1855 “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad, with Extensive Maps including the Entire Route with all its windings, objects of Interest and Information Useful to the Traveler”

A quaint, small book, its pages brittle with age, was lent to this writer some years ago by Herbert S. Casey, of Wayne, in connection with information for the column. Printed in 1855 by T.K. and P.G. Collins, of Philadelphia, the book is entitled “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad, with Extensive Map including the Entire Route with all its windings, objects of Interest and Information Useful to the Traveler.”

And since the Pennsylvania Railroad, in spite of the continuously increasing number of automobiles on the highways, still forms a vital link of transportation between the Main Line and Philadelphia, it seems timely to repeat in “Your Town and My Town,” some of the facts of its early history, just as it has seemed timely in recent columns to do so with the early history of the Main Line itself.

The map is indeed an extensive one – its pages, too frail for this writer to dare unfold many times, measuring two yards in length, covering the railroad route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Going back as it does to a period now more than one hundred years past, those entire two yards are of great interest to the historian. Of particular interest to the writer and to her readers, however, are the first few inches of the map, which include that part of the railroad between Philadelphia and Paoli.

Even 100 years ago, the Pennsylvania Railroad was recognized as an almost indispensable link between the “eastern or Atlantic cities and those situated on the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers.” Back in the 1830’s, there seemed some doubt, however, whether the Allegheny Mountains could be passed on a direct route to Pittsburgh, without an inclined plane.

In 1838, the first survey was made by William E. Morris, an engineer, while in 1841 Charles L. Schlatter was appointed by the Board of Canal Commissioners to make a full survey for a railway from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.

Our “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad” relates that “The first meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia in relation to building the road was held at the Chinese Museum on the 10th of December, 1842. It was an unusually large meeting, at which a determined spirit was manifested to prosecute this great work. Thomas P. Cope was called to the chair. A preamble and resolutions urging the importance of the work were offered by William M. Meredith and unanimously adopted. A large committee on memorials to the legislature, praying for an act of incorporation and a committee of nine to prepare and publish an address to the citizens of Pennsylvania, setting forth the views and objects of the meeting were appointed.”

At this meeting, Mr. Cope was chosen president. He was the great-great-grandfather of Mr. Casey, a well-known citizen of Radnor township, a close friend of Stephen Girard and one of the executors of the latter’s famous will. Mr. Cope was one of three brothers who organized the group of packet ships between England and America.

As soon as the act to incorporate the Pennsylvania Railroad was passed on April 13, 1846, a large town meeting was called in Philadelphia, for the purpose of taking measures to bring the corporation into existence. A specially appointed committee prepared an address to be issued in pamphlet form. Private and corporate subscriptions soon rose to a total of $2½ million. From this meeting in April, construction of the road was authorized and begun with a charter bearing the date of April 13, 1846.

By the time the first “Guide” was published in 1855, the line of the road between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was complete. At that time it had three owners, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania holding that part extending from the city to Dillersville, one mile above Lancaster, consisting of a double track some 69 miles long; from Dillersville to Harrisburg, the Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad held a distance of 36 miles, and the remaining 248 miles between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

According to one map, the old depot seems to have been on the Delaware River, at the foot of Market street. According to the description given in 1855, “the cars are drawn from the depot by horse or mule power, out Market street and across the Schuylkill Permanent Bridge, at the west end of which they take the locomotives… After taking steam, we pass up the Schuylkill in full view of the Wire Bridge on the right, the Fairmount Water Works, and the beautiful waterfall over the Dam, and the placid sheet as far as the eye can see. The new bridge at Girard avenue may also be seen and Girard College, with snowy whiteness and its magnificent marble columns and marble roof, overlooking the city and surrounding county for miles.”

“The State locomotive engine house is immediately on the road to the right, a few hundred yards from the place of starting. Thence passing through a deep cut, we curve round and pursue nearly a westerly course, leaving the city and its busy multitude behind. In rounding the curve to the left, we may observe the West Philadelphia Water Works, being a very high iron column cylinder, encircled with an iron stairway. Three miles from the depot, we pass Hestonville on our left, then Libertyville and Athensville and arrive at White Hall, ten miles from the city.”

(To be Continued)

Fashion, stables, medicine, telephones in 1860 through 1880s

On the way of life in the 60’s in the Philadelphia suburban area, Mr. Townsend, in his book, “The Old Main Line,” gives us many brief, but telling insights.

