Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad
|Dates of operation||1857–1944|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
The Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad was built in the 1850s to transport iron ore from local mines in Lehigh and later Berks County to furnaces along the Lehigh River. Originally owned by two iron companies, the railroad later became part of the Reading system, and parts of it remain in operation today.
From its founding in 1839 until the 1890s under the auspices of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, the Lehigh Crane Iron Company — the first enterprise in North America to successfully achieve anthracite charged iron smelting using the newly patented Scottish hot blast technology to produce a new, plentiful and inexpensive (even revolutionary) product anthracite iron — obtained much of its ore supply from limonite deposits in southern Lehigh County. The ore had to be hauled over rural roads and across Biery's Bridge to reach the company's budding furnace and casting complex at Biery's Port (renamed Catasauqua in 1854), which early on, would have eight of the first ten successful blast furnaces producing anthracite iron in the Lehigh Valley. The wagons used to carry the heavy ore did great damage to the roads, and as the furnaces expanded, the deficiencies of this method of transportation became clear.
The first successful anthracite blow and cast of iron occurred there on July, 4th 1840 about which Bartholomew & Metz note:
From that moment on, anthracite and the canals were of pivotal importance in the industrial development of the United States.Using anthracite as fuel in its production, iron for the first time became plentiful and inexpensive. For a period of thirty years, three decades that shaped the future of the valley, anthracite fueled furnaces throughout the Lehigh Valley produced greater quantities of iron than any other part of the nation.— Ann Bartholomew & Lance E. Metz, page 5, DELAWARE and LEHIGH CANALS
The initial application to the Pennsylvania General Assembly for a railroad charter, around 1853, was met with fierce resistance by local farmers, who feared that trains would frighten livestock, set fires, and destroy the local farming districts. The iron company was forced to compromise and charter the Catasauqua and Fogelsville Plank Road on July 2, 1853. While plank roads were a popular improvement in transportation at the time, the short stretch that was constructed was found wholly inadequate for the haulage of ore. The heavily-loaded wagons rapidly damaged the road and rendered it dangerous for travel. The Crane Iron Company persevered, and on April 20, 1854, the plank road was issued a modified charter to operate as the Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad. The newly chartered Thomas Iron Company partnered with Crane in support of the railroad in March 1856, and construction began shortly thereafter. Crane Iron owned 60% of the railroad stock, and Thomas Iron 40%.
The eastern terminus of the line was in West Catasauqua. Here, it connected with the private railroad of the Thomas Iron Company, which ran a short distance north to its furnaces at Hokendauqua, and that of Crane Iron, which crossed the Lehigh River to that company's furnaces at Catasauqua. It also connected with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, newly completed through the area. It ran westward through Whitehall Township, with stations at Mickley's and Seiple. It then turned southwestward to enter South Whitehall Township. The line crossed a high bridge over Jordan Creek to reach Guth's Station (later Guth), where there was a short spur to a local limestone quarry and ore pits. Leaving Guth, the railroad turned west, then south to climb across the shoulder of Huckleberry Ridge and reach Wulbert's Station (later Walbert), then ran southwestward into Upper Macungie Township. At Chapman's Station (named for Charles W. Chapman, superintendent of the railroad), it turned south again to reach Rupp's Station, a short distance southward. This was the extent of the first stage of the line, opened on July 14, 1857. Fogelsville was never directly reached by the line, but lay about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of Rupp's Station.
The desire of the Thomas Iron Company to build a furnace in the southern part of the county resulted in a further extension in 1864. Construction continued southward from Rupp's Station, through Crane Station (named for the iron company) and Trexlertown. Entering Lower Macungie Township, the Catasauqua & Foglesville made a connection with the East Pennsylvania Railroad, completed 1859, at Alburtis. It crossed over the East Penn and passed alongside the proposed furnace site, just south of Alburtis at Lock Ridge. In 1865, the line was extended south, across Swabia Creek and into the mountains. Climbing southeast and then running southwest along the side of the ridge, the line entered Longswamp Township, Berks County. It entered Red Lion from the northeast and passed on to Rittenhouse Gap and the Thomas Iron Company's magnetite mines there. A turntable was built at the end of the line. In 1868, the furnaces at Lock Ridge went into operation, shipping and receiving over both the Catasauqua & Fogelsville and the East Penn.
In addition to coal, ore and lime traffic, the railroad also operated passenger service from Alburtis to West Catasauqua, which would continue until September 29, 1935.
Ore spurs and wharves
The railroad could not run a spur to every mine site, and a number of "ore wharves" were constructed along the right-of-way. At the wharves, ore could be dumped from wagons into piles, and later transferred to railcars to be shipped to the furnaces.
Important mines did, however, warrant the expense of constructing branch lines, authorized by a charter supplement of April 8, 1861. The longest of these left the main line at Trexlertown, and ran as far as Breinigsville on the unfinished Allentown Railroad right-of-way. There it diverged, and continued to Farmington, the site of a large ore wharf, and ended at the ore pits in the vicinity of Klines Corner. A shorter branch, originating at Crane, ran west and then turned sharply north to end at the Wallner iron mine near Haafsville. Finally, a switchback was built from the main line between Red Lion and Rittenhouse Gap in the late 1880s, which served the hematite mines near Seisholtzville. Another charter amendment of May 26, 1863, allowing the railroad to extend to Bath (northeast of Catasauqua and terminus of the Bangor and Portland Railroad) was never utilized.
Most of the stock of the Catasauqua & Fogelsville was bought by the Reading in 1890, as iron ore from the Mesabi Range began to put pressure on local iron mining operations. It was leased to the Reading on December 8, 1893. Between 1916 and 1919, furnace slag was dumped under the Jordan Creek high bridge so that it could be replaced by a fill and culvert. Iron ore traffic continued to decline, and the local mines had all been shut down by the end of World War I. The mine branches remained in place, derelict, until the 1940s, when the three spurs and the main line south of Lock Ridge were abandoned. The Catasauqua and Fogelsville was formally merged into the Reading on August 10, 1944, probably to simplify the corporate structure of that railroad and to save on taxes, as with a series of other mergers the next year.
The line from Alburtis to the now-derelict furnaces at Lock Ridge remained in place to haul furnace slag until 1959, when it was abandoned. Otherwise, the line remained largely intact until after passing to Conrail. The connection in West Catasauqua with the Lehigh and New England Railroad (formerly the Crane Iron Company tracks) had been abandoned in 1961. Anticipating the abandonment of the former Lehigh Valley main line in February 1982, leaving only the moribund Ironton Railroad connection, the line east of Seiple was abandoned on December 21, 1981. The remainder survived the breakup of Conrail to become the Norfolk Southern C&F Secondary. It is operated as a branch line from Alburtis, serving a number of industrial customers in the Chapman area.
Field Survey from March 2010 shows almost all of the line from Alburtis to Rittenhouse Gap and Seisholtsville still easy to follow. Most posted "private property", but very evident and easy to trace with the help of Google Maps.
- Bartholomew, Craig L.; Metz, Lance E. (1988). Bartholomew, Ann, ed. The Anthracite Iron Industry of the Lehigh Valley. Center for Canal History and Technology. ISBN 0-930973-08-9.
- Kulp, Randolph L., ed. (1962). Railroads in the Lehigh River Valley. Lehigh Valley Chapter National Railway Historical Society.
- "Rail Merger Authorized". New York Times. July 30, 1944. p. S5. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
- "Reading Mergers Voted". New York Times. October 6, 1945. p. 27. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
- Taber, Thomas T., III (1987). Railroads of Pennsylvania Encyclopedia and Atlas. Thomas T. Taber III. ISBN 0-9603398-5-X.