Archival Adventures in Small Repositories

Rail-fans Rejoice at Haverford Township Historical Society

Wednesday, 5/21/14
Tags: transportation

 

Calling all ferroequinologists! If you are interested in the history of trains, specifically Philadelphia suburban trolleys around the turn of the 20th century, catch the next Norristown High Speed Line to the Haverford Township Historical Society. The Society is home to a large collection of glass plates and photographs from railroad engineer Wilbur Hall.

Wilbur P. Hall was born in Chester County (Pa.) in 1879. He moved to Llanerch in Haverford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania in 1901 to work as an oiler for the Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company. Before long he was promoted to night engineer, then chief engineer. He retired from the Traction Company in 1929.

The Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company (PWCTC) opened a trolley line from 63rd and Market Streets in West Philadelphia to West Chester (Chester County) about 1898. PWCTC's operating offices, main power station, and car barns were all located along the line in Llanerch. (PWCTC's power station furnished electricity for private homes and street lighting as far as Drexel Hill!) Trolley service to West Chester was discontinued in May 1959. PWCTC also ran a trolley line from Llanerch to Ardmore from 1902 to 1966. 

Most of the Wilbur Hall photographs are related to these trolley lines from Philadelphia into Delaware and Chester counties: views of tracks, local trolley stations, trolley cars, and the Llanerch power station.

63rd and Market Streets, Philadelphia, eastern terminal of Llanerch line (click on image for more information)

Llanerch power station, interior view

Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company baseball team (click on image for more information)

Some of Hall's photographs do not relate to transportation, but depict people, buildings, and scenery, principally from locations in Llanerch and Haverford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Laying the cornerstone of Llanerch Presbyterian Church, 1912 (click on image for more information)

The collection is a fantastic resource for railroad historians because it features shots of machinery, equipment, and trolley lines. The streetscape and trolley-side views could also be useful for researchers studying suburban development. Recognizing the great importance of these images, the Haverford Township Historical Society has digitized the entire collection and made nearly all of it available online! If you want a truly authentic experience, however, I encourage you to travel to the Society the way Hall would have: by rail. An in-person visit will also give you the opportunity to explore the many other interesting and important archival materials held at the Haverford Township Historical Society, including records of several local women's clubs, vast resources relating to property research, and much more!

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