Unfortunately, Stevens was unable to convince financiers to support construction of the proposed route, notwithstanding his having demonstrated that a locomotive could climb the hills whereas canals could not. Not limiting his thinking to the Philadelphia - Columbia route, he had written:
...when this great improvement in transportation shall have been extended to Pittsburgh, and thence into the heart of the extensive and fertile State of Ohio, and also to the great western lakes, Philadelphia may then become the great emporium of the western country. The improvement will unquestionably be extended from Philadelphia across New Jersey to the City of New York.
Stevens' ideas would eventually become reality. The Pennsylvania Railroad, under a new charter of 1846, was to become a giant among American railroads, representing the consolidation of over six hundred smaller lines, extending from its Philadelphia headquarters to New York, Washington, DC, Chicago and St. Louis. Its main line followed much of the route surveyed by Stevens, and it passed through Paradise, PA, at a place called Strasburg Junction, where a short line known as the Strasburg Rail Road came into existence as a result of an 1832 charter.
At the other end of the Strasburg Rail Road is the location destined to see the opening of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in 1975. But what was there to house? Why did the state need a railroad museum? The answer lies in more than a century of railroad growth and activity that impacted the Commonwealth and its people as no other development had.
It was the massive web of railroads, mostly of compatible rail width, that gave the North a major advantage over the Confederacy during the Civil War. Railroads allowed the Union's industrial might to be brought to bear at the battlefront. The battle of Gettysburg was preceded by an almost continuous line of trains on the Western Maryland Rail Road, carrying Federal troops and supplies from Baltimore to Westminster, MD. Operating under Federal military authority, it became a major line of supply for the Army of the Potomac. For several days after the battle, it transported prisoners, the wounded and the dead.
Later, President Lincoln traveled by train to Gettysburg to deliver his famous address, and even later his body was carried over a series of railroads to its final resting place in Illinois.
Pennsylvania was to be crossed by dozens of railroads, reflecting its keystone location and providing the arteries of its industry and commerce. The Pennsylvania Railroad was joined by, and often competed with, the Baltimore & Ohio, the Reading Company (a major anthracite hauler), the Bessemer and Lake Erie (serving the steel industry), the Lehigh Valley, Norfolk and Western, and even parts of the Pennsylvania's arch-rival, the New York Central. Many short lines sprang up to connect backwoods towns, and to serve mines, factories and timber cutting industries.
On the main lines ran thundering expresses like the Broadway Limited, carrying passengers from New York to Chicago, while other trains seemed to stop at every hamlet or industrial siding to pick up the milk from the farms, the raw materials or finished products of industry, or to pick up and drop off passengers.
Towns sprang up along the railroads. It seemed that every town had its own depot that was the center of news, commerce and information. Cities like Philadelphia, Reading, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Harrisburg became hubs for major railroads. Thousands of Pennsylvanians earned their living working for the railroad, many in jobs supplying the huge quantities of goods consumed by the railroads.
Railroad towns such as Altoona grew into major manufacturing and repair centers for the industry. Here the Pennsylvania Railroad built hundreds of its own locomotives. In Philadelphia, the Baldwin Locomotive Works became the world's largest, turning out hundreds of locomotives a year.
In 1915, Pennsylvania's railroads peaked at 11,693 miles of roadway, reflecting a national trend leading to the end of the Golden Age of Railroading in America by the 1930s. Other forms of transportation had arrived, often with government subsidy. Ironically, part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, opened in 1941, was built on land originally acquired for a railroad right-of-way. Overhead, airplanes carried passengers, mail, and even freight. The nature of our society was changing, and railroads suffered from the change.
In one of the last expressions of the railroad industry's stature, the Eastern Railroads Conference sponsored a major exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1939-40. Such exhibits were not new for railroads, which had participated in many worlds' fairs and expositions.
As the railroads gathered together equipment to exhibit, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which lacked any formal program of saving important relics, searched for visually impressive and historically important locomotives, in some cases the last of their kind. It also constructed two full size replicas of very early locomotives.
One was an operating replica of the John Bull, which had been shipped from England in 1831 to start the Stevens family's Camden & Amboy Railroad. The other was a replica of John Stevens' 1825 prototype locomotive.
After the World's Fair, the equipment that the Pennsylvania Railroad had assembled found its way into storage, mostly at its Northumberland engine house. By the 1960s, facing financial collapse and eventual merger with its former rival New York Central into the Penn Central, the Pennsylvania Railroad began seeking a permanent home for these treasured relics. It endeavored to set conditions -- the equipment was to be cared for and preserved. Several rare locomotives made their way out of the Commonwealth.
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