Quakertown Passenger and Freight Station, Quakertown Pennsylvania
Quakertown's growth is directly due to the prosperity brought by the railroad. By the turn of the twentieth century, a railroad station which reflected the importance of the town and the rail line was deemed necessary and the current Quakertown train station was constructed. Part of the significance of the train station complex is as one of the important resources associated with an important transportation network. The North Penn Railroad was a key element in the transportation history of Bucks County. It served both as a railroad that met the transportation needs of the local population found along its line, and at the same time it served as a very important link in the regional rail system linking Philadelphia to the important coal regions of the Lehigh and Wyoming Valleys of northeastern Pennsylvania. The train station complex was the hub of the community, which was dependent on the rail line for the distribution of goods manufactured in the town. It was no coincidence that it was built during the period that Quakertown grew into the largest town in Upper Bucks County.
To understand the impetus for the construction of the current Quakertown passenger and freight station, one must place it into the context of the opening of the rail line through northwestern Bucks County, which occurred fifty years before the construction of the current passenger and freight station. In the fall of 1853 engineers of the North Pennsylvania Railroad began to survey possible routes for a rail line that was designed to link the City of Philadelphia to the coal and lumberyards of the Lehigh Valley. In 1857 a line, called the Bethlehem branch, was completed through Bucks County via Telford and Quakertown to Bethlehem and Allentown. The main line of the Reading Railroad ran from Philadelphia to Reading. In addition to the main line, there were a number of divisions of the company that ran on individual lines or branches, which connected back to the main trunk line. The railroad became part of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad system in 1879.
A passenger station was constructed on the current property at the time line first opened. A freight station soon followed. When initially constructed, the station was named Richland Center and was located approximately a mile from Quakertown Borough. By 1860, hundreds of buildings went up and the unincorporated village also called Richland Center quickly eclipsed the village of Quakertown. In a stunning move, Quakertown annexed the sprawling town of Richland Center in 1874. As it grew in importance, the new enlarged Quakertown became the focus of additional transportation networks, which, in turn, fueled further growth.
One of the additional transportation lines was a spur line that began in Quakertown in 1901. The North Pennsylvania Line went northerly from Philadelphia through Quakertown. From this line, a smaller line was constructed to link this line to the industrial centers on both sides of the Delaware River in and around Riegelsville Borough. This thirteen-mile long line, called the Quakertown and Easton Railroad took five years to build. Part of the impetus for this line was the potential of servicing the Durham Furnace. The Quakertown station was now located at the hub of two rail lines. In addition, two trolley lines terminated within several hundred feet of the station. The trolley station was intentionally located next to the train station allowing easy transfer between the two. With increase in freight and passengers, the old frame buildings were no longer adequate. The current passenger station was built between March and November, 1902 to replace the earlier and smaller frame station.
It was the railroad that allowed industry to move into the rural area of northwest Bucks County. Coal and lumberyards, a stove foundry, several hotels and stores were all constructed around the rail line beginning in the late nineteenth century. The July 8, 1904 edition of the Quakertown Free Press states that "Quakertown owes most of its prosperity to its industrial features or its manufacturing operations. One of the most prominent industries is the manufacture of cigars. There are nearly a dozen factories of this character in the town, employing six hundred or more persons. Without the railroad, the region's major industry, cigar manufacturing, could not have developed. Railroad stop towns such as Sellersville, Perkasie, and Quakertown with their Pennsylvania German populations as a potential work force attracted both local and Philadelphia cigar makers. A new, larger freight station was needed to accommodate the industry of the region.
One of the curious aspects about the property is the length of time between the building's design and construction. Although not constructed until 1902, the plans for the new railroad station were drawn in 1889. Economic factors that had national implications for the railroad influenced the company's decision to delay construction soon after the plans were completed. The Quakertown Train Station complex was designed as the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad was at its peak. In the period just before the station was designed, the company experienced its greatest gross revenue, and money was no object. The Reading Railroad Company was a major force in the entire coal industry. The company owned and leased mines and was involved in canals and shipping to transport the coal. By the 1870's, the "Reading" had built its own maritime fleet. With the formation of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company in 1873, the Reading came into the ownership of approximately 251 square miles of Pennsylvania anthracite lands. This Reading was able to control both the supply and the cost of a single, high demand product. Therefore, by the 1870's, a full decade before the rise of American millionaires like Carnegie and Rockefeller, the "Reading" had become a corporate giant, with a property valuation in excess of $170,000,000.
