Elk County Railroads

Excerpt from History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.

Railroads: Philadelphia & Erie Railroad – Sunbury & Erie Railroad- Pittsburgh & New York Railroad

The Philadelphia & Erie Railroad was chartered April 3, 1837, as the Sunbury & Erie, and the work of construction was commenced in 1852. The whole line was opened October 17, 1864. In January, 1862, it was leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at 30 per cent of the gross earnings. In 1870 the lessors agreed to receive the net revenue. The total length is 287.56 miles.

A letter dated Ridgway, December 23, 1846, signed by Leonard Morey and Henry Souther, advises Ignatius Garner of his appointment as delegate to the Philadelphia railroad convention of 1847, from Elk county, the convention being called to consider measures for the completion of the Sunbury & Erie Railroad. In July, 1851, a railroad meeting was held at J. Luhr’s house, St. Mary’s, George Weis presided, with Philip Stephan and Ed. Babel, vice-presidents, and C. Luhr, secretary. Books were opened and $8,100 subscribed. An address by E. C. Schultz was followed by an increase of subscriptions to S15,500. Ignatius Garner, John Susenbonner, A. Stockman and others favored the building of the Sunbury & Erie road. At Ridgway M. L. Ross, Dr. C. H. Fuller, Maj. Maginnis, H. A. Parsons, Charles Horton and George Dickinson were the leaders in favor of subscribing to this road, while the pioneers of Benezette also favored it.

A convention of delegates from the townships was held February 17, 1852. This convention instructed the commissioners to subscribe to the stock of the Sunbury & Erie Railroad Company. Negotiations were at once entered into, and on September 6, 1852, a subscription of $100,000 was authorized, subject to the confirmation by a general meeting of citizens to be held October 5, that year. This meeting ratified the action of the commissioners, and on October S the grand jury authorized a subscription of $39,383 to the stock of the Allegheny Valley Railroad Company, and the commissioners acquiesced. In May, 1853, bonds for the latter subscription were issued, and in July $20, 000 bonds of the former subscription were signed.

Thomas L. Kane was one of the directors of the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad Company. To him is credited the discovery of the low summit of the mountains in McKean county. In 1856 he came to spend the summer at Williamsville, and while there studied the geological structure of the country, and planned the line of the Big Level road as well as of many of the railroads of McKean and Elk counties. The location of the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad as at present constructed, has been questioned by a number of engineers. Be this as it may, the .present line with its first prominent summit at West creek, north of St. Mary’s, at an elevation of 1,695 feet, and its more western summit at Kane, with an elevation of 2,020 feet, shows a much more preferable line than those preliminary surveys run to the north, of which Col. Jarret’s was one with the eastern summit at an elevation of 225 feet higher than the present highest summit at Kane.

On June 23, 1863, S. Wimmer came to Elk county as principal assistant engineer of the Pennsylvania company, to complete the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad from Whatham to Warren; of which E. Miller and Milton Courtright were chief contractors. In July, 1864, the road was practically completed; but not until March, 1865, did Mr. Wimmer sever his connection with the road, owing to his acceptance of a position as engineer on the Vera Cruz railroad, where the Wimmer bridge stands as one of the memorials of his work near La Cumbres de Maltrata. In March, 1869, he took charge of the building of the Benezette and Driftwood division of the Low Grade, and subsequently of the road from Benezette to DuBois, which was completed in 1874.

The railroad accident of April 7, 1875, resulted in the death of Adam Brehm. The accident occurred just east of Rathbun. The accident east of the railroad bridge at Ely’s mill, of November 1, 1877, when the day express ran into the Empire freight, resulted in the death of Calvin P. Shearer, and William Collins, engineers; Morris Farrell, fireman, and William Stevens, brakeman; and William Gallagher, fireman on freight. P. C. Oyster, a passenger, escaped, like other passengers with some little injury.

