The Hughesville Depot of the W & NB Railroad.i It was located on the current site of the Hughesville Volunteer Fire Department.
Amazingly enough, the tracks in front of the depot were on what is now called Railroad Street.
Railroads in the Susquehanna Valley
Until the 1940's, the Susquehanna River Valley of central Pennsylvania had several short-line railroads. They were mostly involved with the lumber industry and therefore had a short lifespan. As a general rule when the hills were denuded of timber the rails were taken up. There are, however, two small coal fields in the area. They were named after the nearby towns of Ralston and Bernice. The Ralston mines were served by the Pennsylvania Railroad but the Bernice fields were served by a shortline called the Williamsport and North Branch Railroad. There were nine railroads in the area. Three of these were mainline railroads. The others were much smaller shortlines and in the case of one, never ran a train. All six of the shortlines are now abandoned.
The Three Mainline Railroads: Leigh Valley Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Reading Railroad
The Leigh Valley Railroad ran along the Susquehanna's north branch on the north shore until it reached Towanda. From there it continued north to the LV's yards at Sayre. The LV's Harvey's Lake Branch also visited the small town of Ricketts on the map. The Pennsylvania ran on the south shore of the West Branch of the Susquehanna river from Selinsgrove to South Williamsport and beyond. It also crossed the river and entered Williamsport. From there it traveled northward along Lycoming Creek past Ralston and into Elmira, NY. The Reading Railroad was across the river from the Pennsylvania and ran through Muncy to Williamsport and from Bloomsburg (off the map to the south) to Benton north to Jamison City as the Bloomsburg and Sullivan. All three railroads survived into the 1970's only to falter into bankruptcy. On April Fool's Day, 1976, Consolidation Railways was formed from these and several other bankrupt northeastern railroads.
The Shortline Railroads: Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad, Susquehanna and New York Railroad, Susquehanna and Eagles Mere Railroad, Williamsport and North Branch Railroad, Eagles Mere Railroad and Bloomsburg and Sullivan Railroad
Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad
This line was the perfect example of a "could have been" as it never ran a train. What was supposed to be a 150 mile line, via several mergers, in the end was stillborn. The Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern was incorporated in 1900 but construction did not start until 1905. Work crews started at each end of the line in Canton and in Monroeton. They were to meet in the middle. It is unclear how much rail was laid but it is reasonably certain that the entire distance was graded. The railroad did purchase six engines of which one was displayed in Canton for a year. The Panic of 1907 brought an end to the P, B and E. The only remaining evidence is PA route 414, which runs along the P, B and E's Right-of-Way.ii
Susquehanna and New York Railroad
The Susquehanna and New York Railroad started its life as the Barclay Coal Company Railroad in the 1850's to reach the semi-anthracite at Foot of Plane. It ran from Towanda to Foot of Plane until 1901. By this time, however, the saleable coal had been removed from the ground. Enter the United States Leather Company. The Union Tanning Company, a subsidiary of the USLC, bought the BCCRR and extended it to just south of Ralston on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Two lumber boom-towns, Laquin and Masten, grew up overnight on the S&NY. By the 1940's the lumber era was over and the end of line was in sight. It was abandoned in 1942 and Masten and Laquin became ghost towns soon afterward.iii
Susquehanna and Eagles Mere Railroad
C.W. Sones was hired by the Union Tanning Company to log a very large tract, 16 square miles, of lumber in 1902. He built a 3' gauge railroad that connected to the Eagles Mere Railroad at Eagles Mere Park near the lake and continued 3 miles down Kettle Creek to the mill. The place became known as Sonesville. This is not the same place as Sonestown, although both are named after C.W. Sones. After two years of harvesting, Sones decided to extend the railroad another eight miles to Hillsgrove, where the UTC had a tannery. In 1906, Sones decided to extend the line again. He believed that the rates on the Williamsport and North Branch were excessive and therefore built another ten miles of railroad to Masten. Not long after, it was decided that the facility at Sonesville was too small, and he moved the operation to Masten. When his contract ended with the UTC in 1917, the Central Lumber Company, another USLC subsidiary, took over the line. The section east of Sonesville was abandoned in 1922 because the lumber was gone. The last 5 mile section near Masten was abandoned in 1930.iv
