Blog

The Asa Packer Mansion, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

The Home of Asa Packer in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

The town of Jim Thorpe in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is a town named after a famous U.S. Olympian.  Originally founded as Mauch Chunk, it was named after the athlete in 1954.  The town sits in a valley of the Lehigh River with the mountains rising above it.  It is in the center of the coal mining region, and it was where a revolt against the mine owners lead by a group known as the ‘Molly Maguires’ took place and where their execution also happened.  (The site of their execution, the Mauch Chunk Jail, is now a museum.)  The town also became the home of Asa Packer.  Who is Asa Packer?  He was a politician, and he was also the founder of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Saint Luke’s Hospital.  He also owned a boat company where he used boats to transport coal to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by way of the Lehigh Canal.  Today, you can visit the home of Asa Packer in Jim Thorpe.

Some of you are saying, “This is amazing.  They name a town after an athlete.  As for Asa Packer, he appears to be a great man.  However, he is not a railroad man.  Therefore, I do not think I will visit his home.”

As mentioned, Asa Packer was the owner of a boat company that shipped coal by way of a canal.  He approached the company about using a railroad to transport the coal.  The company did not like his idea.  Did that stop Asa Packer?  No.  He became a stockholder in a railroad and was the founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad where he became the president.  He built railroads to connecting town in the region.

Today, when you visit the town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, one of the first sites you will see is the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station that once was a train station for passenger train service, but it is now a station for the Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern excursion train and the Lehigh Valley Scenic Railroad, and it is also the town visitor center and houses a small museum telling the history of the town.  The Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad also has a freight yard here, and freight trains still pass through here.  The Norfolk Southern Railway also comes close to the town.  You can see much of the original railroad bed of the Lehigh Valley Railroad which is across the river from the town center, and you can visit the Jim Thorpe Market which was built on the site of the old Lehigh Valley Railroad station.  You can also hike and bike the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail.  All of this was made possible by a man whose home sits on a hill overlooking the train station.

The Asa Packer Mansion is a National Historic Landmark.  It is open from April to October and a few weekends in December.  You can more information at http://www.asapackermansion.com/.  Please note that you must climb stairs and a steep hill to get to the mansion and that the mansion is not wheelchair accessible.  There is no parking at the mansion.  The nearest parking is at the town lot next to the train station and is accessible from U.S. Route 209.

Next time you are thinking about Jim Thorpe, you can think about a great athlete, and you can think about the man, Asa Packer who made Jim Thorpe a railroad town.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

A Bust of Charles Carroll of Carrollton at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

Who was Charles Carroll of Carrollton?  He was born on September 19, 1737, in Annapolis, Maryland, and he died on November 14, 1832, in Baltimore.  He was a politician serving as the first United States Senator for the U.S. state of Maryland.  He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and the Confederation Congress.  He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

His list of accomplishments is very long.  However, there is one thing that many fans of the railroad are very proud of.

A Painting at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

He was living at a home known as Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland.  What was special about Mount Clare?  It was Charles Carroll who donated his land to allow the first railroad in North America to be built.

The Mount Clare House in Baltimore, Maryland, the home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Today, you can visit the home that donated the land for the railroad although much of the original land has been built upon.  You can also ride the first mile and a half of railroad in North America.  You can get more information at www.borail.org and www.mountclare.org.

The First Stone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

The next time you see a train, remember the name Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a man who helped start it all.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Number 51 at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

Veterans Memorial, Welch, West Virginia

Veterans Memorial, Welch, West Virginia

There is something special about the small towns in the United States of America.  Sadly, small towns are not visited as often as the big cities and beach towns, but many of the small towns have something special.  Many small towns have memorials to those who have served in the military.  One of them is the town of Welch in the southern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia.  Although many veterans memorials are in the town center, the memorial in Welch is outside the town where all of the main routes meet.  Just like many other memorials dedicated to the military, it makes you reflect and think of those who gave their lives so that we could live ours.  If you are in the area of Welch, West Virginia, take the time to stop at the veterans memorial.

Some of you are saying, “I love to see the memorials that honor the veterans of the military.  They made great sacrifices for us, but what does this have to do with the railroad?”

Well, it is a good question.  The railroad played a role in many wars to include the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II.  As for the town of Welch, although the railroad does pass on the west side with a small spur to a warehouse, the town is not a railroad town and does not have much in the history of the railroad.

To answer the question, let us go back in time.

World War II featured many battles that involved the United States of America.  One of the most significant to place on June 6, 1944.  The United States, Great Britain, and other nations landed on a beach in the French province of Normandy.  The German armies had taken over much of France, and the United States, Great Britain, and other nations joined forces came to force them out.  It is to date the largest invasion in the history of the world.  Although the Germans had the height advantage and were able to kill many men on the beach, they were eventually defeated, and the German army lost control of France surrendering a year later.  As a thank you, a train, known as ‘The Merci Train’ or ‘The French Gratitude Train’ that consisted of forty-nine ‘Merci Cars’, boxcars made of wood that was built for each U.S. state (except Alaska) that was filled what was known as ‘gifts of gratitude’, was brought to New York City, and each car was taken to each state.  Most of the Merci Cars (‘merci’ is thanks in French) still remain on display to this day.

