Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

The Allegheny Portage Railroad was the first railroad constructed over the Allegheny Mountains.This inclined plane railroad operated between 1834-1854 and was considered a technological wonder in its day and played a critical role in opening the interior of the United States to trade and settlement. Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site is located in southwestern Pennsylvania approximately 12 miles west of Altoona. The story of the Allegheny Portage Railroad is one of man overcoming mother nature.

The main unit contains the Summit Level Visitor Center, the historic Lemon House, Engine House #6 Exhibit Shelter, the Skew Arch Bridge, picnic area and hiking trails. The Staple Bend Tunnel unit is located approximately 4 miles east of Johnstown, PA.

While the park is open yearround, the summer is the best time to visit if you wish to catch a Ranger program, hike, van tour, and/or even a concert. The park features hands-on demonstrations in the summer for children to help with. Children can also participate in the Junior Ranger program here!

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Image Credit: Patrick Kinney / Flickr Commons

Hours

The park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset.

Winter Hours:
Park buildings are open from 9:00 am-5:00 pm Saturdays and Sundays only beginning Saturday, November 12, 2016-Sunday, April 9, 2017.
These buildings will be closed on the following dates:
Christmas Day-Sunday, December 25, 2016
New Year's Day-Sunday, January 1, 2017

Spring/Summer/Fall Hours:
Beginning Saturday, April 15, 2017, park buildings are open from 9:00 am-5:00 pm seven days a week.

Park hours can change due to holidays and inclement weather. If traveling a great distance you may want to call the park for operating hours. The visitor center desk telephone number is (814) 886-6150.

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)

Fees

Admission is free to visit the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, as well as all five Western Pennsylvania National Parks.


Some activities require a Special Use Permit that does have a fee attached to it. To see if your planned event requires a permit, please click on the link for Special Use Permit Information.

Activities

Park Visitor Center: 20 min movie about the park history

Engine House 6 Exhibit Shelter: Within the Engine House 6 shelter building are exhibits to explain the workings of an engine house and a "Discovery Room" of interactive exhibits.

The Lemon House Tavern: Self guided tours through the first floor plus the first floor exhibit room seem to be most desired. Park staff, as available, may greet visitors and guide you through the building.

Picnic Area: There are tables near the park Visitor Center for those wishing to have a quick meal or snack. 

Allegheny Portage Railroad Van Tours: Periodically throughout the summer and into the fall, special 3-3.5 hour van tours are given that trace the original route of the Allegheny Portage Railroad between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown. Free, but reservation needed.

Heritage Hikes: Ranger led summer sikes Free, but reservation required.

Evening on the Summit: Saturday evenings in the summer may include concerts or speaker presentations. Speakers are free, concerts are $2.

History

The first railroad to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains, the Allegheny Portage Railroad was the finishing piece of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal.  "The Portage," opened in 1834, marking the first time that there was one, direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  All things to all people, it served merchants, passengers, slaves in pursuit of freedom, and soldiers from the Mexican War.

When the Portage Railroad opened on March 18, 1834, it was a single track line. The rule was when 2 drivers met the one who had passed the center post had the right to go on. The other driver had to back up. Some sat nose to nose until a magistrate determined who got to the center first.

In 1834, a passenger on the Portage wrote that the engine houses appeared "like fairy castles seated on the tops of lofty hills, and shaded and surrounded by towering oaks and hemlocks". Today, a new generation of hemlock, Pennsylvania's state tree, survives in Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS.

In 1843 cars of bacon and whiskey, left overnight in the tunnel, caught fire from a locomotive spark and the whiskey exploded. Staple Bend Tunnel was closed for a couple of days for repair.

The Conemaugh Viaduct was used by trains even after the Portage Railroad closed. The Johnstown Flood of 1889 washed the original viaduct away, but a replacement was completed within 3 days of the flood.

Weather

Last updated: March 23, 2022
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