By the time the Quakertown station had been designed, over-expansion and changing economic conditions caught up with the railroad and staggering losses frequently resulted. The last major project undertaken during this period was Reading Terminal that opened in 1893. By 1893, the Railroad had abandoned grandiose schemes in favor of consolidation of its services. After that, the railroad would never prosper to such an extent, try as it might. Large corporations such as the Reading became objects of distrust. The attitudes led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, and sent the "Reading" through a process of re-organization which reached its climax in 1920 with the break-up of the transportation, mining, and shipping corporation.
The "golden era" of railroading was drawing to a close for the Reading. Leaner times lay ahead and once again stations were built to inexpensive, efficient and functional designs. In 1901 the company apparently decided that instead of building a simpler station, they would use the existing plans for the Quakertown station which had lain dormant for a dozen years. Several factors influenced their decision. The need for the station had increased greatly with the construction of the Quakertown and Easton railroad spur approved that same year. With increased commuter travel due to the new line, there became an urgent need for a large station like the original design. Records indicate that by 1900 the company also began a regional campaign to improve commuter service in the Philadelphia region, and construction of the new station fit in with this goal nicely. In addition, using plans already prepared and designed for the site was the most cost efficient and expedient way to undertake the project. While this decision may have been fiscally prudent, it resulted in a design, which had been stylish in 1889, but was out of date by the time the station was constructed.
The train station was not the only building to be replaced during this boom time. It was part of the growth of downtown Quakertown. The Bush House, located directly to the west of the station, underwent a major upgrading. The hotel was enlarged by degrees until, in 1905, it was regarded as the most commodious hotel between Philadelphia and Allentown. On the same property as the hotel, and within a hundred yards of the train station, was Souder's Block, the principal business block of the town.
The prosperity of the cigar making industry in the area led to the formation of building associations and the erection of new cigar manufacturing facilities by local investors. Capitalists purchased real estate and provided capital for cigar factories. These factories and their associated workers' houses aided in the growth of the region's towns into the early twentieth century. Quakertown's population rose from 863 in 1840 to 3,014 in 1900. By 1904, the newspaper claimed that Quakertown had grown to the second largest town in the county. The new, large passenger station reflects this period of tremendous growth, which was due in no small part to the railroad. Local newspapers in 1905 indicate that the passenger station was used by large numbers of businessmen and students heading to and from Bethlehem. A year later, Quakertown saw the laying out of the region's first large residential subdivision. A collection of almost three hundred small lots called "Tohickon Heights" was laid out in Richland Township along the borough line. The project was touted as "The New Suburb of Quakertown" in the April 27, 1906 edition of the Quakertown Free Press. This shift in housing from traditional, individually built urban housing to large-scale suburbanization, was made possible by the area's transportation network.
Quakertown's rail facilities attracted new industry. The March 18, 1904 edition of the Quakertown Free Press noted that a large leather goods manufacturer with offices in New York and Boston, was moving to Quakertown because the firm was looking relocate to "some town with good railroad facilities, plenty of labor and lower taxes."
Quakertown's industrial success was relatively short lived. Competition and the mechanization of the cigar manufacturing process contributed to the demise of the industry in Bucks and Montgomery Counties in the 1920's. Many of the factories were transformed to the production of textiles and clothing. These industries remained significant until the Depression and World War II. Like older boroughs throughout the region, Quakertown never completed rebounded i in the post-war period. Although as late as 1953, Quakertown's factories still produced men's and women's apparel, hosiery, soil pipe, paper products, poultry equipment, wrought iron, metal work, glass products, furs, cabinets, building materials cigar boxes and furniture. As the region became more suburban by the 1950's Quakertown's role as a leader in horse and cattle sales declined as well. Meat processing, ice manufacturing, cattle and poultry feed mills all felt the effect of the change. As the terminus traffic continued to decline, the rail line still served as an important factor in through traffic into the industrial Lehigh Valley region, with Bethlehem Steel being an important customer of the line. Eventually, passenger traffic on the rail line become so infrequent that the passenger station was closed in 1982 while the freight station continued to be used.
Rail service declined gradually. The Quakertown and Easton line changed hands several times, and by 1936 train service on that line was discontinued. During the summer of 1939 the rails, bridges and ties were removed from the right of way. Passenger and freight service continued on the Philadelphia to Bethlehem line. In 1978 this line was taken over by Conrail. Rail service to Quakertown ended in 1981. Currently, this site is owned by SEPTA. A May 1989 fire caused significant damage to the passenger station.
