Historic Structures

Pennsylvania Railroad Station, Johnstown Pennsylvania

Date added: July 15, 2016 Categories: Pennsylvania Train Station

The history of Johnstown became intertwined with that of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1851, when the main line was extended from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. An important link in the main line, Johnstown was a bustling freight and passenger station. The city was much more than a stop on the railroad, however; beginning in the late 1850s the Cambria Iron Company supplied steel to the Pennsylvania Railroad. As the railroad grew, so did Johnstown. Cambria Iron's steel rails snaked far out into the nation, connecting Johnstown and cities beyond.

The present building is the second Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station to have been erected in Johnstown. The earlier station was at the corner of Iron and Station Streets, and by 1914 it was outdated. The old Pennsylvania station was a disgrace to progressive, forward thinking Johnstown, explained Judge Francis J. O'Connor in his speech at the dedication ceremony: “The old edifice meant one thing to Johnstown--a serious handicap. The public-spirited citizens of Johnstown have long been laboring to convince the outside world that Johnstown is one of the most progressive cities in the United States, that here are the largest independent steel works in the world, that the city is composed of hardworking, progressive citizens. The effect of these great efforts of Johnstown citizens was shattered by the old station. The traveler on passing trains could judge Johnstown only by the part he could best see going through.”

The new station, by contrast, symbolized the monumental industrial spirit of Johnstown, Reverend Walter Everett Burnett proclaimed in his dedication speech: “This Imposing building represents two facts today. First, it suggests our industrial strength. The successful industries of this city underlie our city's progress, as successful industry indeed underlies any progressive civilization. We are proud of our great industries that are as sound as Gibraltar and that give Johnstown an honorable name among the progressive industrial centers of our land. Because these Industries have thrived under capable management our city has grown. This building is a sign of our material success. But it is also a sign of our standing in things higher and finer than material wealth. The beauty and dignity of this building are a tribute to the intellectual and social and spiritual values that find expression in our city's life. A large shed would have served our actual needs as a station. But the Pennsylvania Railroad built this artistic and stately structure that their building might harmonize with the finer spirit, no less real than the steel in our furnaces and the smoke from our stacks that exists in our city's life.”

Not only was the station important in and of Itself, it was important because of what it symbolized -- namely that Johnstown in 1914 was a city of "intellectual and social and spiritual values." The subtle message in Burnett's speech was that Johnstown had long been recognized as an industrial giant; it was now time to give the city its due as a cultural haven. To that end, the Pennsylvania Railroad rewarded the city with a luxurious new station.

Dangerous grade crossings--surface-level intersections between streets and railroad tracks--had long been a problem in Johnstown. Concomitant with the construction of the new station, the Pennsylvania Railroad eliminated three grade crossings and replaced them with subways, extended an existing pedestrian subway, and constructed a new pedestrian subway and foot bridge. In his dedication speech, S. C. Long, railroad general manager, praised Johnstown for its civic pride and Its concern about the grade crossings: “This magnificent celebration appeals to me, first of all, as an expression of satisfaction and approval on the part of the people of Johnstown on the consummation of the work of eliminating the several grade crossings of the Pennsylvania Railroad within the city, as well as the completion of a wellappointed, up-to-date passenger station. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, through its representatives here tonight, heartily joins with you in celebrating the achievement of these results which mean so much to the city, to the railroad company, and to the convenience and safety of the traveling public.

The improvements here, in which we are proud to have had a part, stand out strikingly as the results of cooperation between the city and the company, which I have the honor to represent. It was not a work forced upon either party, but entered into jointly and voluntarily, having as its controlling influence and object the safeguarding of human life.”

The total cost for the construction of the new station, subways and the elimination of the grade crossings was $3 million.

The elaborate dedication ceremony and the lofty speeches demonstrate the importance of the new station to Johnstown. More than mere rhetoric, the erection of the station was a symbol of civic pride and involvement. The city fathers were very aware of the intertwining destinies of Johnstown and the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the grand new station was seen as both a reward and a vote of confidence in the future.

Since 1916, the station has been the setting for returning war heroes, presidential-campaign whistlestops, and visits from national leaders. It survived the 1936 and 1977 floods.