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Railroad traveler liked York, but not Wrightsville

Barlett print, 1840.
Bartlett print, 1840

A traveler calling himself “P.M.” visiting Baltimore in the early winter of 1850 sent back a letter to the editor, Ephraim Cowan, of the Warren (Pa.) Mail. He took a train most of the way, including the Pennsylvania Railroad from Harrisburg to Columbia and the Northern Central Railway from Wrightsville through York to Baltimore. He compared the railroads as well as the towns through which he passed.

Here is the part of his story concerning York County, as published in the Warren Mail on December 26, 1850.

Downtown YorkYork, Pa. before the Civil War

“For the Warren Mail.

Baltimore, Nov. 30, 1850.

Friend Cowan: — I wrote you from Columbia, detailing something in relation to the Central Railroad. One thing further. The difference between this road and the Pennsylvania Railroad, as well as in the management, is very remarkable. The one is new and in good order; the other is old, dilapidated and in bad order. Over the one you glide along at the rate of 25 or 30 miles an hour with but little jolting or jarring; on the other, you are jerked and jarred at the rate of about 20 miles an hour; the car is tilting and reeling like a vessel in a storm. Men are constantly at work on it, repairing and tinkering it up. The difference in the appearance of the conductors and agent is equally striking.

Those of the Central are intelligent, temperate, business looking men. They pass through the cars on each accession of new passengers with, paper and pencil in hand, collect the fare and note the items. The State agent or conductors would stagger through the cars in like manner, without paper or pencil, collect the fare, tumble it up and tuck it in his breeches pocket, without so far as I could notice, keeping any account whatever. How he renders his account to his employers, is more than I could tell. It is a matter of notoriety that the stealing on the State road since it was built, have been enormous and have enriched more than one agent.

Leaving Columbia, I passed, over the famous Columbia bridge to Wrightsville, on the opposite side of the Susquehanna. Passengers are taken across this bridge in cars drawn by horses and take the regular cars for York, Baltimore etc. at Wrightsville. The tolls of this bridge furnish the specie basis of the Columbia Bridge Co. Bank. It had three tracks; one for cars, one for common wagons and carriages, and a tow path. The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal commences at this point. There is a dam across the river—boats are towed across and enter the canal on the west side. Thence it continues to tidewater.

Columbia is rather a stirring business place. Its population is over 4,000. It is to the Susquehanna what Cincinnati is to the Allegheny lumbermen. Large quantities of lumber are drawn and sold here. Prices range but little if any higher than they do in the latter place. The labor and risk of getting it from the upper waters of the Susquehanna to this place, must be much greater than from the Allegheny waters to Cincinnati. If I were a lumberman, I should prefer it by far to one on the Allegheny waters.

Wrightsville above referred to, is a little place, about the size of a place by the same name in your county, but greatly inferior to the latter place in neatness and thrift. There are but two hotels in the place and judging from the fare we got at one of them, called the best one, the public would be quite as well off without any.

At this place we take the Railroad to York. The road on leaving Wrightsville passes through a mountain of limestone rock, which is excavated 60 feet deep for about 100 rods; it then comes on to a small stream which it follows up to York 12 miles. York is the county seat of York county and is one of the most pleasant inland towns in the State. The public as well as many of the private buildings are of brick and an appearance of neatness and taste pervades the whole town. One, if not altogether the best of public houses on my route, I found at this place. Landlord waiters and table, were all right.

From York to Baltimore is 38 miles, which distance we are taken in something less than two hours.”