What is special about the Veterans Memorial in Welch, West Virginia?  Not only does it honor the war veterans, but it is also where you will find the Merci Car for the state of West Virginia.  Now you see what makes this memorial special.

The Veterans Memorial in Welch, West Virginia is located at the intersection of U.S. Route 52, West Virginia Route 16, and West Virginia Route 103.  There is a small parking area on Route 16.

A Cinderella at the Train Station

Photo is Courtesy of Pinterest

Michael had arrived at his home.  He saw a box at his door.  He picked up the box and saw a note that said, ‘Open Immediately’.  He opened the box and found a black shoe with a note inside.  He opened the note that said, ‘I will see you at the station’.  He saw another envelope.  He opened it, and he saw train tickets.  He saw another note that said, ‘Ride the train.  I am waiting for you at the station’.

The next morning, he was at the station.  The train arrived, and he climbed aboard.  He went to his seat and sat down next to a window.  He rode the train for many hours as it made many stops.  People boarded and deboarded.  It was not until the next morning.  He woke up from a deep sleep as the train was making a stop.  He looked at the window and saw a beautiful woman wearing ball cap, black coat, and blue jeans.  He looked at her feet, and he noticed that he had a shoe on one foot and that her other foot was bare.  He took out the shoe, and he noticed that the shoe on her foot matched the one in his hand.  He stepped off the train, and he walked to the woman.

“Excuse me,” he said.

She peeked at him.  She saw the shoe in his hand.  “Well, hello there.  Is that my shoe?”

He knelt down, and he put the shoe on her foot.  He stood up, and she hugged him.  “You came for me.”  She smiled.

“What now?” He asked.

The train was still at the station.

“Let’s ride the train,” she said.

They boarded the train, and it pulled away from the station.

I wish that everyone has a HAPPY VALENTINE’S  DAY!!!

City Hall, Williamson, West Virginia

City Hall, Williamson, West Virginia. It is the old train station.

In the southwest region of the U.S. state of West Virginia on the Kentucky border is the town of Williamson.  It was incorporated in 1892, and it is uncertain who the town is named for.  Some say that it is named for Wallace J. Williamson who owned the land where the town sits, and some say it is named for his father, Benjamin F. Williamson.  Regardless, it is a small town, and it has a city hall where the town government meets.  To see city hall in Williamson is definite worth your time if you are ever in the region.

Some of you are saying, “City Hall?  City Hall is City Hall.  Like any other town that has a city hall, it is just like the others.  Some may be more fancy that others, but the same thing happens at this city hall as at other city halls.  There is nothing special at the city hall in this town.”

So what is special about City Hall in Williamson, West Virginia?  Let us first take a look at how the town of Williamson came to be.

As mentioned, it was incorporated in 1892.  However, it was not much of a town until something special came to town.  What was it?  In the early part of the twentieth century, the Norfolk and Western Railway arrived in Williamson, West Virginia.  This made the town population grow from under 1,000 in 1900 to over 9,000 in 1930.  Today, the Norfolk and Southern Railway serves the town and has a rail yard here.

Some of you are saying, “Well, it is nice that the Norfolk and Western Railway continues to serve the town making this a railroad town, but what does this have to do with the town’s city hall?”

When railroads came to a town, it brought freight and passenger service to that town.  Williamson was no exception.  A train station was built where the trains stopped to load and unload freight and passengers.  Like many small towns, passenger service was discontinued.  Some of these train stations were destroyed.  Some were made into visitor centers.  Some were made into museums.

So, we ask what is special about City Hall in Williamson, West Virginia.  The City Hall is the old train station.  That is what makes the City Hall of Williamson, West Virginia special.

Now you have a reason to visit City Hall in Williamson, West Virginia.  It is located on U.S. Route 52 in the center of town next to the rail line.  While on U.S. Route 52, you can also look over the rail yard which is south of the town center.  Please note that the interior of the City Hall is not open to the public.

Old Train Station, Chatham, Virginia

Many towns in the United States of America were built around the railroad.  Among them was the town of Chatham in the southern region of the U.S. state of Virginia.  The station was built in 1918 by the Southern Railroad, and it became the main source of transportation to Chatham Hall, a girls preparatory school, and the Hargrove Military Academy.  It was an active depot until passenger service was discontinued in 1965 and freight service was discontinued in 1975.

The train station went into disrepair, but it was saved and restored.  It is now a Virginia Registered Landmark and houses a library and genealogical research center.  The great thing about doing research here is that your visit may be rewarded with a passing train.

The Old Chatham Southern Railway Depot is located at 340 Whitehead Street in Chatham, Virginia just off Virginia Route 57 and west of U.S. Business Route 29.  Chatham is part of the Virginia Rail Heritage Region.