Old men and young boys alike wore long tail coats and stiff, starched shirt bosoms in the morning as well as the evening. “At college,” our historian tells us, “the sophs forbade the freshmen to wear high silk hats. Imagine a youth of today, of any class at college, wearing this doubtful ornament.” (Mr. Townsend was writing almost 40 years ago, when dress was considerably more formal than now.)

In the 60’s, well dressed men often wore leather boots that came to their knees, and into them tucked their trousers on stormy days. On a comfortable evening at home these were replaced by canvas slippers, with “flowers worked on their tops by devoted wives or best girls.” Women’s clothes likewise were far more formal in the 60’s than in later days, with “wasp-like waists and sweeping trains, worn even on the street.”

Food, though plentiful then as now, did not have the wide variety that greater transportation facilities and increased refrigeration have made possible. Mr. Townsend writes in nostalgic vein of the delicacies prepared by Augustine, the great Philadelphia colored caterer. He tells of a trip on a Pennsylvania Railroad private car which “was stocked as usual with Augustine’s viands… a noted Englishman, who had just landed to visit the centennial exposition of ’76 was one of the party that sat down to the first luncheon in the little dining room of that car… One delicacy after another tickled his Anglican palate as never before, and turning around, he whispered, ‘If this is what you Americans have on a railway car, I wonder what you have at home.’ ” Mr. Townsend adds, “We did not tell him that we did not always have Augustine at home.” However, regular dining cars were an unknown quantity in the ’60’s and ’70’s. On a trip of any length passengers dined at railway restaurants along the route.

Among the many things that would seem unsanitary to us of a later day were the prevalence of flies and the lack of screening in the ’60’s. Stables bred flies by the millions during a time where wire screens were unknown, though, according to Mr. Townsend, “a few houses had flimsy mosquito netting over a few windows… some householders had canopies of such netting over their beds… some had wire cages to cover each dish on the table, some had a mechanical fly fan in the middle of the table. In hotels the colored waiters, with large palm leaf fans, kept the flies off a part of the time.”

Of medicine in the ’60’s, Mr. Townsend says that “homeopathy was being experimented with by many, but its small pellets were laughed at by ‘the Old school’ which was then wedded to its searching draught.” Professional massage, or osteopathy, as it was later known, was not practiced at all in those days. No one had operations for the removal of the appendix or tonsils and adenoids, as their presence, for good or evil, was not recognized then. If any of these things went wrong, Mr. Townsend writes, “You were blissfully ignorant of it and there was a chance of getting well, or at least of dying a natural death. Neither did you have your teeth X-rayed and yanked out.”

Telephones were not introduced until the late ’70’s, and did not become at all prevalent until the early ’80’s. Even then, many hesitated to have them installed. One thing that graced practically every house, however, was the lightning rod, in fact sometimes several of them. The barn and stable had to have their share also. “The lightning rod man was a feature in country life… he went up and down the breadth of the land, persuading everyone that life depended upon having lightning rods… he was succeeded in his ubiquity by the life insurance man, and later by the bond salesman.”

In the absence of automobiles, cattle could safely roam the roads, and frequently did. Tramps did the same. It is said that cooks in some of the large houses sometimes fed a dozen or so in a day. Private chalk marks made on gate posts by these hoboes indicated “the quality of the fare or the character of the dog.”

Conditions were particularly bad before and during the great railway strike of ’77. In one nearby Rosemont section a “relief Association” was started by John H. Garrett, by which the hungry traversing the roads were fed. When, in 1879, a business revival eased the employment situation somewhat, some of the habitual tramps “had become so enamoured of the fun and easy life that they never could return to work… they wintered in the county poor houses and with the first robin they would begin their summer wanderings, sleeping in barns and empty houses, and feeding at kitchen doors.” Lancaster pike was of course the best travelled highway of all for those “knights of the road.”

(The next installment of “Your Town and My Town” will tell of the early days of the Pennsylvania Railroad from information given in the first “Guide” of the Railroad, published in 1855. This material was first used in this column more than seven years ago, and like the story of the old Main Line will now find many new readers among present subscribers to “The Suburban.” To several among these new readers, the writer extends sincere thanks for appreciative letters recently received.)