• New Challenges for the Stewartstown Railroad

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania

Moderator: bwparker1

  by thebigham
Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc.
A Pennsylvania non-stock not-for-profit organization.
Tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
P.O. Box 456
Stewartstown, Pennsylvania 17363-0456
(717) 654-7530
We’re on the web at: http://www.stewartstownrailroad.com

December 3, 2009


The Stewartstown Railroad: Can it make the transition from one man’s mission to a viable
heritage tourism railway? Or will this unique, quaint piece of York County’s history go the way
of so many other small businesses? Amazingly, that decision seems to be in the hands of a
historical society in Bucks County Pennsylvania. And their answer appears to be, “show us the
money now!” Is it possible, a historical society that doesn’t care about history outside of its own
jurisdictional boundaries? An organization intent on its own agenda without consideration of the
collateral damage to other equally worthy preservation efforts.

While it served the transportation needs of many agricultural and business concerns in
rural southern York County from 1885 through the early 1990s, the Stewartstown Railroad now
finds itself in, if not the first, perhaps the toughest fight for survival it has ever faced. Having
survived the Great Depression, the onslaught of the automobile and truck, the wrath of Hurricane
Agnes in 1972, the financial collapse of the Penn Central (which was its connection to the
outside world) and the twelve years of inactivity that followed, it is now at the mercy of a distant
historical society apparently unwilling to see the diamond in the rough the railroad’s hometown
supporters can envision so clearly.

Why the fight to save this small, yet nonetheless significant, piece of York County
history? The Stewartstown Railroad may well be the very last of its kind in the Commonwealth
and perhaps the entire country. And that kind is the “farmer's railroad.” These operations, built
by and for the lineside farming communities, were the lifeline that enabled the farmer’s products
to reach the city markets efficiently and economically. They connected hamlets and villages
bypassed by the likes of the Pennsylvania Railroad and other famous names now consigned to
the history books. They did so with the lightest of rails and the smallest of locomotives. They
were kept running by the practical know how and conservative common sense of the farmers and
local businessmen who owned them. Indeed, save for the fact that steel wheels ran on steel rails,
operations of this sort represent a stark contrast to the more well known traditional history of

To this day, the Stewartstown remains completely intact, its entire original mileage lies
ready to be restored to operation and it remains in business under its original charter of 1884.
Recent research has documented that the Stewartstown Railroad is, in fact, the single oldest
surviving American railroad corporate entity in existence today, never having been merged with
another railroad, sold or been subject to any form of corporate reorganization. All seven
significant railroad structures along the 7.4 mile line has been listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. The entire railroad itself was deemed eligible for listing on the National Register
in 1997 and efforts are now underway to complete that nomination. The railroad’s physical plant
has not been significantly modernized since 1914. The Stewartstown Railroad is not merely
a “trip back in time” recreated as an amusement. This is the real thing, a living piece of York
County history, as it stubbornly clings to life in a world fast being overrun by suburban housing
developments and shopping malls.

Beginning in the late 1980s, after the railroad resumed local freight service in the wake
of Hurricane Agnes, it also began seasonal passenger excursions. These excursions, particularly
the Christmas and Easter specials, along with the Haunted Train specials operated for the
Stewartstown Lion's Club, were resounding successes for the company and also the community,
helping to generate significant business for local restaurants and other attractions.
Previous management let legendary rail historian George Hart, as the President of the
company and its largest shareholder, conduct business as he saw fit. And while his financial
generosity enabled the company to continue in operation, it also indebted the company to him
and discouraged attempts to guide the railroad back towards the path of self-sufficiency. Despite
concerns from some company officials at the time, the company agreed to acknowledge his
contributions as a lien. Prior to his death, it was widely believed that Mr. Hart had made
arrangements for the debts to be forgiven following his passing. Regrettably those arrangements
were never made and that lien has now passed to Mr. Hart’s estate and will soon be turned-over
to the Bucks County Historical Society. The BCHS has thus far refused to even meet with
Stewartstown Railroad officials to consider the railroad’s plight or to recognize the historical
significance of this unique property.

