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Engine House History

History of The Lehigh Valley Railroad Engine House

During the nineteenth century, White Haven, Pennsylvania, enjoyed the enviable status of being a point where the two primary transportation systems of the day, canals and railroads, met. From here, the Lehigh Canal navigation system began its southerly journey downstream to Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) and on to Easton, and several railroads passed through including the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad stretching north to Wilkes-Barre, later leased by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which linked the line to its routes in New Jersey, and the Penn Haven and White Haven Railroad, which was later acquired by the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The Lehigh Valley Railroad (LVRR) began as small regional company that eventually grew to become an extensive network connecting White Haven with Buffalo and the Great Lakes to the west, New York to the east, and Philadelphia to the south. The Engine House History begins here!  In White Haven, the engine house was built by the Lehigh Valley Railroad as a part of its network of regional railroad infrastructure.

Transportation in the Region

In 1838, the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, which possessed a canal system between Mauch Chunk and Easton, constructed an engineering marvel of the nineteenth century: the Upper Grand Division of the Lehigh Canal, extending the canal network from Mauch Chunk to White Haven. The purpose of the navigation system was to provide a method of reliable transportation from the Wyoming coal fields near Wilkes-Barre southward out of the mountains. On the Delaware River at Easton, the canals linked with the Delaware Division Canal and the Morris Canal in New Jersey. In 1841, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company constructed and operated the first railroad in the area, the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad, connecting White Haven to Wilkes-Barre and creating a one-hundred-and-fifty-mile, water-and-rail transport system from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia and New York City.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on April 21, 1846, under the original name: the Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad Company. The name of the company was changed by another act of the General Assembly on January 7, 1853, with James M. Porter as the president, Asa Packer as the secretary and treasurer, and Robert H. Sayre as the chief engineer. Asa Packer, the majority stock holder, became president of the company in 1862 and embarked on an aggressive building and acquisition campaign. The initial role of the company was to transport anthracite coal, and to a lesser extent passengers, between the mines near Mauch Chunk and the Delaware River at Easton.

The railroad network first augmented and later usurped the slower, less-efficient canal system. A final blow to the local canal system came on June 4, 1862 after 30 hours of rain swelled the Lehigh River, flooding and destroying dams and locks of the canal system and several local railroad bridges. Though the downstream portions of the system between Mauch Chunk and Easton were rebuilt, the Upper Grand Division from White Haven to Mauch Chunk was not, leaving only the railroad to carry the coal. The lower portion of the canal system fell into disuse much later on.

On July 8, 1864, the LVRR acquired the Beaver Meadow Railroad Company and its twenty-four miles of double-track line extending from its junction with the LVRR in East Mauch Chunk up the Lehigh River to Penn Haven and on to Beaver Meadow and the anthracite mines in Carbon County. Next, the LVRR acquired the Penn Haven and White Haven Railroad in 1864, adding another seventeen miles to the network and providing the connection to White Haven. Main line trackage now totaled seventy-one miles, with seventeen miles of branch track. Shortly afterward, LVRR acquired stock control of the Lehigh and Mahanoy Railroad company, which was located among additional anthracite fields. During this period, shops, engine houses, offices, water tanks, stations and bridges were erected along the network. The first small-frame engine house was likely built in White Haven at this time.

In the following year, the line was extended from White Haven to Wilkes-Barre, and in 1867, an extension was constructed up to the Wyoming Coal Field outside of Wilkes-Barre. The flood-damaged canal was purchased in 1865, and tracks were constructed on the towpath from Wilkes-Barre to Waverly, New York, where it connected with the Erie Railway. This connection helped to link the LVRR to Buffalo and to open a market for Pennsylvania coal in the cities of the Great Lakes. The LVRR continued to expand, and by 1899 achieved its goal of forming a single network under one company connecting the Lehigh Valley with Buffalo in the west and New York City in the east.

