The Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Railway

  The Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Railway (more commonly known as the Harmony Line), operated a daily trolley service from 1908 to 1931 that connected Ellwood City to Evans City and Pittsburgh. Not only did the trolley line carry passengers, but it also was used by rural farmers to carry crops and even livestock to the cities for sale.
      In the early 1900’s Edwin Lamb’s automobile was the first and perhaps only one in Ellwood City. The rest of the citizens in town would have to travel by horse and wagon to get to Butler or upon the slow Baltimore and Ohio passenger train. Then in 1905 Russell H. Boggs of Evans City, and his business partner Henry Buhl, owned a department store in Pittsburgh and wanted to expedite travel between rural areas and Pittsburgh. Mr. Boggs developed friendly relations over the years with regular trips between Evans City and Pittsburgh buying from local farmers and selling store goods to rural families. Through these relationships, he was able to obtain a right-of-way for the Harmony Line trolley system. In exchange for the right-of-way and One Dollar, each landowner received a promise to establish a trolley stop on his property and electric run to their homes for the first time. The promised terminals were added to the PHB&NC but the local trolleys only stopped if passengers were waiting at the makeshift buildings. The Express trolleys only stopped at the large stations in Pittsburgh, Harmony, Evans City, Butler, Ellwood City, & New Castle.
        On July 2, 1908, the very first run on the Harmony Line began at the Harmony car barn to the Ellwood City station. The Ellwood City PHB&NC station and freight station were built on the Southeast corner of Spring Avenue and Fifth Street. The freight station building was still standing as late as 1999.  The Ellwood City station was the original end of the line from 1908 until 1914 when the Beaver Valley extension was opened. The original Koppel Bridge was built by the railway for this extension. The cement pillars are the only signs that remain today of the original bridge with a United States flag mounted upon one pillar west of the current bridge. Dambach Lumber built a new group of trolleys at the shop near Evans City for the opening of the line to Beaver Falls. These cars were referred to as ‘gunboat’ cars and there is an old wives tale that they were built low to get under the subway in Ellwood City but historians don’t believe that to be true as lower “arch” roof cars were the modern look in 1914.
       The typical car on the Harmony Line could accommodate about forty passengers and included three different sections: a general seating area, a smoker section, and a baggage section. Eventually the Harmony Line added special party cars to their lineup that could be rented for $55 per day. Church groups, school students, and small parties enjoyed movies and card-playing aboard the party cars on their way to and from special occasions.
       As the popularity of the automobile increased and the Great Depression continued, passengers on the PHB&NC decreased. January Fourth 1931 marked the beginning of the end when the Harmony line between Koppel and Morado was abandoned and the line from Ellwood City to Koppel was greatly reduced. Maurice Scharff, a receiver appointed in federal court, assumed charge of the Harmony and Butler short line April 6th and things continued to get worse.
The summer of 1931 started with the closing of the Pittsburgh/Butler route and on June ninth the petitions to abandon the Harmony streetcar route between New Castle and Beaver Falls was approved. The line running through Ellwood City continued through the summer but the losses became too great. August eleventh Federal Judge F.P. Schoonmaker signed an order granting permission for the abandonment of the remainder of the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Street Railway Co., more commonly known as Harmony Line. In the early hours of August 15, 1931, the last Harmony Line trolley pulled into the Harmony car barn and the P.H.B.&N.C. had come to an end.
        In a large ceremony to commemorate the end of an era, all of the trolleys were ceremoniously burned. All except one single car. Car 115 survived the purge simply because it was forgotten about. The car had been broken down and abandoned along Route 65 just outside of Ellwood City heading towards New castle. After the Harmony Line closed in August of 1931, a former motorman for the line turned the car into Clark’s Diner. Eventually, Clark’s Diner would become the Ranch which was much larger than the original restaurant. Fifty-five years after the opening of Clark’s Diner, car 115 was purchased and extracted from the Ranch and sent to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.
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16 Comments to “The Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Railway”
Diner News and History Staff wrote: Nice website! -Diner News and History staff
wayne a cole wrote: In reference to the harmony bridge at Ewing Park–called the Grim or Grimm Bridge named after property owner Bejamin Grim land purchased by North Pittsburgh realty. General Electric called this the interurban bridge—bridge near Calgon was the Knox Bridge. I am writing a book about 224 pages on the harmony line–hope to have by fall. Wayne A. Cole
