All Aboard to Allentown – The Lehigh Valley’s Abandoned Railroad Stations

A tale of former passenger stations in Allentown, Pennsylvania – Allentown Terminal Railroad Station, Lehigh Valley Railroad Station and (East) Allentown Station for the Lehigh and New England Railroad Company. Allentown Terminal Railroad Station (ATR) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station (LVR) are the stations I’ll cover most thoroughly; they were the two main stations to serve the busy and growing city of Allentown in Northeastern Pennsylvania, whereas the Lehigh and New England Railroad Company (L&NE) was far smaller and less utilized.

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The stations for the ATR and the LVR were built shortly before 1900, and lived their lives just a stone’s throw from each other. Both stations lost their passenger services in the late 50s/early 60s, but fortune inevitably favoured the Allentown Terminal Station as it is the only one that remains standing—the Lehigh Valley Railroad station was torn down not long after the services were revoked.

The trains first came to Allentown in the 1850s. The first line was the Lehigh Valley Railroad which connected Easton and Mauch Chunk and provided both passengers and freight services. (Allentown 60.)

In the height of the railway boom, the Lehigh Valley was host to the Central Railway of New Jersey, the Ironton Railway, the Lehigh and New England Railway, the Lehigh Valley Railway, and the Reading Railway – the last of these being the one I am most interested in, and of course, the one in which the least information can be found.

Lehigh Valley Railroad Station:

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The Lehigh Valley Railroad was in operation prior to this historic station building’s construction. Previously, it had used a station located slightly south on Union Street. This original station and tracks remained in use for freight (Bartholomew Front 85,) but a larger and more grand building was required for the Allentown stop of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Below is a photo of the station in 1964, after services were withdrawn but (obviously) prior to demolition.

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The Lehigh Valley Railroad Company was founded in 1853, and came into operation from as early as 1855. The LVR opened their first passenger service in 1855 and the service ran from South Easton and Allentown. Shortly after, passenger service was extended to Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe.) (Saylor.) Once the service was fully up and running, line ran from and linked Mauch Chunk (today’s Jim Thorpe) with Easton, and followed the Lehigh River from Allentown to Bethlehem, and then far further afield.

The large and ornate building of the passenger station for Allentown’s stop on the Lehigh Valley railway was built in 1890 and was called the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station. The station sat at the foot of the Hamilton Street Bridge – and extended over the Jordan Creek.

This bigger station also led to bigger journeys. Passenger railway service was officially introduced on January 1, 1890 between the LVRC’s Slatington station and the Central New England and Western Railroad Company’s yard in Campbell Hall, New York. A one-way trip on the line took four hours and fourteen minutes. (Kulp, 14-16.)

The Lehigh Valley Railroad was also the railroad on which the Black Diamond ran to New York. My Grandmother, Betty Jean Christie, has fond memories of walking down the (many) steps of the station to the curving platforms, and of taking this train straight to New York City’s Penn Station!

The LVR reached its peak of passenger numbers in between 1941 – 45, but by the late 1950s, passenger numbers had dwindled to less than 25% of what they had been. Following this drastic dip in passenger numbers, and the heavy reliance of Americans on automobile travel, permission was granted for the Lehigh Valley Railroad to cease all passenger services in 1961. Shortly after, in 1972, the beautiful old Lehigh Valley station was torn down when it became necessary to expand the Hamilton Street Bridge. (This date is oft disputed and many books list the date of demolition as 1962, but pictures exist of the station in 1964, including the example previously shown, so I would argue that 1972 is the accurate date.)

Today, there are reminders of the once-great station around the base of the Hamilton Street bridge. The steel girders which held the station aloft over the Jordan Creek are still in place. The rails still exist, and it’s easy to see where the platform once sat (check out the raised bed on the right as the rail curves.)

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The former Allentown Terminal Railroad Station is just visible at the end of the bridge rail.

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Look at the curve on the right hand side to see the former brick and cement platform.

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Update:

Here are a few photos of the railway line in December 2016 – it is much more exposed without all the greenery!

Allentown Terminal Station:

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The Allentown Terminal Station also opened in 1890, and was located very nearby to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station. This station still sits, abandoned, at Hamilton and Race streets and upon its opening served patrons of the Central Railroad of New Jersey and also the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (later the Reading Railroad.)

