Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I've been working on the railroad.....

(*Above sort of the same view now and then)

Erik from Charotin Hose wrote me the other day and said: "After reading your articles on the WPA projects you seemed to enjoy the history of the borough. I'm writing to suggest another idea for your blog that many people probably don't know about.

There is an old train tunnel that starts behind Hartzell's Pharmacy and runs west underground parallel with Wood St and Peach St. The other end is west of Front St if I remember correctly. I could never find it when I was younger and exploring on my bike."

Well Erik, I am just old enough to know about it and also to know where the tunnel is.

The Tunnel, a concrete enclosed railroad passageway lies beneath Second Street, Tunnel Alley and Howertown Road.

There is a great article "Catasauqua-Crossroads of the Anthracite Railroads," written by Joe Yurko. Here is an excerpt:.

"The mills of Catasauqua got much of their ore from pits in western Lehigh and eastern Berks counties. It was moved from mine to furnace by very long teams of horses and carts! A team waiting at the west end of the iron company bridge would stretch out towards the small village of Mickleys, creating an odd parallel to similar later rail activity. The passing of the teams, especially in wet weather, would nearly destroy the roads. These conditions encouraged the building of a railroad. There was considerable resistance to this idea - Heard were the familiar arguments of big business/big profits for, a few against destruction of the land, inconvenience, possible dangers, etc. for others. The opposition eventually backed off largely due to the reality of how the ore teams were damaging the roads, Even so, the initial incorporation on April 5, 1853 was only for a wooden "plank road". Work on the plank road started; as completed portions were quickly destroyed by the ore teams creating a still messy and now treacherous roadway, the need for a railroad became apparent. The charter for the Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad was granted April 20, 1854. The C&F would become the railroad most associated with Catasauqua for the next few decades.
Various track expansions went on during 1900-1914."

(*The upper picture is the tunnel in Hartzell's parking lot-the lower just below 2nd Street at the Legion area)

On April 18 1910 the Crane Railroad Company was granted the privilege constructing a tunnel under a narrow strip of the school lot on Peach Street and Howertown Avenue. In consideration of this favor the Rail Company paid into the school treasury three hundred thirty dollars.

By the way, silly me never noticed that the street is named Tunnel Alley, duh.

The Crane Railroad dug a tunnel in town east of their plant, while the LV was four-tracking its mainline. The construction company used a 70 ton shovel dig out the route of the tunnel. The tunnel was actually dug out forming a cut, a concrete arched liner was put in place then filled over. The tunnel was 1110 feet long. The tunnel had a depth of 22 feet at Second Street and 29 Feet at Howertown Road. The tunnel approaches at both entrances has a concrete facing and was composed of reinforced concrete throughout. The entire length of track ran a length of 3,300 feet from Front Street to Kurtz Valley, where the Crane Company dumped its cinders. For years the area was known as "The Cinder Tip."

With the town high school almost directly above, students could detect the rumbling of trains beneath!

Rumors circulating at the time suggested that this was simply not a good enough reason for such a project, that the new rails would eventually be connected to existing passenger tracks. One story had the Delaware Lackawanna & Western involved behind the scenes, preparing to enter town from the east. But this never happened.

When the train appeared out of the Catasauqua tunnel, he would pull up to Front Street and call (blow his whistle) for the signal from the tower-man. This signal to cross the was visible from where he stopped. If a train was short enough, he could come directly to the signal. More typically though, he would be stopped to clear Front Street, it was a routine sight to see a westbound waiting there. In this steam-era routine there was no telephone; to let a train across, tower-men would communicate using hand signals during the day or a lantern or flashlight at night.

In the 1950's some problems started to arise with the area around the Tunnel. In 1953 the High School's gymnasium was starting to crack and deemed unsafe by the Department of Labor and Industry and torn down. The area along the tunnel was paved and used as a parking lot.

As the industrial conditions changed from coal to oil and gas, the Lehigh and New England Railroads began to abandon tracks. In 1964 Catty councilman donned fireman's boots and walked through the tunnel. Finding the tunnel in good shape and structurally safe the Borough entered into an agreement with the railroad to seal the tunnel and make additional improvements to the area.

So this morning I took a trek to the track or tunnel at least - starting in Hartzell's parking lot to the American Legion lot (via Tunnel Alley, double duh...still can't believe I never realized that street existed, I went to the Lincoln School!)

I also found the piece of railroad track that still exists on Front Street, I remembered walking over it a million times as a kid.

You know what I am sad about, besides the trash that litters the Second Street Tunnel site, is that there are no plaques or notations of any sort to tell you this little piece of history. All I ever hear about is the George Taylor House, but there is so much more history in Catty and I keep finding more about it everyday.

and that's another day in Catasauqua!

See this for more information on the railroad: