Archive for the ‘Railroads’ Category

William H Brown: The Tale of Two Bridges

December 9, 2014 Leave a comment

non-lcp-rau-i0067In a beautiful image by William H. Rau we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown’s first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1881 a rising figure in the Pennsylvania Railroad by the name of William H. Brown was promoted to chief engineer. At 45 years old the Lancaster County native had 31 years under his belt working his way from a rod man on a survey crew in 1850 to the top of one of the most ambitious engineering departments in the railroad world. Brown had a reputation for knowing every grade, curve and crossing on the PRR. As chief engineer his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant during the 19th and early 20th centuries, implementing various programs of improvements up until his retirement in 1906. According to his obituary in the New York Times he, “made 133 changes and revisions to the mainline, built fourteen elevated railways through cities, forty-one tunnels, and 163 stone bridges, including [the world’s largest] Rockville stone bridge.” The last point was perhaps one his more notable achievements and certainly one of the most recognizable today; the stone masonry arch bridge.

Brown_Bridge_Comp_1200The connection between Brown’s first two stone bridges are linked to various correspondence in the planning stages for both locations. Born from the endorsement of stone bridges during the four track expansion, they diverged at the time of design. The Conestoga is two tracks with provisions for expansion (note protruding stone work along the arches) the Conemaugh bridge designed and built with four tracks. Both survive today and remain in active service on Amtrak’s Keystone corridor and Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh line respectively. Left detail; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right detail William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Two of the earliest spans Brown designed for the mainline were the crossing of the Conemaugh River in Johnstown and the Conestoga in Lancaster. Though bid separately both were originally to be constructed utilizing iron truss spans until Pittsburgh Division superintendent Robert Pitcairn endorsed the use of stone to Brown instead. Touting stone’s strength, durability and its abundant supply on the PRR, the stone bridge would be a long term solution, able to support the growing traffic and heavier trains the PRR was becoming accustomed to. It was there that the course divided for the two bridges. The Conemaugh bridge was built as planned with four tracks and the first to prove Pitcairn’s endorsement true surviving the wrath of the great flood of 1889 just a year after its completion.

With bridge renewals a major part of the program to expand the PRR’s trademark four track mainline across the state of Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Creek bridge in Coatesville and the Conestoga bridge in Lancaster were the last remaining two track spans west from Philadelphia. As discussed previously, the Lancaster terminal was also a choke point in the movement of traffic necessitating the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off. Just to the east of the junction of this new route with the old main was the Conestoga River, a 61-mile tributary of the Susquehanna. The crossing of the Conestoga saw several successive bridges built for the railroad; the first a 1400’ long series of wood lattice truss spans dating from the P&C which was consumed by fire and later replaced with a fill and a shortened series of iron Whipple trusses around the Civil War. Though Brown had considered another iron design for Conestoga in 1887 its design ultimately followed the fate of the Conemaugh bridge, choosing to use stone instead. Though initial correspondence suggests the Conestoga bridge was to be a four-track span, costs and traffic levels dictated a compromise in design, building a two-track span with provisions in place for expansion. As a result the five arch, 329’ long stone masonry bridge was constructed with foundations to support a four track span. In addition, contractors left stones protruding from the southern side of the bridge, which would allow for any expansion to tie into the existing structure when demand necessitated. Completed in 1888 traffic grew through the next decade but plans were on the horizon that would direct freight off the mainline to a new dedicated low-grade from Atglen to Columbia, by-passing Lancaster all together. Though the span in Coatesville was replaced in 1906 to support the combined traffic demands east of Atglen the Conestoga bridge was never expanded, nor was the mainline between Lancaster and Royalton since the PRR now had three two-track routes for both freight and passenger moves via the mainline, Atglen & Susquehanna low grade and the Columbia branch.

Today many of Brown’s bridges are still in service without remark; the only exception of course is Shock’s Mills, which partially failed during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Building like the Romans for an empire in the transportation world, Mr. Brown and other people like him on competing railroads represented the pinnacle of engineering, design and forethought that built the United States and are largely responsible for the rail networks we have today.

