvania Railroad restored the railroad west to Pittsburgh and was running trains by June 2nd bringing in manpower and supplies. Clara Barton, a nurse and founder of the Red Cross arrived on June 5th, staying for more than five months to lead the group’s first major disaster relief effort. The flood, the result of the of the South Fork Hunting Club’s negligence to properly maintain the earthen dam ultimately took 2,209 lives, 16,000 homes and cost $17 million in property damage, making the Great Flood of 1889 one of the worst floods to hit the US in the 19th Century.

From Iron Fortunes to Railroads: A Brief History on McKim, Mead and White

From modest beginnings with a commission for the Coleman family in the iron rich hills of the Lebanon Valley to becoming one of the most important American architectural firms, McKim, Mead and White began building its legacy in the village of Cornwall, Pennsylvania in 1880.

Stanford White's first commission with McKim, Mead and White was Alden Villa. This interior detail is of the foyer and main staircase. Cornwall, Pennsylvania.

Stanford White's first commission with McKim, Mead and White was Alden Villa. This interior detail is of the foyer and main staircase. Cornwall, Pennsylvania.

It all began when a 25-year-old Stanford White set sail for Europe to visit his long time friend, the American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1878. White had been working as the head draftsman for the noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson, where he had befriended Charles McKim.  McKim left Hobson in 1872 looking to develop his own firm joining William Rutherford Mead and later in 1877, William Bigelow, McKim’s brother-in-law to create McKim, Mead and Bigelow.  In short time during the course of the partnership with Bigelow, McKim’s marriage failed and as a result Bigelow left the firm. Looking to fill the vacancy McKim joined White at the last minute traveling to Europe in an effort to recruit him to join the firm. Their trip to Paris would be an inspirational time and upon their return, White came on board with McKim and Mead to create one of the most prolific firms in American history. Though McKim was already on his way to being well established and White had a great deal of creative freedom under Henry Hobson Richardson on account of his ailing health they would now be able to fully express their creative aesthetic under the auspices of McKim, Mead and White.

Shortly after starting the firm, White began work on what is arguably his earliest residential commission, a project with Ann Caroline Coleman in 1880 to construct a home for her son Robert Percy Alden and his new wife Mary Ida Warren in the iron hills of Cornwall, Pennsylvania.  Some have theorized White was given the commission because of his status as junior partner having to make the lengthy trips from New York City to Central Pennsylvania, often working on the train to develop his design. Overlooking the Coleman’s profitable iron foundries, the unique home, reflects White’s influence from working with Richardson while drawing from his European travel sketches and his contributions to the shingle style vocabulary that would become typical of the young firm. The house itself and the interiors within had a great variety of styling seen through out the firm’s commissions in the coming years. Alden Villa or Millwood as it would be referred to was a unique formative design that reflected a young and talented architect refining his own vernacular.

During the firm’s most creative period (1879-1915) McKim, Mead and White received nearly 1000 commissions, many of which are considered some of America’s most important buildings. Within the firm, Mead focused on running the office, while McKim and White were the creative minds, designing private homes, institutional and commercial commissions. Among these were estates for the cultural elite of New York, constructing villas on Long Island and Newport, Rhode Island. Highlights of the commercial and institutional commissions included the National Museum of American History in Washington DC, the Brooklyn Museum, New York University, Hotel Pennsylvania, Rhode Island State House and the New York and Boston Public Libraries among others.

Birds Eye View of Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1910. The colonnades and entries to the station building were the first of three elements in the processional sequence, the portal. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Birds Eye View of Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1910. The colonnades and entries to the station building were the first of three elements in the processional sequence, the portal. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Main Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1908-1910. This design was based on the Frigidarium or cold pool of the Baths of Caracalla, Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Main Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station, NY, NY circa 1908-1910. This design was based on the Frigidarium or cold pool of the Baths of Caracalla, Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Track level and concourses, prior to completion (note panks over track area bottom left). Exact year unknown but roughly between 1908-10.  This space also referenced the baths of Caracalla while acknowledging the modern methods of train shed construction. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress  .

Track level and concourses, prior to completion (note panks over track area bottom left). Exact year unknown but roughly between 1908-10.  This space also referenced the baths of Caracalla while acknowledging the modern methods of train shed construction. Detroit Publishing Company, collection of the Library of Congress.