While not overly ornamented, the passenger station has a number of architectural features, which make it more than utilitarian. Both the Quakertown passenger and freight station are built of local black granite laid in ashlar pattern and highlighted with Indiana lime stone bases and sills. The track side facade has circular bay. The lower sash in each of the windows in the bay is protected by metal bars with ornate finials. The hip roof projects out from the building to protect passengers. There is a slight kick at the bottom of the roof. The upper level of the building is illuminated from a number of hip roof dormers with the same kick. The rafters of the covered walkways are visible. The rafters are curved to accommodate this feature. The rafter ends are all ornamented. The covered walkways are supported by chamfered posts with curved and carved brackets. The freight station has large door openings surmounted by cut stone voussoirs. The area between the top of the double doors is embellished with multi-light transoms with protective metal bars. The main doors themselves are handsome, double cross-buck wooden doors.
Construction of the station began in 1902. The contractor for the work was Cramp & Co., of 1421 Filbert Street, Philadelphia. It was superintended by W. D. Carter, of Pitman Grove, NJ, who moved to Quakertown with his family for the nine months of construction. The subcontractors noted were as follows: Edward Flynn, Philadelphia, stone masonry; Smedley Construction Co., Philadelphia, concrete and cement work; David Lupton & Sons, metal and slate roofing; J. M. Chestnut, Philadelphia, painting; Grant Jenkins & Co., plumbing and heating system; Charles Tull, electrician.
Reading Railroad correspondence to their Chief Engineer William Hunter dated February 15, 1902 indicates that the bid of Cramp & Co. was $20,609.00 with an additional sum of $1,100 for track, a temporary station and engineering for a grand total of $21,709.00 for the construction. The final cost to construct the station and freight house reportedly was $30,000. This expenditure was, according to a local newspaper article "more than our town had reason to expect, although the town and adjacent country furnishes a greater amount of patronage than most, if not all the stations. The improvement had been necessary for a number of years, but the company did not undertake the work until they were ready to give us a first-class, modern station house."
The Quakertown Train Station is part of a series of extant railroad stations on the Bethlehem branch of the Reading Railroad line. From the junction of the Doylestown line at Lansdale in Montgomery County, this branch line extended northward through Montgomery, Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton Counties. There were stations at Orville, Hatfield, Souderton, Reliance, Telford, Derstines, Sellersville, Perkasie, Rock Hill, Quakertown, Shelly, Coopersburg, Centre Valley, Saucon, Bingen, Hellertown, and Bethlehem. Of these, Derstines, Sellersville, Perkasie, Rock Hill, Quakertown, and Shelly are in Bucks County. Many of these stations were initially temporary, cheaply constructed buildings. This was part of the original plan espoused almost fifty earlier. The chief engineer's report dated December 28, 1854 states: "in regard to way stations on the route of the road, I have already advised that they should be numerous and not of expensive character."
"Private enterprise in a district so populous and wealthy as that traversed by your road will soon alter greatly the relative importance of different points, and I have no doubt that the first division (Bethlehem branch) will develop an amount of travel and trade that will astonish the most sanguine...Until this development takes place it is impossible to determine the extent of accommodations which will be required at a particular station, and temporary stations will generally best meet the exigencies of the case." [Reading's Victorian Stations, Edward A. Lewis, The Baggage Car, Strasburg, PA 1976]. Most of the finer stations were constructed on the much more heavily traveled line between Lansdale and Philadelphia.
The plans for the Quakertown station were part of a package all prepared at the same time by Wilson Brothers & Company. The plans for the stations at Quakertown, Sellersville, Perkasie, Oreland and Shelly were all submitted at once. The station at Coopersburg was part of the same package, but its approval was held up because of a problem with an existing siding that interfered with the location of the proposed station. The Reading train stations were constructed to meet the demands of traffic. Therefore it makes sense that the Quakertown station is not as large as the two story Lansdale station which was located at the junction of two lines: the Bethlehem branch of the North Penn Railroad and the Doylestown line. Lansdale was one of the more important stations on the North Penn. The Lansdale station was rebuilt in 1902 at a cost of $22,769 and featured a two story high ceiling in the waiting room. At 102 by 25 feet, Quakertown is a larger station than the brick Telford Station that was constructed in 1905 at the cost of $4,490. It is also a much larger building than the station at Perkasie. In ornamentation, it is more comparable to the brick Perkasie Station, which was built in 1891 than the other, smaller, stations on the line. The Perkasie station measured approximately 52 by 27 feet.
