Historical Markers
Logan House Historical Marker
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Logan House

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
11th Ave. at 13th St., Altoona

Dedication Date:
April 1947

Behind the Marker

Logan House photograph.
The Logan House, Altoona, PA, circa 1865.
The Logan House was recently pronounced by an intelligent English traveler to be "better than any in Europe, and equal to any in America."

                                             -Pennsylvania Railroad travelogue,1855.

Recognizing the business opportunities created by its rail line, the Pennsylvania Railroad diversified its business ventures soon after its organization. In the decades that followed, the railroad built dozens of train stations that ranged in size from small, one-room shelters to palatial, multi-million dollar terminals in New York, Philadelphia, and other metropolitan centers. On land purchased along its tracks, the railroad became a major real estate developer, financing and in certain cases helping construct upscale suburban communities. To serve its growing number of passengers, it built and ran well-appointed hotels. A classic railroad hotel that entertained presidents and royalty, the Logan House operated for nearly seventy-five years in Altoona.
Logan House 1909 postcard
Logan House 1909 postcard

When the Pennsylvania Railroad was building its line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Altoona didn't yet exist. PRR actually founded the town in 1849 as the location for its markerlocomotive and car repair shops. There, the company built a complex of buildings to support the town, including the Logan House, which served as a logical stopping-off place for travelers.

Construction on the Logan House began on July 6, 1852, the same year that PRR first ran trains from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Working under Thomas Burchinell, a PRR carpenter foreman, a crew of seventy-five men completed the massive 106-room hotel the following year.

In the decades that followed, the Logan House, according to William B. Sipes 1875 Guidebook, "has become the model for many similar institutions in all parts of the country."

Immediately in front of the Logan House is an open station, built entirely of iron, elaborately ornamented, and paved with slate flagging, under which all passenger trains over the road stop. From the veranda of the hotel a view is had of this entire station, and probably at no other place in America can such an immense amount of railroad travel and traffic be seen. At almost every hour of the day and night trains are arriving and departing."

The prominent porch almost gave the hotel a different name. Before it was christened Logan House, after a regional Indian leader named markerChief Logan, the railroad considered naming it "Verandah House." When a passenger train arrived, a head waiter appeared on the verandah and whacked a Chinese gong to summon the riders to the hotel dining room - twenty minutes for lunch was all the time allowed.

One humorist who stayed at the Logan House later quipped that it was "about the size of Rhode Island." Stretching for more than 200 feet along the PRR tracks, the four-story hotel featured three large parlors. Sometimes used for weddings, they were carpeted with red velvet flooring and decorated with red-plush furniture. A billiard room and barber shop offered diversions. Extending nearly the length of the building, a dining room served hungry travelers and hosted balls, receptions, and other social events. From 1885 to 1900, the PRR Mechanics' Library occupied one section of the building. From 1903 to 1930, PRR's own Middle Division offices operated from that same space.
A photograph by William Rau of the Interior of dining car, 1891
A photograph by William Rau of the Interior of dining car, 1891

Guests at the Logan House included U.S. senators and generals, seven presidents, and most Pennsylvania governors of that day. Other guests included Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln, circus promoter P. T. Barnum and Edward Albert, Prince of Wales, who in 1901 became Great Britain's King Edward VII.

The hotel's finest hour happened in almost complete secrecy. Nearly eighteen months into the Civil War, the Confederacy had won many decisive victories, Northern support for the war was weakening, and President Abraham Lincoln needed both moral and political support. To strengthen an embattled President Lincoln and coordinate Union war efforts, Pennsylvania markerGov. Andrew Curtin convened the Conference for Governors of the Loyal States. With no reporters present and little press coverage afterward, fourteen governors gathered in Altoona for two days on September 24 and 25, 1862, just two days after Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation. There, the governors gave Lincoln a vote of confidence, and promised their support. "It was this conference–which more than any other thing," the Altoona Mirror reported on its 50th anniversary, "strengthened Lincoln's hands in the darkest hour of the war period."

As trains became faster, more reliable, and more comfortable, the nation's railroads developed efficient dining cars and a fleet of more than 8,000 Pullman sleeping cars. All of these changes rendered the railroad hotel concept obsolete. PRR closed the Logan House on June 30, 1927, and sold the property to the U.S. government for a post office in 1931.
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