Westmoreland county is abundantly supplied with railroads. Nearly the one-sixth of the Pennsylvania road between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia lies within its bounds. It was the first railroad across the county, built in the early days of railroad making, and it has been a prominent factor in the development of our industries. From the earliest history to the present time the problem of transportation has taxed the resources and the ingenuity of mankind. In our state, as we have seen, it was a tedious journey from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. First came pack-horses, and these in time were supplanted by wagons and stagecoaches. The best stage-coach time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia did not vary much from fifty-six hours. With the building of the railroad the time was at once reduced to twelve hours, and even this has since been greatly shortened.
The building of the Pennsylvania was one of the first railroad projects in America. On March 31, 1823, our legislature incorporated a company to build a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia, a town situated on the Susquehanna river in Lancaster county. The distance was about eighty miles. It was not built for some years afterwards, but its agitation helped to prepare the public mind, and thus contributed greatly to its ultimate success. Among its incorporators were Horace Binney and Stephen Girard of Philadelphia. John Stevens, of New Jersey, was the leading spirit in the enterprise. At that time the majority of our people had no faith in railroads. They truly regarded agriculture as the basis of all wealth, and reasoned that steam transportation would injure the sale of oats, horses, etc. But New York in 1826 had completed the Erie canal, which connected the Northern Lakes with New York city, and our Pennsylvania legislators were bright enough to see that something must be done or the western trade would all go that way to the seaboard. The Erie canal was already carrying seventy million dollars worth of western products to the East each year. In 1828, therefore, the canal commissioners were directed to complete a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia within two years, and to examine a route over the Allegheny mountains with the ultimate purpose of thus reaching the navigable waters of the Ohio river at Pittsburgh. The Erie canal was a sad blow to Philadelphia and to our state in general, for it stimulated the New York trade at the expense of Pennsylvania. Out state therefore appropriated two millions of dollars for the project of opening a way between the Ohio river and Philadelphia. It was a large sum for that day, but the legislature was equal to the emergency. They continued the charter of the Bank of Pennsylvania for eighteen years on an agreement that the bank would lend the state four millions of dollars at five and one-half per centum interest. This money all went into canals and railroads between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. With it was built the Columbia road and also the Portage railroad across the Allegheny mountains. Thus they triumphed over a most serious barrier between the East and West. Under the circumstances the "Old Portage Road" has not been surpassed by railroad building in America. It consisted of eleven levels or grade lines, and ten inclined planes. The cars were pulled over the levels by locomotives, and were pulled up the incline planes by wire ropes attached to stationary engines at the tops. It was operated for twenty years, and was the wonder of America. From Johnstown going east, the five inclines, with an aggregate length of 9670 feet, raised the train 800 feet: the five inclines on the eastern slope of the mountain, with aggregate length of 13,499 feet, lowered it 1202 feet. The levels between the inclines were constructed so as to gradually raise or lower the train, that is, they were not quite level. Thus, by means of these two railroads and the canals, they opened up a continuous line of travel and transportation from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh as early as 1834. The line consisted of a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia, eighty-two miles: then came the canal, 172 miles long, reaching from Columbia to Hollidaysburg: then the Portage road from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown, thirty-six miles: and a canal from Johnstown across the northern part of Westmoreland county to Pittsburgh, a distance of 104 miles, making in all 394 miles. Freight, of course, had to be handled with every transfer, and its transportation was slow and expensive. The state had expended about fourteen million dollars on the project, and never realized anything of value from it by way of dividends. But it was of untold benefit to the country through which it passed, and by the development of out resources, the state was in the end an abundant gainer.
Almost as soon as a this route was finished, a project was set on foot and agitated to construct a railroad all the way, that is, to supplant the canals with railroads.
On March 6, 1838, a general convention was held in Harrisburg to urge the building of the road to Pittsburgh. Delegates were present from twenty-nine counties, and a good many from Ohio. Thus the matter was agitated, and not long after Mr. Charles L. Schlatter was appointed by the canal commissioners to survey and determine the best route upon which to build a railroad to the west. In 1840 he reported three routes which he had surveyed, one of which followed the Juniata and, crossing the mountains, passed down the Conemaugh. This was thought to be the best route. It was he and his survey which first demonstrated conclusively that the Allegheny mountains could be crossed without using inclined planes. The project did not assume a tangible shape till 1846, when, on April 13, the act incorporating the Pennsylvania Railroad Company was passed by our legislature. On February 25, 1847, Governor Francis R. Shunk granted a charter to the company, and work was soon begun at both ends, that is at Pittsburgh and at Harrisburg, the grading of fifteen miles east of the former city being let on the 22nd day of July. On September 17, 1850, the road was opened to Hollidaysburg, where it connected with the Portage road across the mountains. In August, 1851, twenty-one miles west from Johnstown were finished, and this, with the part built east from Pittsburgh, left a gap on only about twenty-eight miles to complete the entire road. The year following this gap was closed up, and on December 10, 1852, the cars began to run through from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The Portage road was still used by which to cross the mountain, but by February 15, 1854, the road over the mountains was finished, and trains passed through from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia without using the inclined planes.
