Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site


The Allegheny Portage Railroad, completed in 1834, was a system of tracks on inclined planes that crossed the summit of Allegheny Mountain, reducing the travel time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to four days instead of 23. The railroad linked the eastern and western canals of the Pennsylvania system in an attempt to compete with the Erie Canal for commerce.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
© National Park Service
The Allegheny Portage Railroad reduced the travel time from Pittsburgh to
Philadelphia to four days instead of 23.

Charles Dickens took a trip on the line in 1842 and later wrote down his impressions of the experience: "It was pretty traveling thus at a rapid pace along the heights of the mountain and with a keen wind, to look down into a valley full of light and softness and catching glimpses through the treetops...and we riding onward high above them like a whirlwind."

In the early 1800s, steam engines weren't very powerful, so this ingenious railroad system was devised to "walk" cars uphill. Railroad cars were attached by thick hemp ropes to a cable that was pulled from level to level by a stationary steam engine. Despite this new technology, more powerful locomotives and dependable railroads made the portage railroad obsolete, and it was abandoned after 20 years.

Four of the ten original inclined planes are visible at Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, in addition to excavated engine-house foundations, a bridge that was built without mortar, and the first railroad tunnel in the country. Near the summit is Lemon House, a restored tavern that once served as a rest stop for travelers.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site Information

Address: 110 Federal Park Rd., Gallitzin, PA
Telephone: 814/886-6150
Hours of Operation: Daily, 9 a.m. - 6:15 p.m. except Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, MLK Jr. Day and President's Day
Admission: Adults $4; Ages 15 and Under are Free

Learn more about these other national historic sites:

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic SiteClara Barton National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
Adams National Historic Site
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic SiteFort Raleigh National Historic SiteHampton National Historic SiteLincoln Home National Historic SitePuukohola Heiau National Historic SiteTheodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic SiteEdison National Historic SiteFort Scott National Historic SiteHarry S. Truman National Historic SiteLongfellow National Historic SiteSagamore Hill National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Eisenhower National Historic Site Fort Smith National Historic Site Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Maggie L. Walker National Historic SiteSaint Paul's Church National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Boston African -American National Historic Site Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic SiteFort Vancouver National Historic SiteHome of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic SiteManzanar National Historic Site

Saint-
Gaudens National Historic Site

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Eugene O'Neill National Historic SiteFrederick Douglass National Historic SiteHopewell Furnace National Historic SiteMartin Van Buren National Historic SiteSalem Maritime National Historic SiteUlysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Ford's Theater National Historic SiteFrederick Law Olmsted National Historic SiteHubbell Trading Post National Historic SiteMary McLeod Bethune House National Historic Site Saugus Iron Works National Historic SiteWeir Farm National Historic Site
Charles Pinckney National Historic SiteFort Bowie National Historic SiteFriendship Hill National Historic SiteJames A. Garfield National Historic SiteMc Loughlin House National Historic SiteSewall -Belmont House National Historic SiteWhitman Mission National Historic Site
Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Fort Davis National Historic SiteGloria Dei Church National Historic SiteJimmy Carter National Historic SiteNinety Six National Historic Site Springfield Armory National Historic SiteWilliam Howard Taft National Historic Site
Christiansted National Historic SiteFort Laramie National Historic SiteGolden Spike National Historic SiteJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic SitePalo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Steamtown National Historic Site


Find out more about travel destinations in North America:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.