Allegheny Portage Railroad was a great achievement in early
travel. Charles Dickens, Jenny Linn, and Ulysses S. Grant traveled
over the Allegheny Mountains. They braved a system that injured
passengers on a weekly basis.
A system of inclined planes and a nine
hundred foot tunnel carved through solid rock by Welsh coalminers
made this feat possible. For twenty years, it was the fastest way
to transgress the rough and wild terrain of Pennsylvania.
You can enjoy a variety of activities within
the park. Bird watching, hiking, picnicking, cross country skiing,
interpretive programs and nature walks can be a part of your
visit. Start at the Visitor Center. You can follow the boardwalk
down the hill to visit the Engine House exhibit and the Lemon
House. Information on our hiking trails is available at the
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was the first
railroad constructed through the Allegheny Mountains in central
Pennsylvania, United States. It was a series of 10 inclines,
approximately 36 miles (58 km) long, and operated from 1834 to
It connected two canal divisions of the Main
Line of Public Works of the Pennsylvania Canal from Johnstown on
the west to Hollidaysburg on the east, thus allowing continuous
barge traffic between the Ohio and the Susquehanna rivers.
Considered a technological marvel in its
day, it played a critical role in opening the interior of the
United States beyond the Appalachian Mountains to settlement and
commerce. It included the first railroad tunnel in the United
States, the Staple Bend Tunnel, and its inauguration was marked
with great fanfare.
Today, the remains of the railroad are
preserved within the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic
Site operated by the National Park Service. The site was
established on 1,296 acres in 1964 and is about 12 miles west of
The Lemon House, a tavern located alongside
the railroad near Cresson that was a popular stop for railroad
passengers, has been converted into a historical museum by the
National Park Service. The park service also operates a visitor
center with interpretive exhibits near the Lemon House.
The Staple Bend Tunnel is preserved in a
separate unit of the historic site 4 miles (6.4 km) east of
A skew arch bridge, a masterwork of cut
stone construction, is another feature of the site.
Construction of the railroad began in 1831
and took three years to complete. The project was financed by the
State of Pennsylvania as a means to compete with the Erie Canal in
New York and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad in Maryland. The work was done largely through private
contractors. The railroad used ten inclined planes, five on either
side of the summit of the Allegheny Ridge.
The vertical ascent from Johnstown was 1,172
feet. The vertical ascent from Hollidaysburg was 1,399 feet. The
barges were drawn by horses along level sections, which included a
tunnel 900 feet long as well as a viaduct over the Little
Conemaugh River upstream from Johnstown.
A typical voyage took between six and
seven hours. The entire Main Line system connecting Pittsburgh and
Philadelphia was 400 miles long. A contemporary account of travel
on the railroad was written by Charles Dickens.
In 1854 the portage railroad was rendered
obsolete by construction of a locomotive railroad over the
Alleghenies by the Pennsylvania Railroad, a private company.
Despite this, construction on the New Portage Railroad, a $2.14
million realignment to bypass the inclines, continued, opening in
On July 31, 1857, the Pennsylvania Railroad
bought the portage railroad from the state, abandoning most and
using the rest as local branches. In 1904 the part east of the
Gallitzin Tunnels was reopened as a freight bypass line via the