The Atglen & Susquehanna in Manor Township
When construction began in 1903, no other section of the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) A&S Branch likely seemed as improbable as that along the western boundary of Manor Township. There was no existing path sufficient to the purpose of two-track, modern freight service. The Susquehanna River, over millennia, had carved majestic cliffs to contain its powerful meandering flow. The char was a frontier boundary that held farming to fertile inland fields and river men to perilous journeys along swift rocky channels. Not even the regional canals of the nineteenth century traversed Manor's western edge. In the early 1900s, railroads were boldly bridging the river. Rarely short on confidence, the PRR was sure of its reach between Safe Harbor and Columbia. Leisurely exploration of pristine glens that flowed to the river and pulling up the oars in a serene eddy (upper left images), were abruptly displaced.
In 1877, the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad (C&PD), under the control of the PRR, completed its route into Columbia, PA from the south (lower left images). Hosting passenger and freight services, the primarily single-track line slowly traced the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River northward from the historic transportation hub of Port Deposit, MD. Within Manor Township, the C&PD's narrow ledge was frequently consumed by the river's
tempestuous flow. Construction of the A&S provided the PRR with an opportunity to elevate the C&PD and to reduce its curvature and grades. The PRR constructed two separate freight roads where three had been barely room for one. The C&PD (subsequently known as the "Port Road") is presently (2013) operated by Norfolk Southern Railway. The Port Road is located parallel to and below Manor Township's rail trail.
Work to create two new rail shelves extended from 1903-1906 with one of the PRR's most experienced contractors—H. S. Kerbaugh Co—coordinating the massive efforts along the Susquehanna. At times, as many as 3,000 laborers were engaged in a relentless cycle of drilling and blasting. A mix of rock and loam was dislodged from the cliffs and graded into the water's edge. The arduous process relied on human agility to scale the unstable slopes by staked rope line and to level a perch sufficient for the vertical well drills. Near the bottom of the vertical holes (up to 133 feet deep), horizontal holes (up to 35 feet deep) were drilled by tripod-mounted rock drills. Holes were sprung by a charge of dynamite, loaded with blasting powder, then simultaneously discharged by electric current. A month's drilling in July 1905 was filled with 225 tons of explosives that expelled an estimated 240,000 cubic yards of material in a single blast
shelves slowly emerged on the east bank of the river. Their distinct elevations are most clearly appreciated as their flanking spans cross the mouth of the Conestoga River on the Safe Harbor Bridge (lower right image). North of Manor Township, the A&S crossed the Susquehanna River on the PRR's Shocks Mill Bridge at Marietta, then on to the Enola Classification Yard west of Harrisburg. From near Washington Boro to Atglen, PA (Chester County) there were no grade crossings on the A&S. In 1941, this superhighway of rail carried a daily average of 29 eastbound freights (2,424 cars) and 23 westbound freights (2,224 cars). The Atglen and Susquehanna Lou Grade was one of the largest civil engineering projects Lancaster County has ever seen.