Displaying items by tag: trains

Thursday, 25 August 2022 18:51

Reading Railroad

Today a research question sent me looking through our railroad collection. When I saw the pamphlet pictured below from 1966, I was reminded of the current project to reopen a passenger rail line connecting Reading and Philadelphia, which would pass through Montgomery County. 


Commuter Pamphlet, 1966

HSMC has a number of items connected to railroads, including several items from the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (also known as the P & R). In addition to pamphlets, we also have time tables, photographs, old tickets, and lanterns from the P & R. One of these lanterns is currently on display in our gallery until March 2023. 


P&R Lantern

The P & R was first chartered in 1833 and became known as the Reading Railroad in 1924. The company used coal fields in the Pottstown area to power their train service from Reading to Philadelphia. Over time, they acquired other shorter railroads in the area, helping to connect people and freight service throughout Southern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.

Reading Railroads Penllyn station in Lower Gwynedd

Reading Railroad's Penllyn Station in Lower Gwynedd

By the mid 1900s, cars and airplanes became fierce competitors for all railroad companies. The decline of local coal mining and manufacturing furthered the strain on the Reading Railroad. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1971 and was absorbed by Conrail in 1976. The railroad connection to Reading has not been used by passengers for several years. However, plans to reopen this connection between Reading and Philadelphia have received much support in recent years.


Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 03 September 2020 20:19

The Philadelphia and Western


Recently, the Historical Society of Montgomery County received a great postcard showing a P&W train crossing the Bridgeport Viaduct over the Schuylkill.

time table

The Philadelphia and Western Railroad was a commuter railroad started in 1902 (as the Philadelphia and Western Railway). It was originally planned to connect to the Western Maryland Railroad at York, but those plans fell through. Trains began running in 1907, and the Norristown line opened in 1912.

Photo081 watermark

The trestle bridge of the P&W was a landmark in Norristown for many years. Sometimes called the “clock bridge,” it was an easy to find place to meet up with people. However, the decline of railroads and trolleys, in the wake of the post-war car boom, led to buses replacing Norristown’s trolleys in 1951. The bridge over Main Street was torn down in 1955.

red arrow

The bridge in the postcard is still in use, however. In 1954, the company was sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, and it became known as the Red Arrow Line. Eventually, it became part of SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 15 November 2018 19:17

Red Arrow Liberty Liners


In 1964, commuters in Montgomery County got a new and luxurious transportation option when Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company introduced two new trains, called Liberty Liners. These trains ran on the Red Arrow Line and promised a refreshment lounge, air conditioning, and soft music piped into the passenger cars. They had been decorated by Philadelphia artist Horace Paul.

The new trains were actually refurbished cars that were built in 1940 by the St. Louis Car Company for the North Shore Line in Illinois. The trains had already covered more than six million miles each when Philadelphia Suburban Transit purchased them after the North Shore Line folded due to competition from new highways.


In fact, Philadelphia Suburban Transit was the rare private commuter transit company that managed to survive the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Red Arrow Line ran busses, trollies, and trains throughout the Philadelphia region, but its leader, Merritt H. Taylor, Jr., resisted the private-public partnerships that developed in the 1960’s, such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT).1

One of the ways the company attracted riders was through plush, fancy trains like the Liberty Liners.


Our material on the inaugural run of the Liberty Liner on January 26, 1964 was donated by David E. Groshens. They include tickets, photographs, coasters, and a history of the trains and how they were refurbished. There’s even a paper explaining the new music system: “In each train is a tape deck containing magnetic tape cartridges. Each cartridge holds four recorded tracks, with 30 minutes of continuous play per track.”


The trains ran on the Norristown High Speed Line, which had previously been run by the Philadelphia and Western Railway Company. That company fared poorly in the Depression, and Philadelphia Suburban Transit gained a controlling interest in 1946, and finally merged the two companies in 1953.

The Philadelphia Suburban Transit Company had begun in 1848 as a turnpike and horse carriage company. The company went through many mergers and permutations over the decades. The Red Arrow Line started when the company, then known as the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company, began its first bus route in 1923.

PW Bridge Norristown 5x7

The P&W bridge in Norristown

Seeing the time of private mass transit coming to an end, Taylor sold the Red Arrow Line to SEPTA in 1970.  SEPTA kept the name and logo for seven years after the acquisition, but eventually, they went out of use.2  The Liberty Liners were sold in 1981.  The Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnance, PA, now owns one of them.

From accessed Nov. 15, 2018


Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 30 March 2017 19:44

How Wissahickon Became Ambler

ambler map

A view of Ambler from the 1871 atlas by G. M. Hopkins.

The European settlement of what would one day be Ambler began when a Quaker family named Harmer bought the land along the Wissahickon from William Penn.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, a mill town, known as Wissahickon had developed.  By 1855, the settlement was prominent enough that the North Penn Railroadbuilt a station in the town.  The station was also called Wissahickon.

About one year later, on July 17, 1856, the north bound Shackamaxon crashed into the south bound Aramingo between Fort Washington and Camp Hill.  Fifty-nine people died in what was then the deadliest train wreck in history and 86 were injured, according to Frank D. Quattrone’s book Ambler.  Some bodies were never found and some were unidentified, so the exact number of dead might be higher. It was known as the “Picnic Train Tragedy” because many of the riders on the Shackamaxon were day trippers up from St. Michael’s in Kensington, and the train may have been overloaded.


ambler wreck A newspaper drawing imagining the wreck.


The rail line curved near Camp Hill and neither engineer could see the other.  The Shackamaxon may have left Philadelphia early, further confusing things.  When the locomotives hit head on, the explosion of the boilers could be heard for miles around and the fire that followed could also be seen for some distance.    It was the fire, and not the collision, that seems to have claimed the most victims.

Volunteers from nearby homes and farms arrived as quickly as they could.  Most prominent among them was Mary Johnson Ambler, a Quaker widow who lived two miles away in Wissahickon.  She gathered medical supplies and walked the two miles to the wreck.  Once there, she calmly attended the wounded.

Mary Ambler

Mary Ambler

After her death in 1868, North Penn Railroad decided to honor her work at the accident site by renaming the Wissahickon train station in her honor.  When the borough incorporated in 1888, it took the name Ambler.

ambler station

Postcard showing the Ambler train station

Published in Found in Collection