THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY: Corporate, Financial and Construction History Of Lines Owned, Operated and Controlled To December 31, 1945. Prepared by Coverdale & Colpitts, Consulting Engineers.
In preparation for its 1946 centennial, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company commissioned the engineering firm of Coverdale & Colpitts to prepare a comprehensive history of the company. Coverdale & Colpitts was a frequent consultant on PRR projects, and three members of the firm, William H. Coverdale (1871-1949), George H. Burgess (1874-1957) and Miles Coverdale Kennedy (1893-1965), had served in the engineer corps of the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh early in their careers. The commission involved the creation of two products. The first was a detailed corporate and financial history of the PRR system for the use of management only, completed in 1947. Using the data thus collected, Burgess and Kennedy produced Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which appeared in 1949. The latter was given extremely wide distribution, with copies sent to public libraries all along the system. The former was printed in a limited edition of 100 copies which were strictly controlled and issued only to certain corporate officers, making it an essential but extremely rare source for PRR history.
Specific copies of the Coverdale & Colpitts history were assigned to specific positions within the company and had to be passed to one’s successor when retired or promoted. Of the 100 copies, a number were kept in the Secretary’s vault in reserve. By the 1960s, however, as the company’s fortunes declined, and the information in the books became outdated, a few copies were given to libraries on request, and officers no longer turned them in to the Corporate Secretary. As a result, it is likely that some copies have been lost entirely, while the rest have been scattered, mostly in the hands of private collectors.
Although given free access to the company’s records, time constraints prevented Coverdale & Colpitts from doing truly thorough research. Instead, standardized data on corporate organization, finances and construction were collected from a few basic types of records. The most important were the surviving corporate minutes and annual reports of all the companies in the PRR system. Since the system’s growth spurt in the 1870s, company secretaries and lawyers had been producing digests of charters of incorporation, leases and other important legal documents as in-house reference works, most notably Samuel Hardin Church’s multivolume History of the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh, whose production ended with Church’s retirement in 1927. The Interstate Commerce Commission’s valuation of all U.S. railroads, carried out between 1913 and the early 1930s, required, under Valuation Order No. 20, that all companies submit manuscript corporate and construction histories. The ICC published abstracts of this data in its Valuation Reports, but copies of the more detailed manuscript originals were available to Coverdale & Colpitts. Construction data was also taken from the annual reports and from the PRR’s Record of Transportation Lines, annual listings of the mileage of each main and branch line dating back to 1878. Finally, Coverdale & Colpitts had the use of the General Office Library’s excellent collection of railroad trade magazines, although it appears that these were used in a superficial rather than comprehensive way.
ACCURACY AND ERRORS
There are only a few serious errors in the entire work. The map on page 600 of Volume II shows the line of the Olean, Bradford & Warren broken at the New York-Pennsylvania state line instead of forming a direct line between the two towns. The map on page 48 of the same volume shows the 1863 direct line of the Camden & Amboy Railroad between Deans and Trenton as being built in 1839, whereas the original alignment ran from near Monmouth Junction to Kingston (erroneously shown as being built in 1866) and then followed the line of the Delaware & Raritan Canal to Trenton.
There are, however, many minor errors. The sources used by Coverdale & Colpitts are often vague on construction dates, particularly in the 19th century and on lines many steps removed from PRR ownership. Such dates should be considered approximate. Further, annual reports for a January-December fiscal year were generally issued in March or April, so that new mileage or construction projects may appear to be credited to the previous year, even though they were completed in January or February. This problem is compounded when the fiscal year ended in June or November.
Finally, Coverdale & Colpitts omitted data on several classes of companies associated with the PRR. The first was unused charters or “paper companies” that existed for the purpose of building a line that was never actually constructed. Some were casualties of economic downturns or changing traffic patterns, while others existed simply for the purpose of threatening competitors. The PRR and its predecessors frequently had to buy out earlier enterprises such as bridge, ferry and turnpike road companies, most of which had been sold or dissolved well before Coverdale & Colpitts began work. They also invested in or subsidized streetcar lines, river, bay and ocean steamboat companies, coal mining companies, real estate companies, hotels, and water companies to ensure a supply for steam locomotives and shops. Most of these were also gone by 1946.
The Coverdale & Colpitts Corporate History captured the Pennsylvania Railroad at something close to its zenith. Very little new mileage was added after 1946, and carrying the “construction” history forward would involve adding a growing list of abandonments. The 1950s were also a time of corporate simplification. Of the companies still listed as having an independent corporate organization in 1945, the following were merged out of existence:
Into the Penndel Company – December 31, 1953:
Delaware River Railroad & Bridge Company
Englewood Connecting Railway Company
Grand Rapids & Indiana Railway Company
Indianapolis & Frankfort Railroad Company
Louisville Bridge & Terminal Railway Company
Ohio Connecting Railway Company
Pittsburgh, Ohio Valley & Cincinnati Railroad Company
South Chicago & Southern Railroad Company
Southern Pennsylvania Railway & Mining Company
Wheeling Terminal Railway Company
York, Hanover & Frederick Railway Company
Youngstown & Ravenna Railroad Company
Into the Penndel Company – December 31, 1954:
Detroit Union Railroad, Depot & Station Company
New Cumberland & Pittsburgh Railway Company
Western New York & Pennsylvania Railway Company
Wheeling & Eastern Railroad Company
Into the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington Railroad Company - April 2, 1956:
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Company
Into the Connecting Railway Company – May 31, 1956:
Pennsylvania, Ohio & Detroit Railroad Company
Into the Penndel Company – August 31, 1956:
Lykens Valley Railroad & Coal Company
Into the Penndel Company – February 1, 1957:
Terre Haute & Peoria Railroad Company
Into the Penndel Company – January 1, 1958:
Camden & Burlington County Railway Company
Cumberland Valley & Martinsburg Railroad Company
Freehold & Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad Company
New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad Company
Prepared by Christoper T. Baer, 2013 April 17
NOTES ON DIGITIZATION
The four volumes of Coverdale & Colpitts were scanned in their entirety. In addition, the histories of individual companies that comprise a significant portion of the work were uploaded as individual items in the digital collection.