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Happiness & Long Life for All Its Residents #97

Becky Weiser

Wednesday Sep 28th, 2022

It is not often that I learn something about a topic I really enjoy in Erie history, but it happened!  I have been reading John Nolen’s “Plans and Reports for the Extension and Improvement of the City” and the section “railroads” caught my eye.  If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you may realize that I like trains.  I learned that in 1913, five railroads went through the city:  Lake Shore & Michigan Southern; Philadelphia & Erie; Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie; New York, Chicago & St. Louis and the Erie & Pittsburgh.  The tracks were located in four places in town: 14th Street, 15th Street, 19th Street, and the west half of 12th Street then going down along the waterfront towards the docks.

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Erie Passenger Station 1865-1927

An old passenger station was built in 1851 when railroads initially began being developed and was replaced in 1864.  At one time, there were 52 passenger trains that stopped at that station.  By 1913, this station was badly in need of updating and expansion.  What I did not realize was that there were two other passenger stations in town!  The New York, Chicago & St. Louis station was on the corner of 19th & Holland Streets and the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie station was on the south side of West 12th Street between Peach and Sassafras Streets.  Many freight depots and yards were scattered around the city as railroads were the only way large amounts of freight could be moved at that time, other than by water. 

*All photography done on a beautiful Erie Summer day by the wandering curator.

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Example of a railroad freight depot still in Erie along Sassafras Street. This building was constructed in 1905. I love the many delivery bays with an overhanging roof.
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The same building closer to the railroad tracks. The depot had a siding (short line of tracks dedicated to the building) and ramps would go from the rail cars to the building for off-loading freight.

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Likely spot of New York, Chicago & St. Louis railroad station on the corner of 19th and Holland.
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Likely spot of the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie passenger railroad station off of West 12th Street.
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A photo of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis station in Nolen’s book.

Nolan offered several recommendations for the city to implement in regard to the railroads. In 1913, the only places that the street went under the railroad tracks was at State, French and Ash Streets. All the other crossings were at the same level as the tracks, holding up traffic. He stated that all the tracks should be raised allowing for the flow of street traffic. In the city, his recommendation was followed but as we know, outside the city limits, this is not the case. Actually, I enjoy waiting and watching trains at the Greengarden crossing!

Nolan suggested that the 14th and 15th streets tracks join together through the city and that recommendation was followed. The 19th Street tracks were to be removed and that happened, but not until 2002. I was always amazed at the homes along 19th Street with a railroad track going down the middle of the street! Passenger service on the “Nickel Plate Road” ended in 1965.

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Postcard in the collection of the Hagen History Center

The waterfront tracks were seen as a mess and Nolan felt that in order for Lake Erie ship transportation to grow a better system of connecting the ships to the railroad was necessary. The tracks needed to be rearranged and consolidated. He recommended a belt line system that the city would control, connecting factories directly to railroads and all the railroads could connect to the ships from the lake. 

Rail transportation is not nearly as important as it used to be in Erie, although it is still used in moving manufactured goods.  I applaud the efforts of “All Aboard Erie” attempting to expand passenger service in town. If you never tried it, I highly recommend watching the world go by as you relax in a comfortable train car. To me, it is so much more civilized that air transportation. That is, if you have the time.