Original Document
Original Document
A Trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh along the Main Line of Internal Improvements, 1835.


A gentleman who travelled recently from Philadelphia to Pittsburg by the main line of the Internal Improvements of the Keystone State has communicated some notes of his journey to Poulson's Daily Advertiser. We publish so much of them as is necessary to convey an idea of the character and route of those great works, of which we have not hitherto observed even a meagre delineation. We take pride in presenting such evidences of the enterprise of our sister State, and in the reflection that the same blue sky is over us, the tame broad ocean laves our shores, the same glorious Union encircles us in all its protecting folds, and that we can proudly say, in view of the mighty works of improvement now progressing over the whole face of our country—"This is our own, our native land!"  

We left Philadelphia by the rail road, and were carried along at a good pace on the bank of the Schuylkill, which we crossed by a splendid viaduct which is 1045 feet long, 41 wide and 30 feet above the surface of the water—Then comes the first inclined plane, the length of which is 2805 feet. The horses being detached, we ascended by a stationary power.— The sensation, while rising by this process, cannot be described. It is fearful, yet exhilarating.—You shrink from it, yet you love it. There is something unspeakably grand in the operation. Awaiting our arrival at the top stood the locomotive, spitting off its steam spitefully as if vexed at our long delay. It was like a spirited steed champing the bit, and impatient to be gone. We were soon under its control; and giving a few rapid puffs, it bore us onward in a majestic line with accelerated velocity, until our speed was absolutely bedizzening. Who that knows the delights of regular and rapid motion, can fail to attest the pleasure of this unequalled mode of travelling! It verily puts the most surly into a happy mood, and taciturn lips are open in cheerful accents here. Such was the effect upon our company, and never was there a travelling party more agreeably consorted.

The principal part of the Rail road lies in Lancaster county, the garden spot of Pennsylvania; so that while we had social pleasure within, we had the richest scenery without. But you will wonder how we could view it, whirled along at this tremendous rate? The answer is, that although at such speed, near objects cannot be seen with any degree of satisfaction, the rapidity hinders not the view of the more distant landscape. The country is highly cultivated, and presents a rolling surface of grain and meadow, interspersed with fine forest trees. The farm houses are in appearance substantial, rather than attractive. There are indications on every hand of thrift and opulence.

The rail road enters the town of Columbia on the Susquehanna, by a descent on an inclined plane of 1720 feet. It here joins the main division of the Pennsylvania canal. The length of the rail road is 81 miles, and the cost including engines, is said to be $3,500,000.— Its greatest altitude above the tide waters of the Delaware is 555 feet. We now left the rails for a more tranquil mode of conveyance. It was a great, yet an agreeable change; for to a traveller, you know, almost any change is agreeable. We had been under great exhilaration, we had now time to cool down and prepare for sleep.
The canal commencing at Columbia, follows the Susquehanna to its junction with the Juniata, and ascends in the direction of the latter stream towards its source.— The most important town it passes is Harrisburg.

We soon left the Susquehanna, and entered the less imposing, but even more beautiful Juniata. At their junction the scene is highly attractive.

The Pennsylvania canal pursues mostly the north bank of the Juniata. It crosses it however, nine or ten times, and once by means of a rope ferry and machinery. The banks of this river present every variety of scenery. There are cultivated fields coming down to its brink, showing on their fine slope the green meadow and the promise of a rich harvest. Then will suddenly burst upon you the tall precipice overhanging the stream, and apparently ready to fall, producing that shuddering, yet delightful sensation experienced amid the steam features of God's works. Now would come in view the conical hill, clothed to the very summit with soft foliage, and now the deep dark gap where the river seemed to struggle for egress. The Juniata I pronounce one of the most beautiful streams I ever beheld. All my companions united in the same decision. Amid the solitude and sublimity of the scene, our boatmen, perched upon the stern of the packet, played two Kent bugles, whose notes swelled along the river and were echoed by the hills, and one might fancy himself in the regions of a fairy creation.

The length of this canal is 172 miles, having 18 dams, 33 aqueducts and 111 locks. It terminates at Hollidaysburg, a few miles from the base of the Allegheny mountains. Now comes the Allegheny and Portage Hill road that crowning work of this enterprising State. Were we not tired of the canal? No; for such were the superiority of our accommodations, and the social spirit of our party, and above all, such the rich variety of the scenery, that never was time known to pass off more pleasantly. Canal travelling on this may be diversified by a walk along the bank, or even a short ramble to an adjacent hill where wild flowers grow in abundance. Still we are glad of the opportunity to resume our favorite mode of conveyance.

The sun was about setting when we arrived at Hollidaysburg. It is usual for passengers to spend the night there, and ascend the mountains by daylight.— But we were for proceeding. When we made known our wishes to the agent, he declared it impossible to go on, as the fires of the stationary powers had gone down, and a passage up the mountain at night was a perilous undertaking. A council was called. Some were for proceeding, and some strongly remonstrated. The bold, and perhaps I ought to call it, the reckless policy prevailed. The agent, seeing our anxiety to go, at length seconded our wishes, by sending an express ahead to have fires re-kindled, and all things in readiness. And now just at night, the Alleghenies full in view, we were again on the track rolling toward our destination.

