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Museum, Conservancy Group on Track to Maintain Railway’s Legacy

Jan 30, 2017 07:44PM ● Published by Erica Cebzanov

Wexford Station with trolley, Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

Gallery: Museum, Conservancy Group on Track to Maintain Railway’s Legacy [11 Images] Click any image to expand.

The Harmony Line—the Pittsburgh, Harmony, Butler and New Castle Railway—served an important role by connecting Pittsburgh to the North Hills, along with Butler and New Castle. Though the last trolley ran in 1931, its legacy is still felt in the area today.

A Short History

Originating in 1908, the route, which passed through Ross, McCandless, Marshall, Bradford Woods and Cranberry, was an interurban railway with cars collecting electrical current via overhead wires.

“The cars could go over 50 mph, and the line was very well built,” said Scott Becker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

The line ran on a daily basis and carried passengers and freight. In 1917, the Harmony Line merged with the Pittsburgh and Butler Street Railway, the Butler Short Line, and the newly formed company was named the Pittsburgh, Mars and Butler Railway.

The railway launched the Harmony Short Line Motor Transportation Company, a bus corporation, in 1922, which continued to exist after operating its last trolley in 1931. Becker believes that an increase in the automobile’s popularity, the Great Depression, and a lack of government subsidies given to the railway contributed to its decline.

Keeping the Legacy Alive

In 1986, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum acquired Car 115, which was described as offering “ornate interior decoration, plush seating and a lavatory, for the ultimate in intercity travel.” The car, which had become part of a restaurant, arrived at the museum as a stripped car body and required extensive restorations. 

Similarly, the museum relocated the former Wexford Station, known for many years as the Wexford Post Office Deli, 40 miles to the museum’s Washington County grounds in June 2015; it opened to the public on Oct. 1, 2016.

“The Wexford Station would have been a center of town for people in that area; they would go there to pick up mail, to meet people,” explained Becker. “There was a livery stable right behind where you could rent a wagon.”

When the Harmony Line disbanded, former station agent William Brooker purchased the station building and moved it to the town center where it served as a post office until 1964.It became an antique shop before becoming the Wexford Post Office Deli. The deli ceased operations in 2014, and the Brooker heirs donated the 650 sq. ft. space to the museum, where visitors can also view the West Shelter, where people used to wait for trolleys.

The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, a volunteer-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting western Pennsylvania’s community trails, maintains a preserved segment of the Harmony Line and earlier this year received a $10,000 REI grant to connect the Harmony Trail to Brooktree Road.

According to Marian Crossman, a Harmony Trail committee member, the trail started as a hiking path in 1974. Its development was initiated by the North Allegheny High School Lifetime Sports Club, with student activists getting handshake agreements with landowners. In 1992, the Harmony Trails Council was formed to promote an enlarged trail system that was proposed as a bikeway by Allegheny County recreation planners.

Only a single, one-mile section at the southwestern corner of Pine Township achieved community approval, and parcels of land were deeded by developers of the Brooktree Corporate Center, with a 25-foot-wide trail easement granted in the McCandless section. In 1996, the section south of Route 910 in Wexford was surfaced with crushed limestone.

As a result of the grant, public roads and existing North Park trails will connect the Harmony Trail with the Rachel Carson Trail. “The connection to Brooktree Road requires that we develop a dirt trail, about four feet wide and a quarter-mile long, through the woods and up the hillside,” said Bob Mulshine, conservancy president and Harmony Trail committee member. “We also need to cross Wexford Run. Although this is a small stream, we need a permit to build a bridge across it.” 

While 15 volunteers have worked on the project thus far, Mulshine is seeking additional help for the “serious amount of work” the project will entail. He is aiming for a spring 2017 completion.

“There is so much interest in developing this path because the land has an interesting history; the valley is beautiful and quiet with a lot of wildlife, and it is close to a large population that can easily walk there,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum will reopen in April. To learn more, visit www.patrolley.org.  n

For Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy information, visit www.rachelcarsontrails.org.

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