The rail lines that met and crossed at Llanerch Junction in the 19th century transformed fields into suburban neighborhoods. In the 20th century, the corner where West Chester Pike and Darby Road meet was a gas station and car dealership, before lying fallow as a vacant, weed-choked lot. In 2007, transformed by the hard work of community volunteers and township Public Works employees, Llanerch Crossing became a proud gateway to Haverford Township.
The history of transportation on West Chester Pike dates to the dusty, muddy stage coach days along the western extension of Market Street out of Philadelphia, known as the West Chester Road. The first improvement to this trail was the hemlock plank road of 1848. The wooden road, built by the Philadelphia and West Chester Turnpike Road Company, traveled from West Philadelphia to Newtown Square. Along the route penny-per-mile fees were collected at several toll houses. Fines also were imposed for avoiding the tollgate, speeding, vandalism or lying to the toll collector.
In 1859 the Turnpike Road Company created a franchise company known as the Delaware County Passenger Rail Road with horse-drawn cars running on rails, bringing passengers on Sunday excursions from Philadelphia to Castle Rock, past Newtown Square. It was those open-air carriages which captivated the young John Shimer of
Castle Rock. Shimer dreamed of one day owning a railroad. By 1891 Shimer had become a major stockholder in the Philadelphia and West Chester Turnpike Road Company and by 1895 his trolley line was in operation.
Shimer's new company, The Philadelphia, Castle Rock and West Chester Railway, in partnership with The Delaware County Passenger Rail Road, would eventually grow to become the West Chester Traction Company. The mightiest obstacle for Shimer and his trolley line was the formidable Pennsylvania Railroad, also building a passenger line called the Philadelphia & Delaware County Passenger Railroad, which would cross at Llanerch.
Both rail companies were laying tracks to Newtown Square — Shimer along West Chester Pike and the PRR crossing West Chester Pike at Llanerch. This was a dangerous crossing, due to the blind nature of the angle of the Pennsy trains approaching the pike and the falling grade for trolleys traveling west. During July, 1895, in order to stop the trolley tracks, the PRR parked a locomotive in the direct path of the trolley rail line. The resulting Battle of Llanerch Crossing was fought in a labyrinth of legal contracts, injunctions, and appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and at the junction itself with threats, fists and curses. Eleven railroad employees were arrested but no one was seriously injured. By the end of the summer of 1895, Shimer
At Llanerch Crossing Park. Painted by Jared Baderwas victorious and a year later the trolleys were running on electricity just as planned.
For a more detailed chronicle of these events, read The Red Arrow by Ronald DeGraw.