A Ride Report from the 2011 National Rally Site
PENNSYLVANIA has long been celebrated for the magnificence of the scenery afforded by the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge and by the valleys of the Susquehanna, Allegheny, Monongahela, Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Since the completion of the various lines of railway and highways throughout the State, the facilities for visiting these mountains, valleys, and rivers have become entirely within the reach of all.
The Catawissa Railroad, with the roads directly connected with it, for one hundred and nineteen miles passes through the valleys and over the mountains of the Blue Ridge; commencing at Port Clinton on the line of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, and terminating at Williamsport, the county seat of Lycoming County. The lower portion of the road is that of the Little Schuylkill Railroad Coal and Navigation Company, which is principally engaged in the transportation of coal from the Tamaqua District, being an important feeder to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The northern portion has largely aided in the development of the immense lumber traffic of the west branch of the Susquehanna River; Williamsport being surrounded by extensive steam saw-mills, cutting many millions of feet annually of most excellent timber, flooring, scantling, laths, and pickets from the rafts of logs floated down from the forests in the northwest section of the State........Harpers Monthly 1862.
The Catawissa Railroad idea began with the construction of the north branch of the Pennsylvania Canal during the late 1820's that ushered in a new era for Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Its design brought new industry to the upper Susquehanna Valley and generated a host of local manufacturing concerns. The waterway also linked Bloomsburg to larger communities in the east but saw heavier traffic going to the Chesapeake Bay and the port city of Baltimore thus creating an expansion need to tap the markets of Philadelphia.
The convergence of Fishing Creek showing the railroad bridge that was the vision of Christain Brobst
Christain Brobst a miller and merchant had ambitious plans to have an aquaduct built across the Susquehanna river that would carry commerce to Catawissa. If successful, further plans were in order for a canal on the Catawissa Creek that would cross over its head waters and join the Little Schuylkill River at Summit Station allowing access down to the Schuylkill Canal at Port Clinton then onward to Philadelphia. During this time, venture capitalist were debating a canal project from Tamaqua to Port Clinton and the engineering consultants suggested a railway.
Surprisingly, Brobst did not reveal his idea about canals or railroads to his neighbors that could cause competition or obstruction. By remaining a silent leader he succeeded in being regarded as a man of much sense, and in due time was elected to the legislature enabling his ambitions. For three years Brobst looked at the river, the canal boats and did much figuring. One day he went down to the village tinker where he ordered a tin tube about three feet long and an inch and a half in diameter. At each end was a hole in the upper side, within the tube he fixed glass bottles by using putty to hold them in place. He went home, half-filled the bottles with water and calling his boys, Sam and Christian, they headed into the woods. Once out of sight of the town his boys assisted their father to make preliminary survey for a railroad from Catawissa to Tamaqua.
In 1825, Brobst went to the office of Stephen Girard an eccentric capitalist. Mr. Girard was concerned about the economic dominance of Philadelphia that gradually loss power earlier once the nation's capital was moved to Washington D.C.. In his lifetime Girard did everything within his means to have trade, canals and railways delivering strength to his city. Brobst knowing his desire exhibited the papers, and presented so - convincing an array of statistics and arguments establishing the possibility and prospects of his railroad scheme. Girard accompanied by other Philadelphia venture capitalists and Monroe Robinson, the brilliant young engineer, proceeded to Catawissa on horseback. Brobst conducted them over the route of his proposed railroad making the party favorably impressed with the route, with Brobst and his idea. Things moved slowly, for there was extraordinary prejudice in Pennsylvania against railroads since wagon traffic and canals were booming. It was not until March 31, 1831, that the Legislature granted a charter under which Christian Brobst and others were authorized to solicit subscriptions for building the little railroad. The road way was ultimately built along Brobst's location and engineers afterward marveled at the accuracy of the line run by the amateur with his home made level. But setbacks continued, the Philadelphia Bank failed who was financing the operation, the economic times made the project go bankrupt after the road and trestles were laid but the vision was materialized by becoming a component part of the greater Philadelphia and Reading rail system. For many years after it was built it carried more traffic than any in the world. Today it ranks among the foremost in the world but for Brobst unfortunately did not live to realize his dream, because the first train went from Port Clinton through Catawissa to Milton in the fall of 1854. Mr. Brobst died in January of 1849.
We begin our tour on the southern end of our 2011 Rally site taking the road bordering Fishing Creek. We will pass under the two railroad bridges that served as a finish line for spirited horse races in the early days of the annual fair and agricultural exhibit. We will pass over the creek by way of the covered bridge into the small town of Rupert. In its early days it was a canal and railway center, a place of trade, a hub to move product from the local grist and lumber mills and is best known for its large paint factory and a aquaduct across Fishing Creek, today its an easy ride through sleepy river town.
Rupert during the boom era and the fairgrounds evolved from the huge field left of center.