The 1920 Record of Stations indicates that the Derstine Station (shelter) measured only 9 by 9 feet, the 1901 Sellersville Station measured 16 by 45 feet, the 1867 Rock Hill Station (shelter) 8 by 9 feet, and the 1882 Shelly Station measured 11 by 36 feet. The Shelly Station was one of the stations that were included in the plans for replacement, but the second, enlarged station was never constructed. All of the actual passenger stations on this line in Bucks County were one-story structures with wide overhanging hip roofs. The smaller ones on the line were constructed of wood, while the more important ones were masonry.
By comparison, the stations built on the North East Pennsylvania Railroad which went from Hatboro (and ultimately Philadelphia) through Bucks County by way of Ivyland, Grenoble, Rushland, and Wycombe to New Hope were much smaller, and mostly of frame construction. The only exceptions were the small, stone, Grenoble station and Bycot station, that were privately constructed by a wealthy local families. This line was first leased by the North Pennsylvania Railroad who assigned the lease to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1879. The limited passenger and freight service on this line never warranted the expansion of the stations as was completed on the main line and the Bethlehem branch.
The Bethlehem branch might have developed even further if it did not have competition from another line. The main competitor of the North Penn Railroad for north-south traffic was actually located along the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. This was the Belvidere Delaware Railroad Company (Bel-Del), which was a division or branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad System. The Bel-Del was a short line that followed the east bank of the Delaware River through Mercer, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties in New Jersey. It also operated as an interstate carrier via bridges to various points in Northampton county, Pennsylvania, and, through trackage rights secured from the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad (DL&W or Lackawanna), into Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The Bel-Del opened service from Kensington Station in Philadelphia to Phillipsburg, NJ on February 3, 1854. It directly competed with the North Penn when it opened a line across the Delaware River, to South Easton. Like the Reading Line, the Bel-Del declined in the twentieth century.
Prominently located to the east of the intersection of Front Street and East Broad Street, the Quakertown passenger station was constructed in the Late Victorian style. The large flowing roof lines of the station and passenger shelter platforms unify this 1 2 story rusticated cut stone building. The Quakertown Passenger and Freight Station consists of three historic resources: the 1902 passenger station with attached platform shelters and 1902 freight station; and a large hand operated crane that appears to be contemporary with the passenger and freight stations.
The passenger station is 25 feet wide and 97 feet 6 inches long, not including a circular bay of about 5 feet at the north end, making the entire length 102 feet. It is built of very dark Rockhill granite with Indiana limestone bases and sills. A hip roof projects about 8 feet over a concrete walk around the building. There is a slight kick at the bottom of the roof. The original roofing material was slate but is currently asphalt shingle. The south end of the roof was damaged due to fire and is covered with plywood. There are 5 hip roof dormers on the station. On the facade facing the tracks is a wide dormer with 3 windows. It is flanked by two single window dormers. The remaining two dormers are on the west elevation opposite the smaller dormers. They are single window dormers matching those on the opposite elevation. Originally, there were open-sided hip-roof platform shelter extensions to the roof at the north and south ends of the passenger station along the track side of the building. The one on the north end still exists. The one the south end was damaged by fire and removed. All the walks around the building, the floor in the basement, and a portion of the first floor are made of concrete. The entire length of the concrete walk along the tracks is 203 feet.
The easterly elevation, which faces the tracks, is the primary elevation. The ticket window, which is the central focus of the facade, is notable for the use of pressed copper panels and columns, and for the decorative iron work covering the lower sash of the windows of the tripartite bay. The rhythm of the openings in the building is punctuated by chamfered, granite, windowsills and a low, granite, belt course. Windows are 1/1 sash in single and multiple groupings. Segmental arched transoms span double doors. The doors have small, multiple lights over horizontal panels. The main entrance to the waiting room, as well as the smaller entrance way to the original smoking room, are located several steps above the level of the surrounding platform. Each of these entrances has concrete stairs with ornate iron hand rails. The doorways leading into the waiting room on both the east and west elevation have large double doors with sidelights surmounted by a wide segmental three light transom. The remaining platform shelter stretches out from the station to the north. Due to a fire and abandonment, the windows and doorways are covered over with plywood at this time.