Unfortunately tragedy didn’t stop here, as the Pennsylvania Railroad would destroy Pennsylvania Station in 1963 at just over 50 years old. The cash strapped railroad optioned the air rights to Penn Station, calling for the demolition of the head house and train shed replacing it with a new office complex and sporting arena. Plans for the new Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden were announced in 1962 and demolition began in ’63. A concession for the air rights was that the Pennsylvania Railroad would receive a modern smaller subterranean terminal and 25% stake in the new Madison Square Garden Complex at no cost. What seemed to be an unimaginable act quickly took place as demolition began sparking an international outrage. While the destruction of Penn Station was allowed the act was certainly not unnoticed. Within 18 months of the demolition, New York City would enact the first landmarks preservation act in America making the lost station the poster child for historic preservation. Though a tragic end to an unwinding legacy, the legendary firm of McKim, Mead and White is survived by many of the magnificent buildings they created during their time, including Alden Villa in the village of Cornwall, Pennsylvania, a commission from the iron empire of the Coleman family of Lebanon County.

Lecture This Week!

Dear Friends,

Please join me at the Library Company of Philadelphia this Thursday for my lecture:

Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary Photographs in Response to the Historic Works of William H Rau

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reception for members and their guests at 5:30 p.m. Program from 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

This lecture is free and open to the public with convenient public transit access from the

Septa Broad Street Line and Patco High Speed Line.

Please RSVP or call 215-546-3181 The Library Company of Philadelphia

1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Hope to see you there!

Michael Froio

Relic Exhibition: Lansdowne Theater

Auditorium Detail, Northeast Corner, Lansdowne Theater. May 2009

Auditorium Detail, Northeast Corner, Lansdowne Theater. May 2009

In conjunction with the current exhibition of work from the Relic Project I would like to share some history about the buildings featured in the show. The fifth and final building in the Relic exhibition is the beautiful Lansdowne Theater. This Theater opened it’s doors on June 1st, 1927 just two years before the Great Depression and continued to operate for over 60 years. Situated in the heart of the downtown business area of this Philadelphia commuter suburb the theater survives as one of the most prominent structures on North Lansdowne Avenue. Financed by the Stanley Warner Company and Herbert Effinger who commissioned renowned theater architect W. H. Lee to design a modern 1300 seat theater, the $250,000 project resulted in a grand, lavish theater featuring remarkable interiors clad with chandeliers and intricate tile plasterwork throughout. The theater featured an organ, built by the W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago to provide both music and sound effects prior to the introduction of sound movies. Situated in the front of the auditorium in the orchestra pit the “band” organ also controlled a variety of instruments and sound effects for silent films in the false balconies on both sides of the stage. According to the Lansdowne Theater Corporation the organ originally fell silent by 1937 and was later restored by local volunteers which provided a unique venue for professional organists to perform in the historic theater, a tradition that continued until the removal of the organ in the late 1970s

Into the early 1980’s ownership changed hands and Lansdowne Theater Associates, Inc cosmetically restored the building after purchase in 1986. Shortly after in July of 1987 an electrical fire broke out during a movie, fortunately nobody was hurt but the electrical systems that served the theater suffered major damage. While repairs were started the group was never successful in getting the building back to operating condition and the property eventually defaulted to bank ownership. Today the building’s retail spaces have been renovated and provide income revenue for the site while the non-profit Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation works tirelessly to secure funding and make efforts to stabilize and restore the theater back to it’s original operating condition.

For more information on the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation please visit their website.

The exhibition featuring work from the Relic Portfolio is currently on view at the Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery,Gloucester County College. The exhibition runs through November 28, 2012. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri., 8:00 am–10:00 pm and Saturday, 8:00 am–3:00 pm. For more information contact Eoin Kinnarney, Gallery Director, 856-415-2122.

Relic Exhibition: Board of Education Building

East Wing Board Room, First Floor, Philadelphia Board of Education Building. June, 2007

East Wing Board Room, First Floor, Philadelphia Board of Education Building. June, 2007