Monmouth Museum: Lecture This Friday!

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

All_Aboard_press_image_003CSX westbound empty coal train at Hawks Nest, West Virginia, January 2005 by Scott Lothes is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel.

Please join me this Friday evening for a gallery talk for the exhibition, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel which is currently on view at the Monmouth Museum. This informal lecture will provide insight on work featured in the exhibition with a historical background on the rise, fall and rebirth of American railroads in the 20th Century and the artists that were driven to document them.

Show_Install_Comp1200Exhibition installation views courtesy of Benjamin Riley

The lecture will take place at the Monmouth Museum, Friday, December 12th, at 7PM and is open to the public with paid admission or museum membership. Museum admission is $7 per person.

Can’t make it to the lecture? The show runs through January 4, 2015. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at:

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ.

Monmouth Exhibition: Upcoming Lecture

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

230. Freight Train, West of Havre, MT 1968Great Northern Railway. Westbound freight train, west of Havre, Montana, 1968 by noted photographer David Plowden is one of roughly 80 photographs in the exhibition titled, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel.

Friends, Please join me next Friday evening for a gallery talk for the exhibition, All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscape they Travel which is currently on view at the Monmouth Museum. This informal lecture will provide insight on work featured in the exhibition with a historical background on the rise, fall and rebirth of American railroads in the 20th Century and the artists that were driven to document them. Featuring the work of eight noted photographers and a selection of vintage travel and advertising posters the exhibition and lecture highlight the history and nostalgia the railroads evoke and the landscape it has traveled and changed for over 150 years.

Show_Install_Comp1200Exhibition installation views courtesy of Benjamin Riley

The lecture will take place at the Monmouth Museum, Friday, December 12th, at 7PM and is open to the public with paid admission or museum membership. Museum admission is $7 per person.

Can’t make it to the lecture? The show runs through January 4, 2015.

The Monmouth Museum, a private, non-profit organization, is located at 765 Newman Springs Road, in Lincroft, NJ.
For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at:

New Line: PRR’s Lancaster Cut-Off

November 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Lancaster1912_C_Key_12001912 Sanborn Map Illustrating the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off which would divert traffic away from the PRR’s congested Old Main through the city center. Map collection of the Penn State University Library.

Opening in 1883 the Lancaster Cut-Off was part of a series of mainline improvements to eliminate excessive grades, traffic congestion and operational issues associated with the original mainline through downtown Lancaster. Under the direction of chief engineer William H. Brown a two-track bypass running along the city’s north side was constructed between Dillerville and an interlocking named CG where it joined the existing mainline just west of the Conestoga River. Though originally designed to divert only through trains away from Lancaster the improved line became the preferred routing because of the continuing problems operating through the busy city center. As a result service to the station on Queen Street declined, stirring complaints from city officials who demanded better passenger rail service.

Lancaster. 007Interior view of the concourse bridge waiting area in the 1928-29 passenger station that replaced the antiquated Queen Street station facility on the Old Main.

Complaints continued well into the 20th century until city officials and the PRR began negotiations for a new passenger station to be located on the Cut-Off. Construction of the new facility began in August of 1928 and was dedicated dedication on April 27th of 1929. Situated between Lititz Pike and North Prince Street the beautiful brick and limestone colonial revival styled station featured a second floor waiting room with large arched windows and limestone walls. A concourse bridge over the mainline connected the waiting room with 2 high level platforms while baggage was moved via a subterranean tunnel and elevators from the neighboring express building located immediately west of the station.

cork_2000This plate drawing of the consolidated CORK interlocking plant circa 1963 illustrates the expansiveness of the consolidated territory which was once controlled be three separate towers. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way.

