Canonsburg’s prosperity arrived by railroad

 by James T. Herron, Jr.

N.B. References and annotations are found in the appropriate places in the text, but colored green.

In its earliest days, Canonsburg was a stagecoach stop on the road between Pittsburgh and Washington. Before the 1820s, the traffic from Pittsburgh came in behind Morganza (Western State), across Brush Run on Cecil Street, along Pitt Street (in early times, Pittsburgh Street), down the steep North Central Avenue hill, then right on what is now Pike Street. About 1820, the Washington and Pittsburgh Turnpike was constructed to connect Pittsburgh with the National Road at Washington. The easiest route was to follow Chartiers Creek, so Canonsburg continued to be on a major artery of transportation.

Unfortunately for Canonsburg and for the turnpike’s stockholders, the procession of freight wagons between Washington and Pittsburgh did not materialize. Packet boats on the Monongahela River carried goods between Brownsville and Pittsburgh much more cheaply and quickly than wagons transporting the freight by road. Consequently, the turnpike was a failure and eventually was taken over by the political entities through which it passed.

Steps were taken in 1830 to compete with the riverboats by building a railroad. This was just two years after the Baltimore and Ohio laid its first rails, and there were but four railroads in the world, three of them in England. In 1831, the B&O’s right-of-way extended just 23 miles. At a meeting held in Washington, Pa. in December 1830, resolutions were passed to construct a railroad from the National Road at Washington to the Pittsburgh terminus of the Pennsylvania Canal. The route would be along Chartiers Creek, which meant it would pass through or adjacent to Canonsburg, depending on which side of the creek the rails were laid.

The route, along Chartiers creek from Washington to the Ohio River, then up the river to the south end of the Monongahela Bridge, was surveyed by Charles De Hass in February and March 1830. In his report, the engineer described the proposed route and detailed the culverts, bridges, and grading that would be necessary, as well as an estimate of costs. Since there was little to base his costs on, De Hass used data from the Baltimore and Ohio and the Pennsylvania Canal. As an example of how early this was in the history of railroads, three methods of laying track were proposed: "the first is constructed of stone sills and iron rails; the second with stone blocks, wood string pieces and iron rails, and the third with wooden sleepers and string pieces and iron rails."

"The Chartiers Railway" and "Engineer’s Report," Washington Reporter, May 17, 1871. The Reporter reprinted the engineer’s 1830 report in full when the railroad was completed 41 years later.

 A company was formed and incorporated by the state legislature in March 1831 as the Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad Company. The construction of a railroad was opposed by many, and particularly by the freight haulers. Others based their opposition on more complex economics: fewer horses would be needed, which would reduce the market for hay and oats, and that would directly affect the purses of the local farmers. The railroad stock sold poorly, and the charter had to be forfeited. A few years later, in 1837, another Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad Company was incorporated, but it soon withered away, as did a subsequent effort in 1846.

An 1853 revival of the railroad scheme was somewhat more successful. The name was changed to the Chartiers Valley Railroad Company and the legislature granted a charter on February 7. This time all the stock was subscribed (though not paid for). Grading began and the railroad’s chief engineer reported in 1857 that the roadbed would be completed by the following year, though this did not include building bridges or finishing the roadbed so that track could be laid. More than $162,000 had been expended and another $88,000 would be needed to complete the grading. Track, bridges, and other necessities would require another quarter of a million dollars.

The Panic of 1857 put an end to the Chartiers Valley Railroad Company. The Washington Reporter remarked that "popular excitement on the subject abated." Construction on the railroad, by then heavily mortgaged, was stopped. Nothing was done until after the Civil War. In October 1865, the assets of the Chartiers Valley Railroad were advertised for sale. Lawsuits concerning the order creditors would be paid delayed the sale until October 1866. The buyer of record was W. J. Howard, solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The assets of the Chartiers Valley Railroad were conveyed to the Pennsylvania Railroad for just $45,100. This was a bargain, but it was the right-of-way from Pittsburgh to Mansfield (now known as Carnegie), not the partially completed railroad to Washington, that the Pennsylvania Railroad wanted.

Earle R. Forrest, History of Washington County Pennsylvania (Chicago, 1926), I, 786-790; "The Chartiers Railway," Reporter May 17, 1871.
Figure 1, right. When this 1843 advertisement ran in the Washington Reporter, the railroad was still very far away.
Figure 2, below. Map showing the area railroads from Caldwell’s Atlas of Washington County, published in 1876.

For generations, Canonsburg had depended upon Jefferson College for much of its income. As far as the town was concerned, probably the most important commodity that had been carried on the turnpike was passengers. Then, in 1868, the college was moved to Washington. Academy boys replaced the college students, but they were inferior both in numbers and cash inflow. The "forts," as the college rooming and boarding houses were known, were no longer needed. It would not be long before the town, once so vital and renowned, would also become derelict. Canonsburg had a decrease in population from 1860 to 1870 (650 to 641 respectively). It wasn’t a large loss, but it was cause for concern since the adjacent townships all gained. However, the town would be rescued by the railroad that had repeatedly failed.