Matewan Train Station, Matewan, West Virginia

Train Station Replica, Matewan, West Virginia

In the southwestern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia on the border with the U.S. state of Kentucky is the small town of Matewan.  It may not be a famous town, but it had a few events that took place here.  The town played a role in the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  (A movie of the same name tells the story of the feud.  Kevin Costner is an actor in the film.)  It was also the site of what is known as the Battle of Matewan, a battle that took place on May 19, 1920, between local coal miners and a detective agency that came to evict some coal miners from a nearby camp.  Ten people died to include the mayor of Matewan.  Another thing about Matewan was that it was a stop on the Norfolk and Western Railway.  The railroad did play a role in the Battle of Matewan as the detectives arrived in the town by train.

The train station was a passenger and a freight station.  The town had regular passenger service until 1969.  The station was abandoned and was eroding, but in 2000, the train station was rebuilt.

Today, the trains no longer stop here, but you may be fortunate to the Norfolk Southern Railway roll by.

Why visit if it is no longer an active train station?  Well, it now is a Visitor Center, but is also houses a museum that tells the history of the region to include the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  There is also a small model train display showing the way it looked when the trains stopped here.  You can take a look at the ticket office.  If you need a souvenir, you can by something in the gift shop.  There is also a red caboose at the station.

The Matewan Train Station is located at the intersection of West Virginia Route 49 and Kentucky Route 1056.  Parking is on site.

Now you know about Matewan, West Virginia.  Take a little historic journey.

The Ticket Window

Pamplin City, Virginia

There is a small town in southern region of the U.S. state of Virginia called Pamplin City.  The origin of the town and how the town got its name is unknown.  It is known that a man named Thomas Merriman bought property in the region in the early part of the nineteenth century where he built a home and a shoe shop.  There was also a man named Nicholas Calvin Pamplin who bought property in the region in the mid-1840’s.

In the 1850’s, a representation of the Norfolk and Western Railway approached both of them about acquiring property for the railroad.  Nicholas Pamplin saw the benefit that the railroad would bring to the region, and he donated land to the railroad.  For this reason, the town is named for him.

The Norfolk and Western Railway came to town, and the town grew.  The main street was lined with stores, hotels, and banks, and great homes were built through the town.  The town also had a clay smoking pipe factory.  When the railroad declined, so did the town.

If you visit Pamplin City today, you will see a ghost town with abandoned stores.  The Norfolk Southern Railway now passes through but does stop here.  One of the rail lines that came to the town is now a rail trail.  The old train station remains, and it houses the town offices and has a meeting room that can be rented out for parties and events.

The town of Pamplin City is located off U.S. Route 460 on Virginia Route 47 east of Lynchburg.  The old train station is on Main Street, but it is not open to the public.  It may look like a ghost town today, but history may come alive as you look around.

The Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail, Beckley, West Virginia

The U.S. state of West Virginia is known for its mountains and for its coal mines.  The state is seldom known for its cities.  Among them is the city of Beckley in the south central part of the state.  Named for Alfred Beckley, it is a simple city although it is the largest city in the southern part of the state.  It is the home of the University of West Virginia Institute of Technology and the Raleigh County Veterans Museum.  The city’s biggest attraction is the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.  It is also in driving distance of the New River Gorge State Park and the world famous New River Gorge Bridge.  Then you have the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail.  Only a little over four miles long, it is a trail that weaves itself through the city, and you can see a little artwork along the way.  If you are ever in Beckley, West Virginia, you must take a stroll along the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail.

Some of you are saying, “It is really nice that they have a trail that honors somebody.  The problem is that Beckley is not much of a railroad city.   You will not see me hiking on this trail.”

You do have a point.  Beckley, West Virginia does not have much in the way of railroad history, and there is only one railroad line that passes south of the downtown area.  The nearest Amtrak stop is in the suburb of Prince which is eight miles from downtown.  It can make you think that visiting this trail is a waste of your time.

So what is special about the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail?  Well, most locals commonly know it as the Beckley Rail Trail.  Yes, you read rail trail.  How are rail trails formed?  They are formed on old railroad lines.

In 1905, the Piney River and Paint Creek Railroad was built to bring freight and passenger service to Beckley, and it served the coal mines north of the city.  (One of those mines is now the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.)  The line was later taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.  As the coal mines closed and passenger service declined, so did this stretch of the railroad.  The line was given to the city of Beckley and made into a rail trail.  The passenger station was demolished. Today, you can hike, bike, or jog on what was once a rail line to include the spur that served the Exhibition Coal Mine.  You can read more at https://wvrailtrails.org/rail-trail/lewis-mcmanus-memorial-honor-trail/.

Old Train, New Train

“Welcome to the village of Changeville.” The conductor said on the loudspeaker.  “This is the end of the line for the Old Train.  If you wish to continue your journey, you must deboard this train and walk across to the other platform and board the New Train.”

The Old Train arrived at the platform in Changeville.  Passengers got off the train, and they walked to the New Train.

“All aboard!”  The conductor of the New Train shouted.

The locomotive and the cars on the Old Train were starting to rust.  The locomotive and cars on the New Train were very shiny.  The old Train was never going to run again, but the New Train was beginning a brand new journey.  They said goodbye to the Old Train and hello to the New Train.

Wishing Everyone a Happy New Year.