In 1874, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad built an elaborate Victorian styled passenger station in Tamaqua to replace an earlier wood structure, which had been destroyed by fire. The size, style and elaborate appointments in the new station were evidence of the growing importance of Tamaqua as a major railroad hub in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania.
More than 40 passenger trains stopped at the station daily during its peak years in the first half of the 20th century. The new station even included a full service restaurant facility to serve its many patrons. The surrounding station grounds were part of the Beautiful "Depot Square Park" with its meticulously cared for gardens and fountain. Tamaqua Station and Depot Square Park were a showplace of once mighty Philadelphia & Reading Railroad and the focal point of downtown Tamaqua.
In August 1992, the Station was purchased by Tamaqua S.O.S. (Save Our Station), a non-profit group organized for the purpose of preserving and restoring the Station and returning it to its rightful place as the focal point and hub of the community. The station is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being part of the 55-block Tamaqua Historical District. In 2004, following a long and difficult period spanning more than 12 years, Tamaqua S.O.S. has proudly completed the extensive $1.5 million dollar restoration of the Tamaqua Station, thus preserving it for generations to come and returning to be a place of prominence in the region.
The lobby of the restored station serves as an official visitors center for Schuylkill County and the Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area.
HISTORICAL CHRONOLOGY OF THE TAMAQUA RAILROAD STATION RESTORATION PROJECT AND OTHER RAILROAD MILESTONES
1829 - The Little Schuylkill Navigation, Railroad and Coal Company began construction of a railroad began between Tamaqua and Port Clinton, a distance of 21 miles. Originally, a watered canal with canal boats was proposed between the two towns as a means of transporting coal being mined in the rich coal fields surrounding Tamaqua, to the Schuylkill Canal at Port Clinton. Once on the Schuylkill Canal, coal could then be shipped to major shipping ports like Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the terrain of the land proved too difficult for construction of the canal, and engineers decided to construct a railroad instead. The new railroad was surveyed and built by George Frederick List, who later became famous as the 'father of German railroads,' and Moncure Robinson, who became known as the '’genius of Americas earliest railways”.
1831 - The Little Schuylkill Railroad between Tamaqua and Port Clinton was completed and began operating with horse drawn coal and passenger cars which were pulled along wooden rails with steel straps attached to the top. The opening of this railroad was considered an engineering marvel of the time and was celebrated with a great deal of fanfare. This was only the 3rd rail route to be constructed in America at the time.
1833 - Two steam engines were purchased from Edward Bury Co. of Liverpool, England at a cost of $5,000 each. They arrived by sailboat at the Port of Baltimore and were hauled in pieces on heavy wagons pulled by teams of oxen to Tamaqua. The engines were soon assembled and put into service on the Little Schuylkill Railroad. These first two engines were named the 'Catawissa' and the “Comet". The Little Schuylkill Railroad was now the first railroad in America to use steam power to haul anthracite coal.
1839 – The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company was formed.
1857 - The Little Schuylkill Railroad built a huge cone-shaped locomotive roundhouse across from the station on the site of the present day Rite Aid store. The stone structure housed 21 locomotives and a turntable. Around 1910, the structure was featured in Scientific American Magazine as an engineering marvel of the times.
1868 – The Little Schuylkill Railroad was leased for 93 years by the P. & R. Railroad.
1873 - The original wooden Tamaqua railroad station located where the railroad QA office is now located on the south side of the West Broad St. crossing, was destroyed by fire. ("QA" are Tamaqua's call letters on the telegraph system).
1874 - The present passenger station was built to replace the original wooden station. The railroad excavated the hillside to the rear of the station, removing tons of rocks to create a flat area for the station to be built. The new station was a much larger Italianate Victorian styled structure made of red brick and natural brownstone. It was topped off with 6 ornate chimneys protruding from the roof and a flagpole. The station featured a T-shaped floor plan with a two-story central concourse, restaurant, men's and women's waiting rooms, ticket office and restrooms. Very few train stations were built with restaurant facilities for the convenience of passengers. The size, style and amenities of the new Tamaqua station reflected the importance of Tamaqua as a major railroad hub of the coal regions.
1877 - Following the mass hangings of 10 alleged members of the Molly Maguires at the Schuylkill County prison on June 21, one or more of the bodies were brought to Tamaqua by train very late at night to await burial arrangements the next day. Due to their late arrival, the bodies of the deceased were stored in the station overnight in wooden boxes that were packed with ice as a preservative.
1881 - The railroad and the borough built a beautiful park adjacent to the station known as Depot Square Park, where the present day Verizon Building and Wachovia Bank now stand. Depot Square Park featured meticulously cared for gardens, a water fountain, chestnut trees, sprawling lawns and a decorative fence surrounding it. The beautiful station and park was the centerpiece of our downtown and a showplace of the railroad and the borough for many decades.
The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad constructed an ornate crew
dispatch and telegraph office on the south side of West Broad St.
crossing. The building was known as the QA office. The letters "QA"
represented Tamaqua's call letters on the telegraph system. The very
ornate building is believed to have been designed by famous railroad
architect, Frank Furness. Across the street, in the corner of Depot
Square Park, stood a miniature version of the QA office which served as
a shelter for the crossing watchman who operated the crossing gates.