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The Philadelphia and Reading Railway was chartered on April 4th, 1833 and completed to Philadelphia in 1838, and to Pottsville in 1841 (Smith.) The branch of the Reading Railway in which Mertztown station is located on runs from Allentown to Reading, and opened as the East Pennsylvania Railroad in May of 1859. This is commonly referred to as the East Penn Branch in many instances of railroad literature.

When talking about the lines running from the Allentown Terminal Station, and the connections to be made from them, economics professor Robert Saylor wrote that

“the East Penn Branch runs northeastward to Allentown where there is an important connection with the Central Railroad of New Jersey. A direct connection is also made there with the Lehigh Valley and an indirect one, via the Central of New Jersey, with the Lehigh and Hudson river.”

Further connections are mentioned in the book Allentown: a 225 year history, where it is written that

“Between 1857 and 1859 the East Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed which connected Allentown and Reading and which was linked to the Lehigh Valley at East Penn Junction, south of Allentown. It paralleled the old King’s Highway, along the base of South Mountain and provided rail service to towns {such} as Albertis, Macungie and Emmaus, as well as to Allentown” (Allentown 60)

Allentown Terminal Railroad also had a freight station that operated on the short line that was developed by both the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the East Penn Branch of the Reading Railroad.

The Central Railroad Company of New Jersey (NRCoNJ) had its origins firmly in the state of the same name, and it wasn’t until the Lehigh and Susquehanna railroad built an extension that connected Mauch Chunk to Easton that the railroad company was able to link up with the Lehigh Valley. The first freight train ran from Mauch Chunk to Phillipsburg in 1867, and by 1871 the CRCoNJ had leased the rails in order to encompass them into their company.

Both the Reading Railroad and the CRNJ had a very close operating relationship, and regularly leased and used each other’s lines. They also shared the same fates when it came to the popularity of the railroads. The lines running through the Allentown Terminal Railroad eventually suffered from the same issues that closed the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

The Reading Company abandoned the Allentown – Harrisburg passenger service in June, 1963. (Historic Railroads.) The Central Railroad Company of New Jersey (then Jersey Central Lines) discontinued all passenger services between Allentown and Jersey City between 1961 and 1967. (Historic Railroads.) The Reading Company and Jersey Central Lines combined their Allentown operations in 1965 and continued to use the Allentown – Bethlehem facilities but by then, the end was nigh for all parties involved.

Lehigh Valley ended all passenger operations in 1961, and the Central Railroad of New Jersey ended passenger service in 1967.

There was a short reprieve when “effective May 20th, 1974 CNS’s passenger service returned to the Lehigh Valley area when the company extended its Newark commuter operations west-ward from Hampton to Phillipsburg.” (Historic Railroads) but the majority of that era was devoted to shutting down the rail services.

After that point, the struggling railroads of the CNL, LV, and RDG were merged into Conrail in April of 1976. In 1978, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority brought back passenger service between Allentown and Philadelphia using the former Lehigh Valley rails. Of course these were the rails from the station that had been torn down – so passengers waited on a temporary platform in a parking lot nearby, but this service was ended in 1979. The line still exists, and there is talk of returning it to service – a plan which cannot come to life quickly enough.

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The old platform area and awnings.

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An old train carriage which sits on abandoned rails.

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This last photo is taken from almost the same angle as the historical black and white photo used above.

Lehigh and New England Railway Station:

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This railroad was a descendant of the South Mountain & Boston railroad, chartered in 1873. Company restructuring in 1895 led to the creation of the Lehigh and New England Railroad.

The branch of interest to me, the Allentown Branch, was opened on May 1, 1919. This branch ran from the East End of Allentown to Bethlehem. This was the smallest of the railroad companies to serve the Lehigh Valley, and it’s railway lines could argue to be the least direct. The main cities of importance that it served were Allentown and Bethlehem, and the railway did not run much in the way of passenger services.

In better times of the railroad’s history, passenger service covered “Slatington, Pennsylvania, to Campbell Hall, New York; from Nazareth to Bath; and from Allentown and Bethlehem to Bangor,” but passenger services had already started closing by 1938. (Himedo.net)

The railroad petitioned for abandonment in 1960, and the Lehigh and New England Railway was abandoned and sold off to other companies. The Lehigh Valley Railroad/The Central Railroad of New Jersey operated some of the line remnants, and from then, pieces of the railroad were then absorbed into Conrail. Abandoned track was removed in 1962.

