Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Upcoming Lecture | The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Legacy in Imagery

Stone bridges crossing the Neshaminy Creek, Pennsylvania Railroad Trenton Cut-Off, part of the Low Grade Freight Line between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. Join me March 14th to learn how historical imagery inspires new works in my ongoing project documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels.  

Stone bridges crossing the Neshaminy Creek, Pennsylvania Railroad Trenton Cut-Off, part of the Low Grade Freight Line between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. Join me March 14th to learn how historical imagery inspires new works in my ongoing project documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels.  

"In the Packsaddle, On the Conemaugh" Vintage photomechanical reproduction. Images like this were mass produced in travel books to entice travelers to ride the rails or to provide a visual memoir of one's trip. Today these images provide a unique view into the PRR's past taming the wilds of Pennsylvania. 

"In the Packsaddle, On the Conemaugh" Vintage photomechanical reproduction. Images like this were mass produced in travel books to entice travelers to ride the rails or to provide a visual memoir of one's trip. Today these images provide a unique view into the PRR's past taming the wilds of Pennsylvania. 

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout their new transportation systems, luring travelers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age: photography. Railroads employed some the most preeminent photographers of the time, outfitting darkroom cars, placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, allowing me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideas and the resulting images rich with information foster a dialogue with my image making, inspiring new works from pictures of the past.

Please join me Tuesday, March 14th for a lecture exploring the important role historical imagery plays in my ongoing project, From the Mainline, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s meeting and is free and open to the public.

March 14th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society
Harrisburg Chapter

Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
Enola, Pennsylvania

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. 

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.