The South Pennsylvania Railroad, commonly referred to as the "South Penn Railroad" actually anecdates the great Pennsylvania Railroad (Penn-central and conrail in 1981, and now Norfolk Southern or CSXT in 1999) as far as surveys are purely for railroad purposes are concerned.
As far back as 1837 an engineer named Hother Hage made a survey for a railroad from Chambersburg to Pittsburgh by order of the Legislature of Pennsylvania. The Old Hage report to the Legislature still exists and from it we can see that he made the distance from Chambersburg to Pittsburgh 240 miles; that the maximum grade was 60 feet per mile and only half of the line exceeded 40 feet per mile. He estimated that there would be three tunnels. His track structure was to be an "H" rail weighing 45 lbs. per yard laid on 3 by 9 inch locus longitudinal sills, with 6 by 6 inch locust cross ties spaced 20 inches between centers, with 4 inches of broken ballast beneath.
About the year 1844, the state employed on Charles L. Schlatter to make surveys for a railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Extensive operations were conducted in the field by him and his assistants over what was then known as the "Southern Route" from Chambersburg across Cowan's Gap into the waters of Little Aughwick Creek; thence along Aughwick creek Sideling Hill Creek passing by Wishart's Gap into Sherman's Valley, the waters of which flow into the Raystown Branch of the Juanita near Pipers Run, and thence the line, following the Raystown Branch, reached the base of the Alleghenies and ascended their Eastern slopes to the summit of Wills Creek; thence following the Castleman River and the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers to Pittsburgh. In 1847 this railroad company made an examination of the different routes from Harrisburg indicated by all the former surveys and came to the conclusion to reject the southern route and adopted the route by way of the valley of the Juanita as presenting greater opportunities and less distance than any other and commenced construction.
The southern route lay dormant until the year 1854 when the Duncannon, Landisburg, and Broad Top railroad Company was organized and charted and became the actual parent of the South Pennsylvania Railroad Company. In 1855 the name was changed to that of Sherman's Valley and Broad Top Railroad Company and in 1857 the Legislature authorized this company to extend its line by the most practicable route. In 1859 the title was again changed to the Pennsylvania Pacific Railway Company. In 1863 once again the name was finally changed to that of the South Pennsylvania Railroad Company and laws were passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature under which the powers of the company were greatly extended and authority was obtained which enabled it to adopt the shortest possible route between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and the State line of Virginia. (west Virginia) The various extensions and renewals were granted to the company seem to have been greatly due to the personal efforts and watchful interest of on Colonel James Worrell, a veteran civil engineer and resident of Harrisburg, PA. He had assisted Hother Hage in his original surveys in 1837 and 1838, and always maintained the most lively interest in the Southern Route. He became president of the South Pennsylvania Railroad Company about 1860 and made some reconnaissance surveys of his own between Chambersburg and Pittsburgh, and advanced some bold theories for the engineering of the route.
During the period between 1860 and 1880, the controlling stockholders of the South Pennsylvania railroad were the McCalmont Brothers of London, England who have subscribed for the majority of the stock, and paid in cash the first installment thereon. Practically this gave control to the officers of the Philadelphia and Reading railroad company, and so matters remained into the fall of 1881. The Vanderbilts of New York Central and Hudson river railroad fame at this time controlled the Philadelphia and Reading as well as the Central Railroad of New Jersey.
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