There are five National Monuments/Memorials in this part of Pennsylvania and today we set out to see the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.
First a little history from the NPS site (http://www.nps.gov/alpo/index.htm):
In the early 1800’s travel and trade was done by Conestoga wagons. This was the best means of transportation at that time. It took 23 days to get from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, when the dirt roads were in good condition.
In the mid-1820’s the state of New York built a canal system which let trade become more efficient. This was known as the Erie Canal. Pennsylvania’s business in trading relations dropped and plans began for building their own canal system. In February 1826 the Mainline of Public Works was authorized by the Pennsylvania legislature to begin the building of canals from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. There was only one problem with the building of the canals: the Allegheny Mountains. How could a canal system be built through or over the mountains?
The first plan was to build a four mile tunnel through the bottom of the mountain, but this was found costly and unrealistic. Tunnel building was new and it was questionable if water could be kept in the tunnel. It was decided to build a railroad system of ten inclined planes, 5 ascending and 5 descending. This system was modeled after a similar system in England.
The railroad was equipped with ten incline planes, five on each side of the mountain. At the head of each inclined plane were stationary engines, which moved endless ropes to pull the railroad cars up the mountain. This incline system was used because the locomotives of this time did not have the power to pull the cars up the steep mountains. Locomotives were used on the more level areas of the mountain. The Allegheny Portage Railroad was 36 miles in length connecting the Hollidaysburg Canal Basin with the basin at Johnstown where canals finished the Public Works system into Pittsburgh.
The Portage Railroad officially opened March 18, 1834. It then became possible to travel from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 4 days. The total cost of the Public Works system was $16,504,655.84. The railroad system was $1,828,461.38. The railroad and canal system spurred trade in Pennsylvania. The system carried raw materials to the east and manufactured goods to the west. With the building of the Mainline of Public Works Pennsylvania began an era of prosperity leading to the creation of one of the greatest industrial states in the nation. The Allegheny Portage Railroad and the Public Works system ran for twenty years, from 1834-1854.
On February 15,1854, the Pennsylvania Railroad company had completed its all rail line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad took business from the Public Works system. The new Pennsylvania Railroad had no inclines and was only on rails, no water. The Public Works system was unprofitable. May 16,1857 the legislature passed an act for the sale of the Main Line of the Public Works. On June 15, 1857 the PA railroad company purchased the system for $7,500,000 and took possession on August 1,1857.
Our first stop was to the visitor center for their exhibits and another great movie about the history and building of the Portage Railroad.
From there we took the trail to Incline Plane No. 6 and the Engine House.
Looking down the incline towards the Skew Arch Bridge. Can you imagine pulling the canal boats up this incline?:
The Engine House:
Inside the Engine House:
Out the other side on to the Level:
An example of one of the sleepers. These rocks were hand drilled and were many places throughout the site:
The first floor is open to the public and most of it has been restored to its original based on their research. The second floor houses the archives. According to the one Ranger, the second floor was the living quarters of all the owners and was extensively changed (it would take too much money to bring back to the original),
The main foyer:
The main dining area:
The fancy parlor (oo-la-la ):
That yellow is the original color - and it was not pretty. I asked the Ranger about the color and was told that this yellow hid the cigarette/cigar smoke stains plus it reflected candlelight quite well. Interesting.
From there we went to the Skewed Arch Bridge:
The stonework is beautiful. Imagine this was built over 150 years ago and still stands. When US-22 first came through this area, engineers changed their plans in order to preserve the Bridge. The highway now bends around the Bridge (although it is now old US22).
Looking up the Incline to the Engine House:
Our last stop for the day was Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark.
“In the mid 1840's the use of steam locomotives to move people and goods westward was beginning to replace canal systems in Pennsylvania. Under the leadership of John Edgar Thompson, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company began to put railroad infrastructure across the Commonwealth, but were stopped in their tracks at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains near Altoona. In order to conquer the massive land blocks, Thompson devised an engineering plan that used the landscape and the hands of 450 Irish immigrant workers to create what is known today as the Horseshoe Curve. Opened officially on February 15, 1854, the Curve remains one of the most important components of the mainline, owned and operated by Norfolk Southern. For over 150 years the Curve has shipped freight and passengers to the west, and because of its location, the Curve offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain landscapes and of the valley below. It also offers trackside viewing of trains, which has made it a destination for rail lovers for decades. Since its renovation in 1992 with the help of the National Park Service, the viewing area beside the tracks of the Horseshoe Curve offers a ride on the incline to go trackside, upper and lower picnic areas, and a visitors center.”
View from the air:
We had lunch at the picnic area then took the tram to the top:
The view from the top:
There were quite a few folks watching the trains - really cool. Here is one of the trains coming round the bend:
And continuing around the other bend:
We hung out for a while, watched a few trains, talked to a few folks, then walked back down to the museum where we went thru the exhibits and saw a movie on the building of the curve.
One of the exhibits that I found interesting:
Another great day in Pennsylvania’s History!
Back home, we started a campfire, cooked supper over the fire, and enjoyed the rest of the evening at the fire. We did get some new neighbors and spent some time chatting with them.
Tomorrow is Tunnel Day so stay tuned and enjoy today.