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Great Railroad Stations - Susquehanna, PA

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

Among the landmark structures erected by the Erie RR is the venerable complex in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.  This station was more than simply a major depot along the Erie’s Delaware Division. It remains as a testament to the early days of railroading in this country.

Constructed through some of the most rugged terrain in the East, the Erie’s Delaware Division challenged early railroad builders. In 1848 James P. Kirkwood, an engineer from the Boston & Albany RR, assembled a work crew of some 800 men and built the incredible Starrucca Viaduct at Lanesboro, not far from Susquehanna.  This massive stone arch viaduct carried the mainline across the more than quarter mile wide valley of Starrucca Creek. 

During the height of the Civil War, 1863, Susquehanna’s massive brick passenger station, hotel, and dining room known as the Starrucca House was built. The building is three stories high, 327 feet long and 40 feet wide. At the time of construction, railroad passenger service did not include dining cars. Trains would make scheduled meal stops at depots along the way. Apparently, Susquehanna was strategically located on the division, and the Starrucca House was ideally suited as the place to eat. The architect for this structure is listed as Mr. E.J.M. Derrick. 

The dining hall of the station is truly one of the grandest interior spaces of the early days of rail travel. Some 120 feet long, the dining room occupied a vertical space of two and one half stories, filling the center third of the structure. Station restaurants became obsolete about the turn of the century when dining car service replaced most of them. (A notable exception not too far from Susquehanna was the New York, Ontario & Western with its Middletown NY depot / restaurant.)  Old photos of the building show two Italianate towers above the roof gables. These towers provided a natural ventilation system for the dining room. These are now gone. 

The remainder of the building’s upper stories were used for a station hotel. Again, as sleeping car service became commonplace, the station hotel became obsolete. The Susquehanna station hotel was converted to a railroad YMCA for the crews about 1903, and offices for the railroad.  Susquehanna itself was the location for car shops for the railroad, so the town was very much an “Erie” town. The car shop structures were destroyed by fire in the 1970’s and have been demolished. 

After being abandoned for a number of years, the historic station has undergone a restoration, and the Starrucca House is once again in use as a restaurant. I had the pleasure of having lunch in this building a few years ago and touring the grand banquet room with its restored roof trusses that soar upward like a Gothic cathedral.  In such an inspiring  location as this, it is easy to imagine the arrival of an early Erie passenger train pulled by  a colorful American type 4-4-0. The Erie’s wide gauge trackage was still held in awe by engineers, although its days were numbered.  As the locomotive whistles to a stop beyond the station, a hoard of hungry passengers descend to the platform and rush to the restaurant for a quick bite to eat. Meal stops may have been necessary, but one wonders how many cases of indigestion the rushing must have caused! 

 The historic Erie RR station-restaurant-hotel at Susquehanna, Pa.

Photo, June 3, 1994 by John C. Dahl

 

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