In conjunction with the current exhibition of work from the Relic Project I would like to share some history about the buildings featured in the show. The fourth building in the Relic exhibition is The Philadelphia Board of Education Building, completed in 1932 and one of several civic buildings constructed during the development of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Designed by school board architect and later superintendent of building, Irwin T. Catherine the ten-story art deco building was home to the Board of Education until its sale in 2007. The building has survived largely intact with the elegant art deco features and was recently renovated to create 130 luxury apartments. During the renovation most of the public corridors, first floor offices, conference room and auditorium were carefully restored retaining the unique architectural styles of each space. During the renovation the Philadelphia AIA Landmark Building program awarded the Board of Education Building as a notable example of the art deco era. The nomination sited the "...public and ceremonial areas are fine examples of Art Deco and eclectic styles. The main corridors on each floor, as well as the auditorium, feature lighting, grilles, and signage executed in the Art Deco style. The Board Room foyer is Neo-Greek in the Ionic style; the Board Room, the Secretary’s office, and the Superintendent’s office are Neo-Colonial; the President’s office is done in the Georgian style, and the 10th floor cafeteria is described as being of the Spanish provincial style." Since the renovation, the Barnes Foundation utilizes the historic Board Room and offices and the beautiful auditorium space is home to the Varenhorst architecture firm who actually planned the adaptive reuse of the building for developer PMC Property Group.

The exhibition featuring work from the Relic Portfolio is currently on view at the Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery,Gloucester County College. The exhibition runs through November 28, 2012. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri., 8:00 am–10:00 pm and Saturday, 8:00 am–3:00 pm. For more information contact Eoin Kinnarney, Gallery Director, 856-415-2122.

Relic Exhibition: Memorial Hall

Grand Hall and Entry. Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park. January, 2007

Grand Hall and Entry. Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park. January, 2007

In conjunction with the current exhibition of work from the Relic Project I would like to share some history about the buildings featured in the show. The third building in the Relic exhibition is Memorial Hall located in the historic Parkside neighborhood of Philadelphia. Designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann chief engineer and architect of the Fairmount Park Commission, Memorial Hall was built as an art gallery for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The building stands as an early example of the monumental Beaux-Arts style of architecture in the US, with an exterior of granite and an interior finished with marble and ornamental plaster. Completed at total cost of $1.5 million dollars, architectural details include statuary and a glass and iron dome that peaks at 150’ above the grand rotunda creating a soft glow from the natural light above. After the exposition the building re-opened as the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art and also served as the first Philadelphia Museum of Art until 1929. One of few surviving structures from the 1876 Exposition, Memorial Hall was taken over by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1958, housing offices and administration. The space also had a public pool, gymnasium and police station into the 1980’s. The massive historic building fell into disrepair until 2005 when the Please Touch Museum began an $85- million renovation to create a new home for the museum. Finished in 2008, the building was brought back to its original splendor with a full interior and exterior restoration. In addition the museum created some amazing exhibitions kids specific to the history of the site while incorporating features of the original Center City museum location.

For more information on Memorial Hall and the Please Touch Museum please visit their website

The exhibition featuring work from the Relic Portfolio will be on view at the Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery,Gloucester County College. The exhibition runs through November 28, 2012. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri., 8:00 am–10:00 pm and Saturday, 8:00 am–3:00 pm. For more information contact Eoin Kinnarney, Gallery Director, 856-415-2122.

Relic Exhibition: Divine Lorraine Hotel

Banquet Hall, 10th Floor. Divine Lorraine Hotel. January, 2007.

Banquet Hall, 10th Floor. Divine Lorraine Hotel. January, 2007.

In conjunction with the upcoming show of work from the Relic Project I would like to share some history about the buildings featured in the exhibition. The second of this series is the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Built by the renowned architect Willis G. Hale between 1892 and 1894, the Divine Lorraine was home to many wealthy Philadelphia residents in this up and coming section on North Broad Street. The building boasted modern amenities such as electricity, provided a house staff to eliminate the need for personal servants and utilized a central kitchen to provide food service through out the facility. The Lorraine was a feat of modern design, one of the first hi-rise complexes in Philadelphia at 10 stories high. Advancements in structural materials, and the invention of the elevator made this building a first of its kind in Philadelphia. Hale would build several other Victorian styled buildings in the Philadelphia area which unfortunately after the great depression were considered dated compared to the modern sky scrapers and ultimately many were demolished. In 1948 the Lorraine would make history again when it was sold to Father Divine also known by the name of George Baker or Rev. Major Jealous Divine, leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement. Baker’s hotel would become the first fully racially integrated hotel in the United States and was open to men and women of all faith and races as long as they lived by the rules of the movement which continued until its closure in 1999. Since then the building has changed hands several times and was gutted for salvage but never rehabbed by developer Lorraine Hotel LP. The building took the spotlight again in the past few weeks when renowned North Broad St. focused developer Eric Blumenfeld purchased the building at auction. He has announced plans to restore the building, creating 126 apartments with restaurants on the first floor, which was kept intact during the 2006-7 interior demolition.