"Census Returns," Reporter, Aug. 31, 1870. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad built its gateway to the West, the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway, to Steubenville, departing Pittsburgh on the right-of-way acquired with the Chartiers Valley Railroad. Because it crossed the Panhandle of West Virginia, the P.C.& St.L. was known as the "Pan-Handle Division." The railroad was in no hurry to build a branch to Washington, but the local people took action. At a series of meetings in the spring and summer of 1869, money was raised to induce the railroad to build the branch from Mansfield to Washington. The price the Pennsylvania Railroad demanded was steep, but subscriptions for the required $250,000 in stock were secured and work began on what continued to be known as the Chartiers Valley Railway or the Chartiers Branch.

Though encouraging people to subscribe for the stock and getting their money were two very different propositions, the Pennsylvania Railroad began construction from Mansfield (Carnegie) toward Washington. As the roadway was constructed, trains were run to the end of the line, allowing the railroad to collect fares and freight charges while work was proceeding.

Forrest, Hist. Wash. Co., 791; "The Chartiers Railway," Reporter May 17, 1871; ; "The Chartiers Valley Railroad," Reporter Oct. 12, 1870; "Best Paying Road in All the World," Canonsburg Notes, Dec. 1, 1902. The Washington Reporter noted that the Pan-Handle was double tracked most of the way between Pittsburgh and Steubenville ("The Pan Handle Railroad," Reporter, June 1, 1870). In reference to the railroad, Pan-Handle will be spelled with a hyphen, the way the Pennsylvania Railroad spelled it on its timetables.

In mid-August 1870, the Washington newspaper carried a request from the railroad to stockholders, asking that they pay their subscriptions. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Railroad advised, "The work of grading and bridging will be completed to Canonsburg in two weeks." He said that track construction would proceed at an average of nearly two miles a week "until the whole is completed to Washington."

It seems that the railroad officials were whistling in the dark. Apparently, they did not have clear title to the right-of-way near Washington. In October 1870, Pennsylvania Railroad officials made an inspection trip on a special out of Pittsburgh to Mansfield and then to the end of the line. The finished part of the Chartiers Valley right-of-way extended only six miles, to near Jarrett’s Tavern, a stage coach stop on the Washington & Pittsburgh Turnpike. However, the roadbed was finished all the way to Canonsburg, and the railroad was sticking to its prediction of laying a quarter-mile of track a day. The railroad said it expected to complete the branch all the way to Washington by the first of January, but that delays in subscribers paying up would delay completion.

 An article in the Pittsburgh Commercial, influenced if not written by the railroad, described the Chartiers Valley branch as "the best constructed branch road which the Pennsylvania Company has." However, the track was laid before the Pennsylvania Railroad standardized its gauge. In 1878 the railroad announced that the rails would be adjusted to the gauge used throughout the system. An item in the newspaper states that the gauge being two-thirds of an inch wider than standard had required the use of "compromise trucks" on the Chartiers. (Trucks are the wheel assemblies under railroad cars.)

"Chartiers Railway," Reporter, Aug 17, 1870; "The Chartiers Valley Railroad (reprint from the Pittsburgh Commercial)," Reporter, Oct. 12, 1870, "Change of Gauge," Canonsburg Herald, Jan. 18, 1878.

 Diarist T. Maxwell Potts recorded on December 3, 1870, "The railroad is now finished to within two miles of Canonsburg—to the toll gate on the turnpike." On the fifteenth he wrote that he had walked down to where they were laying track, "just below where it crosses the turnpike." Redevelopment has changed East Pike Street so that it and the railroad no longer intersect, but at one time the grade crossing on East Pike Street was just east of Ashland Avenue.

At the time, Potts had a hardware store and a print shop. On December 16, the conductor on the Chartiers Railway (probably Charles W. Paisley) ordered some 500 timetables. The first livestock shipment from the Canonsburg area had been made on the eighth, and passenger service to and from Canonsburg was scheduled to begin December 19, 1870.

T. M. Potts Diary, Dec. 3, 15, and 17, 1870; "Chartiers Valley Railroad," Reporter, Dec. 14, 1870. The conductor, not the engineer, was in charge of a train. Charles Paisley had been an engineer, as is evident from an 1874 item in the Herald related to a strike by the engineers. "Mr. Paisley, the conductor, mounted the engine himself, in consequence of which the passenger train has not missed a single trip. Charlie makes a very fair engineer ("Acting Engineer," Herald, Jan. 2, 1874)."


Figure 3. Left, an 1895 photograph by Force Dunlevy of the railroad bridge at Morganza behind the house that was supposed to have been a tollhouse on the turnpike, apparently the one Maxwell Potts mentioned in his diary. The picture was taken from Murray Hill, towards Canonsburg. Morganza would have been in the background to the right. Above, an enlargement of part of the photograph showing the original bridge before double-tracking.