The situation is critical and the time for action is now. Since Mr. Hart’s passing, the
Board of Directors has been reassembled and steps have been taken to improve the management
of the Company’s business affairs. A detailed market research study and a viable business plan
to return the line to operating status have been prepared. Repairs have been started on the station
in Stewartstown, the locomotives have received maintenance, the line has been opened for motor
cars (small inspection vehicles sometimes referred to as “speeders”), plans have been made to
repair washouts, and track material is being accumulated to rebuild the track and resume
operations. Decades worth of debris is being cleaned up and historic records are being archived
and organized. Open houses and other activities are capturing the imagination of local citizens
and creating interest from a new generation of volunteers. And yet, it may be too late. If the
Bucks County Historical Society insists on immediate payment of the $350,000 lien, the only
way to accomplish this is to substantially liquidate the railroad. Unfortunately, presently the
Stewartstown Railroad is worth more dead than alive. While supporters are making contributions
through the Friends, there is no consistent income stream to justify a bank loan and income
generating operations are still a year or more away.

What is the solution? The railroad that was so much of Mr. Hart’s life (and which he
inexplicably abandoned after 35 years of stewardship even as he led its decline) has enough
liquidation value to ensure that Bucks County Historical Society’s lien is not at risk. If Bucks
County Historical Society can be convinced to forego payment for several years, the Friends feel
that the Stewartstown Railroad can be rejuvenated and turned into a self-sustaining operation
that can support a loan or other arrangement for the repayment of the lien.

Please contact the Bucks County Historical Society and ask them to consider meeting
with and cooperating with the Stewartstown Railroad and the Friends to try and preserve and
maintain this small jewel of railroading. The Bucks County Historical Society's address is 84
South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA 18901-4999, their telephone number is 215-345-0210 and
their email address is [email protected].

The Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation
created to preserve the historic Stewartstown Railroad. Correspondence and questions
regarding this news release may be addressed to the
Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc.
P.O. Box 456
Stewartstown, Pennsylvania 17363
(717) 654-7530

For further historical background on the Stewartstown Railroad, please visit
http://www.stewartstownrailroad.com or see the books The Story of the Stewartstown Railroad,
available from the Baltimore Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and Steel
Rails to Stewartstown available from the Friends.

The Friends would like to acknowledge the dedicated support of the Stewartstown
Historical Society, also a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and their contributions to preserving
the Stewartstown Railroad.
  by Tom_E_Reynolds
The question is why did the Board of Directors agree to the "lien" without much resistance or review? They also needed legal representation. Its a shame they didn't get it. They signed away the railroad that day. They really should have know better.

Its sad that George Hart, in his will, explicitly stated

"I wish to remind my executors that I have over the years advanced funds and made unsecured loans to the Stewartstown Railroad Company, York, Pennsylvania, in the amount of $352,415, which is the amount due to my estate at the time of the writing of this will," it said. "My executors are directed to retrieve said monies for my estate."

It sure seems like George knew all along it would come to this. I wonder what they did to make him so mad?
  by Sir Ray
Apparently the railroad carried freight till 2004.
My question is what became of the former freight customers - do they still exist and can they be convinced to return to shipping by rail (if the railroad is purchased by a different group or York County)
  by thebigham
^The track is so bad on the Stewartstown that major rehab has to be done before freight service can return.
  by Sir Ray
thebigham wrote:^Well, it looks like there are some freight customers near the interchange in New Freedom and in Shrewsbury:

http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=qm6jvy ... 21740-5339

The tracks closer to Stewartstown are in rough shape.
I tried following the route
First, the wye in New Freedom (right North of the former roundhouse), when you go west (left) that can't be the Stewartstown - trackage is in good shape, and seems active - NS, maybe?
Stewartstown, there look like 2 industries around the wye, the one to the south of the Wye was torn down at some point, and either rebuilt or looked pretty good before they torn it down, I can't tell (rotating the Bing view gives you both cases) - either way, no rail there anymore - the other industry, can't tell if its active.
Otherwise I saw maybe 5/6 potential industries, including the one the tracks bisect, and no sidings or spurs (except for the first industry in New Freedom, I guess,the one with the flatcars on it in the Motorcar video.
Can anyone pinpoint the actual shippers as of, say, the turn of the century - 2000?