The exhibition featuring work from the Relic Portfolio will be on view at the Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery,Gloucester County College. The exhibition opens Friday, October 26, 2012 with a reception from 6:30 – 8:30 and the show runs through November 28, 2012. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri., 8:00 am–10:00 pm and Saturday, 8:00 am–3:00 pm. For more information contact Eoin Kinnarney, Gallery Director, 856-415-2122.

Relic Exhibition: Philadelphia Civic Auditorium

Public Entry Foyer, Philadelphia Civic Center Auditorium, April 2005.

Public Entry Foyer, Philadelphia Civic Center Auditorium, April 2005.

In conjunction with the upcoming show of work from the Relic Project I would like to share some history about the buildings featured in the exhibition. The first of five buildings featured in this show is the Philadelphia Civic Auditorium. Completed in 1931 the Art Deco Auditorium graced Civic Center Boulevard in West Philadelphia as part of a complex of buildings that began with the National Export Exhibition in 1899. There were two important buildings on the site. The Commercial Museum, built in 1899, was one of the original exposition buildings and The Municipal Auditorium (Convention Hall), built in 1931, by Philip H. Johnson. The Auditorium would be host to four National Political Conventions and notable people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul the II. The auditorium was also utilized for countless musical performances including the Beetles, Jackson Five, Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead while also serving as the original home of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Warriors. In 1967 the opening of the Spectrum sports arena in South Philadelphia made the Auditorium virtually obsolete, and the beautiful building was relegated to a secondary status occasionally utilized for performances or University of Penn and Drexel graduation services. By the mid 1990’s the City could not entice a regular tenant and the facility began fall in neglect. The massive building was expensive to maintain and would see sporadic use as a sound stage for both TV and movie productions. Finally in 2005 the Civic Auditorium would meet its demise to clear way for construction of University of Pennsylvania Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

The exhibition featuring work from the Relic Portfolio will be on view at the Dr. Ross Beitzel Art Gallery, Gloucester County College, 1400 Tanyard Road, Sewell, New Jersey 08080. The exhibition opens Friday, October 26, 2012 with a reception from 6:30 – 8:30 and the show runs through November 28, 2012. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri., 8:00 am–10:00 pm and Saturday, 8:00 am–3:00 pm. For more information contact Eoin Kinnarney, Gallery Director, 856-415-2122.

Harrisburg Passenger Station

Front elevation drawing of the Harrisburg Train Station.   (below) Detail drawings of the fireplace and floor tile work. Drawings collection of the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service drawn by Harry Weese & Associates  .

Front elevation drawing of the Harrisburg Train Station. (below) Detail drawings of the fireplace and floor tile work. Drawings collection of the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service drawn by Harry Weese & Associates.

Harrisburg was at the crossroads of the eastern system, and the largest city on the PRR between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. From the east passenger trains originated from Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC, from the west traffic came via Buffalo and Pittsburgh gateways to the North, South and West.

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The surviving passenger station, built between 1885-87 is the third such built by the PRR in the general area between Mulberry and Market Streets. Constructed of brick and stone, the Queen Anne style station was altered several times during the early 20th Century and featured details like facing granite and brick fireplaces in the main waiting room, coffered ceilings, wood paneling and intricate mosaic tile floor patterns. After a destructive fire in 1904, the station was completely remodeled restoring the unique gambrel roof while converting the attic space into a third floor for offices adding the eight dormers on the front (east) elevation. A major addition to facilitate the electrification to Harrisburg in 1936-37 added a two story, three bay extensions on the south end of the building to accommodate the new Power Dispatcher’s facility and State Interlocking.

Train shed interior looking east. Notice the intricate iron work on the stair railings and trusses. The active center platform has been elevated to accommodate Amtrak/ ADA compliance needs but the remaining low level platforms are still traditional herringbone brick with stone curbs. This shed is one of few remaining examples of a style of station that was once commonplace in America.

Train shed interior looking east. Notice the intricate iron work on the stair railings and trusses. The active center platform has been elevated to accommodate Amtrak/ ADA compliance needs but the remaining low level platforms are still traditional herringbone brick with stone curbs. This shed is one of few remaining examples of a style of station that was once commonplace in America.

