History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 09

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2017 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email




One of the first matters to which the attention of the county officials was called after it had been organized was the building of roads. As early as 1772 a road had been built from Northumberland to Lycoming Creek and in 1792 the famous Williamson Road from Williamsport to Painted Post, N. Y., was finished. Soon after the erection of the county another was constructed from Lycoming Creek to what is now the village of Linden and this subsequently became a part of the highway up the river to Lock Haven and beyond. Another was projected up Lycoming Creek, one up Loyalsock Creek and still another up Muncy Creek. What was known as the State Road was also constructed about this time from Williamsport to Painted Post by another route than that followed by the Williamson Road and was much shorter.

One of the most important of those built at this time was what was known as the Genesee Road. It started at Muncy and ran thence by Huntersville and Highland Lake and on to Towanda Creek, where it intersected another road leading up the North Branch of the Susquehanna. Another important artery was the famous Coudersport Pike, which ran from Jersey Shore to Coudersport in Potter County through an unbroken wilderness. This road was afterwards used by the lumbermen who conducted their operations in the fastness of the great Black Forest. Other roads of lesser importance were soon projected and finished but most of them were not more than bridle paths and it was only by slow degrees that the network of highways tapping every part of the county was completed.

Under the road-building program adopted by the state with the coming of the automobile, no finer roads than those in Lycoming County exist anywhere.

Before the coming of the stage coach the only means of transportation for bulky material and passengers was by river boats poled up the river. This was a slow and laborious task, as well as a precarious one, for there was no telling when a rise in the river might sweep the boat to destruction. With the advent of the stage coach and rapid transit which was introduced between Williamsport and Northumberland by James Cummings, August 25, 1809, transportation to the outside world was much improved. Ground could now be covered at the rate of three miles an hour against about one by boat. The time between Williamsport and Northumberland by this means of travel was fourteen hours. The stage ran once a week and the fare was $2.25 one way. Weekly trips were made down until the year 1838 when, by reason of a rival line, bi-weekly trips were made and passengers carried for nothing until one of the lines was run out of business. In fact, so keen was the competition, that one of the rival lines advertised to carry passengers free and give them two drinks of whiskey during the trip. That Tine got the passengers.

The line was subsequently extended to Jersey Shore, but the company lost money and the people of that place had to make up the deficit in order to keep the stages running.

But the citizens of the state had been inoculated with the speed mania and then the canal was the next step in the evolution of modern means of conveyance. It had long been advocated, but like all innovations, it was hard to get it started. The state authorized preliminary work on the project to be done in the year 1823 and provided for the actual building of the canal from Northumberland to the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek at Lock Haven in 1828. Work was begun the same year and the contract for the famous Muncy darn was let. The darn was finished by the end of 1828 and the waterway completed to Williamsport in 1834. The first superintendent of the Lycoming County section was William F. Packer of Williamsport, afterwards governor of the state.

The canal was a real advance in transportation and for many years and until the coming of the railroad was a convenient and pleasant mode of travel.

But the canal had to give way to the onward march of advancing civilization and progress just as the stage coach had given way to the canal and the horse and carriage to the stage coach and the man on foot to the horse and carriage.

This section was early affected with the railroad fever and one of the pioneer lines in America was built in Lycoming County. Robert Ralston and some friends from Philadelphia had become interested in iron mines at Ralston, 25 miles above Williamsport, and had opened them up and built a blast furnace. But it was a long haul down to Williamsport. They, therefore, determined to build a railroad from the furnace to Williamsport for the purpose of hauling their finished pig iron down to the canal where it could be loaded on canal boats.

After many vicissitudes the road was completed and opened January 12, 1839. It was a crude affair, the rails consisting of pieces of strap iron fastened to long wooden stringers. Sometimes the straps of iron would become loosened from the stringers and fly up and rip a hole in the bottom of the car.

A passenger coach was attached to the rear of the train which was drawn by mules which did not travel faster than a walk and when they began to lag a little, the driver, who sat on the front platform with a bucket of stones, began to heave rocks at them. Subsequently two small locomotives were put into service and these considerably speeded up traffic.

The Potter basin, south of Third Street and west of Hepburn to Locust Street, was where the interchange of freight between the railroad and the canal was made.

The right-of-way of the old Williamsport and Elmira Railroad extended from West street west on Third Street to Susquehanna Street thence diagonally north, crossing west of the junction at Grier Street thence to the present line of the old Northern Central Railway.

The road was not a financial success in those days, and at a public sale in Philadelphia in 1850 it was sold, including all its valuable franchises, for the ridiculously small sum of $6,000.

