Indiana County Rail Transportation

The Pennsylvania Railroad Comes to Indiana 

One of the important aspects of the county’s history comes with the modes of transportation. In today’s society we know the importance of being able to get from Point A to Point B. Today it is simple enough, we just jump in our car and drive, but in the history of Indiana County it was not that simple. In the early days people traveled by foot, horseback, or horse drawn carriage. What could be considered even more important was the advent of the railroad. 

August 1, 1854, the Indiana Register, published a story with the following headline: “Have We a Railroad Among Us?” In 1852, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the Blairsville Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) to extend north to Indiana. The Board of Directors of the PRR agreed on May 28, 1852 to build the Indiana Branch, to which the residents of the county subscribed $170,000 to the company’s stock. The mass amount of money provided by the residents showed how important the railroad was to their interests. 

street car
Indiana Street Car

Construction proceeded, although slowly, over the next few years. One of the difficulties came with receiving an adequate number of rails for the track. The P&T Collins Company advertised for 20,000 cross ties for the section between Campbell’s Mills (Black Lick) and Indiana, this was in December of 1854. By mid-December the track had been laid to Phillip’s Mill (Homer City) on the east side of Yellow Creek. 

Progress continued until May 27, 1856 when the Indiana Register reported the railroad had been completed. By June 10, 1856 the railroad was fully functioning, there were two daily passenger trains running between Indiana and Blairsville. The railroad consisted of a single-track totaling 19 miles and costing $310,000 to construct, but Indiana had its railroad. 

The Railroad Enables Business 

With the introduction of the railroad into Indiana County society, businesses were able to ship their products further geographically but also much more quickly.  

In 1887 the Prairie State Incubator Company was founded. The factory produced incubators that were regarded as the finest incubators being produced and were used for raising chicks from eggs. By 1913, the factory was reported as the largest in the world. 

There was a total of three factories; the first two were located at the present-day site of Floodway Park, but were destroyed by fire. The third and final plant was built in Homer City.  Beginning in 1937, the site was the home of Iler Manufacturing, the Syntron Company and later the FMC Corporation. Thanks to the expansion of the railroad Prairie State Incubator Company was able to ship its products to market in a more efficient way. 

Indiana County Street Railways Company 

The Hoodlebug operated on the Pennsylvania Railroad line, the nearby Indiana Street Railways Company operated their own separate trolley line. The Company served the town of Indiana, with branches to Ernest, Clymer, and Blairsville. Operations began in 1907, remaining in service until 1933, when streetcars were abandoned in favor of buses and automobiles. 

There were numerous trolley companies proposed, but the various proposals were combined into one company. Ridership of the trolleys declined thanks in part to the Great Depression. During the Depression the area coal mines downsized and factories closed – these were many of the people using the trolley line. Further buses and automobile travel came into popularity and now people could travel as they pleased and did not need to wait for the trolley to take them to town. Furthermore, the Company had an inability to make interest payments on its bonds. All of these factors taken together eventually led to the trolley’s demise. 

Indiana-Clymer Street Car Motorman_Andy Salsgiver_ Conductor Fred Kier_ unknown passenger
Indiana-Clymer Street Car. Pictured from left to right: unknown passenger, Motorman Andy Salsgiver and Conductor Fred Kier

So how important was the trolley system during its 26 years of existence? It transported millions of passengers to work, to shop, and to leisure excursions at trolley company-owned parks. According to records, some years the trolleys transported as many as three million passengers. The trolleys were also used to haul freight, supplies, and mail between the local businesses. There were also occasions where the trolleys transported injured miners and other workers to Indiana for emergency medical treatment. 

The Indiana County Street Railways Company coupled with the Railroad enabled the County to become more connected with the outlying communities. The system worked as a shipping line, mail service, and in emergency situations as an ambulance.