From the Mainline: Exploring Pennsylvania Railroad Rights-of-Way: This project’s title, From the Mainline, came to me since I began traveling throughout the Northeast exploring what survives and what developed as a result of the presence of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The project is the culmination of four distinct interests and their interaction: geography, history, architecture, and a life-long love of railroads. Among other reasons, I chose the Pennsylvania Railroad to satisfy a simple question,”Why would a company consider itself the Standard Railroad of the World?” I am sure many would argue that it was just plain arrogance, but that answer was not good enough. So in 2007 I set out to better understand the former PRR system, examining the various aspects of the railroad to create a cohesive survey of the railroad, its defining attributes and the landscape through which it traveled.
There are several concise topics that combine to create a holistic understanding of a railroad network and its effects on its surroundings. This approach can help one to identify the unique characteristics of any railroad corridor but specifically those that refer to the Pennsy.
This is an excerpt of a newly published web exclusive article with Trains Magazine, a collaboration with the Center for Railroad Photography and Art to bring thoughtful writing and new approaches to the genre of railroad photography. Trains magazine played a big role in my formative years, with a great collection of contemporary industry articles, excellent imagery, and historical pieces and I am honored to be a part of! Please visit the full article and web gallery for more!
From modest beginnings with 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.
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.
Perhaps one of the latest and most ambitious projects of McKim, Mead and White was the design of Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Occupying two city blocks from Seventh Avenue to Eighth Avenue and from 31st to 33rd Streets, the station building measured 784 by 430 feet, covering an area of 8 acres. The new station would be the gateway to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s triumphant entry into Midtown Manhattan making it the only through passenger terminal in New York City, connecting with the Long Island Railroad to the east and New Haven Railroad to the north. The station and tunneling project under the North (Hudson) and East Rivers was the brainchild of PRR president Alexander J. Cassatt and vice president Samuel Rea.
In 1902 Cassatt began discussing the station project with the intent of commissioning a New York based firm for the job. Though White was still an active partner in the prestigious firm it was his life long friend and 1878 European travel partner Charles McKim who would manage the project and design. McKim originally came in contact with Cassatt, while involved with the McMillan Plan with architect Daniel Burnham and sculptor Augustus St. Guadens (of whom White and McKim traveled with in Europe back in 1878) to continue the spirit of L’Enfant’s plan for Washington DC including the construction of Washington Union Terminal.
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.
The Pennsylvania Railroad specifically limited the scope of the firm’s work to above track level. McKim based the massive structure on the architectural typologies: the portal, the great hall and the train shed corresponding to the three principal elements in the processional sequence. The portal consisted of the major entrances and colonnades surrounding the building, and was based on Bernini’s colonnade enclosing the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The great hall, or the waiting room, was based on the frigidarium of the Baths of Caracalla. McKim was intimately familiar with this design as he had measured and drawn the ruins during his travel with the Senate Park Commission for the McMillan Plan. Finally the concourse or train shed, a beautifully sky lit interior of asymmetrical lattice iron and glass referenced the high arched ceilings of the baths while acknowledging the modern traditions of train shed construction.
It would take 6 years to complete construction of the station, breaking ground on May 1st 1904 with completion and inauguration of regular passenger service on November 27th, 1910. According to an Interstate Commerce Commission Report the entire station project and associated infrastructure and tunnels cost the railroad $114 million ($2.7 billion in 2011 dollars). Unfortunately during that time all of the visionaries involved in the project, Cassatt, McKim and White did not live to see station’s completion. White was shot and killed on June 25th 1906 by Harry Thaw, husband of White’s estranged mistress Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. Not long after Cassatt died in December 28, 1906 at age 67 after a six-month illness and finally McKim passed in September of 1909 just over a year from the station’s completion.
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.
I am excited to announce I will be presenting a lecture next Friday, May 17th about my ongoing project, From the Mainline: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This project as most of you know has been the culmination of a life long love of trains, history and photography. If you are free and live in the area, please come out for the event, it is part of the monthly meeting of the National Railway Historical Society’s Delaware Valley Chapter and is free and open to the public. The lecture will follow the Chapter’s monthly meeting and begin at approximately 8:30PM. Please see the details above or email me at email@example.com for more information.
Thank you for your support!
Plate#91: View of the Conewago Gorge by photographer William H. Rau, during his first photographic commission with the Pennsylvania Railroad to illustrate the destinations and scenery along the system. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.
Leaving Royalton behind the mainline begins a sustained climb to Elizabethtown with a ruling grade of .84%. Four miles east from the junction of the Royalton Branch the mainline, running on the alignment of the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad crosses the Conewago Creek valley. Lenape for “At the Rapids”, the Conewago is actually two creeks of the same name: One running from the west to the Susquehanna River in York County the other coming from the east from the headwaters of Lake Conewago in Mt Gretna, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania to the Susquehanna near the village of Falmouth.
Pennsylvania Railroad Track Chart showing the grade and track profile between Highspire and Rheems. Note the junction with the Lebanon Branch at approximately Milepost 90 in Conewago, this branch had an interesting history connected with the Coleman Family iron dynasty of the late 1800′s. Excerpts of track charts collection Keystone Crossings.
By the 1840’s iron forges to the north of Mt. Gretna owned by various descendants of Robert Coleman flourished in Lebanon with transportation access provided primarily by way of the Union Canal. The area’s close proximity to the Anthracite Regions, the Cornwall iron ore hills, an abundance of timber for charcoal/ coke production and local limestone quarries provided the catalyst for growth and development of an industry, which would become the backbone of Lebanon County and the Commonwealth of PA.
