In 1869, two enterprising young men from Butler County, Pennsylvania, Russell H. Boggs (born 1844) of Evans City and Henry Buhl, Jr. (born 1848) of Zelienople, formed a partnership and opened up a small dry goods business, the Boggs & Buhl Department Store, on Federal Street in Allegheny City (now the North Side of Pittsburgh and next to PNC Park). The two men worked extremely hard and sold all sorts of items including suits, dresses, hats, furs, children’s clothing, and household items. Slowly but surely their business became a thriving success with its upscale store and a large mail order clientele. The Boggs & Buhl store soon expanded and became well-known throughout the Pittsburgh area for its unmatched customer service.
Boggs, a former traveling salesman, believed in expanding the local transportation network. Pittsburgh itself was served by a city-wide street car system, but there was no such service to reach the lucrative customers to the north of the city. Boggs envisioned an interurban railway as a solution to stay connected with his many customers and friends to the north. The line would provide daily passenger and freight service from Pittsburgh up to the counties of Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence.
In the early 1900’s several small companies were formed to start securing routes in anticipation of starting the new railway system. The right-of-ways were secured from various home and property owners. In exchange for these right-of-ways the companies promised the landowners they would establish a future trolley stop on their properties and/or run electric power (from the tracks) to their homes.
In 1906 a new corporation was formed, with Boggs as President and principal owner, in an effort to start the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Railway (PHB&NC), a short-gauge trolley that would become known popularly as the Harmony Short Line or simply the Harmony Line. The laying of track and building of infrastructure commenced immediately. Buhl, Boggs’ partner in the retail business, supported the effort but was not connected to the Harmony operation in any official capacity. Years later, in 1913, the Harmony Electric Company was formed from multiple interests and handled the electric power responsibilities associated with the Harmony Line.
The Harmony Line, with Henry “Hardhat Harry” Etheridge of Zelienople serving as Superintendent, opened for business in July 1908. It ran from Pittsburgh up to Evans City where it split into two sections. One line ran off to the northeast towards Butler, with stops in places known such as Buhl, Reiber, Meridian, and Lyndora. The other section ran west to Ellwood City and on to New Castle on roughly what is today Route 65/Butler Road. There were many smaller stops in between on the Evans City-Ellwood-New Castle line at such locales known as Harmony Junction, Zelienople, Frisco, Hazel Dell, Shenango, and Cascade Park. Over 150 stations along the way, but the trolleys would usually stop at the smaller ones only if someone was waiting to be picked up or wanted to stop there. There were also express cars that only stopped at select larger stations.
Harmony Junction was also home to a large carbarn and maintenance facility for the trolleys. Over time planned communities, such as that on Gardner Stop Road in Shenango Township, sprung up along the route as investors bought large parcels of land and subdivided them up into smaller lots for purchase.
The Harmony Line featured several dozen large wooden passenger cars, which typically carried about forty people, their baggage, and limited freight. Unlike the light rails or subways with multiple cars that most people may be familiar with today, the Harmony Line ran single cars along its tracks. The line also added an elegant party car, complete with a movie projector, which could be rented for parties and special occasions for the day. There was also a host of dedicated freight cars that were often used by farmers to carry their crops and livestock to the cities for sale.
By 1911 Boggs envisioned connecting the Harmony Line from Ellwood City to an existing streetcar system in Beaver Falls. As they lobbied for the streetcar franchise from the Ellwood City council Boggs and the Harmony Line came into bitter conflict with other interests, including one led by Ellwood City founder Henry W. Hartman, with similar designs.
The Harmony Line, backed by its wealth and political clout, won out and commenced construction of the 6.3-mile extension of the line from Ellwood City via Koppel to Beaver Falls in the fall of 1912. This proved to be an extremely difficult endeavor and was not finally completed until early 1915. For this extension they considered purchasing the older (and recently replaced) Pennsylvania & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE) bridge over the Beaver River, but decided to build a completely new bridge. The Koppel Bridge, carrying the trolley line and vehicle and pedestrian traffic (with a toll) over the Beaver River along modern-day PA-351, was completed in November 1914 and officially opened to the public on January 1, 1915. This line had stops at such stations as Park Gate, Hoytdale, Koppel, Homewood, and ended at the Harmony stop in the Morado section of northern Beaver Falls.
