Preserving the legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

March 24, 2015 3 comments

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16×12” large format prints incredibly rare.

gutekunst-p-2014-74-61-tempPlate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst’s photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

Gutekunst-P-9058-56On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst’s work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

PRR manageme team members copyDavid St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst’s work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19th Century. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Watershed Project – Upcoming Exhibition

810btown_bluffs copyBluffs on Crosswicks Creek, near Bordentown, New Jersey. This is one of 14  images from the Watershed series that will be part of an exhibition at the Perkins Center for Arts – Collingswood. The show opens Saturday, March 14th with a reception from 6-9pm.

Watershed: The southern half of the Delaware River Basin is steeped in history, once the backbone of shipping and manufacturing and home to countless communities along its banks. The Delaware itself and the many unremarked tributaries that feed into it play host to a diverse Eco system that thrives along side industrial sites, refineries and countless miles of swamp and unremarked landscapes covered in bay grass, scrub pines and oaks. There is a feeling of emptiness in these landscapes, an absence of human life. Scars left behind from dredging dumps and brownfield sites only highlight nature’s resilience to recover these swaths, its ability to thrive even under the duress of neighboring highway noise, pollution and encroaching housing developments. The Watershed Project is about the beauty of the benign and unremarked place challenging our perception of the natural landscape while celebrating an important resource of the greater Delaware Valley.

I am excited to announce that I will be included in a three person exhibition that will open next Saturday, March 14th at the Perkins Center for the Arts in their Collingswood location.  Along with artists Keith Yahrling and Amy Becker I will be showing work from the Watershed Project. The exhibition runs from March 14 – May 2, 2015 with an opening reception on Saturday, March 14 from 6-9 pm. The Perkins Collingswood facility is located at 30 Irvin Ave., Collingswood, NJ 08108. Normal exhibition hours are Tuesdays & Thursdays 10 am – 2 pm, Saturday 10am – 2 pm. The exhibition and opening is free and open to the public. Collingswood offers some terrific options for dining so its a perfect opportunity to get out for a night of art and entertainment. Hope to see you there!

Lecture Next Week | Harrisburg Chapter NRHS


I am happy to announce that I’ll be presenting  a slide show and discussion on my ongoing photographic project, From the Mainline: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Inspired by the work of photographer William H. Rau, who was commissioned in the 1890’s to document the PRR and its destinations, the project explores the transitioning landscape along the former PRR mainline from New York to Pittsburgh, highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the PRR. Using large format film based images this project combines historical research and imagery to present a creative documentation of one of the most celebrated railroads in American history for both exhibition and web format. Attendees will also be treated to some of the recent commission work I have been doing for Conrail Shared Assets and some behind the scenes insight on the production of a long term video and time lapse documentation project.

The NRHS was founded in 1935 by a group of rail historians. It has since grown from 40 founding members to include over 13,000 men and women of all ages and professions in every state and many foreign countries, making it the nation’s largest rail preservation and historical society. The Harrisburg Chapter is one of roughly 160 around the country, and widely recognized for its remarkable and innovative preservation efforts including the restoration of Harris Tower and the creation of a interactive installation combining the old interlocking machine with 21st Century technology to recreate the working environment of one of the PRR’s busiest towers. For more information about the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, their activities or to plan a trip to the Harris Tower museum visit their website.

The lecture, on March 10th, 2015, is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s meeting is free and open to the public and will begin at 7PM at the Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse, 743 Wertzville Road, Enola, Pennsylvania

For more information please contact me directly at

Delair Project: Highlight Video Is Live!

February 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Click to view the highlight video release of Delair Project!

The Delair project highlights are live! This documentation included fourteen months of work, at times utilizing up to three photographers, working a total of over 800 man-hours to capture 10 terabytes of imagery through bitter cold, snow, rain and miserable heat, day and night. I would like to thank the people at Conrail and all the contractors and consultants for their assistance and patience, without them this project would not have been possible. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Samuel Markey who was an integral part of the entire production and Michael Legrand who’s aerial footage added another dynamic to this already massive undertaking. Please click the image above to check out the highlights of the Delair Improvements Project and as always feedback is much appreciated!

Thank you for your time and support!

Michael Froio
Michael Froio Photography, LLC

Delair Bridge Project: Upcoming Release

February 5, 2015 Leave a comment

In the spirit of anticipation I am excited to announce the release of four trailer videos this week for the upcoming public debut of work from the 14 month project documenting the rebuilding of Conrail Shared Assets Delair Bridge. The Delair Bridge, completed in 1896 and heavily modified in the late 1950’s is a vital link between Conrail’s South Jersey operations and parent companies CSX and Norfolk Southern’s transportation networks. With this upgrade Conrail can now handle heavier loads and larger trains fostering economic growth in Southern New Jersey. This project is part of an $18.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant awarded to the South Jersey Ports by the US Department of Transportation.

I was initially asked to provide a basic documentation for the project which grew into a major production conducted over 6 – three day/ 72 hour scheduled outages where up to 13 bridge spans were replaced and track renewed. As you can imagine a project of this scope cannot be done by one person; I was fortunate enough to work with two other very talented Drexel Photography graduates; Samuel Markey (Class of 2011) who contributed his extensive knowledge of time lapse production, shooting and editing and Michael Legrand (Class of 2000) who provided aerial footage which added an amazing element to the documentation. At times we utilized up to six cameras to capture the various crafts working together to meet the tight deadlines the railroad required in order to minimize service disruptions. Several contractors including Cornell Steel, Thackray Crane and Railworks were managed by Jacobs Engineering to complete scheduled work within the allotted 72 hour slot through snow, rain, extreme temperatures and physical conditions. Next week you can expect more trailer releases and the finished highlight reel which is slated to go live late in the week. I hope you enjoy the work! As always please feel free to comment and share!

Last week for Monmouth Museum Exhibition!

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

bnsf_izaak_walton_inn_night copyThe Izaak Walton Inn was constructed by the Great Northern Railway in 1939 just outside of Glacier National Park near Essex, Montana. This image is one of several by contemporary photographer Travis Dewitz included in the exhibition “All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel” at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. Image courtesy of Travis Dewitz.

If you have not had a chance please take the time to visit the Monmouth Museum to view the exhibition “All Aboard! Railroads and the Historic Landscapes They Travel”. This visually stunning and informative exhibition will be on view for another week, closing January 4th, 2015. For hours and additional information, please call the Museum at 732-747-2266, or visit the website at: Museum admission is $7 per person

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

Merry Christmas from the Mainline !

December 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Coatesville_1The railroad never stops, nor does the industry it serves. In the shadow of the Coatesville bridge spanning the west branch of the Brandywine River the former Lukens steel mill hums with activity around the clock providing jobs for people in the surrounding communities. As we enjoy the company of family during the holidays, men and women leave home to work in the plant day and night, producing specialized steel to build America’s bridges, buildings and infrastructure. For some, working through the holidays seems unthinkable, to the folks in the steel or transportation industry its business as usual. Whether you are home with loved ones or on the job, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas !



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