The construction of the new facility also necessitated additional track capacity since the old line would be largely abandoned after this project was complete. Sidings and runners were added to the two main tracks through the station complex. A new interlocking tower aptly named Lancaster controlled the new station trackage in addition to consolidating three existing interlocking towers: DV (Dillerville) – junction with the Old Line, Cut-off, Columbia branch and H&L to Harrisburg, CG (Conestoga) junction of the old main, cut-off and mainline east and ES – junction with the New Holland Branch and end of the four track mainline just east of the Conestoga bridge. Later renamed Cork this standard design tower of the Depression era was constructed of brick with a copper clad bay and hip roof. Inside the tower a 67 lever Union Switch & Signal Model 14 interlocking machine controlled the expansive physical plant.

Comp_LCO_SRGB_1200As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic that did not service the City of Lancaster, today the route is the sole surviving mainline for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off the grade of the Old Line can be spotted at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The expansive area around the main looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and mainline east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

Cork remained operational into the 21st century, during the Keystone Corridor rebuild several revisions to the interlocking simplified the infrastructure in the area pairing out the various control points and retrofitting the old building with new CTC like control boards mounted directly to the old interlocking machine. By the close of the first quarter of 2013 Cork’s local control was cut-over to Amtrak’s centralized dispatching center in Delaware, ending 84 years of continual service under three different railroads. Despite the loss of CORK the PRR passenger station continues to serve the city of Lancaster  undergoing a slow and expensive renovation that will renew its facade and interior while adding modern amenities like climate control and new electrical systems. It is unclear to the author if additional retail spaces will be developed in the lower level but the facility seems to be ripe with opportunity for travelers who visit the county seat, home to a vibrant arts and tourism region. Only time will tell what the final development of the Lancaster passenger station will bring but today it continues to serve its intended purpose maintaining the Pennsylvania Railroad’s presence in the city of Lancaster.

Upcoming Exhibition: Monmouth Museum

October 29, 2014 1 comment

I am very excited to announce the Monmouth Museum’s upcoming exhibition, “All Aboard, Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel” which was curated by yours truly! See below for the full press release and look forward to future posts on the artists featured in the exhibition!

Locomotive 5145 in Canadian Pacific Railway St. Luc Roundhouse, Montreal, Quebec, 1960. Photograph © David Plowden

The Monmouth Museum Presents

All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel

Curated by Michael Froio

November 16, 2014 – January 4, 2015

Opening Reception: Sunday, November 16, 3 – 5 pm

Gallery Talk with Curator Michael Froio: Friday, December 12, 7 pm

(LINCROFT, NJ) The Monmouth Museum presents All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel, curated by Michael Froio. An Opening Reception will be held on Sunday, November 16, 3 – 5 pm, and a Gallery Talk will take place on Friday, December 12 at 7 pm, with Curator Michael Froio. The Opening Reception and Gallery Talk are free of charge. We are delighted to announce the Monmouth Museum Model Train Display will make its comeback with new, improved trains and updated network of track! The Friends of Monmouth Museum will present their Annual Holiday Tree, decorated with train and railroad memorabilia!

Railroads played a vital role in the development of the United States, providing the vehicle to feed the industrial revolution, the means to bridge the east and west coasts and the ability to move the American people, goods and raw materials over a network that greatly shaped the American landscape. All Aboard! is a celebration of railroads in the American landscape detailing some of the most transformative times in railroad history. This visually stunning and informative historical exhibition features the work of eight renowned photographers, including David Plowden, Jim Shaughnessy (both on loan from The Center for Railroad Photography and Art), Ron Wright, Mel Patrick, Scott Lothes, John Sanderson, Travis Dewitz and Guest Curator Michael Froio. Also featured are vintage travel and advertising posters (on loan from the Private Collection of Bennett Levin).  All Aboard! Railroads & The Historic Landscapes They Travel is an enchanting journey through the history and nostalgia the railroads evoke and the landscape they have traveled for over 150 years.

Michael Froio is an acclaimed professional photographer, associate professor and facilities manager for the Photography Program, part of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Michael has received several grants and fellowships including a two-year Career Development Fellowship and Alumni Travel Grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists as well as a 2009 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts. Michael has published articles with the National Railway Historical Society and presented lectures for the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, The Library Company of Philadelphia and various Chapters of the National Railway Historical Society across the country.

