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The Rail Archived
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Fall & Winter 1996
Fall & Winter 1996

Along the Trails
Submitted by: Rails to Trails of Central PA

Allegheny Portage Railroad Trail

This trail, located at the summit of Cresson Mountain on the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, is a five mile trail with 1.5 miles on an abandoned rail line. The trail surface is woodchips and grass. Hiking and cross-country skiing are permitted on the entire trail and mountain biking on designated sections.

This trail, so rich in history, was once part of the canal and rail system across the state known as the "Main Line." Building much of the 394 miles of canals and railroads across Pennsylvania to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, although very labor intensive, wasn't all that difficult. But getting over the rugged Allegheny Mountains presented engineers with a most difficult task. Conquering this barrier involved as unusual method called a "portage railroad." This type of railroad, resembling a giant staircase, moved rail cars over the mountains by lifting and lowering them from one level to another using a series of inclinded planes. The Allegheny Portage Railroad operated from 1834 - 1857 and included the first railroad tunnel in the United States - the Staple Bend Tunnel constructed 1828 - 1834 was 901 ft. long. The 160 - year old Lemon House Tavern (currently undergoing major restoration work), Engine House #6, the Skew Arch Bridge, Staple Bend Tunnel, stone culverts and stone railroad toes (called "sleepers") are only a few of the many historical structures still found along the trail.

The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site is a great place to take the entire family. Not only is there a nice trail but at the Visitors' Center you will find exhibits, models, interpretive displays and a 20-minute film which tells the history of the incline railroad and canal. There is also a picnic area with pavilion. During the summer months, there is a series of programs, skits and demonstrations of activities in the ampitheater. There are also special events along the Allegheny Ridge and the "Main Line" of the Pennsylvania Canal.

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