 Four trains were scheduled each day between Canonsburg and Pittsburgh, one each way in the morning and again in the afternoon. Actually, one locomotive and a train of mixed freight and passenger cars could, and probably did, make all four 14-mile trips between Canonsburg and Mansfield. The railroad between Mansfield and Pittsburgh had not yet been double-tracked, so passengers rode P.C. & St. L. cars between Mansfield and Pittsburgh.

In spite of what had been said, the railroad suspended construction during the winter weather. The building of the depot at Washington continued, though, and the Washington newspaper reported that preparations were underway to build a freight depot, water tank, and turntable.

Maxwell Potts recorded in his diary on April 11, 1871 that service on the railroad had been extended to Ewing’s (Meadowlands). The Washington newspaper confirmed that trains would run to Ewing’s until the branch was finished and that "the line of hacks will convey passengers to and from that point," the three miles between there and Washington.

"Chartiers Valley Railroad," Reporter, Feb. 1, 1871; "The Depot Building," Reporter, Mar. 29, 1871; T. M. Potts Diary, Apr. 11, 1871; "Chartiers Railroad," Reporter, Apr. 2 and 12, 1871.

May 18 was set as the day the railroad would begin service from Mansfield all the way to Washington. The day began early, at 6:30 a.m. when the first scheduled train departed the Washington depot carrying "borough authorities, the committee of arrangement and reception, as well as Rankin’s Cornet Band and a number of …prominent citizens who had been invited to join the excursion." They traveled to Mansfield to await the special from Pittsburgh, which didn’t arrive until 10:45.

The Reporter said that the special from Pittsburgh had 12 coaches pulled by two locomotives. Aboard were a large number of dignitaries, including the mayors of Pittsburgh and Allegheny. "After [the various dignitaries exchanged] hearty congratulations the whistle was again sounded and the immense train was soon set in motion up the valley of the Chartiers."

There were well-wishers at the stations along the way and a large crowd at Canonsburg. Many crowded aboard the train for the final leg of the trip. The train arrived in Washington shortly before one o’clock. Then, led by Pittsburgh’s Great Western Band, the crowd marched to the Town Hall for another round of speeches. They crowded back on the train at 4 o’clock for a return trip that was accomplished without incident.

The Washington Reporter editor pronounced the day "a grand success," though he admitted that another commitment prevented his taking part in the festivities. Canonsburg gadfly T. Maxwell Potts would not have missed out on the excitement. He wrote in his diary, "An excursion train came out from Pittsburgh to Washington having 13 coaches and about 1,000 passengers aboard besides a large number that went up on the regular train."

"Chartiers Railway," Reporter, May 24, 1871; T. M. Potts Diary, May 18, 1871. Besides missing the inaugural run, the Reporter’s editor neglected to set a new timetable. The "Railroad Directory" in the May 24 issue lists the southern terminus as Canonsburg. This was corrected the following week.

 The Chartiers Valley locomotive and cars spent the night at Washington. According to the timetable published on May 31, 1871, the first train left Washington at 6:20, arrived at Canonsburg at 6:48, and at Pittsburgh at 8:20, a two-hour trip. The return trip was slightly faster, leaving Pittsburgh at 8:25, getting to Canonsburg at 9:51, and arriving at Washington at 10:20. The afternoon train left Washington at 1:35 carrying both passengers and freight. Consequently, it was slower and did not arrive at the Pittsburgh depot until 4:00. An extra ten minutes were allowed before the return trip, scheduled to leave at 4:15. It took nearly two hours to get to Canonsburg and the schedule allowed more than half an hour to go on to Washington. The same train crew handled all four trips, and they did not end their day until the equipment was put away for the night. This would make their day’s work about thirteen hours, probably longer.

"Railroad Directory," Reporter, May 31, 1871; "Long Service as Railway Agent," Notes, April 18, 1919. The newspaper does not specify whether the times given are local time or Columbus time, but before the adoption of Standard Time, the difference was just 12 minutes.

For the first few years, there was regular Sunday service on the railroad, but in March 1878 a rule went into effect that the only freight trains that would operate on Sundays on the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad (of which the Chartiers Valley branch was a part) would be those hauling livestock or perishables. The Canonsburg Herald reported that this meant there would only be two or three freight trains through town rather than the usual 20 or more. The newspaper remarked that the train crews had welcomed the new rule.

"A New Rule on the Pan-Handle," Herald, March 21, 1878.


Figure 4, the time table, above, is from the Canonsburg Herald of August 23, 1872. Figure 4a, right is one from the Rural Notes, December 4, 1879.


By the following year, the schedule was changed to allow more time at Pittsburgh (see figure 4b). The morning train went much as before, but the afternoon schedule would have required additional equipment. The afternoon trip from Washington was scheduled to leave Washington at 2:35 and arrive at Pittsburgh at 5:25, while the afternoon trip south left Pittsburgh more than an hour before, at 4:15.

"Time Table," Herald, Aug. 23, 1872. Whether local or Columbus time is not specified.

