Branch Lines

Track Maintenance Crew

South Mountain Railroad track maintenance crew at Pine Grove Furnace, c. 1890.

During its first three decades in business, the CVRR relied solely on its main line.  Iron ore and processed iron was transported to stockyards at train junctions via horse-pulled wagon teams and then loaded onto railroad cars.  However, the wagon teams could not keep pace with the amount of iron that needed to be carried.  Accordingly, branch lines were established to connect mines and furnaces to the main line, including the Dillsburg & Mechanicsburg Railroad Company, the Mont Alto Railroad Company, the Southern Pennsylvania Iron & Railroad Company, and the South Mountain Iron Company.  These four branches were all incorporated independently between 1864 and 1871; but, the first three soon came under control of the CVRR, while the South Mountain Iron Company Line was managed by the Reading Railroad.

Dillsburg & Mechanicsburg Railroad

Since the late 1840s, iron ore had been mined on a farm east of Dillsburg, eight miles from the CVRR depot in Mechanicsburg.  In 1847, this mine was producing 18,000 tons of ore annually for shipment to furnaces in the Harrisburg region.  The volume continued to increase.  Output was so high that wagon transfer became insufficient to carry the loads.  In 1871, a line was begun to accommodate the traffic.  It was finished in 1872 and was operated by the CVRR under a ninety-nine year lease.  Despite the major economic problems associated with the Panic of 1873, yields from the Dillsburg mine continued to increase.  In 1880, the mine was producing 45,000 tons.  With this tonnage being transported on its line, the Dillsburg & Mechanicsburg Railroad Company (D&M) was the most competitive branch during its time.  Still, financial troubles necessitated the outright purchase of the company by the CVRR in 1906.  

Mont Alto Railroad

In 1864, a new branch line was chartered as the Scotland and Mont Alto Railroad.  Its proposed route was from the Cumberland Valley Railroad near Scotland to the iron furnaces near Mont Alto.  Due to a lack of capital, the building was delayed until the CVRR funded construction.  George Wiestling, general manager of the Mont Alto Iron Works, employed his own labor force to build the railroad.  It finally opened seven years later; but, the line ran from Chambersburg to Mont Alto and dropped the reference to Scotland in its title.  When an additional line was completed to Waynesboro in April 1879, the Mont Alto Railroad was leased to the CVRR.  It continued to operate its own locomotives until 1894 and was purchased by the CVRR in 1906.

Southern Pennsylvania Railroad

Originally chartered as the Southern Pennsylvania Iron & Railroad Company, the South Penn Branch of the CVRR ran twenty-six miles from Chambersburg to Richmond Furnace.  The branch was incorporated by Daniel and Peter Ahl of Newville who purchased the charter of the Caledonia Iron Land and Railway Company in 1867.  The Ahl brothers had amassed their wealth first by selling mules and then by starting a series of ore mines and foundries in the Cumberland Valley.  However, their interest in the railroad quickly waned and they sold it to Richmond L. Jones and his silent partners who were associated with the CVRR. The CVRR soon had full control over the line.

African American Work Crew Detail

African American work crew detail laying railroad bed for South Mountain Railroad, c. 1875.

South Mountain Railroad

The purpose of the South Mountain Railroad was first to improve transportation between Pine Grove Furnace and its limestone pits and ore mines and then to connect Pine Grove to the CVRR junction near Carlisle.  Construction on the eighteen-mile line was begun in 1868 and completed two years later.  By 1875, the railroad had eight scheduled stops, 2.26 miles of sidings, nine passenger, six freight, and three wood and water stations as well as two engine houses.

Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7

Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7 are examples of the modern technologies which replaced earlier blast furnaces like those found in the Cumberland Valley. 

Decline in Iron, Shift in Purpose for the CVRR

The prosperity of the iron industry in the region was short lived.  Cumberland Valley iron producers were unable to compete with either the large companies that were mining ore deposits along the Great Lakes or the more technologically advanced blast operations in western Pennsylvania like the Carrie Furnaces near Pittsburgh.  The increasing usage of steel also destroyed the demand for Cumberland Valley iron.  The economic Panic of 1893 caused further damage to mining and production.  Pine Grove closed in 1895.  Although large scale efforts to develop some remaining iron ore and clay reserves around Dillsburg were initiated in the early 1900s, the endeavor ended quickly.  All other operations in the Cumberland Valley ceased by 1910.

To attract new business, the CVRR began promoting passenger excursion service along these lines.  Since 1874, Williams Grove Park on the D&M line had been the home of the annual Great Granger’s Interstate Picnic and Exhibition sponsored by the National Grange.  On peak days, the railroad carried over 30,000 passengers to the show.  The  CVRR  invested  in  the  site  by  building  a station,  two  amphitheaters,  a  National  Grange  Hall,  and a  two-story  hotel.  In 1906, to accommodate the high traffic to the Granger’s Picnic as well as to lower operating costs, the line was adapted to carry electric trains similar to trolleys.

At the same time, in 1875, a park had been opened on the Mont Alto Iron Company’s property.  Mont Alto Park offered a variety of facilities including picnic shelters, a swimming pool, a refreshment stand, hiking trails and a carousel.  In 1902, ownership was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, making it the first state forest park.

In 1906, the CVRR purchased the D&M and the Mount Alto railroads outright.