Schuylkill County Railroad Activity
BY EARL J. HEYDINGER
RLHS Bulletin Vol 106, Pages 37 - 39
Coal, known by 1769 to exist near the headwaters of the Schuylkill River, moved in quantity to Philadelphia during 1825. Before that year's end, Pottsville advocated a railroad to the Susquehanna and helped to secure a charter for the Danville & Pottsville R. R., in 1826. The Miners Journal, of March 26th, 1826, carried Strickland's illustration of the inclined railroad at Hetton, England. The editor of the Journal, riding horseback to Mauch Chunk because there were no roads, reported the opening of Pennsylvania's first railroad. Mines near the canal soon extended wooden railroads from their drifts to the canal, enabling a man to load a one-ton car of coal directly into a canal boat. Other owners, such as the North American Coal Company, by November 3rd, 1827, constructed their mine railroads to highways, to ease their land transportation problems.
Abraham Potts, coal land owner near Port Carbon, terminus of the Schuylkill Navigation Canal after 1827, opened a half-mile railroad before August, 1828, from his mine to the canal. Though often and incorrectly dated 1826, this road was NOT mentioned in the 1827 account in the Miners Journal, which termed the opening of the Mauch Chunk Railroad as the "first in Pennsylvania." Potts' line, all of wood, was not intended to be capped with strap rail. One horse drew 50 to 75 cars of coal a day, or ten 12-ton cars in a single trip. When Managers of the Schuylkill Navigation Canal visited Potts' railroad in 1830, they witnessed 13 cars drawn by a single horse. However Potts' prediction that a railroad would carry coal to Philadelphia within a decade amused them. Potts had equipped his cars with wheels fitted on axles and for bottom dumping by 1830.
Just as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Canal Convention disregarded Strickland's recommendations in 1825, that a railroad be built to Pittsburgh, rather than a canal, so the coal-land owners in the Schuylkill region first planned to extend canal navigation from the Schuylkill Navigation Canal to their lands. However, within two years all proposed navigations emerged as railroad companies, viz.,
Mill Creek & Mine Hill Navigation and Railroad Co., incorporated on February 7th, 1828, remained as such.
Schuylkill Valley Navigation Company, incorporated March 20th, 1827, became the Schuylkill Valley N. & R. R. Company, on April 14th, 1828.
Schuylkill West Branch Canal, of March 29th, 1819, became the Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven R. R., on March 24th, 1828.
Schuylkill East Branch Navigation Co., of February 20th, 1826, became the Little Schuylkill Navigation, Railroad & Coal Co., April 14th, 1828.
Norwegian Creek Slackwater Company, of April 14th, 1827, became the Mt. Carbon R. R., April 29th, 1829.
THE MILL CREEK & MINE HILL NAVIGATION AND RAILROAD CO.
During May, 1829, H. Morris began work on a two-mile 40-inch gauge railroad from Port Carbon up Mill Creek, a line which he planned to complete within two months. By July 4th, 1829, it was near completion and coal passed to the canal in 1829. Supt. Benjamin Milnes and crew worked on New Year's day on the roadbed near today's St. Clair. During 1830, English strap rail enabled a single horse to easily pull six tons in six cars, and, the next year, the Mill Creek R. R. was the only line in operation. From the opening of navigation, six to eight canal-boat loads (25-28 tons each) had been carried over the line dally. The four-mile main line had cost $5,000, and its three miles of laterals $4,000.
Philadelphia rail advocate George W. Smith described the Mill Creek road in 1832. Hastily built at a cost of $2,500 per mile, without direction of an engineer and in the infancy of railroads, the single track line extended four miles from Port Carbon to Mine Hill, and had nine branches totaling five miles. The road was subject to disarrangement, its undulating profile following the natural contour of the surface. White oak rails, 5" x 32", were wedged into notched chestnut ties, 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Strap rail was 12" x 4." Two hundred 1w-ton cars, costing $50 each, had carried 30,300 tons of coal, in 1831, for an average haul of three miles. Drivers' carelessness caused a wreck in 1832, when eight loaded cars collided with an empty train, killing a horse. In the furor over the Danville & Pottsville R" R. connection with the standard-gauge Mt. Carbon Railroad, which required a tunnel from Mill Creek to the Norwegian Valley, coal interests in the Mill Creek and Schuylkill Valleys proposed the Tuscarora & Cold Run Tunnel R. R., as an outlet to the Little Schuylkill road by tunneling Sharp Mountain.