The surviving train sheds behind and to the east of the station were of even greater significance. When constructed they were considered some of the largest of its time, utilizing historic Fink trusses constructed of wood and iron to support the roof. The twin station sheds were extended at various times and measure roughly 540 feet in length providing shelter to 8 of the 10 station tracks maintained in the busy terminal.

View from photographer Harlen Hambright, taken during the 1981 HAER survey. Survey caption reads "View, looking north (railroad west) under shed from concourse, showing exposed truss after shed roofing was removed." Collection of the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service.

View from photographer Harlen Hambright, taken during the 1981 HAER survey. Survey caption reads "View, looking north (railroad west) under shed from concourse, showing exposed truss after shed roofing was removed." Collection of the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service.

Current view of the south (railroad east) end of the station bound by the Mulberry Street Viaduct itself a beautiful curved concrete arch bridge. The track curving off from the bottom right is Norfolk Southern's connection with the former Reading Company Lebanon Branch, now part of the busy Harrisburg Line. The track immediately behind that and parallel to the station is the Royalton Branch which provides freight an alternate route off the Port Road via Shocks Mill, running alongside Amtrak's Keystone Line west of Roy Interlocking.

Current view of the south (railroad east) end of the station bound by the Mulberry Street Viaduct itself a beautiful curved concrete arch bridge. The track curving off from the bottom right is Norfolk Southern's connection with the former Reading Company Lebanon Branch, now part of the busy Harrisburg Line. The track immediately behind that and parallel to the station is the Royalton Branch which provides freight an alternate route off the Port Road via Shocks Mill, running alongside Amtrak's Keystone Line west of Roy Interlocking.

Today the passenger terminal and sheds survive and are on the National Register of Historic Places and are also designated as a National Engineering Landmark. Known as the Harrisburg Transportation Center, the building serves both bus lines and Amtrak, where the Keystone Service from Philadelphia and New York Terminates, and the daily New York – Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian calls in each direction. While passenger train service is a mere ghost of what it used to be, the historic building survives as a monument of what rail travel used to be for future generations.

Situated on the former #5 Station track, PRR class GG-1# #4859 resides as part of a permanent display owned and maintained by the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, also accompanied by a class N6b PRR Cabin Car (caboose to non-PRR people). The 4859 is of particular significance to Harrisburg as it hauled the first scheduled electric powered passenger train into the station in 1938. The locomotive was part of a fleet of 140 locomotives built by both the PRR in Altoona and General Electric, the ubiquitous G,  was the workhorse of both the limiteds, regional and local passenger/ mail trains as well as freight on the PRR. The last operational  GG-1 ran in October of 1983 and 16 survive around the US as static displays.

Situated on the former #5 Station track, PRR class GG-1# #4859 resides as part of a permanent display owned and maintained by the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, also accompanied by a class N6b PRR Cabin Car (caboose to non-PRR people). The 4859 is of particular significance to Harrisburg as it hauled the first scheduled electric powered passenger train into the station in 1938. The locomotive was part of a fleet of 140 locomotives built by both the PRR in Altoona and General Electric, the ubiquitous G,  was the workhorse of both the limiteds, regional and local passenger/ mail trains as well as freight on the PRR. The last operational  GG-1 ran in October of 1983 and 16 survive around the US as static displays.

Mainline Model for Historic Preservation: Harris Tower

Harris Tower avoided a fate most towers ultimately succumbed to after being decommissioned. Today as a result of dedicated volunteers from the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, the 1930 built switch tower functions as a unique museum experience, providing visitors with a hands on understanding of tower operations and traffic management in golden age of railroading.

Harris Tower avoided a fate most towers ultimately succumbed to after being decommissioned. Today as a result of dedicated volunteers from the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, the 1930 built switch tower functions as a unique museum experience, providing visitors with a hands on understanding of tower operations and traffic management in golden age of railroading.

