Crest of the Alleghenies

On leaving Altoona the traveler will observe, by the steady movement of the train, that it is feeling the power of the locomotive; and he need be scarcely be told that the strength of the iron-horse is drawing it up a grade of over ninety feet to the mile. The valley besides him appears to be sinking, and the prospective widens, while to the front new mountains spring, as if by magic, into view.


Kittanning Point is so named from the great Indian path or trail, between Kittanning and the valley of the Delaware, which crossed the mountain through this gorge.

At Kittanning Point the road is carried around a curve which is a wonder of engineering skill. The valley it has followed for six miles here separates into two chasms, neither of which can be made available for further progress. Another opening into the giant barriers must be gained, and the engineering science proved equal to the task of reaching it. By a grand horseshoe-shaped curve, the sides of which are parallel with each other, – giving trains traveling the same way the appearance of moving in entirely different directions, – the road crosses both ravines on a high embankment, cuts away the point of the mountain dividing them, sweeps around the stupendous western wall, and leads away to a more tractable pass.


Reaching the new pass, the road continues its steady ascent through the very heart of the great dividing range of a continent.


At Allegrippus – a station possessing an Indian name often repeated in the surrounding country, where the bold scenery has called forth the enthusiasm and taxed the skill of artists – the majesty of the mountains seems to culminate. Gazing to the east, range and after range rises into view, until at last they fade away in the azure of the horizon. No limit but the power of vision bounds the prospect.


Gradually now, the valleys seem to rise, and as gradually the mountains sink, until the whole assumes the appearance of a rugged plane, where industry has found a place for furnaces, mills and mines, and over which many homes are dotted. A shrill scream bursts from the engine, and in a moment more darkness of the great tunnel enshrouds all. The victory has been gained, – the barrier is overcome – and the ironhorse is dashing over the summit, more than two thousand feet above the tide-line of the Atlantic.

Text from The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Origin, Construction, Condition, and Connections by William B. Sipes. Published by The Passenger Department of the Pennsylvania Railroad 1875.

It’s hard for us to imagine what travel over the Allegheny Mountains was like prior to the railroad and superhighways. The conquest of the Alleghenies in 1854 by the Pennsylvania Railroad inspired the imagination of many writers, painters and photographers of the day, who were awed by the technological achievement and ease of travel over the mountain wilderness. This railroad line endures to this day and is an important transportation corridor through central Pennsylvania. Researching the history of the region, I came across early written descriptions that marveled at the then new railroad and journey over the previously unsurmountable mountains. These descriptions, which form my captions, captivated me to find the geographical locations and make images that evoked the sentiment and admiration inherent in the historical text.

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