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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.
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.
When you hear about the town of Manassas in the U.S. state of Virginia, the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is the American Civil War. Manassas is the only location where two major battles of the war took place. As the two wars made Manassas famous, it was not what originally built the town. What built the town was something that was a great aid to a Confederate General named Thomas Jackson. It aided him to ‘stand like a stone wall’. What helped him make that stand? What was a great help was the railroad. General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and his troops arrived in what is now Old Manassas. It was the first time in the history of the United States of America where the railroad was used for warfare, and it brought the troops to town where they march five miles to the battle. Yes, Manassas was established as Manassas Junction with the junction of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The junction still remains, but it is now under the ownership of the Norfolk Southern Railway. The first military railroad in the nation also began in Manassas going north to Centreville, Virginia, but the railroad was short lived. On the first Saturday of June, Manassas celebrates its railroad heritage with a festival.
The old train station in Old Town Manassas was built in 1914. It still is an active train station today with regular Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express service and a waiting room for passengers. It also houses the town visitor center and has a small museum with a few artifacts. You can even stand in the old ticket masters window and get the same view as the ticket master did. The visitor center and museum are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily, and admission is free.
Next time you are in Manassas, Virginia, do not think of it as just a battle town but as a town established by the railroad that continues to keep its railroad heritage alive.
Many people in the Washington D.C. / Northern, Virginia region are very familiar with the town of Culpeper in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is the county seat of the county of the same name. The town is rich with history of the American Civil War. The town is also in a region where most of historic sites in the United States of America is located. With so much history, it would be great to have a museum to tell the history of Culpeper. Well, the Museum of the Culpeper History was born. A visit to the Museum of Culpeper History is a must for anyone who enjoys history.
Some of you are saying, “This is quite amazing. I love historic towns. I have heard so much about Culpeper. However, the museum is about Culpeper and hot about the railroad. Therefore, I there will not be a history of me making a visit to this museum.”
Ladies and gentlemen, not making a visit to the Museum of Culpeper History is a big mistake. Why?
Yes, Culpeper is a town rich in history. It is also a town rich in railroad history. In Culpeper, the railroad played a big role in the American Civil War. It is said that Culpeper helped build the railroad and the railroad helped build Culpeper. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad arrived in 1853. Passengers enjoyed a twenty-minute dinner stop at a place known as the Waverly Hotel. The town grew into a major business and industrial town. When you visit the Museum of Culpeper History, you will see exhibits on how the railroad played a major role in the town’s history and development.
Some of you are saying, “Alright! You have given me enough reasons to visit the museum.”
But there is more. The museum is located in the old train station. Yes, this is the same train station built by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. It shares the depot with the Culpeper Visitor Center and the Amtrak Station. Yes, you can still ride passenger trains from Culpeper. The museum also features an old caboose from the Southern Railroad.
If you are in the northern and central regions of the U.S. state of Virginia, the Museum of Culpeper History is worth a visit. You do not have to be a local to appreciate the museum.
The Museum of Culpeper History is located at 113 South Commerce Street inside the old train station in Culpeper, Virginia. Two hour and three hour is available at the depot giving you enough time to visit the museum and maybe grab a bite to eat. Admission is $5.00. The museum is wheelchair accessible. You can get more information at https://culpepermuseum.com/.
The next time you hear about the town of Culpeper, Virginia, think about a visit to the Museum of Culpeper History where the railroad played a big role in the town’s history.
In the east-southeastern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia is a little town of Cass. Established in 1901 on the Greenbrier River, the small town was a booming company town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company that had a paper mill in the town. Joseph Kerr Cass was the vice president and cofounder of the company, and it is he who the town is named after. The town is surrounded by mountains and forests, and the lumber was used at the mill to make the paper. How was the lumber brought to the mill? It was brought by the train. The town was served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, but a special rail line was built haul in the lumber from the mountain. In 1960, the mill closed. The town was no longer booming. The town of Cass, West Virginia became another ruined town.
Or did it?
In 1963, the state of West Virginia bought the railroad, and the Cass Scenic Railroad was born.
Some of you are saying, “I know the story. The train comes, picks up people, they go to a place and come back. It is the same old same old.”