Williamsport and North Branch Railroad
This is the line for which the map is named. The Williamsport and North Branch started its life as the Muncy Creek Railroad and Coal Company in 1864 but construction did not commence until 1871. A year later, 6.5 miles of line were built from Hall's Station on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (Reading) to Hughesville, but the line's income was slim. In August 1882 it was foreclosed, but on September 1, 1882, the Williamsport and North Branch was begun. The new leadership pushed the W&NB north to Satterfield on the Leigh Valley by 1893 and with trackage rights on the LV, the railroad reached Bernice (pronouced like furnace) and the coal fields located there. At Nordmount, just north of Sonestown, the line had a small horseshoe curve trestle.v As lumber and coal industries waned in Pennsylvania, so did the W&NB. It was forced to abandon in 1938.vi Much of the ROW, especially in the Sonestown area, can be seen today in aerial photographs.
Map of the region. Laquin and Masten are not on the map yet. Laquin will be upstream
from Foot of Plane on the Barclay RR and Masten will be west of Ellenton on Rock Run.vii
Eagles Mere Railroad
This railroad may have been the first tourist line in America. It was built by influential men who bought Lewis Lake and the land around it to build a resort town in the 1870's. They decided to call it "Eagles Mere." Althougth the rustic beauty of the area was wonderful, the rough dirt roads kept visitors away. In 1891 the Eagles Mere Railroad was incorporated and work began in 1892. The 8 miles was soon completed much to the joy of the 7 hotel owners. The line was a seasonal enterprise that mostly served the rich of Philadelphia. With the exception of the wood products from the C.W. Sones operation on the S&EM from 1902 to 1908, the sole purpose of this line was to transport passengers. The end came in 1926 when a torrent washed out the line. It was abandoned and sold for scrap in 1928.viii
Bloomsburg and Sullivan Railroad
This line really is a branch of the Reading but did not become part of it until 1928. The Bloomsburg and Sullivan was chartered in 1883 to reach the Bernice coal fields, but never made it that far. It ran from Bloomsburg to Orangeville to Benton and Jamison City, and carried largely wood and farm products. Colonel James Corcoran built a tannery and saw mill at Jamison City in 1889. He also owned a mill in Williamsport which was flooded out in the Great Flood of 1889. He was ruined and had to sell his Jamison City operation. His tannery was bought by the United States Leather Company subsidiary, Elk Tanning Company, and the mill by the Keystone Lumber Company which later became the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in 1902. The last log was cut in 1912 and the last hide was tanned in 1925. Not long afterward, the rails were removed from Jamison City back to Benton. The B&S station is still in Jamison City and the ruins of the tannery can be seen there today, but it is now located in a forest on the Pennsylvania State Game Lands.ix
The last lumber mill in Williamsport cut its last log in 1919, which brought to an end large-scale lumbering in the area, and by 1940 coal had been supplanted by oil products. The loss of the only two major resources that could possibly support railroads forced the abandonment of the remaining shortlines and brought to a close an interesting part of the "Golden Era" of railroading.
iHudson, II, John W. and Hudson, Suzanne C. Scenes Along the Rails: the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania. Depot Square Publishing, Loveland, OH., 1997, page 99.
iiHudson, page 69.
iiiHudson, page 79.
ivHudson, page 93.
vTabor, III, Thomas T. Muncy Valley Lifeline. Muncy, PA: Thomas T. Tabor, III, Third Edition, 1995.
viHudson, page 97.
viiSegment of Pennsylvania 1895 Railroad map, Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/rrhtml/rrmap.html
viiiHudson, page 107.
ixHudson, page 115.