Text and photos by Bob Imhof

The Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region is crisscrossed by railroads as well as rail corridors that have been converted to trails, and these industrial relics provide a great link to the past. Below, Bob Imhof of the Ridgway Heritage Council shares some insight on an Elk County railroad from the time of the Civil War.

The Shawmut & Ridgway Railroad was organized in 1861 to connect the mines of the Shawmut Coal Company at the head of Mead Run to the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad about one mile east of Ridgway. The Shawmut & Ridgway climbed out of the Elk Creek Valley east of Ridgway via five switchbacks, then pushed south along Boot Jack Mountain and into the Mead Run Valley north of Drummond. It was the first railroad built into the Little Toby Valley, more than 20 years before any railroad reached Brockwayville, now known as Brockway.

An 1867 report states that 300 to 400 people worked the railroad, mines, coke works, and a sawmill. There were 65 dwellings, a store, a post office, and a Roman Catholic church. This village is now referred to as Old Shawmut. Unfortunately, the venture failed due to the inefficiency of getting the coal down the five switchbacks, and the village was abandoned as new coal mines opened up further south along Mead Run and as railroads entered the valley from Brockport.

Parts of the grade were recycled as the Mead & Laurel Run logging railroad associated with the Cartwright Lumber Company sawmill at Horton City. Connections also existed with the W. H. Hyde & Co. logging railroad on Gallagher Run in Ridgway, and even the Frank Thompson logging railroad along Island Run. Most of the mainline of the grade still exists, and it is most visible to the west of U.S. 219 between German Settlement Road and Boot Jack. Another amazing section of this historic railroad is the series of switchbacks that crisscross down the ridge west of the Mohan Run Valley and connected with the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad in 1864.

Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to or calling (814) 849-5197.

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