Well, this same old same old is one of the most popular train rides in the United States of America, and it has attracted many people from foreign countries.
Some of you are saying, “Yes, but you see the West Virginia scenery.”
You do, but it is not just the beautiful exceptional beauty of the West Virginia mountains and forests that attract people to the Cass Scenic Railroad.
You arrive in Cass. You get your tickets. Then you wait. You hear a while. You see the steam. The train is coming. You see it coming around the bend but wait. The locomotive is going backwards and is pulling the train. The train pulls into the station. Things are strange. You board the train. The train pulls away from the station, but the rail cars are in front of the locomotive. What is happening?
The train departs from the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks, and you see the ruins of the old paper mill ( burned down in 1882) and the water tower that is still used to add water to the locomotives. You pass through the yard and by the shops where the railroad equipment is repaired. Then, you are out of the town. You arrive at the first railroad crossing, and you feel the power of the whistle, but the train is still pushing the cars up the mountain.
Some of you are saying, “This is very strange. Why does the train push the cars instead of pull them like other trains?”
As you ride along, the tracks get steeper. The locomotive pushes the cars is because the tracks get steep. If the locomotive pulled the cars and the cars accidentally detached, they would roll down the tracks with little ability to stop them and to keep them from derailing which results in a huge mess.
Anyway, you continue up the mountain until you reach the first switchback. What is a switchback? Because of the steepness of the mountain, the tracks could not be built continuously up the mountainside. With the switchback, the train pushes the cars past the switch. (A switch, also called an interlocking, is where trains go from one track to another.) The tracks are switched, and now the train pulls the cars up the steep grade.
Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute. I thought the locomotive had to push the cars up the mountain.”
In this situation, the locomotive, or locomotives if there is more than one, pulls the cars up. It arrives at another switchback, and it pushes the cars again. You then arrive at Whitaker Station. What is Whitaker Station? It was and old logging camp, and some of the old logging equipment to include those that ran on the rails is on display. There is also a picnic area and a snack bar.
Some of the trains stop here and return to Cass, but you did not come to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad just to go part of the way.
You continue up the steep mountain grade passing through the forest. You occasionally pass by an overlook and get a great view of the valley below. After a long ride, you come upon a spring. It is here where the locomotive gets water. Once the locomotive is filled, it continues to push the cars up the mountain. It keeps pushing until, you reached the spot. What is the spot? It is Bald Knob, the third highest point in the state of West Virginia. The tracks end here, but when you walk over to the overlook, the views are never ending.
Sadly, it is time for the train to return to Cass. You board the train, and the locomotive carries the weight of the cars as it goes down the mountain. You arrive in Cass. The trip is over.
The Cass Scenic Railroad is part of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and is owned by the West Virginia State Rail Authority, and it is operated by the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad who also owns and operates the New Tygart Flyer, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the Mountain Explorer Dinner trains out of Elkins, West Virginia, and it also operates the Durbin Rocket which has been relocated to Cass from the town of Durbin, West Virginia and runs along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway line north of Cass along the Greenbrier River. You can ride the train to Whitaker Station, Bald Knob, and select trips to the site of the town of Spruce Knob, a town that was only accessible by train. The state park along features the original general store that is open during the operating season. It features a museum that tells the story of Cass and the railroad during the days as a company and logging town. You can see the old mill (now in ruins). If you need to spend the night, some of the old company workers houses are available to rent. There is also the Greenbrier River Trail that runs along the old route of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway south of Cass. The trail takes you across the old railroad bridges and through the original tunnels, and you will get many great views of the Greenbrier River. Please be advised that the region is in a wi-fi free zone due to the nearby Green Bank Radio Observatory making your cell phones and iPhones useless.
The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is located in Cass, West Virginia and is main accessible by West Virginia Route 66 which is a windy road between West Virginia Routes 28 and 92 in Green Bank and U.S. Route 219 and West Virginia Route 55 in Snowshoe. The Cass Scenic Railroad only runs from late May to late October, but there are plans to run the Durbin Rocket year-round. If you like, you can even spend a night in a caboose. The old houses are available to rent year-round. You can get more information at https://mountainrailwv.com/.
A ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad is a ride you will remember for a long time. Even if the trains are not running, a visit to the town will take you back in time.