The road then underwent a reorganization and its name was changed to the Elmira and Williamsport Railroad. The road was finally extended from Ralston to Elmira, being completed and placed in service September 9, 1854.

Although the first train that entered Williamsport from Ralston was cause for great rejoicing, the arrival of the first through train from Elmira was celebrated by a banquet which was attended by Williamsport citizens and a delegation from Philadelphia.

While the completion of the Elmira and Williamsport Railroad definitely established Williamsport as an important terminus, and brought prosperity and importance to the little village, the enthusiasm of the citizens was again stirred by the announcement that soon another railroad would enter the village, namely, the Sunbury and Erie Railroad.

That part of the Pennsylvania railroad, then known as the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, was chartered April 3, 1837, but owing to the many difficulties entering into its construction, it was not commenced until 1852. No doubt additional delays would have been incurred if it had not become apparent that the surveyed route between Milton and Williamsport was in danger of being taken over by a rival road. Therefore, construction was started on this line May 14, 1854, in the vicinity of the present Washington Street cemetery. In record-breaking time the stretch of line between Williamsport and Milton was completed, and December 18, 1854, the inhabitants of Williamsport saw another railroad enter the town. This event was the occasion for another celebration, the chief feature of which was the "brilliant" illumination of homes and places of business.

The construction of this railroad, including two bridges across the Susquehanna River, cost only $1,981,260.21.

During the first ten years of the life of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, the passenger station in Williamsport was between Pine and Laurel streets, on the south side of the tracks; in fact, this was a union station, being used jointly by the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, the Elmira and Williamsport Railroad, and the Catawissa Railroad. The offices of the Sunbury and Erie were in the brick house north of the present Market Street station, which still is standing.

In 1861 the name of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad was changed to the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad. In the following year the Pennsylvania Railroad took it over under a long time lease.

The reorganization of the road was marked by extension of the road west. This was pushed forward with energy. The work was started at Lock Haven and the final connection was made at St. Marys in the fall of 1864. In October of the same year, the officers, directors and a delegation of Philadelphia business men made a trip over the entire road from Philadelphia to Erie.

In spite of the distractions of war, a large amount of railroad construction in this territory was completed between 1861 and 1864. In addition to the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, the Lumber Branch, or Basin Tracks, was completed in this period;

The need for providing facilities to reach the large number of lumber mills that lined the Susquehanna River resulted in building the Lumber Branch in 1864. Almost from the completion of the Lumber Branch, this location has been a favorite one among many manufacturers of Williamsport.

When the lumber mills naturally began to disappear in the course of time, the erection of furniture factories followed and these have been expanded into one of the principal industries in Williamsport. These, with the iron and steel manufactories, supply the bulk of the large flow of freight that is daily shipped and received.

In 1865 the passenger station at Pine Street was abandoned and the offices and depot moved to the basement of the old Herdie House, now known as the Park Hotel.

In 1871 came the construction of the Linden Line, or the Williamsport cutoff, at a cost of $98,000. This double-track line extends from Linden, on the west, to the bridge at Allen's tower on the east. Over this line through traffic is handled, thus obviating The necessity for handling over two bridges and through Williamsport proper.

In 1872 further construction work was completed in the erection of the $50,000 Park Hotel station building, which houses the offices of the Williamsport Division, and five years later an annex was built for the use of the General Offices of the Philadelphia and Erie and the Northern Central Railway.

Prior to that time the railroad offices were in the J. E. Dayton Shoe Manufacturing plant, as well as several offices in Trinity Row. These were consolidated in one office in the Weightman Block, later moving to their present location. Trinity Row, was bought in 1920 for additional office quarters.

In the general revival of railroad construction in the 80's, following the panic of 1873, the Pennsylvania's contribution to Williamsport was the Elmira Street freight depot. The receiving and delivering platforms have been enlarged from time to time to meet the development of business. And in 1902 Market Street passenger station was completed.

In more recent years the Pennsylvania has improved and enlarged its facilities in Williamsport and vicinity as rapidly as the demands of traffic required. In this connection, the large classification yards at Northumberland and the "high line" freight tracks at Jersey Short might be mentioned.

Thus through the growth of years, in which benefits were mutually shared, Williamsport has attained a position of distinct importance on the Pennsylvania Railroad. It has long been divisional and general divisional headquarters. At the present time more than 1,000 Pennsylvania employes live in the city, and they receive each month in salaries and wages a sum that is an important contribution to the community's economic existence.

