The Kiskiminetas River (Kiski, as the locals
call it) is located in south western Pennsylvania. It forms the north eastern boundry of
Westmoreland county, about 20 - 25 miles north east of Pittsburgh. It empties into the
Allegheny River about 17 miles north of Pittsburgh at a place known as "Kiski
- The Railroad Was Slow in Coming
- to the Kiskiminetas (Kiski) Valley.
The following is reprinted from the
"VANDERGRIFT NEWS" written by Don Stevenson.
- The old Pennsylvania Mainline Canal
was still the only way to ship goods from the Kiskiminetas (Kiski) Valley to Pittsburgh as
late as 1865. In 1835, David Leech, Thomas Roberts, and Eli Toland establish the Western
Transportation Company (aka David Leech & Co.) to conduct transportation business over
the Main Line Canal.
Railroads that would eventually
replace the canal were slow in coming into the valley.
The original railroad that was
assigned the job of opening this line was the NORTH WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY that was
chartered in 1853. The railroads immediate plan was to build a rail line from a point on
the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad to New Castle, PA. The line was to follow
the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas Rivers to Allegheny Junction (now known as Kiski Junction).
From New Castle it would connect with the Cleveland and Mahoning Valley Railroad, which
would connect with Cleveland, OH.
This would have created a through line
to the west, something the Pennsylvania Railroad did not have at the time.
1858 saw the North Western Railroad
Co. completing most of the grading and ballasting of the route from Blairsville to Kiski
Junction, but the financial panic of 1857 had taken its toll and the North Western
Railroad could not meet its financial obligations.
Work on the line was stopped and the
line was foreclosed on. It re-organized in 1859 as the Western Pennsylvania Railroad.
(April 10, 1860, the Northwestern Railroad Company became reorganized as the Western
Pennsylvania Railroad Company. April 10th is date of transfer of assets) Work
would not begin on the road until 1862, a delay of two years. At this time the
Pennsylvania Railroad agreed to advance the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Line $500,000.00
to complete the line to Kiski Junction, where they
would connect with the Allegheny Valley Railroad on the east bank of the Allegheny River,
in Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, PA.
(Oct 27, 1861 Flood damages Western
Division Canal below Blairsville.)
(May 27, 1862 The PRR approves aid to
the Pittsburgh & Steubenville and the Western Pennsylvania Railroad under the
Commutation Act; aid to the West Penn was repealed July 9, 1862)
(Early 1863, Work resumes on the
Western Pennsylvania Railroad.)
(Fall 1863; Western Pennsylvania
Railroad opens between Blairsville and Saltsburg, PA 15.7 miles.)
(In 1866, the Western Pennsylvania
Railroad had a 4-4-0 locomotive numbered 15.)
In 1866, the first train went across
the Allegheny River from Freeport towards the east.
One of the hold ups in completing the
railroad was the tunnel that was being built at Hyde Park, then a part of Allegheny
The tunnel was started in 1859, and
not completed until 1865. The work was stopped on the tunnel from 1860 until 1862, the
civil war years, as it was on the rest of the line.
The tunnel was constructed of huge
stone, which was quarried nearby. The superintendent at the tunnel was Robert B. Campbell,
whose workers presented him with a gold tipped cane upon completion of the tunnel.
The tunnel was used until 1904, at
which time the railroad changed route to follow the horseshoe shaped curve around Hyde
Park. Why the tunnel was originally built is unknown. The rest of the line was ready for
traffic in 1863, two years before the tunnel was completed.
The line down the Kiski finally opened
in July of 1865, and was leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad the following month.
At about the same time, the
Pennsylvania Railroad sold the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal right of way, on the west side
of the Allegheny River, to the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, from Freeport to Allegheny
City (now known as the North Side of Pittsburgh, PA.) The following year the Western
Pennsylvania Railroad finished a railroad line from Freeport to Allegheny City, where it
connected with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad.
As part of the sale of the canal right
of way to the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, the state required that a line be built from
Freeport to Butler, Pennsylvania. This was completed in 1871 and is called the Butler
The original line down the Kiski did
not follow the current route of the railroad, and old maps, from 1867 to 1876 shows it
much further from the river, in certain areas, than it is today. It originally had many
steep grades, and over the years the tracks have been relocated until now the maximum
grade is 0.4 percent.
Armstrong County was left out in the
cold when the early railroads were built in the valley. The canal was still in operation,
and its route along the north side of the Kiskiminetas River would have been the ideal
location for the railroads to be built.
In the 1880s the railroads
routes were being moved closer to the river, but the only place in Armstrong County to
benefit from this was Kiski Township. The railroad run on the Armstrong County (north)
side of the river from the Indiana County line to just below Avonmore, here it crossed the
river on a railroad bridge and then through a tunnel that took the trains just east of
Salina. Remains of this tunnel are still visible on both the Avonmore and Salina side of
the old tunnel.
In 1950 a new railroad bridge replaced
this bridge and tunnel, and the trains then traveled around the bend in the river, which
had been graded to handle the trains without the need of the tunnel.
In the late 1880s the railroads
ran a line through both Apollo and Leechburg. This was accomplished by building bridges on
both ends of each town, and routing certain freight and passenger trains through the
Sometime during the period of
1888-1890 a branch railroad was built from Schenley to Leechburg. Connecting with the
Allegheny Valley Railroad at Schenley it enabled the coalmines in that area to get their
products to market.
A branch was built from Apollo
eastward to serve the coalmines in that area along the Kiski.
Many stations were established
throughout the valley, and some of their names are still known to this day. Some of these
stations were Roaring Run, Helena, West Apollo, Bagdad, North West Station and Kiski
The last passenger train to run through the valley was pulled
by a K4s and a Mr. Harry Bruce was the last passenger to ride the train. Passenger service
disappeared from the valley in 1957, and for a while it looked like freight trains were
doing the same. Only one set of tracks remain along the Kiski, but recently freight trains
have once more started hauling freight along the tracks. There is even talk about putting
a second set of tracks in again, and although we may never see a return of the number of
trains that used to go by daily, we can see more trains than you could two years ago.