Little Saw Mill Run Railroad carried coal, passengers in 19th century
The first program in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society 2017-18 series was a treat for rail fans — a discussion of the Little Saw Mill Run Railroad, or LSMRR.
The speaker was a retired railroader named David Aitken who possesses a remarkable knowledge of railroading and coal mining in the 19th century, especially in the South Hills.
The predecessor to the LSMRR was the “Horse Railway,” a 2-mile tramway that used horses to haul coal from a coal mine in the Little Saw Mill Run valley to the Ohio River at Temperanceville (now Pittsburgh's West End).
The Horse Railway was the brainchild of Abraham Kirk Lewis, who is also credited with building the first tunnel, a mile long, through Mt. Washington and the region's first inclined plane on the north face of the mountain.
In 1853, funded by the Harmony Society, the LSMRR was constructed to replace the Horse Railway.
Col. William Espy, a veteran of the Mexican-American War, was the driving force behind its organization. His farm encompassed much of what today is the borough of Dormont. He knew it was underlain by a rich seam of coal that could be exploited along the Ohio River.
The standard gauge line ran 3 miles from a coaling dock in Temperanceville to the mine on Espy's property in Banksville. It included five bridges and a 1,400-foot-long trestle, and operated three 0-6-0 locomotives built at the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works.
An engine-house was located at the Banksville end of the railroad. In the early 1870s, the line moved about 150,000 tons of coal each year, some of which was converted to coke in 12 beehive ovens in Temperanceville.
Passenger service was provided by a single unpropelled car that coasted downhill from Banksville to Temperanceville, with a brakeman assigned to stop it with hand brakes to take on and discharge passengers. It was returned to Banksville coupled to a coal train.
The railroad survived until 1897, when it was merged into the West Side Belt Railroad.
Mr. Aitken was a close friend of Mike Carrozza and consequently was quite familiar with the local historical society. He highlighted several LSMRR topics that were of special interest to folks in the Bridgeville area.
Early in the existence of the LSMRR, Col. Espy became aware of the extensive coal deposits in the Painter's Run valley and initiated plans to extend the railroad far enough south to serve that area. A combination of concern about the intervening terrain and the financial difficulties associated with the Panic of 1873 brought an end to that scheme.
It was an interesting evening for railfans and we suspect that the rest of the audience also benefited from this peek into the fascinating world of railroading history.
The October program meeting for the historical society will feature Glenn Flickinger, discussing “The Origins of World War II.” The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, on Commercial Street. As always, the public is cordially invited.