What is special about the town of West Chester, Pennsylvania? Most of you would say that you have never heard of this town unless, of course, you live in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It was originally named Turk’s Head after a local tavern. It has a courthouse. Yes, every major town has a courthouse, but this courthouse was designed by Thomas Walter. Who is Thomas Walter? He is the same man who designed this structure known as the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. What other great things are here? In the 1700’s, it was the center of clockmaking. In the 1800’s, a wagon wheel company which later made wheels for automobiles was centered here. In the 1900’s a cream separation company did their operations here, and Commodore computers were also assembled here. Today, this suburb of Philadelphia is the home of West Chester University and many other historic buildings, but it is also home to one of the nation’s oldest railroad routes.
Welcome to the West Chester Railroad. Today, the railroad is an excursion railroad, but, in the beginning, it was a major passenger railroad. Beginning in 1831, the West Chester Railroad Company took passengers to and from West Chester. Twenty-five years later, the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad continued the service. The Pennsylvania Railroad took over in 1858, and it became a passenger and freight railroad. The railroad became electrified during this time. The station on Market Street, officially named the West Chester Passenger Station, was a hustling and bustling place. Then, the Penn Central Railroad took over, and the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority began commuter train service to West Chester. The great West Chester Passenger Station, sadly, was demolished after a fire destroyed the station… but those trains kept coming.
Today, the West Chester Railroad Company is owned by the Four States Railway Service Incorporated, and it is operated by the West Chester Railroad Heritage Association, an all-volunteer company who works and maintains the equipment, and makes sure that your ride is very enjoyable. The railroad is no longer electrified, but the poles that held the electrification wires remain.
Some of you are saying, “This is all wonderful. I like that this railroad has a great history, but what good is a railroad that has a great history if you cannot take a ride on it?”
You can ride this train. This is part of the magic of this railroad. Unfortunately, it does not take you to downtown Philadelphia, but you can ride just short of eight miles to the town of Glen Mills. You arrive at the station which is located at the western end of the track line. (The tracks continued west but have been taken up.) You board the train from the original platform that many have boarded from. When the times comes, the train leaves the station. You pass by the railroad and see the vintage locomotives and rail equipment. The next thing you notice is that you are surrounded by forest, and you are following Chester Creek. You will need to be reminded that you are in suburban Philadelphia because you will be totally unaware at this point, but you are not concerned because you are riding on a train. You come upon the Westtown Station (now an art gallery) with its upstairs. You then come to the Cheyney Station (not open to the public), and then come to the Lockley Station where you wish you could watch the trains go by but wait. You are on the train. You then arrive at Glen Mills, the home of a spectacular train station. You deboard the train and stroll around. You go into the station which houses a small museum and has the ticket office in its original look. You walk to the back of the train and down to a small park next to the creek with picnic tables by the creek. After a short visit, you must return to the train and head back to West Chester.
The West Chester Railroad is in West Chester, Pennsylvania at 230 East Market Street (Pennsylvania Route 3 East) just blocks from the town center. Parking is on site. You can get more information at http://wcrailroad.com/.
Welcome to the West Chester Railroad, a railroad that keeps its own history on track.