In 1991 when Harris’s remaining functions were transferred over to State Tower, the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS realized the significance of this building and set out to preserve the facility in place. The initial state of affairs in the old tower was pretty sad: damaged windows, a dated electrical systems, leaky roof, a defunct heating system and an interlocking machine and board that was in rough shape made just stabilizing the building a monumental task. Under the direction of Fred Wertz former Chapter President, countless volunteer hours from members of the Harrisburg Chapter (see the complete honor roll below) were logged to bring the structure back to its original as built appearance. As work progressed on the building itself, volunteers Dan Rapak and Jeff Vinton worked to restore the Union Switch and Signal interlocking machine and its accompanying model board. Rapak and Vinton worked to free the seized electro-mechanical levers while John Smith took on the restoration of the model board. A computer-controlled system was developed to operate the magnets on the interlocking machine allowing the levers and locks on the unit to once again function properly. The concept of running virtual trains was developed to make the interlocking machine a hands on exhibit which, by way of computer simulation, a given visitor can direct trains through the “interlocking” during a typical 1943 shift. The block lines, phones, teletype and indicator bell all work as if a neighboring tower was relaying train info, complete with scripts developed and read by former tower operators, announce oncoming trains as was done in typical tower operations. The Harris Tower museum is a one of kind experience for the historian, train buff and curious observer alike. Where else can you go and have a hands on history lesson on how to manage trains and control traffic in what was one of the busier towers on the PRR system?

Detail of the restored interlocking machine and interior of Harris Tower. The operator and train director's desk in the foreground features a restored lamp and key control panel that provided the tower communications with dispatchers, line-side phone boxes and other interlocking towers. In the rear is the carefully restored Union Switch and Signal Model 14 Interlocking Machine and Model Board, the device by which switches and signals were controlled to route trains through the busy Harrisburg Station. Note the complexity of the track work through this junction, which was needed to route the many passenger and freight trains in addition to the countless light engine and switch moves that took place during the height of the PRR era.

Detail of the restored interlocking machine and interior of Harris Tower. The operator and train director's desk in the foreground features a restored lamp and key control panel that provided the tower communications with dispatchers, line-side phone boxes and other interlocking towers. In the rear is the carefully restored Union Switch and Signal Model 14 Interlocking Machine and Model Board, the device by which switches and signals were controlled to route trains through the busy Harrisburg Station. Note the complexity of the track work through this junction, which was needed to route the many passenger and freight trains in addition to the countless light engine and switch moves that took place during the height of the PRR era.

While we visited Harris Tower volunteer William Kcenich provided a great interpretive lesson on operations and the restoration. We were also joined by Chapter member Don Rittler who provided first hand knowledge of operations at Harris from his time as a block operator here. Don Rittler started his career with the Pennsylvania Railroad on October 11th, 1937 as a messenger for the interlocking towers on the PRR Philadelphia Division. The first person to be hired since the 1927 furlough of employees as a result of the Great Depression, Don worked the introductory job spending his days relaying messages and paperwork from tower to tower as needed, gaining a familiarity to the basic operations and chain of command among the many towers on the system.  On December 1st, 1940 Don posted his first position as a block operator and leverman, working the Philadelphia Division extra list, filling in at different towers. Over the years Don worked such posts as Norris, State, Harris, Cork and many others.

Don Rittler who used to work at Harris as both train director and lever man, shared many great stories and insight on the daily operation of a busy tower like Harris. Don worked for the PRR for 42 years enjoying a flawless career and the camaraderie of the many people he worked with. Rittler, now 93 is still as sharp as ever and is never shy about sharing a great story or two about his experiences on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Don Rittler who used to work at Harris as both train director and lever man, shared many great stories and insight on the daily operation of a busy tower like Harris. Don worked for the PRR for 42 years enjoying a flawless career and the camaraderie of the many people he worked with. Rittler, now 93 is still as sharp as ever and is never shy about sharing a great story or two about his experiences on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1944, like many other PRR employees Rittler was summoned to serve his Country in World War II. He would be part of an Army Unit known as the 775th Railway Grand Division, centered in the Pacific Theater during the height of the War. Initially working in the Philippines operating the Manila Railway the 775th would move on to Japan to be the first front if land attacks were made to secure a rail head for military transport inland. As a result of the infamous atomic bombs, their services were not needed for this purpose but they did continue to work keeping the Japanese rail systems functional. Returning to the US a short two years later almost exactly to the day, Rittler returned to work for the PRR holding tower positions as both leverman and eventually train director for State and Harris towers near the Harrisburg Passenger Station.  Rittler, who’s father was a master machinist for the Pennsy in Enola was always fascinated with the railroad, as it was always apart of his life, with many friends, neighbors and family also employed by the PRR.