earl murray wrote: i have a puter plate showing the evanscity train station. makers mark is [ RWP ] any information on this item would be appriciated. thank you earl murray eay100@zoointernet.net
Paul wrote: Hi, I have been adding some information to the Wikipedia page on the railway which you might find of interest. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh,_Harmony,_Butler_and_New_Castle_Railway
Butch Davis wrote: Hi, As a kid my family had friends named Kelly or some version of the spelling, who had been neighbors in Harwick, Pa. The family purchased a farm near Mars, Pa and we used to visit there, and often hunted small game there. I can only recall that the son was possibly named Homer and I think Mrs. Kelly was named Mary. I have been curious about finding the farm for many years, and the only clue I have is that the Harmony short line ran through a portion of their acreage. I guess I’m getting sentimental and want to reconnect with some of the places that hold fond memories. If any one has a map showing more clearly the Mars area routing, that could be compared to existing road maps, I would greatly appreciate knowing where to look for the maps, and the farm. Better yet, If anyone knows of the family or the farm, pleasse let me know.
Another clue might be that there was a small stone bridge (abandoned) that my uncles help the family build when they moved, to better get them into the farm. In later years, as the roads changed, they had another lane laid in. The railbed, in my memory, passed near the bridge. Sincerely, Butch Davis
Andrew wrote: I live in Ross township, close to the old station on McKnight road. In my backyard there are old bridge piers that span the valley. I believe they were part of the Harmony line.
Fred wrote: Butch, I grew up in Mars and can give you by current road the Path of the short line. From Mars towards butler it traveled, down clay ave, on to Dobson Rd, Through McDonals Lake,Rohre’s Pond, I was told that a station was there, and also a Dance Hall on top of the hill (Ive been in it).It crossed Stoup road, Then Valencia road. This is The area I used to ride motorcycles and knew the area well. I don’t know of anyone with the names you Mentioned . Good luck in your search.
Caroline Young wrote: I would like to purchase a book on this rail system. Does one exist. Thank you.
admin wrote: Hello, pertaining to the P.H.B.& N.C trolley line, by far the most informitive and illustrated book is “Ghost Rails VI Harmony Route – Pittsburgh Harmony Butler & New Castle Railway” – very good book. I am not sure where you can buy it physically but the book is available online.
Wayne Palke wrote: Hi Caroline, The Pa Trolley Museum in Washington, PA has the book. They have a website, and car 115 from the Harmony Line. It needs major restoration, but they are planning to do it. Your next move would be to visit the museum, ride the restored trolleys & have fun checking our nation’s transportation past! Wayne
josh ehrenberg wrote: im 16 years old and the harmony short line ran through my back yard on what is now called hollow road what could you tell me bout it im interested in learning more bout it
Mark Barnes wrote: Josh, email me…. I can tell you plenty about the Harmony Line and where the tracks ran. Mark.
My email: trainwreck63@gmail.com
Michelle wrote: Currently, only two people remain alive who owned The Ranch when the trolley car was inside of it. Neither have ever given interviews or discussed the trolley car with anyone outside of immediate family.
Ironic, isn’t it? I mean, so many are writing about this trolley car – yet, no one has actually spoken to either of them.
justin wrote: I used to live on smiley stop road in wampum pa. just wondering if that was one of the old stops the trolley made and also info on a robbery that occured there in 1909
Peter F wrote: Hi Fred, It looks like we grew up in the same area. I used to use the same trails as you. I lived in the big white house on the bend on Stoup road. The shortline ran right past our house. Remeber the big cleared circle area ontop of the one hill right above the shortline? We used to call it the knob. And that big lake that was down the hill from the old dance hall? The guy that had it built, dug the old line up to put it there. I wonder if we knew each other.
Wayne Palke wrote: Dear cool folk’s of OUR transportation past! I want to extend each and every one of you Holiday greetings, and to yer family’s as well. God Bless YINZ!! Wayner is doing his own research on the Harmony Route as it was known before April 1931. I have interviewed a great personal friend of mine, George who is 88 years old, served during WW 2 in the 3rd wave over Normandy Beach. Wayner won’t reveal his name, but all I’ll tell ya for now is that he related to me his memorie’s of riding the line from Keown Station, where Babcock Blvd Meet’s 3 Degree Rd. The Electronic’s store that is on that corner at the signal light, and for your information, it was one of two power transforming buildings that converted alternating current to 1,600 volt’s Direct current, on that line. If all of you purchase Mr. Cole’s book, Ghost Rail’s 4, you find out most of the info! Wayner highly recommend’s it. I also could not think of better reading material, with the cold cabin fever setling into our SouthWestern PA region!

