Railroad to Gettysburg mocked for its slowness and poor condition

HBRR engine.jpg
A steam locomotive sits on the Hanover Branch Railroad at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, in November 1863. Some postulate the tall fellow to the right in front of the white window with the stovepipe hat is President Abraham Lincoln; others believe it is railroad president A. W. Eichelberger. Almost exactly five years earlier, a New York City magazine editor passed through this same intersection and recorded his memories of the trip through York County to Hanover. He switched trains here at the junction, leaving the Northern Central Railway and entraining on the HBRR and the Gettysburg Railroad for Gettysburg, an often grueling trip. Library of Congress photo.
A writer for the New York Coach-maker’s Magazine reported in the February 1859 edition (Vol. 1, No. 9) that he had traveled in early November from New York to Gettysburg to visit several carriage, coach, and buggy shops in that locale. Gettysburg before the Civil War was a thriving little industrial town, and coach-making was among the leading businesses, so much so that it attracted national attention. However, he was to have a miserable trip, plagued by poor railroads, and then finding that the carriage business in Gettysburg had dramatically fallen off because of the ongoing depression following the Panic of 1857.
Here is the unknown correspondent’s report back to the editor.
Like so many other travelers of the period, he laments the deplorable conditions of the Hanover Branch Railroad and its connecting Gettysburg Railroad, which often made travel to and from Gettysburg miserable. He could not have imagined that in less than five years, thousands of suffering wounded soldiers, blue and gray, would be carried in agony over these same rough rails, and that the President of the United States would make this same journey to deliver “a few remarks” at the dedication of the National Cemetery.
Gettysburg would go from a town of coach makers to a town of coffins.


“After spending five or six days in the city, and taking subscribers far exceeding the number I expected to, I finally left Philadelphia on the 16th of November for Wilmington and Baltimore, at both of which places I did quite as well, and so on to York.
Finishing up my business there, I started for the Depot, intending to take the 10 o’clock train and so on to Hanover junction, and meet the next train for Hanover, and would have succeeded, had it not been for the unexpected detention of the down train, which did not arrive until an hour after it was due, and then having to wait half an hour for the up train, there being but a single track, which I must confess is a great inconvenience to travelers, and, what is more, a great nuisance, for when we arrived at the junction the cars had been gone one hour, and, as the next train did not leave until half-past four, we were compelled to wait the agreeable length of four hours and a half time, after which, jumping on the cars, we started, and how long would you think it took us to travel thirteen miles? Methinks I hear you answer, about forty-five minutes; but you are far from right, it having taken us but one hour and three-quarters.
There was one jovial fellow with us who reckoned that a roach could have started at the same time, and have reached Hanover an hour before we did, and I guess he was not far out of the way. The same wag proposed that we get out and help the “Black-horse” along by pushing on the rear car; but, as most of us had taken the cushions off the seats either in front or back of us, and so made (considering the circumstances) quite a comfortable bed, expecting to reach Hanover about ten the next morning, the proposition was not generally taken up.
We stopped only six times on the route, once for the purpose of taking in wood, another to take in water, and the other four times I did not think it worth while to take the trouble to go on the platform and ascertain, but I presume it was to place some of the rails in their places. However, at last the train stopped for the seventh time, and to the great joy of the passengers. The conductor put his head in at the door, and sleepily sang out Hano. (meaning Hanover), to which a fellow passenger echoed, “Friends! you need not be in a hurry, and as the cars will probably stop half an hour or so, I guess I might as well run up and see a friend of mine who lives about five miles distant, and have a short conversation with him in the way of business, and then run on and catch the cars before they get half way to Gettysburg, which will be better than to wait here for the train to go on.”
Finishing up my business at Hanover, I started on Monday morning for Gettysburg, at which place I understood there were a number of shops, and on arriving there I found that about a year ago there was a great deal done in the carriage business, but not much of late, owing, partly, to the hard times. From there I retraced my steps back to Hanover, and–but spare me the details of my journey–back by that road.
Suffice it to say that I got back somehow, and, taking the cars on the Pennsylvania Central R. R., was whirled along at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour, across the Alleghany Mountains, and all went well until within eighty-two miles of Pittsburg, when we were awakened by a tremendous jar, and, upon coming to our senses, found that the train had run off the track, and such was the headway of the locomotive that it shot on like a wild demon, spitting fire and threatening destruction to all obstacles that impeded its progress, until it had run the distance of about four hundred rods, having drawn the train all of that distance, excepting about thirty yards, when fortunately it was brought to a standstill by the combined efforts of the engineer and fireman, who stuck to their posts like brave fellows that they were; and notwithstanding the fact that the wheels were most of them torn from under the cars, and the latter considerably damaged, yet, strange as it may seem, not a soul was injured. Soon signals were sent off both ways, and in one hour and a quarter after the accident we had a new train on hand to carry us to our point of destination.
At Pittsburg, or, as some have more properly styled it, Smokeytown, I found business very dull; but, notwithstanding, I took a number of subscribers, and the following night started on my homeward journey, stopping at Harrisburg, Lancaster and a number of other small places too numerous to mention, and among the rest was Mount Joy, where I met with Mr. Landis, who is proprietor of the largest shop in the place, and one of the warmest friends of the Magazine, with whom I put up all night, and as I had some business to finish at Philadelphia I also stopped there.
Leaving Philadelphia, and owing to the fact that I was taken sick, I passed over some of the places I had intended visiting, but stopped at Rahway, where I found business very brisk, and called on some of our old friends, among whom were Mr. Abram Terrill, and Mr. Duxbury, foreman of Mr. Mooney’s shop. Mr. Duxbury promised me that he would try and send you something new, in the way of Carriage drafts.
Finishing up my business there, I took the half-past three o’clock, P. M., train for home.”

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One Response to Railroad to Gettysburg mocked for its slowness and poor condition

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Hello Scott,
    I found interesting the one line statement “Gettysburg would go from a town of coach makers to a town of coffins.”, although I do recall reading somewhere that Wesley Culp worked in a shop that upholstered carriages [memory being correct . . .].
    I just never equated Gettysburg to coach making.
    Regards,
    Bob

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