Crossing The Mountain Top
( Originally Published 1900 )
At the eastern base of the main Allegheny range a long mountain valley stretches broadly from the far northeast to the southwest, and here is Tyrone, a settlement of extensive iron works, and the outlet of the greatest bituminous coal-fields of Central Pennsylvania, the Clearfield district, the town of Clearfield being about forty miles to the northwest. Northeast of Tyrone, this valley is called the Bald Eagle Valley, a picturesque and fertile region ; and to the southwest it is the Tuckahoe Valley. At the base of the Bald Eagle Mountain, thirty-three miles from Tyrone, is the town of Bellefonte, another iron region, handling the products of the Bald Eagle and Nittany Valleys, and receiving its name from the "Beautiful Fount" which supplies the town with water. This is one of the most remarkable springs in the Alleghenies, pouring out two hundred and eighty thousand gallons of the purest water every minute. Following the Tuckahoe Valley southward, at the base of the main Allegheny range we come to the Pennsylvania Railroad town of Altoona, and eight miles farther to Hollidaysburg. Each is a representative town—Hollidaysburg of the past methods of crossing the mountain top, and Altoona of the present.
In 1836 Mr. David Stephenson, the famous British railway engineer, made a journey across Pennsylvania by the methods then in vogue, and wrote that he travelled from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, three hundred and ninety-five miles by the route taken, in ninety-one hours, at a cost of three pounds sterling, about four cents a mile, and that one hundred and eighteen miles of the journey, which he calls "extra-ordinary," were by railroads, and two hundred and seventy-seven miles by canals. This' was the line used for twenty years, a main route of travel from the seaboard to the West, having been put into operation in 1834. It followed the Columbia Railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia on the Susquehanna, the canal up the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers to Hollidaysburg, a portage railroad by inclined planes over the main Allegheny Mountain ridge to Johnstown, and the canal again, down the Conemaugh and Allegheny Rivers to Pittsburg. There were one hundred and seventy-two miles of canal from Columbia to Hollidaysburg, which went through more than a hundred locks and crossed thirty-three aqueducts, having risen about six hundred feet above the level at Columbia when it reached the eastern face of the mountain. The canal west of Johnstown was one hundred and five miles long, descended sixty-four locks, and went through a tunnel of one thousand feet. The Portage Railroad of thirty-six miles crossed the mountain by Blair's Gap, above Hollidaysburg, at twenty-three hundred and twenty-six feet elevation, through a tunnel nine hundred feet long. There were ten inclined planes, five on each side. The steepest side of the Allegheny Mountain being its eastern face, the railway from Hollidaysburg to the summit, though only ten miles long, ascended four-teen hundred feet, while twenty miles of railway on the western side descended eleven hundred and seventy-two feet. The cars hauled up the planes each carried - three tons of freight, and three cars were hauled at a single draft. There could be twenty-four cars carrying seventy-two tons passed over in one hour, which was ample for the traffic at that time, the average business being three hundred tons of freight a day. This amount would be carried in less than ten of the big cars of to-day. It took passengers eight hours to go over the mountain, halting one hour on the summit for dinner.
This route was superseded by the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing above Altoona, opened in 1854, a road made for ordinary trains ; and then Hollidaysburg became a town of iron manufacture, losing the bustle and business of the Portage, which was abandoned. The railroad company acquired a large tract of land between the main Allegheny range and the Brush Mountain to the southward, which has a deep notch, called the " Kettle," cut down into it, opening a distant prospect of gray mountain ridges behind. Here has been established the most completely representative railway city in the world, having enormous railway shops, a gigantic establishment, and a population of thirty-five thousand, almost all in one way or another dependent on the Pennsylvania Rail-road. Altoona is at an elevation of about eleven hundred feet above tide, and the railway climbs to the summit of the mountain by a grade of ninety feet to the mile, winding around an indented valley to get the necessary elevation. At its head this valley divides into two smaller glens, with a towering crag rising between them. Having ascended the northern side, the railway curves around, crossing the smaller glens upon high embankments, doubling upon itself, and mounting steadily higher by running up the opposite side of the valley to the outer edge of the ridge. This sweeping curve gives striking scenic effects, and is the noted Pennsylvania " Horse Shoe," and the huge crag between the smaller glens, in which the head of the Horse Shoe curve is partly hewn, is Kittanning Point. This means the " great stream," two creeks issuing out of the glens uniting below it; and here was the route, at sixteen hundred feet elevation, of the ancient Indian trail across the mountain, the "Kittanning Path," in their portage between the Juniata and Ohio waters. It shows how closely the modern railroad builder has followed the route set for him by the original road-makers among the red men. The Pennsylvania Railroad carries four tracks over the mountain, piercing the summit by two tunnels at about twenty-two hundred feet elevation, with two tracks in each. The mountain rises much higher, and has coal mines, coke ovens and miners' cabins on the very top. This is the water-shed dividing the Atlantic waters from those of the Mississippi, flowing to the Gulf, and Gallitzin, a flourishing mining village, is the summit station of the railway.