 In July 1873 the schedule again was changed making a second train for passenger operations unnecessary. Apparently the freight business had gotten to the point that a freight train was added to the roster, allowing the afternoon mixed train to be a passenger train. The day was begun earlier, at 6:00 a.m. The train made Canonsburg at 6:26, Mansfield at 7:15, and Pittsburgh at 7:56. The train left Pittsburgh at 8:35 for the return trip. The afternoon trip began earlier, leaving Washington at 1:45 and arriving at Pittsburgh at 3:39. The earlier start and there being no need to allow for loading and unloading freight allowed plenty of time before the return trip, which left Pittsburgh at 4:48.

"Time Table" and "Chartiers Valley R. R.," Herald, July 4, 1873. Again, whether this is local time is not specified.

 While most of the stops on the line had meager accommodations, Canonsburg had a depot with more facilities for freight and passengers than a town of its size would warrant. At the time Canonsburg had no industry to speak of, but it had long been a market town and was in the midst of very productive farmland studded with villages.

To build the depot, livestock pens, and sidings, the railroad purchased a parcel of land along the right-of-way just west of the milling company property. The location is now on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Murdock Street, but neither street existed at the time. Nearly ten years after the depot was built, putting in the street now known as Jefferson Avenue was an issue in the local election in 1880,

The depot was large and well built. It was under construction on December 7, 1870, and on January 14, they were roofing it and "putting up an Engine House." The engine house probably was a temporary shelter for the construction trains, though into the 1920s, if not later, a locomotive was kept at Canonsburg for switching and handling the trains on the Western Washington Railroad to Midland and Westland.

T. M. Potts Diary, Dec. 3, 1870, Jan. 14, 1871; "Locomotive Catches Fire," Notes, Dec. 19, 1906; "The New Street," Rural Notes, Feb. 5, 1880. The Western Washington Railroad was covered in an article in the March 1992 number of the Times.

An 1878 timetable published in the Canonsburg Herald lists just three trains each way between Washington and Pittsburgh, and four "accommodation trains" between Mansfield and Steubenville. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Pennsylvania Railroad; the heading of the timetable is "Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Rw.: Pan-Handle Route: Chartiers Division." Also, although Canonsburg and Washington are nearly due south of Pittsburgh and the first newspaper timetables described the direction of travel as "Northward" and "Southward," on later timetables the Pittsburgh to Washington trips were considered "Going West" and the return trip, "Going East." Fortunately, the railroad follows Chartiers Creek, which happens to flow west to east through Canonsburg. This meant that in Canonsburg, a compass would show that a train running from Washington to Pittsburgh (south to north) actually was proceeding eastwardly.

"Time Table," Herald, Jan. 4, 1878.

To the direction confusion was added the problem of time. Once you had figured out which direction you wanted to go, you needed to know when the train would leave the station. A timetable would provide that information, but the schedule would not be in local time.

The earliest timetables were set in type by the newspapers. The Rural Notes, circa 1880, noted that the times given were Columbus time, "to which add twelve minutes for Canonsburg time." Until standard time was adopted, a municipality could set its own time, which usually was different from the railroad’s time. It was because of the railroads that standard time was implemented in 1883. However, the Pennsylvania Railroad began supplying newspapers with timetables that were already made up. Probably in the interest of standardization, the times given were the railroad’s time, which in this region was Central Time (see Figure 4b). In this article, local times rather than those printed in the timetables will be used.

 "New Time Table," Rural Notes, April 8, 1880.

These photographs by Force Dunlevy did not appear in the print article. The tiny station and the freight platform at Morganza are shown on the left. At right is the railroad bridge after double-tracking. The interurban trolley tracks in the foreground of both pictures dates them as twentieth century.

The townspeople took great interest in the railroad and its employees. An anniversary number of the Notes, in 1918, exaggerated a bit when it related that "the whole town was accustomed to go down to the station for the exciting pastime of ‘seeing the train come in.’ Indeed Canonsburgers in those days had little else to do, except to go to the post office, which they did every time a train came in, and not infrequently between times."

From October 1877 until he was confined to his home by illness in the fall of 1920, the Canonsburg depot was the responsibility of I. B. Linn. "Once he was red-headed and hopeful;" the Notes remarked in 1918, "today he is hopeful."

In the early days of the Chartiers Branch, the freight and ticket agent was David R. Bebout and David Dunlop was the telegraph operator. Mr. Linn was transferred from Washington to take over both men’s jobs.

"I. B. Linn Quits as Ticket Agent at Canonsburg," Notes, Feb. 10, 1921; "Long Service as Railway Agent," Notes, April 18, 1918. The 1921 article identified Linn’s replacement as W. L. Jenkins.

The engineers and sometimes their locomotives also made the papers. The Notes reported in 1891 that "Thomas Yates, engineer of engine #54 on the Chartiers Valley Railroad," had resigned from the railroad after 27 years to go into business in Washington. The Notes reprinted this newsworthy item from a Pittsburgh paper in 1897: "One of the heavy Class O modified engines, No. 183, was sent out with the Washington Flyer on the Panhandle Thursday. Engineer George McCabe needed some extra coaches to balance the big machine, but he was not afraid to make the time."