Horse power and the 40-inch gauge prevailed on the Mill Creek until the November 30th, 1844, link with the P. & R., the Port Carbon & Mt. Carbon R. R., brought T-rail and standard gauge. By 1849, the Mill Creek distribution to the S. N. Canal and the P. & R. was 103,945 tons to the canal and 140,672 tons to the railroad. Though an 1857 charter supplement authorized the Mill Creek to build branch roads to the Mahanoy Valley in the Second Coal Region, an unassociated corporation, the Mahanoy & Broad Mountain R. R., built the line. The P. & R. leased the M. C. & M. H. Navigation and Railroad on July 25th 1861, for 99 years, at an annual payment of $33,000 and taxes.
THE SCHUYLKILL VALLEY NAVIGATION AND RAILROAD CO.
Incorporated on April 14th, 1828, this line up the Schuylkill Valley toward Tamaqua from Port Carbon, was in partial operation during 1829, under president Burd Patterson. Day-labor scales in 1829 paid experienced miners and carpenters $1.25, masons $1.37, and common labor $.90. Completed, except for one mile, by July 12th, 1830, the double track, 40-inch gauge railroad, costing $6,000 per mile with strap rail, extended ten miles to Tuscarora and had 15 branch lines costing $20,000. In that year, Aquila Bolton, owner of the Belmont mines two miles above Port Carbon, delivered 21 cars of coal with three horses, controlling the cars so perfectly that he stopped each on the weigh scales. The same quantity of coal delivered on the highway would have required fifty horses. Passenger traffic also began during 1830, and, from August to the year's end, carriages traveling by rule requirements at three miles per hour paid $358.43 in tolls.
George Smith reported in 1832 that the Schuylkill Valley road, like the Mauch Chunk road, had been built by an intelligent person without engineering experience. Strap rail, 12" x 8" (at center) had cost $13,800. Rails were 6" x 4~ white oak, 12 to 16 feet long. Ties were laid from four to five feet apart. During a navigation interruption this year, there was so much demand for labor and such a shortage of housing that canal boatmen worked on the railroads and kept boarders on their marooned boats. By 1833, the eight-mile downgrade trip from Tuscarora to Port Carbon consumed but an hour.
During October, 1837, slow business led the road to consider petitioning the Legislature for permission to sell its line to the Schuylkill Navigation Canal, but receipt of an improvement loan added new life. The P. & R. purchased an interest in 1843. An 1844 charter supplement prohibited the company from charging more than a cent per ton-mile on loaded cars. Empty cars of other companies and locomotives traveling over the road were toll free.
As with the Mill Creek R. R., connection with the P. & R. via the Mt. Carbon & Port Carbon, in 1844, ended the use of horsepower and caused the Schuylkill Valley Railroad to lay T-rail at standard gauge. A. W. Craven engineered this rebuilding. The P. & R. furnished locomotive power at a fixed charge per mile. By 1849, the S. V. delivered 192,566 tons of anthracite to the P. & R., and 111,845 tons to the Schuylkill Navigation Canal. A supplemental act of March 8th, 1859, authorized an extension to Tamaqua from Tuscarora, which was built under the P. & R. lease. This year the line had thirty-one branch roads, totaling 15.22 miles. For a guarantee of five percent, or $29,450, for 999 years, the P. & R. secured a lease on July 25th, 1861.
With the discontinuance of the Mahanoy Plane in 1932, anthracite from the Mahanoy and Shamokin basins traveled to St. Clair, on the Mill Creek road, via Tamaqua and the Schuylkill Valley and East Mahanoy railroads. This delivery continued until 1952, when the Mill ('reek route was re-established via the old PRR route, with Diesel power.