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Orbisonia–East Broad Top Railroad Sites

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1872, with additions. PA 994, Meadow St.
  • Orbisonia-East Broad Top Railroad Sites (HABS)

The PRR was a dominant force in the history of Pennsylvania from the 1860s until just after World War II. Its strength grew from the feeder lines that brought raw materials, goods, and people to its main line from the farthest reaches of the state. In this case, prosperity emanated from a twenty-five-milewide, eighty square-mile plateau called Broad Top Mountain. The coal here is a hybrid type with qualities of both the bituminous and the anthracite strains, which meant that it could command a high price, and, once the railroad was available to haul it, it was mined. In 1856, the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad (HBTMRR) served the west side of Broad Top Mountain, and in 1872, the eastern side was opened with the EBTRR, a narrowgauge railroad. The coal mined on the Broad Top became the fuel of choice for the PRR. The EBTRR hauled tannery products, lumber, agricultural products, lime, sand, and passengers, as well as coal and iron ore processed at the Rockhill Furnace Coal and Coke Company. When the local iron industry faltered in the late nineteenth century, the manufacture of refractory brick at Mount Union took up the slack in the railroad's hauling, until 1956, when all the industries using the railroad had declined and the EBTRR closed. The entire system was sold to the Kovalchick Salvage Company of Indiana County that year.

In the small, adjacent villages of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace are a number of prosperous single-family houses, such as those at 565 and 585 Ridgely Street. The town also hosts the headquarters and service depots of the EBTRR, which stand as an almost intact collection of railroad buildings dating from the mid-1880s to the 1920s. The highlights are the roundhouse (1882–1904), with eight stalls storing four working steam locomotives. In 1960, a five-mile portion of the rail system was reopened to commemorate Orbisonia's bicentennial. The tourist train continues to run, leaving from the frame Orbisonia Depot (1907) adjacent to the shops. What remains today of the former thirty-three-mile system is a linear history of bridges, mine buildings, patch towns, railroad stations, and an entire service complex linked together to tell the story of Huntingdon County's industrial past.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.


What's Nearby


Lu Donnelly et al., "Orbisonia–East Broad Top Railroad Sites", [Rockhill, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 362-362.

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