To feed the forges William Coleman and cousin George Dawson Coleman constructed the North Lebanon Railroad In 1853 connecting the ore hills and forges near Cornwall to the Union Canal landings in Lebanon. By 1870 the railroad was renamed the Cornwall Railroad, interchanging with the Lebanon Valley Railroad, a line that was absorbed by the Philadelphia and Reading. As mining progressed at the Cornwall Ore Hills Company another line, The Spiral Railroad was constructed in Cornwall to facilitate moving material from the pit mines, loading the raw ore into Cornwall RR rail cars. The material would then head out to Lebanon for processing and concentration to be used in local iron production. By 1884 the Cornwall RR would also construct another route the Cornwall and Mount Hope Railroad, providing access to the P&R’s Reading and Columbia Branch allowing interchange freight and connecting passenger services via Manheim. (Inset) Post card view of the 1885 Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad station in Lebanon, Pennsylvania designed by noted architect George Watson Hewitt. This building survives today and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
For a long time the Cornwall Railroad ran with no competition until 1883 when Robert H Coleman, a cousin to William Freeman the president of the Cornwall Railroad and son to the founder to the North Lebanon Railroad, would open a competing railroad, the Cornwall and Lebanon, creating considerable angst between the two operations. Running southwest from Lebanon to Cornwall then onto the resort town of Mt. Gretna following the Conewago Creek Valley, the new line provided a direct connection to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Conewago, opening markets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and points west. Consequently in the following year, the aging Cornwall Furnaces ceased production, unable to compete with larger mills like Johnstown, Bethlehem and Steelton. Lackawanna Iron and Steel purchased the facilities and iron mines in 1894, later becoming a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel whom operated the mines into the 1970’s.
Postcard view of the Cornwall iron ore mines circa 1922. The railroad in the image likely to be the Spiral Railroad, providing access to the three ore bearing hills at the mine site which then fed the material to both the Cornwall Railroad and Cornwall & Lebanon Railroads.
Though the forges shut down Robert H. Coleman’s net worth in the 1880s was over 30 million dollars, owing other interests in the iron business. However his investment in the failed Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad Railway in Florida and the Financial Panic of 1893 Coleman would lose everything and his assets defaulted to debtors who took control of the Cornwall and Lebanon Railroad. Providing an ideal operation to tap the remaining ore deposits, Pennsylvania Railroad’s board of directors authorized purchase of railroad on Mar. 12, 1913 from Lackawanna Steel Company for $1.84 million; officially merging w the PRR April 15th 1918. The route continued to operate through the Penn Central until Hurricane Agnes wiped out considerable pieces of right of way and flooded the remaining pit mines operating in Cornwall.
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 Mainline 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 Mainline of Public Works financial distress, presented major limitations.
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.
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 Mainline 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.
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 mainline 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 mainline, expanding the route to the trademark four-track mainline, 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.
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 Mainline into Philadelphia along Darby Creek.
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 Mainline and Low Grade.
A major piece of the this network was the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a two track mainline 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 mainline 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 Mainline 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 Mainline 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.
This coming weekend the Center for Railroad Photography and Art will host its 11th annual Conversations about Photography Conference at Lake Forest College in beautiful Lake Forest, Illinois. Last year I had the opportunity to attend as a guest and had a wonderful time, making a lot of new friends and viewing some excellent presentations. This year I was invited speak at the 2013 conference, an opportunity that I am honored to have!
Founded in 1997, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art has become America’s foremost organization for interpreting the intersection of railroad art and culture with America’s history and culture. Based in Madison, Wisconsin the organization collaborates with other institutions throughout the US to provide quality public programs associated with photography and art works in all media. Their efforts highlight a genre in American Art that has lacked a public voice outside its own community for quite some time. They publish a quarterly journal, Railroad Heritage and continue to put together some excellent exhibitions.
Some of their past programs include the following:
Railroads and the American Landscape: An exhibition of Ted Rose Paintings and Photographs.
The Last Steam Railroad in America: An exhibition of Railroad Photographs of O. Winston Link.
The Call of Trains: An exhibition of Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy to celebrate the release of Mr. Shaugnessy’s book of the same title.
Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden. An exhibition to celebrate the release of Mr Plowden’s book of the same title.
While realize many of you won’t be in Lake Forest this week, I encourage you all to check out the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, they have some terrific programs and a great web resource of their efforts and exhibitions past and present. If you are going to be attending, please be sure to say hello, I look forward to sharing my work and making some new friends!
Highball to Lake Forest!
Since the Library Company lecture early in March I have fallen off the radar, but for good reason! I am excited to announce my revamped website, michaelfroio.com which just went live! I have been considering a change in service for a while and finally began the process a few weeks ago after seeing the huge improvement in image quality and functionality that my new host, Livebooks offers. On the new site you will find more and larger images for the Mainline Project which was in desperate need of an update, including text on each of the Regions/ Divisions covered in the three portfolios. In addition to the Mainline Project you will find the Relic and Watershed Portfolios have been freshened up and reorganized for improved navigation. Of course the site still maintains a link to the blog, sections for news and updates, contact info and social media. I hope you take the time to check out the site, please feel free to email me with any feedback. I should note that the new site utilizes a Flash based template, and IOs users will be pointed to an HTML mirror site which looks and functions much like the main site.