The Allegheny mountains had for twenty-five years been considered an insurmountable barrier. Its completion was of great advantage to Westmoreland county and its industries. Otherwise we should not so long have dwelt on its construction. A great deal of credit for its construction is due our early representatives and senators in the legislature. They were men of much more than average ability and influence in public affairs. Those who represented Westmoreland were vigilant in looking after the interests of their county, and managed to have it included in all the great railroad and canal building schemes undertaken by the commonwealth.
Public meetings were held in Greensburg, one as early as April 19, 1836, to express the desire of the people to have the railroad pass through Westmoreland and through Greensburg. Such agitation was not unnecessary, nor were they without reason. Schlatter was then surveying, and from his examinations reported a route south of the present location, which would have passed only through the southern part of the county. This route had moreover been reported as a feasible one by Hother Hage, a distinguished engineer, some years prior to Schlatter's survey. This was called the southern route. But Schlatter also reported a third route, called the northern route, which passed up the Susquehanna and down the Allegheny to Pittsburgh. While this route was longer than either of the others, it had one advantage which appealed to all, viz.: by a short branch to the northwest lake Erie, with all the commerce on the northern lakes then passing through New York, could be reached, and doubtless this commerce could be diverted and drawn over the proposed Pennsylvania Railroad. The survey of the road through our county was made by Charles De Hass, and it was he who in January, 1837, first reported in favor of the route passing through Greensburg.
The grading of the road near Greensburg began in 1849. The tunnel at Greensburg and the immense fills east and west, made it one of the most difficult and expensive sections west of the Allegheny mountains. The contractor was Michael Malone. The section west of Greensburg, which included the old Radebaugh tunnel, was let by contract to Richard McGrann, Jr. Charles McCausland was contractor for the next section eastward, including the "cut" near the old fair grounds. It required about three years to complete the work near Greensburg on account of the heavy fills, etc., above referred to. All the earth for these fills was hauled there in carts. A strike occurred in November, 1850, the report of which shows something of the wages paid laborers employed on the work. When the days began to shorten with approaching winter, the contractors reduced the wages from one dollar per day to 87 ½ cents per day, and a general strike was inaugurated. As in usual in such cases, the men went to work again after a week's idleness, at the reduced rates.
The first locomotive which entered Westmoreland county came from the West, that is from Pittsburgh. It had been made in the East, and taken to Pittsburgh in pieces on canal boats. It arrived at Radebaugh's near Greensburg, on Monday, July 5, 1852. Its coming had been widely heralded, and men and women came from all sections of the county to witness the unprecedented event. Most of them had never seen a locomotive before, and many a level headed visitor studied it with deep and curious interest trying to discover the secret of its hidden strength. On Thursday, July 15, 1852, trains began to run regularly from Radebaugh's to Pittsburgh and return. The daily train left the "station" at 6 o'clock a.m., and reached Pittsburgh twenty-nine miles, in two hours. It returned again in the evening, leaving Pittsburgh at 6:30, and reaching Radebaugh's at 8 o'clock. The fare each way was eighty cents.
A few months later, on November 29, was the eventful day for Greensburg, so far as railroad building was concerned. It will be understood that the train from Pittsburgh stopped at Radebaugh's two miles west of Greensburg, because the immense fill immediately west of Greensburg was not completed. On November 29, it had been finished, and the locomotive passed over it and through the tunnel and over the embankments east of the tunnel. It passed over them very slowly, going over them several times, perhaps each time with more assurance and speed, to test the solidity of the massive piles of earth and stone. Later in the day the train passed over the entire length of the road through the county. It was a great event. For almost a generation they had been talking about and projecting it. Now, at last, it was a reality. Citizens of all ages, men, women and children, gathered at the stations or along the line, to see this wonder of the nineteenth century. Not alone was the railroad a curiosity among the people of the rural sections when it first made its appearance. Though poorly equipped and only in embryonic form of what we have today, travel by railroad was the marvel of the age.
