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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
June 3, 1994 by John C. Dahl