The building was nicknamed locally as the 'little Swiss cottage'.
1896 – The large cone-shaped roundhouse was demolished to make way for more modern locomotive and car servicing facilities.
1915 - The Tamaqua station was remodeled including the addition of a baggage and express office on the north end of the building, and painting of the entire exterior of the building in the standard cream and brown colors of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad. A Union News Company news stand was also constructed next to the station on the south side for sale of daily newspapers, candy and tobacco items to passengers.
1920’s- 40’s - During its peak years, more than 40 passenger trains daily stopped at the Tamaqua station. Popular destinations included Mauch Chunk, Williamsport, Philadelphia, Reading, Atlantic City, New York, Niagara Falls and Chicago.
1930’s - The restaurant in the station ceased operating after approximately 50 years in business.
WWII – During the war years, huge numbers of soldiers left for war from the Tamaqua station on board special military transport trains.
1946 - The Reading Railroad was now the fifth largest freight carrier in the country, and the largest corporation in the world. They owned 3,438 miles of track, 593 locomotives, 35,000 rail cars and had some 20,000 employees.
1950 - With passenger service on a rapid decline, the railroad sold Depot Square Park next to the station to Bell Telephone Company, thus eliminating the beautiful gardens and park.
1960 - The railroad constructed a cinder block tower at the Broad St. crossing to house the operator who controlled the gates on all five railroad crossings in Tamaqua.
1961 - The railroad discontinued passenger service in Tamaqua and the station closed. The railroad relocated some of its crew dispatch offices to the station which remained there for most of the next 20 years.
1976 - The bankrupt Reading Railroad was merged into Conrail as part of a government buyout.
1980 - Conrail moved its crew dispatch offices from the station and relocated them to the former QA office across the street. The station was then abandoned and sold to the borough of Tamaqua for $23,500. The borough hoped to utilize the station and its property as part of a downtown renewal project on West Broad St.
The Tamaqua Railroad Station was added to the 'National Register of Historic Places'.
1981 - The vacant station was set on fire by an unknown arsonist in an attempt to destroy the structure. One room was totally destroyed and heavy damage inflicted on other areas of the building. Soon after the fire, the borough moved towards demolition of the building.
The Tamaqua Historical Society stepped in and asked the borough for permission to stabilize the building, clean up its appearance, and seek ways to save the building from the wrecking ball. The Society spent the next four years cleaning up, boarding up, stabilizing, and beautifying the building in order to buy time for a long-range preservation plan to be formulated.
1983 - The Tamaqua Jaycees conducted a community-wide survey to determine public opinion on whether the station should be preserved or not. The overwhelming results were that the vast majority of Tamaqua residents felt that the station must be preserved at all cost.
1985 - The borough decided to sell the now stabilized railroad station to a real estate developer who had made false promises for development of a strip mall on the site of the present day Wachovia Bank building and station site. The station and the entire block behind it were sold for $33,500. The Historical Society was left to wait and see as to what would happen with the station under the new ownership.
1986-1990 - The station property along with the vacant lot on West Broad St. changed hands between real estate developers several more times. Eventually the Wachovia Bank building was constructed with medical offices above it. Still there seemed to be no one who was willing to do something positive with our grand old railroad station.
1990 - Andrew Muller Jr. organized the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad and purchased the former Conrail lines in the Tamaqua area and much of the region. The railroad continues to operate all lines in the region to this day.
1991 - The non-profit 'Tamaqua S.O.S. Save Our Station' organization was formed as a last ditch effort to save our landmark railroad station from demolition or neglect by out of town developers.
1992 - Tamaqua S.O.S. rallied support throughout the community and was able to purchase the station for $25,000 from a developer who was expecting to demolish the station. A handful of dedicated volunteers spent the next 13 years heading off further deterioration, raising funds and coordinating this major restoration project. Without the dedication of this small group of volunteers, the station and a large part of Tamaqua's heritage and now revitalization would have been lost forever.
1998 – With assistance from the Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area, Tamaqua S.O.S. completed a “Future Use” Plan for how the station would be utilized once restored.
2001 - Depot Square Park was reconstructed on the site of the former Hess Gas Station at the Five Points intersection by Downtown Tamaqua, Inc., the Borough of Tamaqua, and countless volunteers.
2004 - The $1.5 million restoration project at the station is completed and unveiled to the public. A formal dedication ceremony was held on August 1, 2004. Tamaqua's beloved railroad station is now officially saved and has been returned to its place of prominence within our community.
2005 - In cooperation with the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership and the Everhart Museum, the Tamaqua Railroad Station gallery opens in the station featuring local art, history and cultural exhibits.
The Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area honors Tamaqua S.O.S. and the Borough of Tamaqua for "the leadership and dedication of these organizations for the beautiful restoration of the 1874 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Tamaqua Passenger Station."
2006 - Tamaqua S.O.S. Celebrates the 2nd Anniversary of the dedication of the restored station at a special event on August 1, 2006 featuring a roving musical performance by Matthew Dodd entitled "Songs & Stories of Old Railroad Days."