In 1900 the Great Lakes Coal Company, led by industrialist Emmet Queen, owned over 28,000 acres of bituminous coal-bearing property out in Butler and Armstrong Counties in western Pennsylvania. The company was served by several railways but was seeking a more direct route to transport its ores to the steel mills in New Castle and more distant Pittsburgh. In about September 1903 they gained control of an existing stretch of twenty-one miles of track – part of the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad (B&LE) – from Brady’s Bend Township in Armstrong County to Queen’s Junction in Butler County, and decided to extend this line another twenty-eight miles west to New Castle.
The B&LE would “manage” the new railway, although it would remain a separate entity, for the Great Lakes Coal Company. Railroad agents were sent out to secure right-a-ways across the various properties in Butler and Lawrence Counties where the line would have to transverse to reach New Castle.
The steam-powered shortline railway, known as the Western Allegheny Railroad (WARR), was constructed between 1903 and 1907 and eventually totaled about forty-nine miles in length with another twenty miles of sidings and yard tracks. It reached Pumpkintown (East New Castle) in late 1906 and the entire line was opened for rail traffic on about October 8, 1906. At that same time the WARR, which linked up with other railways near New Castle, officially came under the ownership of the B&LE. The western terminus of the railway was extended south down to the main rail center in West Pittsburg a year later. After some prolonged wrangling the railway was finally able to work out a profitable deal to link up with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in West Pittsburg in late 1912. Other short extensions off the line were built in the coming years.
The WARR was designed and built primarily as a coal hauler, but the limestone plants around the Kaylor-East Brady area became major freight costumers. In particular the biggest such client was Michigan Limestone, which became a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel Corporation in 1920. Additionally, in December 1906, the line commenced limited passenger service as well. Over the years it added passenger stations at such places as Pumpkintown, Princeton, Rose Point, Grant City, Isle (Prospect), Grantsboro, and Kaylor. Bird hunters from the New Castle area, along with their dogs, would often ride these trains out to the more distant game lands in Butler County. A once-daily small freight run also provided local farmers a way to transport their crops to market. At its peak the WARR employed about fifty people, including the handful of locomotive crews, and owned fifteen old steam locomotives.
In August 1925 control of the WARR was transferred from the B&LE to the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). This essentially ended the quaint ways of the WARR as folks knew it. The PRR or “Pennsy” officials had big plans for the WARR, as they sought to modernize the line and extend its reach at both ends to connect to other PRR routes. The PRR had an optimistic outlook for the WARR, but those plans were permanently shelved during the tough times of the Great Depression.
During the 1930’s the PRR actually began phasing out portions of the WARR line. An article in the New Castle News of April 21, 1939, mentions that the entire WARR mainline was officially authorized for closure, but would be delayed due to, “…the building of the new three lane highway between Portersville and Route 19 and 422 Intersection, material for which are being shipped via the Western Allegheny Railroad, it is reported that the operation of the railroad between Queens Junction and West Pittsburg will continue until the end of that project.”
The same article, which provided a bit of history of the WARR, stated that, “About twenty years ago, there was located on this piece of track, about twenty coal mines, most of which were in Butler County, that made large shipments of coal. None of these mines is now in operation. In 1917, the road was loading 40 to 50 cars of coal, and 80 to 100 cars of limestone per day. In the same year, two passenger trains, each way, plied daily between New Castle and Kaylor. At the present time, locally, the Western Allegheny Railroad handles shipments to several gasoline companies, and a few coal yards, in East New Castle, and shipments from Rose Point Stone and Lime Company.”
The twenty-eight-mile WARR route between the B&LE connection at Queens Junction and the B&O connection at West Pittsburg was essentially shutdown on September 16, 1939. The original mainline from Queens Junction eastward to Brady’s Bend Township, twenty-one miles in length, remained in operation at a reduced capacity. The last steam locomotive was retired in 1957 making the WARR the last steam-powered railway in operation in the area.
In January 1968 the B&LE purchased the remaining WARR assets from the PRR and merged them into the B&LE. It’s safe to say this officially ended the WARR’s existence as its remaining locomotives were rebranded with the B&LE paint schemes and logos. The B&LE continued to run trains – some powered by the old diesel-electric F-unit locomotives so popular with rail enthusiasts – along stretches of what became known as the Kaylor Branch of the B&LE. The last remnants of the old WARR line in use by the B&LE were completely abandoned in 1996.
There was apparently no agreement (or no evidence was located) that the right-of-ways would revert to the original owners once the railroad ended service. In 2000, the approximately eighty property owners affected in Butler County formed an association, pooled their funds, and hired a legal team. They were eventually able to reclaim and purchase the old WARR right-of-ways for a total of $290,000. I assume the small number of affected property owners in Armstrong County were able to secure similar arrangements? Numerous newspaper articles reveal that the WARR sold off most of its right-a-ways and associated properties located within Lawrence County during the 1940’s.