Don and his wife built a house in New Cumberland near Lemoyne and lived a great life with their daughter Donna, sharing the family like atmosphere and camaraderie of the many railroaders Don worked with on a daily basis. Don continued to work out of the Harrisburg area well into the Penn Central era eventually moving to Conrail after the 1976 consolidation. Amtrak was slowly taking over operations on the Keystone Corridor in the mid 1970’s and Don’s choices of where to work were becoming increasingly limited. Don worked day trick at Lemo Tower, which he described as a welcome break from the busy towers he was accustomed to like Harris, finishing out a spotless 42 year career in railroading in 1979. Since retirement  Don has been very gracious with his time and experience in the towers, helping the NRHS Harrisburg Chapter with the Harris reconstruction and developing the interpretive exhibit. He also on occasion visits with small groups at Harris to provide first hand working knowledge of a craft that has largely disappeared from the railroad landscape.

I wish to thank Don for sharing his time and knowledge during our visit and subsequent phone conversation, for somebody who never experienced the PRR first hand, I feel very lucky to spend time with such a warm and welcoming gentleman. Special thanks to Mr. William Seigford who accompanied us to Harris and helped facilitate our visit, and of course to Mr. Kcenich who took time out of his schedule to accommodate our group from Amtrak and John Bowie Associates. In respect to the many people and countless hours bringing Harris to life again as key museum piece in the interpretive history of railroad operations I  would like to acknowledge NRHS Harrisburg Chapter members and their contributions. A very special congratulations and thanks to everyone, you have raised the bar on historic preservation and interactive exhibits all the while saving a part of the great Pennsylvania Railroad for future generations. Bravo!

Abe Burnette: Secured parts for model board and interlocking machine, including a reproduction machine builder's plate.Ed Burns:  Interior scrapping and painting (walls and ceilings).Richard Crow: Outdoor grounds keepingTerry Gardner:  Floor tile scrapping, cleaning.  Personally purchased and replaced all broken and/or smashed floor tile out of his own pocket. Joseph Heffron: Handled some of the interior painting of window trim and other interior painting.Charles High: Secured jacks and headed the moving of interior racks.Bill Kcenich: Responsible for assigning, training, and scheduling all Chapter members who volunteer as, and are, Harris Tower docents.Matthew Loser: Handled the initial negotiations with Amtrak to secure ownership of Harris Tower for the Harrisburg Chapter, NRHS; also handled the registration process to have Harris placed on the National Register of Historic Places; had a Harris reproduction sign made for the Walnut Street side.Robert Lyter: Responsible for the main front door restoration and maintenance.John Pari: Scrapping, painting of woodwork and window trim.Daniel Rapak: Interlocking machine restoration and development of the simulation systems, restoration of original ceiling lighting fixtures,  all interior electronics, including the securing and installation of the Seth Thomas #2 wall clock reproduction.  restoration of the original dispatcher's desk and accompanying furniture.John Smith: Responsible for model board graphic restoration, the elimination of oil heat and re-installation of city supplied steam heat (as original when Harris was constructed), the removal of  brick chimney (was added when oil heating conversion was done.) and personally involved with exterior renovation, i.e. power washing, new roofing, new gutters and new downspouts.Jeff Vinton: Assisted in restoring the interlocking machine and developing the simulation systems.Fred Wertz: Former Chapter President who has been instrumental since day one, overseeing building management, parts allocations and organizing monthly work sessions.Allen Wolfinger: Responsible for the removal of all interior wiring.Gary Yanko: Responsible for all building electrical upgrades, outdoor lighting, alarm system, and building insulation.

Currently the Harris Tower Museum is open to the public every Saturday from now through the end of October 10 AM-3 PM.  To learn more about the Harrisburg NRHS Chapter and Harris Tower, please visit their website, http://harristower.org/

The Night Before Christmas... Part 12

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 11

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 10

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 9

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 8

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 7

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 6

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 5

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 4

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

The Night Before Christmas... Part 3

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

Painting by former PRR employee William W. Seigford, Jr., circa 1953. Photo reproduction by Michael Froio

The classic poem The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, was first published anonymously in December of 1823. Since that time the story has found its way into many family homes and traditions for the Christmas Season. The following series of posts celebrates this famous poem accompanied by illustrations painted by a Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Mr. William W. Seigford, Jr. who worked in Harrisburg where the paintings were displayed as early as 1953. Later in the 1960's Seigford retired from the PRR and moved to Lancaster bringing the paintings there. Since then the delicate paintings have survived several railroads and changes in management, miraculously intact and in fairly good condition all things considered. Today all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 Lancaster Station waiting room during the Holiday Season under the watchful eye of Ticket Office Manager, Donna Whitney who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.