Soon after coming to Williamsport in 1853 Peter Herdic purchased a large tract of land in the western part of the city with the purpose of selling it off in lots and building up that section. To further this purpose he induced the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to remove its main passenger station from Pine Street to its present location, in consideration of his building a large hotel adjoining the station and furnishing meals to the train passengers. Herdic was also to build a covered walk from the hotel to the station. This agreement was carried out, the station and the Herdic House were built and this arrangement continues to the present time, the name of the hotel having been changed to "Park."

The officers of the Pennsylvania, resident in Williamsport since its completion have been: General superintendent, J. D. Potts, February 1, 1862 - December 81, 1862. General manager, January 1, 1863 - September 30, 1865; general superintendent, A. L. Tyler, October 1, 1865 - April 15, 1870; W. A. Baldwin, April 16, 1870 - August 31, 1881; Robert Neilson, September 1, 1881 - October 12, 1896; J. M. Wallis, October 26, 1896 - December 31, 1898; G. W. Creighton, January 1, 1899 - July 31, 1900; W. H. Myers, August 1, 1900 - March 23, 1909; H. M. Carson, present incumbent, March 24, 1909. Superintendents: S. A. Black, January 1, 1863 - May 31, 1864; Frank Thomson, June 1, 1864 - February 28,1873; Thomas Gucker, March 1, 1873 - July 31, 1883; E. B. Westfall, August 1, 1888 - February 26, 1902; C. A. Preston, April 1, 1902 - May 31,19.03; H. P. Lincoln, June 1, 1903 - August 31, 1918; H. H. Russell, present incumbent, September 1, 1918.

A line of railroad between West Milton and Williamsport was constructed in 1871. It was operated by the Catawissa Railroad Company until November 1, 1872, when it was leased by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, who continued its operation until November 30, 1896, when the lease was assumed by the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company, successor to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company. On January 1, 1924, the lease was assumed by the Reading Company. The line was operated as a part of the Catawissa and Williamsport branch until June 12, 1883; D. C. Reinhart, superintendent. June 12, 1883, it was made a part of the Mahanoy and Susquehanna Division; J. H. Olhausen, superintendent. March 20, 1887, it was made a part of the Mahanoy Division; A. A. Hesser, superintendent, until June 1, 1887, when C. M. Lawler became its superintendent. February 3, 1889, the Mahanoy Division was changed to the Williamsport Division. March 16, 1892, the Williamsport Division became the Shamokin Division, with William Bertolet as superintendent, he having been succeeded by the following incumbents: March 1, 1893, B. F. Bertolet; February 1, 1897, Agnew T. Dice; May 1, 1903, J. E. Turk; March 16, 1916, R. Boone Abbott; March - 28,1916, Frank J. Hagner; January 30, 1918, V. B. Fisher; July 8, 1920, A. J. Farrell.

The first passenger train on what is now the Reading Railroad came into Williamsport on November 30, 1871. Shortly after this a handsome passenger station was built at the foot of Pine Street and subsequently a freight station just across Front Street.

The Jersey Shore Pine Creek and Buffalo Railroad was finished in 1883 and was opened June fourth of that year. It now joins the New York Central at Lyons in New York state.

The Beech Creek Railroad was opened in the year 1884. It taps the soft coal region of Clearfield. Both these roads were subsequently acquired by the New York Central, which now has a connection with the Reading at Newberry Junction, where both roads have large freight classification yards.

The Williamsport and North Branch Railroad, connecting at Halls on the Reading, ten miles below Williamsport, was built up Muncy Creek as far as Hughesville in 1872 and subsequently extended to Satterfield, where it connects with the Lehigh Valley.

The Susquehanna and New York Railroad runs over the Pennsylvania railroad tracks to Marsh Hill Junction 20 miles up Lycoming Creek and from there uses its own tracks to Towanda. Its president is P. M. Newman, with offices in Williamsport.

Prior to the advent of the canals and railroads an ambitious attempt was made to navigate the West Branch of the Susquehanna River by steamboat. In 1826 Peter Karthaus, who had iron furnaces in Clearfield County, conceived the idea that it would be feasible to run steamboats up the river as far as his furnaces and thus find cheaper transportation for his products. Accordingly, in conjunction with Tunison Coryell, of Williamsport, two boats were built, the Codorus and the Susquehanna. The former was built in Baltimore and the latter in Philadelphia. The Codorus, under command of Captain Elger, ascended the river successfully as far as Farrandsville, seven miles above Lock Haven, after which it returned to Northumberland and ascended the North Branch as far as Binghamton. The Susquehanna in attempting to ascend the Nescopec rapids exploded her boiler and sank. What became of the Codorus is not known, but she never descended the river. Thus ended the only attempt ever made to make the Susquehanna River navigable.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 128  -  136, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka - Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929