The celebrated abolitionist, Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio, one of the ablest lawyers and statesmen of his day, when on his way to Washington, in November, 1838, to assume the duties of his long and noted career in Congress, took his first ride on a railroad. The experience was so remarkable to him that he made the following note of it in his journal. Its uniqueness entitles it to a prominent place in any railroad literature.
"At eleven o'clock about one hundred and twenty passengers, seated in three cars, carrying form forty to sixty passengers each, started upon the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for Washington. The cars are well carpeted and the seats cushioned. We had also a stove in each car which rendered them comfortably warm. Thus seated, some conversing in groups, others reading newspapers, and some from loss of sleep in traveling, sleeping in their seats, we were swept along at the rate of fifteen miles per hour. At the usual time our candles were lighted and we presented the appearance of three drawing rooms filled with guests traveling by land. At about seven o'clock we arrived at Washington City. The moment we stopped we were surrounded on every side with runners, porters, hackmen and servants, one calling to know if you would go to Gadsby's, another if you would go to Brown's, another if you would take a hack, etc. They are a source of great annoyance, which the police ought to prevent."
The Pennsylvania Railroad enters Westmoreland county at its most eastern point, in St. Clair township, passing through that township through the borough of New Florence; thence through Fairfield township, by the banks of the Conemaugh river, through Lockport and Bolivar; thence into Derry township to Branch, where it takes a southwestwardly course through Derry township, passing through Millwood, Derry, Bradenville, and Latrobe, where it crosses the Loyalhanna, and passes west across Unity township; thence in a westwardly direction through Hempfield township, passing through Greensburg, Grapeville, Jeannette, Penn Station, Manor, Irwin, and Larimer, in North Huntingdon township; thence northwest, passing out of Westmoreland county west of Trafford City, in North Huntingdon township.
The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad enters the county at the northwest part of Rostraver township, and traverses the western part of the township close to the Monongahela river, passing through the borough of Monessen, leaving the county at the southwest corner of Rostraver township.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad enters the county in the southwest portion of South Huntingdon township, and runs northward along the Youghiogheny river, passing the borough of West Newton; thence through the western part of Sewickley township, leaving the county north of Robbins Station, in North Huntingdon township.
The South-West Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad begins at Greensburg, running southwest through Hempfield township; thence southeast through East Huntingdon township, passing the towns of Youngwood, New Stanton, Hunker, Ruffsdale, Tarr, Alverton, etc., to Scottdale.
The Sewickley Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad leaves the South-West Branch at Youngwood, running southwest through Hempfield and Mt. Pleasant townships to Unity and Tranger. Branches run also to Mammoth, in Mt. Pleasant township, to Humphries and Klondike in Unity township, and to the Hecklas.
The Hempfield Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad begins at South Greensburg, and runs north, and thence southwest through a rich coal field to Arona, in Sewickley township. It also connects with the main line of the Pennsylvania at Radebaugh and Irwin.
The Youghiogheny Railroad, with one terminus at Irwin, extending south through North Huntingdon township; thence through Sewickley township, intersecting the Baltimore & Ohio at Lock No. 4, in the southwest part of Sewickley township.
The Unity Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad leaves the main line at Latrobe, runs southward through Unity township, to Baggley and Lippincott.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad has a branch extending from near Scottdale passing through the southern part of East Huntingdon township, passing Bridgeport and Mt. Pleasant, extending to the Standard Mines of Mt. Pleasant township.
The Pennsylvania Railroad has a branch extending through East Huntingdon township from Scottdale to Mt. Pleasant.
The Ligonier Valley Railroad has one of its termini at Latrobe, extending southeast through Derry township along the banks of the Loyalhanna, through Ligonier township to Ligonier, a distance of ten miles.
The Turtle Creek branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad leaves the main line at Trafford City, passing northwest through North Huntingdon, Penn and Franklin townships, to Murryville; thence east through Franklin township to Export and New Salem.
The Allegheny Valley Railroad enters the county at the northern part of Allegheny township, passes southeast along the Kiskiminetas river, with stations at Hyde Park, and Vandergrift, and through the northern part of Washington township in a southeasterly course, through Bell township to Avonmore.
The Pittsburgh, Westmoreland and Somerset Railroad has its northern terminus at Ligonier, extending south through Ligonier and Cook townships to Somerset.
The Westmoreland Central Railroad has its southern terminus at Ligonier, extending north through Ligonier township to the coal mines of the Colonial Coal and Coke Company.
The Alexandria Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad leaves the mail line at Donohoe, runs north through Unity township to Crabtree.
Source: Page(s) 279-284, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed November 2000 by Kat Lowrie for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Kat Lowrie for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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