"Here, There and Elsewhere," Notes, March 28, 1891. Pittsburgh Post, reprinted in "Local and County News," Canonsburg Herald, Sept. 17, 1897. Washington Flyer is an unfamiliar name, but there were two express trains from Washington to Pittsburgh in 1897. Number 118, the Cannonball, left Washington at 8:00, arrived at Canonsburg at 8:16, and Pittsburgh at 9:00. The afternoon express left Washington at 12:50 and arrived at Union Station at 1:50. One express went then other way. It left Pittsburgh at 5:10 (Pennsylvania Lines timetable, Notes, April 9, 1897). The early afternoon express may have been the Washington Flyer. Note: the times have been converted to local (Eastern Standard) time.

Class O was the Pennsylvania designation for a locomotive with a 4-4-0 wheel arrangement, also known as an American. We learn from another Pittsburgh Post item reprinted in the Notes in 1902, "The old style class O engine No. 25 is now hauling the Cannonball on the Chartiers and making the fast time without much trouble." The newspaper informed the fashion conscious: "Pennsylvania R.R. employees have put on their winter uniforms and caps. The new caps are jet black, the same style as the white summer caps. The uniforms are all double breasted."

New passenger coaches on the Chartiers Railway in 1885 were also considered newsworthy. They were pronounced "exceedingly comfortable," and even though it was August the reporter observed, "They contain no stoves, the heating apparatus being placed under the floor of the coach." Twenty years later the Notes said, "Notice how the wooden freight cars are disappearing from the Chartiers railroad. The wooden passenger coaches will follow, and that in the near future."

Untitled, Notes, March 4, 1901; "Donned New Uniforms," Notes (wkly), Oct. 28, 1904; "Local Items," Rural Notes, Aug. 13, 1885; "Local Happenings," Daily Notes, Oct. 8, 1913.

The Chartiers Railway was a branch of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway Co., which was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. In October 1890, the name was changed to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis, still the "Pan-Handle Route" with the same officers.

"Local Happenings," Notes, Oct. 4, 1890. The Pennsylvania Railroad used both railroad and railway in the names of the companies it owned. In an October 7, 1888 timetable, "Line" was used in the way "Division" and "Branch" had been, to designate a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad: "Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh." The subsidiary operations were the Chicago, St. Louis & Pittsburgh Railroad, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati $ St. Louis Railway, Cincinnati & Muskingum Valley Railway, Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad, and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad.

 The railroad was a great benefit to farmers and stockmen because of the obvious advantages of shipping animals on railroad cars rather than having to drive them along roads. Another local industry, coal mining, would not have been profitable if the railroad had not expanded the market by providing a way to ship the coal outside the local area. The first of what were called "railroad mines," from their location adjacent to the railroad right-of-way, went into operation in 1872. It was the Allison Mine, near McGovern, run by Jonathan Allison. The mine was later sold to J. V. H. Cook & Sons, of Canonsburg, who sold it in the late 1890s to the Pittsburgh Coal Company.

Joseph McFarland 20th Century History of the City of Washington and Washington County Pennsylvania (Chicago, 1910), 295.

 The largest coal operation in the Canonsburg vicinity was the Pittsburgh & Buffalo Coal Company’s Hazel Mine, to the south of the railroad in Canonsburg’s East End. It was a slope mine and reached coal in October 1900, though such essentials as a power house, tipple, and railroad sidings were unfinished. The formal opening was July 1901. By 1904, production had increased to the point where 100 coal cars, each with a capacity of 30 tons, were filled daily. To handle the cars, the company bought its own switching engine.

Daily Notes, "Pittsburgh Buffalo Mine," Oct. 20, 1900; "Greatest in the World," July 5, 1901; "Freight Locomotive for the Hazel Mines," Sept. 29, 1904.


Figure 6 View of a train going toward Pittsburgh. The large building is the milling company, located where the Law and Finance Building now stands. Illus. from Caldwell's Atlas of Wash. Co., 1876.


Figure 6 Railroad coal cars at the tipple of Pittsburgh & Buffalo Coal Company's Hazel Mine, East Canonsburg.

Figure 7 The Canonsburg Iron & Steel plant, better known by its later name, the Budke Mill. Note the number of railroad sidings.

  In 1880, long before the Hazel Mine went into operation, the Notes observed that the Chartiers Valley Railway was making money: $37,000 in 1878 and $24,700 in 1879. The profit margin was quite high: the gross in 1878 was $84,487; in 1879, $84,660. The newspaper’s editor, Fulton Philips, observed, "According to all this the C V R R Stock ought to begin to be worth something." Freight rates must have decreased during the period, as the gross income does not reflect the marked increase in freight tonnage (110,250 tons in 1878 to 167,571 in 1879) and in passengers carried (126,714 to 130,743). The operating expenses were a great deal higher in 1879 ($54,064 compared to $41,899), mostly attributable to maintenance-of-way costs for improving the track bed and bridges.

"Chartiers Railway," Rural Notes, June 24, 1880.

  It seems like the railroad considered passenger traffic secondary to freight, as the Herald complained in 1882 that one of the eastbound passenger trains (Washington to Pittsburgh) and a westbound freight train passed in Canonsburg. Sometimes the passenger train would be on the main track loading and discharging passengers when the freight rolled up to station on the side track, which was between the main track and the station platform.