11 thoughts on “The Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler, and New Castle Railway”

  1. Reference the fourth photograph down from the top. Thanks for dating the car to 1914. In another ECM photo taken in 1917 it shows a locomotive that, over time, I was able to identify as a Mikado. Many were built in 1913 and pulled out of storage to pull freight during WWII. The identifying key to the cable car’s era is the slots at the top, be it cable car or rail passenger car. I haven’t been there, only on-line, but anyone interested in Pennsylvania railroad history can find it in the museum in Strasbourg, Pennsylvania.

  2. How and where does the P&W railroad fit into the equation? I live i Wayne township, my Husband and I have been metal detecting along the Connoquenessing Creek, we are finding a lot of train artifacts. Railroad spikes, Couplers, Tracks and we found a couple of locks that have P&W railroad on them. We know that the B&O railroad bought out P&W back in the Late 1800’s. Does any one have any other information on this railroad?

  3. The original building of the Evans City station of the Harmony Line still exists today. After the shut down of the Harmony Line this building was sold to Harmony Realty Company in 1933. In 1946 it was sold to Harold Montag. In 1948 my uncle (Merle West) and dad (Weldon West) bought the building which had been converted into an Amoco Service Station. My dad sold his share to my uncle in 1959. Uncle Merle ran the service station out of the building from 1948 through 1980. Since then it has changed hands four times and was converted into different businesses. Today, it houses an insurance agency . While its uses have changed over the past century, the basic frame is intact. I have just begun to research this issue and do not have the precise date it was built. More later.

  4. Peter and Fred — I lived on Dobson Road and rode dirt bikes on The Knob and near the Dance Hall.

    Does anyone know the history of the Dance Hall – When it was built, who owned it, the types of dances held there, time frame, etc?

    1. Hi Teresa! I’m an archaeologist doing some work in this area and I’m currently doing some research about this site. were you able to find out any additional information about the dance hall? Do you know the year that it burned down? Any information would be great! I know this post was a year ago but hoping to find more information!

      1. Hi Kristen. I don’t know any of the details – just that Fred, my brother and I use to ride dirt bikes around the old dance hall. All of the folks on our road who may have knowledge have passed on. Perhaps Bill Swaney would know as he is a Mars historian of sorts.

    2. Teresa yes we grew up together. And Peter I’ve been in your parents old house. Fgriest@hotmail.com. other than living in Fla. I’ve always lived near the shoreline. (Weird) in gibsonia, in Mars callery and now Ellwood City. I remember first being fascinated in the middle school library. There was an overview model of the area with the trollie on it. Rohrs pond/hill climb. There was/is a walking path up to the dance hall. And a store where Tim and I would ride. I’ve wanted to walk back there again some day, but that is like exersize. Hit me on email or Facebook. Teresa we are friends on fb

  5. I would like to learn more about the stops in my area. I have been told that our house used to be an inn and that there was a stop in my backyard.

    Thanks!

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