In 1917 the Harmony Line purchased the floundering Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway, which operated a trolley between Pittsburgh and Butler (roughly paralleling modern-day Route 8) and was popularly known as the Butler Short Line. The thirty-six-mile railway was soon incorporated into the operations of (but remained legally separate from) the Harmony Line. A new section of track connected the existing Harmony Line station at Evans City with Butler was also constructed. The longer cars of the former Butler Line had some compatibility issues with the Harmony tracks and were eventually replaced.
The Harmony Line, now encompassing about 110 miles of track, made day trips around the western Pennsylvania region very feasible as its cars zipped along at speeds up to sixty-miles-an-hour. Travelers could also transfer to other urban street car systems in New Castle, Beaver Falls, and Pittsburgh to continue their journeys. From New Castle one easily transfer over to Youngstown and could continue on – if one so desired – by various trolley systems all the way to Chicago. Of course that was usually done by train. The Harmony Line was quite successful but its existence was relatively short in nature. In 1919 the Harmony Line and the Butler Line were sold for $8.5 million to a young attorney and businessman named David I. McCahill, although Boggs stayed on with the board of directors.
As far as Boggs and Buhl go their days ended like this. In 1912 they sold their successful store and settled into retirement. Due to poor management the store bearing their name soon lost its luster and in a bold move they bought it back in 1915. Boggs, the senior partner who was married to Buhl’s sister Marie, died at the age of seventy-eight in July 1922. Buhl continued with the business until he passed away at about the age of seventy-nine in June 1927. With no heirs the store went into a trusteeship. It continued its operations for many years and slowly declined as with many other urban businesses. It was closed for good in 1958 and sadly demolished two years later.
The demise of the Harmony Line began with the widespread use of the automobile beginning in the 1920’s. By 1930, as the Great Depression began its stranglehold on the nation, the Harmony Line was nearing its end. It was slowly phased out and replaced by a more economical bus service, which the Harmony company had commenced along sections of the line as early as 1923. In the late 1920’s the Pennsylvania Power Company (Penn Power) began taking over control of the Harmony Electric Company. In April 1931 the Pittsburgh-Butler route was shut down, but the rest of the line continued operations despite increased financial loss. Before too long the entire Harmony Line closed down and ceased all operations on August 15, 1931.
McCahill continued to operate the profitable Harmony Short Line Bus Company until a decline in bus ridership throughout the 1950’s saw it cease operations by April 1, 1961. Most of the company’s equipment and routes were swallowed up by other transportation companies, including the Grove City Bus Company.
Despite the passage of time some evidence remains of the old Harmony Short Line. After the final closure in 1931 all of the tracks were eventually torn up and the various buildings and bridges associated with the trolley were generally sold off or torn down. The old carbarn and maintenance facility at Harmony Junction was demolished sometime in the mid-1930’s. A few of the former station buildings still stand such as the ones at Evans City, Wexford, and Koppel. Several streets are still named for stations in Shenango Township, including Rose Stop Road and Shenango Stop Road. The original Koppel Bridge built by the Harmony Line, though greatly refurbished, was sold to the state of Pennsylvania. The span operated as a toll bridge until 1957 and is still in use on Route 351 today. Many of the trackage right-of-ways can still clearly be distinguished on satellite maps on the internet.
All of the trolley cars were scrapped except for a single forgotten car (Car #115) that had previously broken down and was abandoned in Harmony. A former Harmony Line employee turned the car into Clarke’s Diner, a business that was expanded and changed names over the years. Eventually, in 1986, the car was donated to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pennsylvania, put in on display back at its facility. The heyday of the Harmony Line was short-lived but is remembered fondly by a dwindling number of people.