The newspaper warned that somebody was going to be hit by the freight engine pulling up to the station. If the freight train was already at the platform, passengers had to scramble over or around it to get to their train. Safety does not appear to have been a prominent consideration for the railroad. It took six years, until July 1878, for the railroad to begin installing warning posts at the grade crossings along the Chartiers Division.

Herald, "Dangerous," Oct. 13, 1882; "R.R. Crossings," July 26, 1878.

 It was more than ten years after the railroad’s arrival in Canonsburg before it brought heavy industry to the town. In April 1882 two men, named Taylor and Mitchell, described by both Canonsburg newspapers as "Pittsburgh iron men," representing the firm of Ewing, Mitchell & Co., presented a proposition to a gathering of Canonsburg’s influential citizens. Their company would put up $100,000 to build a mill in or near Canonsburg to manufacture sheet iron if the local citizens would raise an additional $50,000.

 The building would be about 150 feet square and would require 5 or 6 acres of land. A labor force of 200 men would be needed. The location was desirable because of low taxes and the availability of coal, of which about 1200 bushels a day would be needed. The sheet iron that would be made is a type that at the time was made in only three plants in this country, and there was a ready market for the product for household utensils. It could be sold for 6 to 8 cents (presumably per pound). The cost of production would be 4 to 5 cents, and the Pennsylvania Railroad had guaranteed Pittsburgh freight rates.

"The Iron Mill," Rural Notes, April 13, 1882; "Iron Mill," Herald, April 14, 1882.

 The proposition had been put to the citizens of Washington, who turned it down, but Canonsburg’s answer was strongly affirmative. A Washington newspaper commented on that city’s turning down the proposition, comparing it with Canonsburg’s loss of Jefferson College. "Thus it will be seen, that pluck, courage and wisdom have secured to Canonsburg an enterprise worth more to the thrift and substantial prosperity of the place than half a dozen superbly dressed colleges."

A company was organized with a local man, John Ewing, as president. By mid-July, construction of the building was underway and machinery had begun to be delivered. The railroad probably had already constructed a spur into the plant property. The mill was only a few hundred yards west of the depot, which would make it convenient for workers to commute, a source of revenue for the railroad. Operations began on New Years Day, 1883.

The iron mill drilled a well to supply gas for fuel and illumination. In 1885, the railroad contracted with the mill to provide the depot with gas for lights. The newspaper reported, "Jets will be placed in the waiting rooms, telegraph office, ticket office, ware room, and outside of the depot."

Herald, "The Canonsburg Iron Mill," June 2, 1882, "The Iron Mill," July 14, 1882; "Plucky Canonsburg (from the Washington Review)" Rural Notes, May 18, 1882; "Railroad Station," Herald, May 8, 1885.

 By Canonsburg’s centennial, in 1902, its two-thirds of a century as a college town were ancient history. The town’s economy was based on industry. Mills meant jobs, jobs meant workers, and workers needed food, clothes, housing, entertainment and other goods and services, which translated into more and more stores, shopping, and money being made. In response to a complaint in another newspaper about a "whistle nuisance," David Fee, editor of the Canonsburg Rural Notes wrote:

If you really want to know something about the "whistle nuisance," come to Canonsburg. About 4 o’clock in the morning the Rolling mill commences a series of howlings that arouses every living thing within five miles of the place. At 7 o’clock a protracted and unearthly howl from the Rolling mill, a shrill scream from the woolen mill, a deep bellow from the Planing mill, to which the two trains due at that minute keep time by their roar, racket and yells. At 9 o’clock the freight returns from Washington and spends the forenoon in "shifting" at this place. The engineer of the freight seems to think that it would be a sin unpardonable for him to move his engine the length of itself without first giving utterance to a dozen war whoops shrill and piercing enough to give a wooden Indian a headache.
But while the whistle is annoying, it is a sign of life. Would rather have a hundred more whistles than the deadness, stillness and eternal quiet that prevailed in this place a dozen years ago. Bring on your factories and mills, we’ll put up with the whistle.
"Notes and Comments," Rural Notes, June 28, 1883.

 By 1902, Canonsburg Steel & Iron had gone through a few owners and the name had been changed, but there were 300 employees and an output of 20,000 tons of sheet metal a year. Following the iron mill to town had been Fort Pitt Bridge Works, which at the time of the Centennial had a work force of 400 men and grossed a million dollars. There was the Canonsburg China Company, which became Canonsburg Pottery, 200 people who brought in $200,000 a year; Budke Manufacturing with 50 employees; Alexander Manufacturing Co., 30 workmen; Simpson Stove & Manufacturing Co., 100 people. The Pittsburgh & Buffalo Coal Company, East End, employed 450 men at its Hazel Mine and shipped 35 to 40 cars of coal a day. Pittsburgh Coal Company’s Boone Mine, in what is now Strabane, also shipped lots of coal. At the time of the Centennial, Standard Tin Plate was not yet in production, but was expected to employ 300 to 400 men in the near future.