The Allentown Station is said to be still standing, and I believe that it is this structure here. The brilliant west2k reference website lists the GPS coordinates to lead to this building, but also says the station is gone – however, this building must be the station or closely related to it!

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I’m quite convinced that the train tracks ran along the right side of the building, as not only is the ground (mostly) levelled off to that effect, but a buffer still remains at what would have been the end point of the track (below!)

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All photos © Emily Pulham 2014, unless otherwise stated.

Corrections and an education are always welcome! Please leave them in the comments section below!!!

Works Sited and Consulted.

The majority of books consulted were from the Allentown Public Library, the Bethlehem Public Library, and the Lehigh County Historical Society.

 

Books:

Images of America – Allentown

By Ann Bartholomew and Carol M. Front. (2002)

The History of Lehigh and New England Railroad Company

Editor – Randolph L. Kulp (1972)

Allentown 1762- 1987 a 225 year history Volume One and Volume Two

Editor – Mahlon H. Hellerich (1987)

Reading: Trains and Trolleys

Philip K Smith (2004)

Railroads of Pennslyvania: Fragments of the past in the Keystone landscape

Lorett Treese (2003)

The Railroads of Pennsylvania, Roger B. Saylor (1964)

Not published; part of LCHS archives.

A History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad “The Route of the Black Diamond” by Robert F. Archer

Lehigh Valley in Colour, Robert J. Yanosey

Nationa Railway; Historical Railroads in the Lehigh River Valley (1956 0 Addenda 1974)

Websites:

http://www.west2k.com/pastations/lehigh.shtml

http://www.american-rails.com/lehigh-and-new-england-railroad.html

http://www.northeast.railfan.net/lne_rstr.html

http://himedo.net/TheHopkinThomasProject/CoalFireIronSteel/Appendices/CatasauquaIndustryResidences/CatasauquaIndustries/Railroads/Kulp.htm

I’ve also written a few other blogs on related subjects – you can read more about the Allentown – Reading branch of the Reading Railroad and Mertztown Station here, and read about Los Angeles Union Station here.

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2 thoughts on “All Aboard to Allentown – The Lehigh Valley’s Abandoned Railroad Stations

  1. Dear Emily,
    I am a huge fan of the Lehigh and New England RR, as my dad and grandfather both worked at the Alpha Portland Cement Co. in Easton PA, which was serviced by the LNE. I later researched this road for modeling it in N scale ( 1:180). Sadly my father passed away before design got underway. All I had modeled was the entire cement facility at Easton. I had no track diagrams and very limited resources for locomotives and rolling stock. The internet had not yet been “created” yet……no WWW dot anything !!!! You had dial up services AOL, Compuserve, and not much else. I relied on chat groups on AOL for any info. It was there that I met a former LNE brakeman who was in charge of LNE employee reunion parties in Bath PA. He introduced me to many people who were former employees or their families, and from there I got leads on actual structure remains as well as right of ways still visible or in use.

    Now that the internet is a social staple, it is much easier to “google” something. I once drove the entire right of way of the LNE from tamaqua pa back into NY state at Maybrook. this was spread out over several years as the mainline route was approx 175 miles long. Today I could use google earth and track the right of way via satellite but that is boring and not as detailed.

    I am replying to your comments on the LNE station at Hanover st.
    I couldnt find a link to the picture on page 5 in the LNE Color Retrospect Book by Doug Lilly. This photo clearly shows an LNE freight train on the right hand side of the building. I cannot find track diagrams for this station but I assume that the track on the right was a branch off the Catasauqua line. There are also tracks visible on the left side of the station but further away from the building in a “back lot”. there are 2 more concrete “bumpers” with tracks leading to them. In later years this station was not used as the Catasaqua line was abandoned and the LNE itself ceased operations in Halloween 1961.

    If you require further LNE history or help with photos and locations etc., I would be glad to offer my assistance.

    Gerry

  2. what is that concrete silo structer just off union blvd allentown pa right next to the old lehigh and new england right of way?

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