The wreck of August 11, 1889, occurred just above Whistletown. Bert Anderson, an Erie brakeman, of Bradford, was buried beneath the wreckage where he was found dead that Sunday evening. It is said that his invalid wife had warned him not to go on the trip, feeling that he would never return alive. He too, felt very uneasy, for on bidding her good-bye he promised her that he would leave off railroading on his return. He said this would be his last trip. The locomotives telescoped each other, and were twisted into a mass of crushed and broken iron. Ten cars of the Erie train and fifteen of the Philadelphia & Erie train shared the fate of the engines. The wreckage was piled high upon the track, and soon caught fire. Two cars loaded with naphtha were ignited, and with a loud explosion increased the extent of the blaze. The fifteen cars of the Philadelphia & Erie were about all consumed in the flames, while the Erie cars fared better.

In July, 1881, work commenced on the Pittsburg & New York Railroad between Ridgway and Whistletown. The line was projected from a point opposite Red Bank creek to Mahoniug creek, and thence by Brockwayville and Ridgway to Bradford. The building of this road led to much trouble, but a truce was called. At midnight, on April 14, 1882, the truce between the New York, Lake Erie & Western and the Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad Companies was broken, and by the morning of the 15th a quarter-mile of track was constructed on the disputed right of way between Ridgway and Johnsonburg. By May 4 there were two miles of track placed between Ridgway and Whistletown, and on May 6 the quarrel was settled by the New York, Lake Erie & Western Company relinquishing all claim to right of way between the towns on the west side of the Clarion, agreeing to run over the Philadelphia & Erie between the points named, while the Rochester & Pittsburgh surrendered an equal length of their line from Ridgway to the mouth of the Toby.

The accident on the Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad, at Rasselas. twenty-five miles southeast of Bradford, took place July 1, 1883. S. N. Toles, conductor, Michael Downs, brakeman, B. A. Clement, George Quinn, Adamo Angelo and Sam I. McKee, all of Bradford, except the Italian, were killed outright, and John Collins, mortally wounded, died July 2. The accident was caused by the rear portion of a heavy freight breaking away from the main train, and rushing down a grade of fifty-eight feet per mile dash into the second division driven by Patrick Downs, who instantly reversed the engine and jumped for his life.

The Daguscahonda Railroad, though a short one, has played an important part in the development of a large section of the country. Dr. C. R. Earley was superintendent in 1871, and like other progressive enterprises in which he is interested, made this a success. In August, 1871, Track-walker Dan Downs fell asleep on the track, four miles from Ridgway, and was killed by the express train. The Daguscahonda Railroad accident of September 30, 1871, resulted in the wreck of six freight cars. On February 3, 1872, Patrick McTige was killed at Ridgway depot.

The Low Grade Division of the Allegheny Valley Railroad was completed from Driftwood, Cameron county, to the mouth of Red Bank creek in Clarion county, in 1874. The Ridgway & Clearfield Railroad, 27.23 miles in length to Falls Creek was opened November 9, 1883, but its extension of 7.64 miles was not completed until 1885. .. . In August, 1883, it was proposed to extend the McKean & Buffalo Railroad from Clermont to Johnsonburg under the name of Clermont & Johnsonburg Railroad, Byron D. Hamlin being president.

The Wilcox & Burningwell Railroad Company was organized in March, 1886. – . . The Johnsonburg Railroad Company was chartered in March, 1887, to build a road from Johnsonburg to Clermont in McKean county, eighteen miles, then to connect with the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railroad. In July, 1889, the road was completed and leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Several important points at which stations have already been located are Glen Hazel, Instanter (new) and Clermont. This new connection is used mainly as a feeder in the interest of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

A standard gauge railroad is to be built from Portland to Hallton, thirteen miles, by Andrew Kaul, J. K. P. Hall, W. H. Hyde, J. K. Gardner and others. In March, 1890, B. E. Wellendorf made a preliminary survey of the route. A tannery at Carroan and several large saw-mills it is said, will follow. The Clarion River Railway Company elected, in February, 1890, J. K. Gardner, vice-president; J. K. P. Hall, secretary and treasurer; B. E. Wellendorf, engineer, and Harry Alvan Hall, general manager.