Another article that Centennial year claimed the Chartiers Branch was the "best paying road in all the world." Though, in the spirit of that year’s celebration, the claim might have been an exaggeration. The article states that the railroad, just 32 miles long, carried an average of 4500 passengers a day. For a circus or a parade, the railroad could be expected to haul 10,000 people to Pittsburgh. The revenue from passengers and freight was estimated at three million dollars a year.

The watchman at the Central Avenue railroad crossing, Ernest Smith, reported that 115 trains—"passenger, coal and shifting trains"—had crossed on a Thursday in April 1902. Pike Street in East End was crossed 61 times that day. There were 12 trains daily, 9 of which went all the way between Washington and Pittsburgh. Two of these, one each way, were Cannonball express runs, which made an average speed of 32 miles per hour. There were just two scheduled runs on Sundays.

"Railroad Business Shows Canonsburg’s Great Growth," Notes, Sept. 26, 1902; "Best Paying Road in All the World (reprinted from the Pittsburgh Sunday Leader)," Notes, Dec. 1, 1902; "Local Happenings," Notes, April 18, 1902.

  The first trains on the railroad had been mixed passenger and freight, subject to delay for unloading. Then came separate passenger and freight trains. This provided much better service, but as early as 1882, the Rural Notes had an express on its Christmas list: "Very heavy travel on the C.V.R.R. We need an express train. We’re all in a hurry out here and want to ‘fly’ when we travel. Hope the railroad company will give us that express train—it will be crowded every day."

The railroad did not oblige, and the following year the newspaper complained: "A fast train is needed on the Chartiers Railroad. It is only about 23 miles from here to the city, and yet in that short distance the train makes 24 stops. A train that will make not more than 4 or 5 stops from Washington to Pittsburg is what we want."

Rural Notes, Untitled, Dec. 21, 1882; "Our Telescope," Oct. 25, 1883. The Notes’ editor, David H. Fee, spelled Pittsburgh without the "h" but he tacked it on the end of Canonsburg in his newspaper’s masthead.


Figure 8 Watchman Ernest Smith at the Central Avenue railroad crossing. The mill race, behind him, has not yet been filled in.

 The railroad did put on an express between Washington and Pittsburgh in July 1889 that stopped only at Canonsburg and Bridgeville. The morning train, #118, left Washington at 8:45 (local time), was scheduled to depart Canonsburg at 8:58, Bridgeville at 9:14 and arrive at Pittsburgh at 9:40. It was known as the Cannonball. Before this, the fast train to Pittsburgh, #122, had left Washington at 7:30, with scheduled stops at Canonsburg, Bridgeville, and Mansfield, and arrived at Pittsburgh at 8:50. However, it would make flag stops at Meadowlands, Morganza, and Woodville.

"Time Tables," Herald, July 17 and 24, 1889; "Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh" Time Table, Oct. 7, 1888. The July 24, 1889 timetable in the Herald is the first to show the Cannonballs (#118, to Pittsburgh and #117 from Pittsburgh), probably because of a delay by the railroad in preparing it. The revised timetable is marked, "Corrected to July 8th, 1889."

 The Cannonball was the fastest train on the Chartiers; too fast for Canonsburg’s councilmen. In 1893, the borough council enacted an ordinance that limited the speed of trains within the borough to 8 miles per hour. The railroad protested, but the borough council stood firm. In retaliation, the Canonsburg stop was removed from the Cannonball’s schedule.

The timetable published in the newspaper on December 20, 1893 shows no intermediate stops between Washington and Pittsburgh, which means that Bridgeville was bypassed as well. Also, the times were changed: #118 departed Washington at 8 a.m. rather than 8:45, and #117 left Pittsburgh at 5:13 rather than 5:45 (local times). Other trains took about an hour and a half for the trip, but the early morning train (probably mixed freight and passenger cars) left Washington at 5:55 but was not scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh for nearly two hours.

On December 4, a representative of the railroad met with council and proposed that the railroad would place a watchman at the intersection of council’s choice and the train would again stop if Canonsburg would raise the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. The newspaper notes, "The cannonball matter was then called up for consideration and warmly discussed."

At the council meeting the following week, a letter was read from Superintendent Turner of the P.C.C.& St.L. Railroad. He reiterated that the train would stop if council raised the speed limit to 20 mph. This was not what council wanted to hear. An answer was crafted "stating that if the railroad company would place a watchman at the mill crossing [present Iron Street] and one at the East Pike street crossing from the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and stop all passenger trains at the Canonsburg depot, council will change the speed ordinance from 8 to 20 miles and hour."

Christmas 1893 came and went, as did the early months of 1894, and still the Cannonball steamed through without stopping. Finally, council rescinded the ordinance, and the May 20, 1894 timetable shows that #117 and #118 were again stopping at Canonsburg and Bridgeville, but the trains continued to leave Washington at 8 a.m. and Pittsburgh at 5:13.

