1850-1890s Railroad in Pennsylvania

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I hit a brick wall investigating my oldest known relative (1815 - 1888). But, a lot of the materials I found leads me to believe that he was a career railroad employee, and I'm hoping that this will lead me to some more clues. I know, for example, that the PRR has some records in a few different museums where I can go searching.

However, I realized after a few dead ends, that I don't even know which railroad he might have worked for. Or could he have worked for one and then switched because of an acquisition?

I ended up in a rabbit hole before realizing that I might be better off posting my story in the forums where folks who know more about railroad history might have better guesses than me.

I am thinking my choices are between P&R (Reading?) or P.R.R. (Pennsylvania Railroad)... though wikipedia highlights some others which might be possible, too.

My relative ended up dying in Harrisburg, PA and all of my ancestors since have remained in the area. My relative "came from" Wilmington, Delaware prior to 1850, but I have no hard facts about this. 1850 is where I pick up the trail.

  • In 1850, my relative was living in Harrisburg, PA (census taken in October)
  • He had 2 children who reported they were born in Delaware, including one born in July 1850
Therefore, I believe he arrived in Harrisburg and was already working for the railroad at that time. But I could be wrong about this!
  • In 1860 census, my relative lived in Broad Top, Bedford PA
    • I suspect this was railroad related
    • The census page shows the whole family living with him, adjacent to "Hotel"
    • Therefore I am thinking it might have been temporary housing
  • In 1863, he was back in Harrisburg PA (civil war draft card... over age to be drafted)
Therefore, I think the trip to Bedford was temporary, and related to the railroad (in the 50's, but "done" by 1863.

Here is where things get more interesting. He died in 1888. In 1880 census, he was still working.

One obituary says this: "... died at his home in the city yesterday. He had been an employee of the Pennsylvania railroad company for thirty-eight years."

One says this: "... there were a number of handsome floral tributes, one of which was the gift of the employees of the Reading round house."

Then, the family posted a response in the paper that says this: "[the family] desire through these columns to return their sincere thanks to the employees of the P. R. R. shops, and the P. & R. R. R. round house for their beautiful mark of the esteem in which they held him."

Lastly, there is a posting which gives even more information because of how personal it seems. "... Harrisburg has lost one of its oldest citizens. I have known him since 1850. He came here from Wilmington, Delaware, having brought a locomotive to this city from Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania railroad. For a number of years he had charge of a passenger engine. Afterwards he became master mechanic of the lower shops, which position he occupied for several years. He was the inventor of the method of oiling the valves and other parts of the engine from the cab. He was a self made man and was master of his profession. His death is a loss to the men who worked under his supervision and his death will be deeply felt by all who know him."

From my research, it sounds like Reading round house and P&RRR was the Reading. Wilmington to Philadelphia also makes sense to be P&R. But Philadelphia to Harrisburg sounds like P.R.R., unless that was going through Reading? But then again, so many references to P.R.R. that maybe he worked for P&RRR while in WIlmington, and switched companies to P.R.R. in 1850. That explains the 38 years. But did P.R.R. ever do any projects going out west so that he'd be in Bedford in 1860?

Looking for any theories or stories about the PA railroad companies that might help shed some light!

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