The Borough of Wampum, located south of New Castle, in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, has a rich tradition of railroad history for such a small community. By the early 1880’s three major players in the railroad industry, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), and Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE), and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) all ran through or just nearby Wampum. By the early 1900’s at least six sets of railroad tracks ran through the town and another two tracks were located just across the Beaver River in Lower Chewton.
The most prominent railroad in Wampum was the P&LE, which was formed by a group of Pittsburgh businessman in 1875 to rival the PRR’s influence in western Pennsylvania. The line ran from Pittsburgh east to Connellsville and also north via New Castle to the Youngstown area. When the P&LE began operations in early 1879 it was minor player in the freight hauling business, but its proximity to the coal, coke, iron ore, steel, and limestone industries in the region quickly elevated its status. Before long it was a great success and became known as the “Little Giant.”
The P&LE eventually laid a double track along its mainline up the west bank of the Beaver River and all the way to Youngstown. However, through the Wampum region the company eventually laid at least three sets of tracks. This created a dangerous at-grade crossing as the old Wampum Bridge, which carried pedestrians and later automobiles from Lower Chewton, emptied out right at the foot of the tracks. Furthermore, the new PRR railroad bridge, built right beside the Wampum Bridge in about 1891, created a visibility obstruction that increased the danger. Over the years it was not uncommon for people to be struck by oncoming trains in Wampum. The new Wampum Bridge, which opened just north of the P&LE station in late 1928, spanned the railroad tracks and finally alleviated the danger.
The P&LE was primarily a freight hauler but the company also instituted passenger service as well. In 1880 the P&LE built a two-story passenger station in Wampum, which served the local population and well as folks from nearby Ellwood City. A freight house, and a short connecting railroad siding/spur, was also erected next to the station in 1906. Similar passenger stations would also be opened in the region at Beaver Falls, College Hill, West Ellwood Junction, Rock Point, Newport, West Pittsburg, New Castle Junction, New Castle, Covert’s Crossing, and Edinburg. Years later the B&O leased trackage rights on the P&LE stretch from West Pittsburg to McKeesport and used the Wampum passenger station as well.
The Wampum station was in use for many years and remained so despite a general decline in railroad passenger service beginning in the 1920’s. Over time the P&LE began shutting some down some passenger stations and did so with the Wampum (and West Pittsburg) station in 1964. I believe the old Wampum station, in operation for over eighty-four years, was torn down soon after.
The P&LE, concentrating on freight operations, continued to run but slowly died along with the once-vibrant steel industry it served. The company ended all passenger service when it shut down the College Hill station in Beaver Falls in July 1985. In September 1992 the P&LE was merged into CSX Transportation, a company formed in 1980 by the merger of several railroad entities, and ceased to exist.
Today, the former P&LE tracks in Wampum carry daily freight traffic of CSX and also see an occasional Amtrak passenger train. The P&LE freight station in Wampum, spared the fate of the passenger station, is still standing. For quite a few years it was in use as a private storage/tire repair facility. In early 2013 the Wampum Area Community Revitalization Committee, a local civic group, acquired the property from the county. The facility has since been greatly renovated and transformed into a meeting place and activities center for the local community.
The sign on the passenger station reflects it is a stop for Ellwood City as well as Wampum.
The P&LE passenger station at Wampum was erected in 1880. It was likely closed in 1964. (c1956)
A P&LE train ticket for travel from Wampum to Pittsburgh. It appears to cost $2.16, but is undated. (c1960) Full Size
A 1950’s view of the P&LE freight station, which is still standing today. In early 2013 the property was acquired by a local civic group with eventual plans to renovate the building into a children’s activity center. (c1955)
The former P&LE freight station in Wampum. (Mar 2012) Full Size
A view of the restored freight station. (Mar 2016)