Editor’s note: This is part II of Ray Hunt’s “Fishing and railroading in central Pennsylvania” feature. Part I published in the Jan. 7, 2023 edition of the Tri-County Weekend.
My friend, Dick Castonguay, is a wellspring on all things central Pennsylvania. He’s been involved in city and county government for decades, and we often meet to discuss goings-on in the area, and the history and the settling of this region. He’s a key resource for the DuBois Historical Society, and we’ve had recent conversations about the history and significance of Pennsylvania railroading in this particular area.
In the mid 1800s the development of railroad networks was a major catalyst for the expansion of Pennsylvania. Railroads provided reliable transportation for manufactured products, raw materials and people. Due to the abundance of natural resources like coal and timber, their presence here in central Pennsylvania created a robust railroad economy in Clearfield County.
According to Castonguay, the first railroad to enter the DuBois area was the AVLG (Allegheny Valley Low Grade) Railroad. Construction started at East Brady on the Allegheny River in 1871 and concluded in Driftwood, its first set of cars traveling the line in May, 1874. Labor for construction of railways and trestles attracted migrant laborers, particularly Italians who were skilled stone carvers. AVLG became part of the PRR system, and by 1880, PRR was the largest corporation in the United States. PRR enabled an economic boom in the DuBois and Falls Creek areas of Clearfield County, and the completion of this line was likely a big catalyst for John DuBois in establishing his lumber mill here. Now finished products could be transported to greatly expanded markets east and west.
In 1882, another PRR line was developed connecting Ridgway to Falls Creek (the Ridgway & Clearfield Railroad), that ran north and south and connected it to the Allegheny Valley Railroad. Later in 1883, the BR&P (Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh) Railroad was established as another north-south line, extending operation further to Punxsutawney and by 1900, was fully extended to Pittsburgh.
By 1912, 16 passenger trains ran daily on the BR&P. In October, 1890, BR&P incorporated a subsidiary line called the C&M (Clearfield & Mahoning) Railroad that connected with the Beech Creek Railroad in Clearfield creating expanded reach and markets to New York through the NYC (New York Central) Railroad.
The Falls Creek & Reynoldsville (FC&R) Railroad was constructed in 1885 as primarily a coal line, but over time it also provided passenger service from the Rathmel and Soldier areas through Reynoldsville and into Falls Creek. As mining grew there were small additions on the line such as the Rochester Mine and the London Mine.
The Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad (B&S) began operating in DuBois in October, 1904. The freight and passenger stations were located where Martin’s grocery and the Social Security Administration offices exist today in DuBois. The B&S was owned and operated by the Goodyear Brothers out of Buffalo, New York. Originally, they were lumber men who expanded into coal mining and coke production. A railroad tunnel constructed in Sabula allowed their rail lines to the south to their coal fields in Jefferson, Indiana and Armstrong counties, with four trains providing passenger service to DuBois in the early 1900s. You can spot the tunnel traveling up Route 255 as you come upon Sabula Lake in the right side of the road.
Over time the building of automobiles and highways, a slowdown in timber, coal and coke production, and less rail demand for passenger travel eventually led to the PRR going bankrupt in 1960 and overall reliance on the railroading in central Pennsylvania to decline. While still in existence, railroading in Pennsylvania and Clearfield County is a shadow of what it once was. The historical significance and the amazing effects railroading have had on Pennsylvania and Clearfield County will always be extremely significant, including the Sinnemahoning Creek Railroad Bridge on the Driftwood Branch, where the smallmouth are waiting.