We had just started when the cry was raised, "A car, a car is coming!" and sure enough, moving down upon us with threatening speed was a train of cars heavily laden with iron. Had we come in contact, they would have crushed us in a moment, but we were expert enough to reach a turn-out place in lime to avoid them.  Again we started, but another mishap was experienced. One of our horses halted, and plunging off a declivity broke the tongue of the forward car, and gave a shock to the whole company. Here, it was thought, was evidence that we ought to turn back but the bolder policy still prevailed. The agent had gone on to re-kindle the fires, and now we must go forward; so forward we went, and nothing further occurred to hinder us. It was after dark when we arrived at the first inclined plane. As we neared the mountains. their lofty precipices were dimly visible and terrifically grand. It was a moment of intense interest to ns all; the scene was new; the ascent by night, formidable.— Many were the inquiries, " Is it possible; is it safe?"— But there was no retreat. The cars were fastened, and by a signal at the foot of the plane, (the waving of a lantern,) the light at the top was extinguished, and we began slowly to ascend. Our upward movement increased as we proceeded. We hung on the sleep plane by a single rope, and every heart seemed to tremble at the possibility of its rupture. On each side, and within two or three feet of the hill, were precipices just disernable by the faint starlight, while over our heads frowned the gigantic pillars of the Alleghenies. But we rose majestically and soon heard the hissing of steam at the stationary power. One ascent gained without accident, we all began to breathe and take courage. To some of the party the passage of the Alleghenies by night was full of pleasurable excitement.—The very darkness added to the interest; and the ascent, flight after flight, by five steep inclined planes, each nearly a mile in length, seemed like Jacob's ladder, to be carrying us to the very Heavens. We reached the summit level in safety, and all, I believe, were disposed to breathe a silent thanksgiving to our gracious Preserver.

We took supper at midnight on the summit of the mountain, and after two or three hours of sleep, some on beds, some on the floor, we resumed our journey as the dawn appeared. We were all in fine spirits — The air was bracing. We were on the ridge of the great partition wall which nature had interposed between the east and the west. I had always seen the rivers run east, and now for the first time I saw them take an opposite direction Can any one stand on this elevation and not feel excited?

It was soon apparent that we were descending toward the west. The rail road traverses some of the most solitary passes of the mountains. Amid one of the wildest gorges, we met a train of cars under the conduct of a locomotive. As it neared us coming on with sublime pace, fortunately not in the same track, every eye was fixed; but it flashed by like lightning, causing us to recoil at its close and dreadful proximity. After it passed, the road curved so as to give us a full view of the whole train, which swept along in fine style, and was out of sight in a moment. Let any man see, amid the solitary defiles of the Alleghenies, such a train, borne on by the power of steam, and he must feet a full impression of the enterprising spirit of the age. The double track not being completed the whole distance, our cars met occasionally a heavily laden train, and then the only alternative was to lift our cars off the track, let the current pass, and lift them back again.—This we had to do several times.

Before we began to descend, we came to the celebrated [Staple Bend] tunnel, a passage through which was of course anticipated with great delight. This wonderful work of art is through a solid rock of 870 feet in length, consisting of an arch of heavy masonry 20 feet high. The rumbling of the cars in this subterranean way is like the reverberations of distant thunder. Now came the five inclined planes by which you descend the mountain, and the sensation is scarcely less than in the ascent.— The length of this rail road over the Alleghenies is 36 mile, overcoming an aggregate height of 2,750 feet.— Besides the inclined planes and tunnel, there are four expensive viaducts. All these works are of the most substantial masonry. One gentleman was heard to say in relation to them,—" These Pennsylvanians think the reign of Time is over; they are building for eternity."

At Johnstown, on the river Conemaugh, we entered the western division of the Pennsylvania canal. It follows this stream to the Allegheny, and terminates at Pittsburg. It is 104 milts long, has 64 locks, 10 dams, 2 tunnels, 16 aqueducts, 64 culverts, 152 bridges. The whole distance to Pittsburg, from Philadelphia, by rail road and canal, is 395 miles The canal which commences at Johnstown, passes through a tunnel more remarkable even than the one already described. The height of the hill which it perforates is 250 feet. We passed it in the night; by the help of lanterns we saw it to fine advantage—but our amazement arose greatly when we were informed that we were actually passing  under a man's farm, and that the well of its owner was directly over the tunnel. What will not human enterprise accomplish? But now the black volumes of smoke in the distance, tell us we are near the great Birmingham of the west; and as I have ended, for the present, my journey, so I will terminate my epistle.

Yours, J. B. W.

Credit: Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1828-1835), 139-140.
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