The WARR tracks, gravel beds, and passenger stations were torn up or razed and few remains of the railway can be found today. If you take a look at a satellite map on the internet you can easily find traces of the abandoned railroad beds in Lawrence County. You can pick up the bed just north of the intersection of Routes 65 and 422 (near Willowbrook Road) in Shenango Township. Follow it as it arches up and travels below Frew Mill Road, crosses Route 388 near Birdhouse Lane, Copper Road and Cow Path Lane close to Frew Mill Road, Mt. Hermon Church Road, Princeton Station Road, and banks southwest towards the Muddy Creek Valley. The old WARR trestle is gone but it crossed the Slippery Rock Creek north of the old bridge at Rose Point. Afterwards, follow along as the bed crosses Route 19, angles down and just under Cooper’s Lake, banks sharply south and crosses Route 79, and angles up again and disappears under the northeastern portion of Lake Arthur before reappearing. The bed is visible just north of Lake Arthur for a good stretch, but gets much harder to locate as it moves deeper into Butler County.
The Western Allegheny Railroad was a small enterprise compared to most railways, but it served its purpose as a coal and limestone hauler and was a valuable asset to the residents of rural eastern Lawrence County and the neighboring areas in Butler County.
To read a short blurb from June 1903 about the progress on the railway click on: PROGRESS ARTICLE. To read an article how the railway came under the management of the B&LE in late 1903 click on: B&LE MANAGEMENT ARTICLE. To read a January 1905 article about how the railway will extend into New Castle click on: NEW RAILROAD ARTICLE. To read a blurb from April 1905 about a construction company being hired for the heaviest work click on: CONSTRUCTION ARTICLE. To read a July 1905 article about what the coming of the railway meant to New Castle click on: BRANCHING OUT ARTICLE. To read a short article about the building of the rail yard in February 1906 near Cascade Park click on: RAIL YARD ARTICLE. To read about a rumored takeover of the railway by the BR&P in early 1906 click on: BR&P TAKEOVER ARTICLE. To read an article announcing that the BL&E took over control of the railway in October 1906 click on: B&LE TAKES CONTROL ARTICLE. To read articles from December 1906 about how the residents of Prospect made a case for the name of the local station to be changed from Isle to Prospect and how the railway carried its first passenger click on: ISLE STATION ARTICLE and FIRST PASSENGER ARTICLE. To read an article about the railway extending down to West Pittsburg in November 1907 click on: WEST PITTSBURG EXTENSION ARTICLE. To read about the opening of the Princeton station in December 1908 click on: PRINCETON STATION ARTICLE. To read about how in November 1910 Catherine Weinschenk was awarded damages in a bitter dispute against the railway click on: WEINSCHENK VERDICT ARTICLE. To read about how the railway decided to build an extension to Rose Point in August 1911 click on: ROSE POINT ARTICLE. To read an October 1915 article about how hunters often jumped the railway to hunt birds in Butler County click on: BIRD HUNTING ARTICLE. To read about how the railway was transferred to the PRR in August 1925 click on: 1925 TRANSFER ARTICLE. To see a WARR Time Table from 1927 – generously provided by local train enthusiast Wayne Cole – click on: 1927 TIME TABLE.
The Western Allegheny Railroad, a coal and limestone hauler with limited passenger service, was completely opened between Queens Junction and New Castle in October 1906. A WARR locomotive and two cars cross the high trestle, which was over 500 feet long, across the Slippery Rock Creek near Rose Point. (c1909) Full Size
The WARR trestle near Rose Point. (c1915) Full Size
A postcard of the WARR trestle across the Slippery Rock Creek. This bridge is now gone but it sat north of the old Rose Point Bridge.
Another postcard of the WARR trestle across the Slippery Rock.
A train of the WARR in the yards at Kaylor, Pennsylvania, c1935. Full Size
A painting of the C. W. Myers general store and the Princeton Station stop along the WARR route. Charles W. Myers (1884-1961) and his wife – the former Daisy Frew (1885-1970) – operated this store from the time the WARR opened in 1906 until sometime in the mid-1920’s. Charles later worked in the mills of New Castle. The store and station are now gone but were located at “the bend” on what is now Princeton Station Road. (Painting courtesy of Charles Myers – via Wayne Cole) Full Size
The WARR station in East New Castle, also known as Pumpkintown, was located near Cascade Park. Initially this was the western end of the WARR line until an extension was opened down to West Pittsburg in late 1912. (Wayne Cole photo) (1939) Full Size
(Jan 2015) (Photo courtesy of Jason Sapienza)
(Jan 2015) (Photo courtesy of Jason Sapienza)