Historic Structures

Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Maintenance Shops, Greenville Pennsylvania

Date added: August 24, 2016 Categories: Pennsylvania Train Station

Andrew Carnegie established the Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Company in 1897 to carry iron ore from Conneaut, Ohio, on Lake Erie to Carnegie Steel Company plants in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Forming a link between his plants and the Great Lakes ore boats arriving in Conneaut from Minnesota's Missabe Iron Range, it was part of his plan to form a complete, vertically integrated steel company. The core of the PB&LE was formed by two small lines Carnegie absorbed: the Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad, and the Butler & Pittsburgh Railroad. The company was renamed the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad in 1900. Carnegie Steel had an exclusive 999 year lease to the B&LE. This lease was acquired by United States Steel when that company acquired Carnegie Steel in 1901. The Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad became part of Transtar, Inc., in 1988, and subsequently a part of Great Lakes Transportation, LLC, in 2001. Since 2004, the Bessemer & Lake Erie has been operated as a unit of the Canadian National Railway. Iron ore remains the route's major freight commodity, although coal has always been a convenient backhaul to Conneaut.

The Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad began construction of the Greenville, Pennsylvania, shops in 1893, but the largest portion of the complex was added in several stages by successor Bessemer & Lake Erie. The last major structure to be added was the Diesel Shop in 1951. Much of the steam-era facilities gradually fell into disuse after the road completely dieselized, but portions continued to house various support functions. The complex was redundant to Canadian National, and it has been largely abandoned in place since shortly after the merger. The turntable still sees service turning diesel locomotives when needed.

The shop complex is located beside the Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad's original main line, which largely followed the Little Shenango and Shenango rivers between the villages of Osgood, north of Greenville, and Kremis to the south. Since this route involved steep grades out of Greenville in both directions, the Bessemer & Lake Erie built a new line between Osgood and Kremis in 1902 that bypassed Greenville and these grades and shortened the run by three miles. The original line remained in place to serve the shop and local customers.

The shop complex consists of seven major buildings. The 32-bay, brick Erecting Shop was used for heavy repair of steam locomotives, though a 2-bay extension built specifically to perform running maintenance was added to its east end in 1951. The northern half of the Erecting Shop, which has a lower roofline, housed the machine shop. A transfer table along the building's south side moved locomotives to and from the Erecting Shop bays. The higher roofline in this portion accommodated an overhead bridge crane. Both portions of this building feature pitched roofs with clerestories. Southeast of the Erecting Shop is the 17-stall Roundhouse, which was built to house running maintenance of steam locomotives, though it later served diesels as well. It is brick, with concrete interior columns, though a large portion of the walls and stall doors are multipane windows to admit natural light. It also has a windowed clerestory. An electrically driven turntable serviced all 17 stalls, and still serves to turn diesel locomotives. The brick Powerhouse located south of the Erecting Shop housed boilers that supplied steam to the entire complex. Farther south are the Wheel Shop, which maintained wheels, axles, and bearings for the system, and a large, partially open Freight Car Shop. This served as the railroad's heavy car repair shop. Visible in one photograph is a portion of the Passenger Car Shop, used to maintain those cars as long as the railroad operated passenger trains.