Coal mining and railroads were intricately related in Clearfield County for well over a century. Those industries once provided the base of the brick manufacturing plants, construction projects, small businesses and a host of other “spin-off” industries found in this part of Pennsylvania prior to the coming of the post-industrial economy.
The Beech Creek Railroad was a subsidiary of the Cornelius Vanderbilt’s original New York Central Railroad. Some would call Vanderbilt a business tycoon of his day.
Others characterized him as a Gilded Age robber baron. Nevertheless, his long arm of his corporate power extended into the central part of Clearfield County. The railway began operation in 1893.
William Wallace, Rembrandt Peale, Israel Test, E.H. Bigler and Joseph Gazzam were all original investors. Their names live on in the business and industry history of Clearfield County.
Much of the Beech Creek line, in Clearfield County, followed the approximate flow of Little Clearfield Creek through Olanta, New Millport, Kerrmoor and then on to the long-gone coal town of Gazzam, in Jordan Township.
Friendship Tunnel, Ferguson Township, was built to provide railway access beneath and through the local hilly terrain. The photo shows the tunnel entrance as it looked in the very early years of the 20th century.
The photo also shows the incredible craftsmanship and is a tribute to the engineers, local stone cutters and construction workers who designed and built the archway and supports for the tunnel.
The tunnel had to be built to withstand the pressure of the ground and rock above, as well as the daily vibrations of the many trains that passed through. Quarrying the local sandstone need for the tunnel would have been another spin-off industry.
The Beech Creek Railroad could not survive the prolonged economic miseries of the 1930’s. The interior has since been collapsed and only the entrance is present today. It ceased operation in November of 1937.
The New York Central lived on to undergo years of financial stresses and mergers. Railroads have made somewhat of a comeback but they are not what they once were.