With exception of alterations to the original men's bathroom, the interior arrangement of the building is intact. The most significant space in the building is the main waiting room, which occupies the north end of the passenger station. The room is approximately 22 x 50 feet. It has built-in seats along the sidewalls and in the projecting bay. There is wainscoting on all of the walls and it has a narrow boarded, hard wood floor. The room has a high ceiling with a plastered cornice. The original large heater is still located near the center of the room in front of the projecting bay. A Classical style columns and a denticulated cornice highlight the projecting bay.
To the south of the waiting room are the ticket and telegraph office on the east elevation and the women's toilet room on the west. Both of these rooms have a clipped corner, which provides access to a hallway leading down the center of the building. At the entrance to the hallway is an ornate archway. The exterior wall of the ticket office extends out towards the track in a circular bay. This room retains its original built-in counter and cabinets and wainscoting.
The two original toilet rooms ran along the length of the west side of the central hallway opposite the ticket office. Sometime within the past twenty years, the original women's toilet was divided into a men's and women's facility. The original door leading to the waiting room was covered over and a new entrance was cut into the wall opposite the ticket office. The wall of original men's room facing the hallway was removed to provide more waiting room. Despite the removal of the front wall, much of the original sanitary tile work remains behind the new wall coverings. The original smoking room is situated next to the ticket office and has been expanded to include much of the original men's toilet room. There is a built-in bench along the room's southerly wall. The baggage room and express office occupy the south end of the building and are about of equal size. The floor, in these rooms is at a lower level than the remainder of the station and is made of concrete. The whole interior (except in the toilet rooms) is finished in chestnut.
The fire, which damaged the roof, did not cause irreparable loss of significant interior features. Virtually all of the woodwork remains intact, although much is covered with soot. There has been some damage to the original plaster walls and decorative elements. On the interior, the most damage occurred at the southwest corner of the waiting room. Here there was some destruction of trim around the ticket office window and wainscoting in the hallway. As a result of the fire and the fire fighting, much of the original plastered ceiling and lath was ruined.
To the south of the passenger station stands a freight station. The freight station was constructed in the summer of 1902. The freight station consists of a 1-l/2 story, rusticated stone block building measuring 128 by 30 feet with two flanking, 68 feet long, open freight docks. The north end of the north dock has the words "Reading Company Freight Station" painted on its wall. The roof is a shallow gable one that extends out to protect the narrow platform, which extends the length of the building. Large, carved brackets support the overhanging roof. On the east elevation, the roof extends out beyond the gable ends of the freight station to form a continuous roof over the loading docks. The platform rests on a stone base. There are eight large doorways along both sides of the building which were designed to provide room for teams to load and unload and making it convenient for the freight handlers to load and unload from railroad cars. These doorways are approximately eight feet wide and are surmounted by segmental, six light transoms. The doors themselves are beaded boards with a wide, double, cross buck design. The southern two doors on both sides of the building have been covered with textured plywood siding. The freight office occupies the north end of the building. The only other exterior alteration to the building is the partial enclosing of the open freight dock on the south end. The bays of this dock have partially freestanding walls of textured plywood.
A large crane located near the south end of the property facilitated the movement of freight. The crane has no name or date marked on it. The crane appears quite similar to a crane noted on plans labeled "Reading Company Standard Concrete Foundation For 10 Ton Crane" dated January 1929. It consists of a tall, smooth, conical shaft, from the bottom of which extends the boom. Large iron rods from the tip of the boom are attached to the top of the shaft by large bolts. The boom consists of two iron I-beams with diagonal cross braces. Near the base of the boom are iron gears. The largest of which is approximately four feet in diameter. The crane rests on a raised concrete platform.
Both buildings still exist in their original form and much of their original detailing. The only alterations to the passenger station were changes to bathroom facilities in the southern end of the building when the original toilet rooms and smoking rooms were modernized. Overall, the minor alterations done to the buildings have not affected the their ability to reflect their significance. The resources all retain their original scale, exterior finishes, as well as significant interior spaces and finishes. Despite a May 1989 fire, the architectural integrity of passenger station remains intact. While there was extensive smoke damage and marring of some interior surfaces, the main structural damage occurred at the south end of the building and was generally confined to the roof covering. Particularly, the most highly decorated portion of the passenger station, which is the waiting room, remains blackened by intact. The fire damage can be repaired. Missing elements can be replaced by using existing ones as guides. The roofing system, including the ridge beam and main rafters still remain, although they were damaged and may require additional, permanent, bracing. Temporary bracing and roof materials have been installed. The ceiling and roof framing were originally hidden from public view.