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The Bowman’s Creek Branch

Lehigh Valley Railroad (1887-1963)

Adapted from F. Charles Petrillo's Ghost Towns of North Mountain: Ricketts, Mountain Springs, and Stull (WHGS, Wilkes-Barre 1991).  Copyright © 1991 F. Charles Petrillo

Chapter 1: Development of the Railroad

In 1869 the Lehigh Valley Railroad finished the construction of a 96-mile railroad line along the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre to Waverly, New York.  Called the Pennsylvania and New York Canal and Railroad Company, the railroad was largely built alongside the North Branch Extension Canal (1856-1872), which connected the Wyoming coal field in Luzerne County to a canal system in central New York to reach the Great Lakes.  The canal itself was heavily damaged in an 1865 flood and was closed in 1872, after which the company double-tracked the rail line. 

But this railroad completely by-passed the rich timber lands of the North Mountain in Luzerne, Wyoming, and Sullivan counties.  Prior to the early 1890s, pioneer lumber firms along the Bowman’s Creek and Mehoopany Creek lands used splash dams, creek freshets or wagons to reach mills and local markets.

The absence of a railroad through the North Mountain range plagued its major landowner, Col. R. Bruce Ricketts, for a quarter of a century, and blocked his fortune-building from the unbroken forest lands he had acquired in three counties.  Without a railroad, the existing lumber merchants in Sullivan and Wyoming Counties were limited to small milling and tanning operations, while the Wyoming Valley mining industry and growing mid-Atlantic cities clamored for lumber.

In time, however, various interests, under the eye of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, planned to connect Towanda with Wilkes-Barre by construction of a substantial railroad through the vast North Mountain forest.  In 1867 the independent Sullivan and Erie Railroad opened a 24-mile line between Monroeton, five miles from Towanda, to Bernice, to reach the semi-anthracite mine fields of Bradford County.  This coal had a market in New York State.  Monroeton was connected to Towanda on the Susquehanna River by the Barclay Railroad, later known as the Susquehanna and New York Railroad, over which the Lehigh Valley would later have trackage rights.  The Sullivan and Erie had financial difficulties and was reorganized, after foreclosure in 1874, as the State Line and Sullivan Railroad.  In 1884 the State Line and Sullivan Railroad was leased to the Pennsylvania and New York Canal and Railroad Company.

In 1884 the Loyalsock Railroad, corporately controlled by the Pennsylvania and New York, was charted to build a 32-mile extension from the State Line’s terminus at Bernice, to Bowman’s Creek near Bean Run (Mountain Springs), which would open up both Lopez and Col. Ricketts’ North Mountain lands.  This line opened in 1893, as part of the through line between Wilkes-Barre and Towanda.  There was additional mileage to the State Line and the Loyalsock lines representing small branches to outlying mill and resort towns.  For example, two of the most important on the Loyalsock were the 7.75 mile branch connecting Thorndale on the main track with the lumber town of Lopez, and the 3.85 mile Ganoga Branch connecting the lumber town of Ricketts with Col. Ricketts’ Lake Ganoga resort.

The last important railroad link was the connecting railroad from Ricketts at North Mountain to Wilkes-Barre on the Susquehanna River.  This link was the Wilkes-Barre and Harvey’s Lake Railroad.  The Wyoming Valley mining industry centered in Wilkes-Barre had an insatiable demand for timber to be used for breakers, mine railroad ties, and support lumber in hundreds of miles of mine tunnels.  The Wyoming Valley also had main-line railroad connections to haul lumber to Allentown, New York, and Philadelphia markets, where immigration and industrialization pressures demanded lumber for housing factories.

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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo