“Cut off from the rest of the world” – First World War disrupted life in northern Dauphin County

Today, residents on the Dauphin and Schuylkill county line understand the meaning of geographical isolation. Dozens of miles from the large population centers, residents have long regarded their isolation as problematic when it came to their political power and sought to remedy that, as we have examined in previous posts.

However, at other moments in the history of the region, residents of Lykens and Williams valleys fought back against efforts to essentially reinforce their isolation by powers of government and industry.

During the summer of 1917, residents of Northern Dauphin County loudly registered their complaints at the shifting of train schedules between Harrisburg, Millersburg, and Lykens. The Northern Central Railroad, a rail line hugging the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River, was a key transportation hub carrying large supplies of anthracite coal needed by the American war effort in Europe.

A shift in the railroad schedule isolated the upper part of the county from the economic and political powers in Harrisburg. Residents noted that the decision of the NCRR, an entity owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad, cut them off from the rest of the world. The following excerpt comes from the Harrisburg Telegraph on July 6, 1917:

Train Schedule Raises Protest

Upper End Not Pleased With Traveling and Mail Facilities

Withdrawal of one passenger train running between Harrisburg and Lykens and a shift in the train schedule on July 1 has so badly crippled traveling facilities that the people in the upper end who are most affected say they are virtually cut off from the rest of the world. So provoked are they over the change that many of the leading citizens of Williamstown, Lykens, Gratz, and Berrysburg say that they will petition the Northern Central Railroad Company to restore the old schedule or otherwise improve the present one.

The material changes in the schedule was the withdrawal of the train leaving Harrisburg at 3:40 p.m. due at Lykens at 5:09 p.m. The last afternoon train for Lykens that formerly left at 5:30 departs twenty minutes later, at 5:50 and the morning train from Lykens leaves that town 9 minutes earlier but gets into Harrisburg shortly after 9 o’clock, the same as before.

List of the complaints

The effect of this change the upper end folks say is this:

Williamstown gets no evening mail because the post office closes before the train arrives.

Berrysburg and Gratz people cannot get home when traveling on the last afternoon accommodation to Lykens.

Newspapers from Harrisburg are distributed after the people have retired.

Commuters working in Harrisburg get home three or four hours after supper and when it is time to retire.

All mail going to the upper end is distributed in the morning.

How People Are Discommoded

The train that formerly left Harrisburg at 3:40 carried mail and arrived at Lykens at 5:09 p.m. Williamstown folks could get home by trolley which then made connections with the train at Lykens. Berrysburg and Gratz residents boarded a stage at Elizabethville shortly before 5 o’clock. With that train abandoned and the late train getting into Lykens at 7:24, Williasmtown people must wait 35 minutes for a trolley and they do not get home much before 8:45. That’s the time the mail and newspapers get into Williamstown.

But the stage service between Elizabethville and Berrysburg and Gratz is not maintained after the arrival of the late train and people going to Berrysburg or Gratz must lay over in Elizabethville until the following day. When Lykens folks come to Harrisburg they are obliged to wait until 5:50 p.m. before they can get a train for home.

Going to Lykens passengers must leave Harrisburg at 3:40 a.m. to get to Millersburg in time for the Lykens local, leaving Millersburg at 6 a.m. The only other train for Lykens before the late afternoon local is one leaving Harrisburg shortly after 9 a.m. or about the time the first train from Lykens gets to Harrisburg.

The complicated transportation links between the communities the region are fascinating. And yet, we can see that even a small change could become the source of endless frustration. In the end, it appears that the train schedule was modified to lessen the impacts on local residents. However, citizens would continually notice that passenger trains were consistently sidetracked by long trains carrying anthracite coal from the mines of Lykens, Wiconisco, and Williamstown toward the factories and ships supplying the country’s efforts in the European war.

Featured Image: A train at the Lykens Valley Railroad depot in Lykens, Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. 

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