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Welcome to
The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

 

The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site - BEST Places to Picnic

110 Federal Park Road
Gallitzin, PA 16641
By Phone
Visitor Information
814-886-6150
Headquarters
814-886-6100

GPS: 40.4594, -78.5492


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The
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 Visitor Center.

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 1854. 

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 Altoona.

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 Johnstown.

A skew arch bridge, a masterwork of cut stone construction, is another feature of the site.

History

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 1856. 

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 "Muleshoe Curve".

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