Herald, timetables Nov. 29 and Dec. 20, 1893; "Council Proceedings," Dec. 6 and 13, 1893, June 20, 1894; "Yesterdays in Canonsburg," Notes, April 18, 1919; The Pennsylvania Lines: Pan-Handle Route Time Tables, Nov. 19, 1893. The Notes file is missing from the microfilm for this period. Times have been converted to Eastern Standard Time.

 It is hard to comprehend, considering the roadbed of today, but in 1904 the Cannonball was timed from Boyce to Canonsburg: eight miles in eight minutes. That is sixty miles an hour. If it followed the schedule, it had left Pittsburgh as #161 at 5:10 in the afternoon, due at Canonsburg at 5:50 and at Washington at 6:06.

"Local Happenings," Notes, June 3, 1904; "Changes on the Chartiers Road," Notes, May 13, 1904. The morning Cannonball was scheduled to leave Washington at 8 a.m., arrive at Canonsburg at 8:16 and pull into Union Depot, Pittsburgh at 8:55.

The Cannonball was the best known, but there were other named trains (formally or informally) on the Chartiers. The Owl or Bummer departed Pittsburgh late at night (11:30 p.m. in 1901, 11:15 for a while, then it was returned to 11:30). The Pittsburgh Post reported that the Washington-bound train was "very popular with the night patrons of the road and carries hundreds of passengers." So much for everybody going to bed with the chickens in those days long ago.

"Time of Trains at Canonsburg," Notes, April 9, 1901; "’Bummer’ to Run on its Old Schedule," Notes, May 22, 1914.

 The amount of traffic had increased to such an extent by 1902 that, despite the sidings, the single track was not sufficient. The answer was to double-track at least the most congested part of the Chartiers division, that around Canonsburg. Rather than doing the construction itself, the Pennsylvania Railroad contracted with Columbia Construction Company of Pittsburgh to lay the second track between Boyce and Houston. For the work, the company brought in some one hundred Italian laborers. To house them, a barn and shanties on the Alexander farm (present-day Strabane) were adapted for winter living. To the local people, most of whom claimed Ireland, Scotland, or England as their ancestral home, these men from the Mediterranean were exotic curiosities.

"Railroad Contractors in Town," Notes, Nov. 25, 1902.

In an article, "The Industrious Italian," the Canonsburg Notes provided a glimpse of both the immigrants and the locals’ reaction to them.

These men live in shacks, and having no family relations to control them, are free from restraints, which to many men is construed as license. Their environment is not pleasant. Their work is hard and they do an honest days’ work. Such is remarked by all. Their food is plain and not over enticing, but these men have been the most orderly set of men our town ever had to deal with. Not one arrest has been made. No drunkenness on our streets has been noticed in any of them. They are paid regularly and no disturbance is caused. They pay their bills and too often are imposed on and overcharged.
The Irish, who built the railroads 25 or 30 years ago, were the best class of laborers this country ever had, but even they would have a bit of a shindig with a few broken heads on payday. But the Irish have graduated. They now represent us in council and as burgess, etc. . . . Who knows but the descendents of these despised ditch diggers will be the future office holders of this country?
"The Industrious Italian," Notes, Dec. 3, 1902.

  Toward the middle of December 1902, work began on the second track at what is now Strabane. Small locomotives ("dinky engines"), cars and steam shovels had been brought on freight cars to a siding near the station. As soon as a temporary second track was laid on the side away from Strabane, the equipment was taken the short distance and unloaded. Work went on through that winter and the following, and by March 1904 the line was double-tracked from Carnegie to Houston. Completion was held up until a new bridge was built at Morganza and some work done at Bell’s Tunnel."

"Grading for Double Track," Notes, Dec. 9, 1902; "Double Track is About Completed," Notes, March 18, 1904. A second track had been laid down between Glendale and Bridgeville in 1901 using 85-pound rail ("Great Work on Chartiers," Herald, April 9, 1901).

 The new double track experienced a novelty in May 1904 when the Chartiers Division tracks carried a number of B&O trains. A wreck on the B&O east of Washington blocked that railroad’s right-of-way, so the P.C.& St.L. allowed the foreign trains to travel its track from Pittsburgh to Washington.

"B.&O. Train Over the Chartiers," Notes, May 6, 1904. 
Figure 9 These views looking west along the tracks toward Central Avenue, were taken after the railroad was double-tracked.


Now the passenger trains are gone, as has most of the industrial output that was carried on freight trains. For that matter, the Pennsylvania Railroad is extinct. About two years ago the second track was torn up and the railroad is back to one track. But at least there still are trains, though no cabooses, on the Pittsburgh Industrial Railroad, ready for Canonsburg’s next metamorphosis.

The last scheduled passenger train through Canonsburg made its final stop at 6:27 p.m. on July 30, 1952. It was pulled by a big K-4 steam locomotive, #3489, that with its tender was nearly too long for the turntable at Washington ("81 Years of PRR Service Is Ended," Daily Notes, July 31, 1952).


Figure 10 This photograph was taken in October 1999, facing east from Central Avenue. The second track is gone, except where it is used as a siding.


Figure 10a. The switch mechanism at the siding carries the date, 1904.