By Cathi Gerhard
The ghosts of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road can still be felt, but barely seen, as we drive through the gorge (also known as Sleepy Hollow) on Route 30 between Latrobe and Ligonier. Route 30 east was the original road, with two-way traffic. What we now know as Route 30 west was once the path of the rail road, hauling freight in and out of the valley. Travel time between the two towns was cut down from four hours to 40 minutes, spawning the growth of eastern Westmoreland County – which soon became known as Pennsylvania’s mountain playground.
But by August 1952, after sustaining years of losses, this short-line rail era came to an end. Local author and historian Bob Stutzman was just a young boy then.
“I remember sitting around the dinner table,” he recalled from his childhood in Ligonier, “and my father was talking about how to supply his business without the railroad. He owned a Rawleigh Products franchise and didn’t trust the trucking industry, so he ended up buying his own trailer to make the trip to Chester where he could pick up his products.”
The rail road of his parents’ world became a lifelong hobby for Stutzman, who began collecting memorabilia in earnest about 20 years ago –after his children left for college.
“My brother-in-law, Bill McCullough, has already been collecting casually for several years,” Stutzman explained. “We began a quest together to collect photographs, analyze material and verify locations. Ebay was our greatest resource!”
To commemorate the railroad’s 50th anniversary in 2002, the two men put together a powerpoint presentation of their collection (which had grown from 100 to over 1000) and presented it at the Ligonier Valley Library to a standing room only crowd of over 200.
More and more people began asking for copies of prints, so Stutzman decided to start working on a book that could be sold at the museum to raise money for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association. After more research, and some help from friends, Stutzman’s new book tells us the whole story and brings the lost images back to life . . .
To provide his sons with an opportunity to create a new business, Judge Thomas Mellon agreed in August 1877 to invest in a short line railroad that would connect Ligonier to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Latrobe. Four months later, the Ligonier Valley Rail Road (LVRR), a 10.6-mile-long line, was completed and began transporting passengers and freight between Ligonier and Latrobe. The viable transportation the LVRR provided to Pittsburgh markets immediately spurred lumber and quarry industries in Ligonier Valley and later coal mining and coke production. Also, to increase ridership, Judge Mellon built Idlewild Park on 350 acres near Ligonier in 1878. By its end in 1952, the LVRR had hauled more than 30 million tons of freight out of the valley. Equally impressive, because of the popularity of Idlewild Park and the growing tourism in Ligonier Valley, nine million passengers rode LVRR’s rails over its 75 years of operation. Mellon’s short line railroad stimulated an economic boom in Ligonier Valley and propelled it into the 20th century.
Highlights of The Ligonier Valley Rail Road include:
- The original Idlewild station, the oldest Ligonier Valley Rail road structure remaining today. It now serves as a hospitality center for visiting groups at the park and as a museum.
- Images of Ligonier landmarks, such as the school ‘s administration building on West Main Street and the original Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church.
- A chapter regarding the tragic 1912 railroad accident that killed 24 passengers and crew-men.
- Robert D. Stutzman, a Ligonier native who developed a keen interest in the history of Ligonier Valley, is co-founder of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, serving eight years as an officer and seven years as editor of The Liggie, a publication he originated for the Friends of the LVRR. In December 2012, he retired as the editor and as a member of the board of directors to write this book.
He is an active member of Christ United Church of Christ in Latrobe, and a member of the Greater Latrobe Community Chorus. Stutzman also attended Ligonier High School and the University of Pittsburgh, and served in the United States Air Force. Retired from Timken-Latrobe Steel as the manager of the Special Products Division, he is married with two daughters and several grandchildren.