The grades for most of the LVRR lines did not exceed 21 feet per mile in either direction, making it a good route for heavy traffic of any railroad to cross the state of New York. The mountains around Wilkes-Barre were the exception, where the increase in grade required an increase in engine power. Pusher engines were needed to help heavily laden north-bound coal trains get over Penobscot and Crestwood/Wilkes-Barre Mountain, especially starting in White Haven where the rail line leaves the Lehigh River and begins the long climb over the mountains toward Wilkes-Barre. The engine house in White Haven was built to house these pusher engines and to service and repair other engines passing through. At its busiest time, the railroad lines bustled with activity, carrying hundreds of railroad cars laden with mountains of anthracite mined from the surrounding coal fields as well as timber that was cut from the surrounding forests. Though it was an important link, in comparison to other engine houses, it was a relatively minor shop. Others were larger and more significant to the functioning of the rail network, such as the facility in Sayre, Pennsylvania.

In the twentieth century, diesel-electric engines, began to replace the less efficient and less powerful steam engines. Because diesel-electric engines could traverse the steep grades without help from an additional engine, the need for the White Haven engine house diminished, and the structure fell into disuse.

Construction of the White Haven Engine House

This is where the current Engine House History begins, the first White Haven engine house, a wood structure, was built sometime before 1864. This was replaced in 1889 by the existing, larger masonry structure. Key features of the building include the substantial masonry exterior walls, the cast-iron panels over the five engine bays, the Fink-truss roof system, the cast-iron piers, and the iron columns used between the engine bays. This last set of columns is either a variation of common, riveted Phoenix columns or are cast–iron columns with attached flanges that are similar in appearance to Phoenix columns. Each of these features suggest the building’s connection to the railroad. The large masonry walls recall bridge abutments, the cast iron panels recall boiler plate iron used in the manufacturing of steam engine, the Fink trusses are used in a manner that resembles a railroad bridge more than a building, and the use of cast iron piers, especially the Phoenix-type columns, also recall bridge construction. Robert H. Sayre, the Chief Engineer for the LVRR when the engine house was constructed, may have designed the structure.

The riding track once extended from the main line to the five-bay engine house to allow engines to enter for servicing. In order to accommodate the engines, a large open interior space was needed. Hence, the White Haven engine house has minimal interior obstruction. The cast-iron piers are aligned with the bays to permit engine entry and to keep the space open for workers and equipment.

Because the building is adjacent to the tracks, it was struck by a derailed train on March 9, 1973, and the southeast corner of the building was severely damaged. The walls were not rebuilt; instead, the opening was infilled with concrete-block masonry, essentially creating a fifth wall. Because the building was constructed of such sturdy materials, the structural integrity of the engine house was not jeopardized by the accident, and the building retains the distinguishing characteristics of its original configuration. Other alterations have not substantially affected the historical integrity of the building because original openings and associated architectural features remain.

Other Surviving Railroad Infrastructure

The tracks of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad, which, starting in 1871, were leased to the Central Railroad of New Jersey, passed through town a block away from the LVRR tracks. Located along White Haven’s Main Street, which ran between the two rail lines, were two railroad stations, two hotels, and various stores. Much of the historic railroad infrastructure has been lost, including the passenger stations. A nearby turntable for the Central Railroad of New Jersey remains but has been buried, and the main rail yard in town has been removed to allow for the construction of a shopping plaza. Freight trains of the Reading, Blue Mountain, and Northern Railroad continue to pass through town near the engine house on the one surviving line that remains of the LVRR’s double track.

Though it has been improved over the last century, this line was the first main line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad that passed through White Haven. The only other LVRR engine house that remains in the area is a stone structure in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, that was constructed in 1867 and in use until 1900 when a larger engine building facility was erected in Sayre, Pennsylvania. Other known engine houses located in Hazleton, Delano, Lehighton, Easton and Wilkes-Barre, as well as most of the extensive Sayre facility, have been demolished.

See the article in Wikipedia about the Engine House History.

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