Dillerville: Lancaster’s Western Gateway

October 9, 2014 Leave a comment

non-lcp-rau-i0066Dillerville Junction was a complex interlocking controlling access to several important lines on the PRR in the northwestern corner of Lancaster. This remarkable view looking railroad west from the Lancaster Cut-Off depicts the new line veering off to the right connecting with the H&L line to Harrisburg. The old alignment of the H&L into Dillerville and Lancaster still exists and is where Rau’s photographic train is sitting behind the interlocking tower. Straight ahead is the connection to the Columbia Branch while the tracks that fan off to the left from that line in the distance  are the original alignment and connection to the Old Main to the Queen Street station. The last line of note through the junction is the single track passing left to right in front of the tower crossing all of the PRR tracks at grade, this was the Reading Company’s Lancaster Branch, part of its Reading & Columbia Division which terminated at the foot of North Prince Street. The meticulous landscaping, track and ballast work reflect a railroad that took great pride in their physical plant. Image circa 1888 by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1835 Revolutionary War officer and Sheriff of Lancaster County, Adam Diller founded Dillerville, a one time separate settlement in Lancaster’s northwest corner. In June of the same year Diller would grant the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad a 1.5-acre plot to construct a depot. From these meager beginnings Dillerville would develop to become the western gateway of the Lancaster terminal, evolving with continual improvements after the PRR assumed control of the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroads.

Originally the location where the PRR predecessors split away heading west on their respective routes, DV interlocking as it became known, developed into a far more complex facility with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off in 1883. The second know tower in this location was completed in 1884 for the new cut-off utilizing Armstrong levers to control lower quadrant semaphore signals and switch points throughout the junction. This tower was built in the typical style of that era with Victorian details including a slate shingled hip roof and center cupola similar to surviving examples like LEMO tower now located in Strasburg, PA and SHORE at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia. DV was an important facility, directing trains to the Columbia Branch, Old Main, H&L line to Harrisburg and the Lancaster Cut-Off / Mainline east. On either side of the interlocking there were several yards servicing industries on the Old Main and the later plants of Armstrong World Industries and its predecessors. Adding to the complexity of this interlocking was an at grade crossing of the R&C division of the Reading Company who’s Lancaster Branch terminated at the foot of Prince Street in the north west corner of the city.

Dillerville_1200This view looks west depicting the first tower at Dillerville around 1880. To the left is the Columbia Branch of the former P&C  and to the right is the former H&L to Harrisburg. Note the sign on this early wood frame octagonal switch tower which proclaims an exact distance of 69 and 30/100 miles to Philadelphia and 283 and 70/100 miles to Pittsburgh. Another noteworthy detail is the early signals utilized to govern traffic at the junction. As evident from Rau’s photo in 1888 this junction would be greatly reconfigured with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-off. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In the late 1920s DV interlocking was part of a consolidation project in preparation for the opening of a new passenger station complex on the Cut-Off centralizing several towers into Lancaster Tower, which was later renamed Cork for its proximity to the PRR’s largest freight customer in the city, Crown Cork & Seal (Armstrong). Another component to this improvements program involved partial abandonment of the Old Line retaining only the segment from West Yard to the freight houses on Water Street. Dillerville Yard continued to serve as a local base of freight operations for the diverse manufacturing and agricultural consignees in the city and beyond on both the mainline and New Holland branch.

Dillerville_Comp_SRGB copyViews looking east and west from the footbridge off Liberty Street in the Dillerville area of Lancaster. (L) Looking west on the Old Main one can see the catenary poles of the Lancaster Cut-Off in the distance coming in from the right. At DV interlocking this line crossed at grade with the Columbia Branch and connected to the former H&L to head west to Harrisburg. (R) Looking east was the remaining segment of the former Old Main which recently terminated at the foot of Mulberry Street and Harrisburg Avenue. Here a bulk transfer trestle, crew base and engine storage area were all recently abandoned when NS completed the new H. Craig Lewis yard part of  the Lancaster Northwest Gateway redevelopment project. 

In 2009 Norfolk Southern, successor of PRR operations in the area (through the purchase of Conrail) began a major reconfiguration of Dillerville Yard in order to accommodate the $75 million Lancaster Northwest Gateway Project, which is developing acres of unused brown fields to provide expansion opportunities for both Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin & Marshal College. Earlier this year the last of the remaining PRR era facilities including the pedestrian bridge, trans-load facility and engine terminal were abandoned after NS dedicated new facilities in a yard named after the late H. Craig Lewis state senator and former NS VP of corporate affairs. Part of more than a century of urban renewal the Northwest Gateway Project is the last effort in removing all rail activity from the city center including the industries the railroads once served completing an effort that began in the 1880’s with the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off.

Lancaster Terminal: The Old Main

September 25, 2014 2 comments

Lancaster_001_1200Postcard view of the ornate Victorian styled PRR station located at N. Queen and E. Chestnut Streets in the city of Lancaster. Collection of the author. 

Lancaster Old Main: The original mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad made a gentle southern arc from the area of Dillerville in the northwest corner of the city limits to where it crossed the Conestoga in the northeast, intersecting busy streets through the growing city of Lancaster. The line was the combination of routes built by the Philadelphia & Columbia (P&C) and Harrisburg & Lancaster (H&L) railroads. The P&C, part of the state built Mainline of Public Works, was a through route connecting Philadelphia to the east and Columbia to the west. The H&L was an early private venture that terminated in Lancaster connecting the P&C via its own mainline directly to Elizabethtown and Harrisburg. Shortly after the charter and beginning of construction on the mainline between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh the PRR contracted a 20-year agreement with the H&L in 1848, part of an effort to secure a direct route to Philadelphia. J. Edgar Thompson would accomplished this goal when the PRR finally assumed operations of the P&C in 1857, part of its $7.5 million purchase of the Mainline of Public Works. With the reorganization of both lines into the PRR, traffic patterns west from Lancaster evolved to a pattern familiar to contemporary operations with passenger trains favoring the more direct H&L and the P&C for freight traffic.

Lancaster1912_D_MapCongestedDistrict_Detail copy1912 Sanborn map detail showing the congested area surrounding the original alignment of the Philadelphia and Columbia route which became the PRR’s original mainline through Lancaster. The station was located at Queen and Chestnut Streets (location 25 on the map) and the freight terminal was on the corner of Prince and Walnut Streets (upper left from station). Map collection of the Penn State University Library

After the PRR purchased the P&C it immediately took initiatives to replace primitive station facilities run out of a local inn. The result was a beautiful train shed and station built between Queen and North Christian Streets parallel to Chestnut Street. While a drastic improvement from previous arrangements it would prove to be a stopgap measurement for the fast growing railroad. Larger operational issues existed to the west of the station in a maze of trackage servicing both PRR owned freight houses and numerous industries most of which was at grade with the city streets. Adding to the congestion was the connection to the Quarryville Branch and interchange with the Reading Company’s R&C Division all within the city limits.

Composit_LancImages detailing both the freight terminal and industrial tracks the spurred off the mainline (left) and the western view from the passenger station shed looking out on the crossing of N. Queen Street. These images reinforce the complicated and dangerous operating conditions the city and railroad faced on a daily basis. Both images courtesy of, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Serving as the sole through route into the 1880’s the PRR addressed the limitations of the Old Main by constructing a bypass known as the Lancaster Cut-Off. After the 1883 opening of this new route only trains serving Lancaster navigated the city route. Despite the growth and increasing need for more rail transportation the unfortunate reality was the mighty PRR was diverting more and more trains away from the Queen Street station in favor of the new by-pass. The net result meant mounting political pressure on the PRR from city government to provide residents and visitors improved rail transportation, an issue  that would continue well into the 1920’s. This era marks the beginning of an effort of urban renewal that continues to change how people and the railroads interface with the city of Lancaster. In future posts we will continue the discussion of how and when the PRR diverted operations away from the Old Main and how successors have continued to revise and improve local facilities and operations.


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