In 1906 work commenced on the laying of track and the building of bridges for the new Harmony Line. To read a few articles on that progress from 1906 to 1908 click on: OCT 1906 PROGRESS ARTICLE and AUG 1907 PROGRESS ARTICLE and MAR 1908 PROGRESS ARTICLE. To learn more about what the July 1908 opening of the Harmony Line meant click on: RELEVATION ARTICLE. To read about how New Castle and/or Lawrence County officials forced the Harmony Line to start stopping at all stations click on: MUST STOP ARTICLE. An unusual robbery took place near the Smiley Stop along the line in December 1909. To read about it click on: 1909 ROBBERY ARTICLE. To read a snippet about a funeral for a young man killed on the Harmony Line in February 1910 click on: BARNHART ARTICLE. Many new homes and small communities were built along the Harmony Line in the coming years. To read about two such communities click on: OWN A COUNTRY HOME AD and HARBISON LOTS AD. To read about two new steel cars added to the line in 1911 click on: NEW STEEL CARS ARTICLE and PLACED IN SERVICE ARTICLE. The cars of the Harmony Line occasionally encountered obstructions on the tracks. To read two articles about just such encounters click on: COW HIT ARTICLE and BOULDER ON TRACK ARTICLE. The Harmony Line, as with any railway, occasionally faced lawsuits from passengers, pedestrians, and property owners. To read an article about the line settling lawsuits in October 1911 with two women from Zelienople click on: LAWSUITS SETTLED ARTICLE. To read a front page article about a major wreck at the Hazel Dell stop in April 1912 click on: SMASHUP ARTICLE. In about 1912 the railway made plans to expand from Ellwood City down to Beaver Falls. To read about some preliminary work being performed by laying track under “the subway” in Ellwood City click on: TRACK DOWN ARTICLE. In October 1913 serious work was started on the Ellwood City-Beaver Falls extension of the Harmony Line. To learn more about it click on: WORK TO START ARTICLE. To read more the difficulty in building the new Ellwood-Koppel Bridge in January 1914 click on: QUICKSAND ARTICLE. To read the case of Rosa Scott, who was suing the line in January 1915, click on: ROSA SCOTT ARTICLE. To read a glowing editorial about the Harmony Line in May 1915 click on: HAIL THE HARMONY EDITORIAL. To read a January 1916 article about a Harmony car that nearly fell over the side of the Morado Bridge (the same one that young Ray Robinson, aka The Green Man, was shocked on just over three years later) click on: MORADO BRIDGE MISHAP ARTICLE. To read about a major accident involving the Harmony Line that occured at the North Sewickley Stop in June 1916 click on: NORTH SEWICKLEY ACCIDENT ARTICLE. To read about the death of two more injured victims a week later click on: ANOTHER DEATH ARTICLE and FOURTH DEATH ARTICLE. To read three short follow-up articles about the victims – especially Chris Haswell – from July 1916 click on: FOLLOWUP ARTICLES. In May 1917 the Harmony Line purchased the floundering Butler Short Line. To read more about that acquisition click on: BUTLER SHORT LINE ARTICLE. To learn about a Harmony motorman injured during a mishap at Morado Park in July 1918 click on: MORADA PARK MISHAP ARTICLE.
A typical maroon-colored passenger car of the Harmony Line. This particular car, built in 1914, had seats for forty-six people and was just over forty-seven feet in length.
A receipt from September 1891 from the Boggs & Buhl Department Store in Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh) PA. Store co-owner Russell Boggs later founded the Harmony Streetcar Line to essentially help reach lucrative customers to the north of the city. Full Size
A Harmony car sits near the station in Ellwood City. (c1911) Full Size
Two Harmony streetcars at the station in Ellwood City, located just behind the car on left on photo. The streetcar in middle of photo is about to head east on Spring Avenue. On the right of the photo is the rectory for St. Agatha’s Catholic Church. (c1910) Full Size
A Harmony car chugs along Lawrence Avenue in Ellwood City during late 1914. Full Size