Background Information
(Excerpted from "Railroads and Warren County," Stepping Stones, 5.2 (Fall 1959) and "The River Railroad" by Randy Gustafson in Steppin' Out, (November 1975))

"And the Iron Horse, the earth shaker, the fire breather...shall build an empire and an epic."

            Before the automobile and the airplane, the fastest and most efficient arm of transportation available was the railroad. The first working steam-powered railroad locomotive in the United States was built in 1830. From that time on, the newspapers of most of the country were filled with plans for building railroads, and the tales of new inventions which would make steam locomotives more efficient. In the 1840s and 1850s, railroads competed with canals for the efficient long distance movement of goods and people. Railroads emerged victorious. What followed was a railroad building revolution in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Warren County farmers and businessmen were eager for a number of railroad lines to link them to markets throughout the country. They desired lines to Philadelphia and Erie, up the Allegheny to Little Valley (the terminus of much of Warren's freight), up the Conewango to Jamestown and Dunkirk and down to Pittsburgh (although this last line was not quite so important because riverboats and rafts moved goods fairly efficiently). Eventually, railroads would ship lumber, oil, produce, and more from northwestern Pennsylvania to places all over the United States.

In December of 1859, Warrenites cheered the arrival of the first railroad in the county, the Sunbury and Erie R.R., which later became known as the Philadelphia and Erie R.R. (1861). Although the railroad was incorporated in 1837, with the strong support of local men such as Thomas Struthers, construction did not begin until the 1850s. It was finished between Erie and Warren in 1859, but was not completed to Philadelphia until 1864.

When the first train arrived in 1859, the newspaper proclaimed, "THE CARS HAVE COME--The cars now run to the Depot Ground in Warren. Erie and Warren are at last linked together by the iron rails, wherefore let us rejoice and be glad!"
Asa Barnes of Sheffield noted its effect on the town.

They had a great celebration in Warren last Thursday on the occasion of the arrival of the first train of cars--there were probably as many people in Warren as ever was there at one time before, from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and a great many from Erie--they had to leave on Friday or starve as they devoured all the provisions in Warren the first day.

            Other railroads followed, both large and small. In 1864, the Warren and Franklin Company was chartered to tap the rich oil deposits in the area. By July of 1866, the track was laid between Irvine and Oil City, and it continued to be extended. As a result of this and other lines, Irvine became an extremely active railroad center. In 1871, the Dunkirk and Allegheny Valley R.R. arrived in Warren. In 1882, an oil boom upriver set off a rash of railroad building. Eventually,  “narrow gauges,” many with third rails to accommodate connecting with standard gauge cars, were built into all parts of the oil and lumber regions, connecting with each other, and with the great trunk lines of New York and Pennsylvania.

By 1895, the city of Warren could boast it had 22 passenger trains daily, as well as numerous freight trains. And all told, there were 87 or more private lumbering railroads built in the county. Many of these lines have been torn up and many stand abandoned. The coming of trucks and automobiles meant that railroads would no longer hold the near transportation monopoly they once had.  Yet, the railroads have not disappeared, and their whistles may still be heard in many parts of the county, just as they could one hundred years ago.

 Additional Resources:

Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society