Mars boasts only surviving station from Pittsburgh and Western Railroad
Boasting more than a century of history contained inside a restored building that now doubles as a museum of sorts, the Mars Train Station captures the imaginations of visitors young and old, housing artifacts from the early days of the railways, as well as offering a glimpse into the town during its infancy.
The structure is complete with photos, tools, equipment, documents, stories and even a friendly feline phantom said to still roam the building.
Built in 1897 by the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad, the station provided the people of Mars with the ability to travel as never before.
“In the early 1900s, Mars was one of the first areas to have running, public water and that, along with a train stop and trolley, was a big draw for a lot of people,” said John Watson, president of the Mars Area History and Landmark Society.
The Mars station is the only one from the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad still standing. Over the years, the railways became a casualty of the booming automobile industry. The Mars station closed in the early 1960s.
“We were lucky because the Mars station had a lead, tin roof, which didn't leak at all over the years,” Watson said. “That was why we were able to save the station.”
In 2000, thanks to fundraising and donations, the historical society purchased the station and moved it 150 yards south, to its current location on land owned by the group.
“The roof had to be removed and then the building was moved in sections using a crane and a flatbed,” said Rich Ellis, a member of the historical society.
“A new footer was poured and a block foundation was built and then the pieces were put back in place.”
During that move, a mummified cat was unearthed, which has been named Chessie.
The name is derived from the Chessie System, which later merged with several other railroads to become CSX Corp., and had a logo depicting a sleeping kitten.
The feline is thought to have been a pet that lived in the Mars Station during its operation as a mascot of sorts and likely went underneath the building where it ultimately died, but was preserved.
Over the years, several people claimed to have seen or heard Chessie. Workers tell tales of locking up and leaving for the night during renovations only to return in the morning to find cat footprints in the sawdust.
“The cat is in a clear glass case in the station,” Ellis said. “The kids get a pretty big kick out of that story.”
Mars Historical Society members are always searching for ways to get people excited about the history of the region. Recently, the Mars Short Line began running. Pulled by a miniature train engine, guests can ride small train cars around the circular track that surrounds the building.
“It was put in for the children, but to be honest, the older people are just as excited as the kids to ride,” said Ellis.
Volunteers are usually at the station on Friday mornings and are always willing to show people around. Weather permitting, rides on the short line can be arranged.
The Mars Historical Society is constantly engaged in new projects, working on ways to resuscitate the past.
“It's great to see the younger people get excited about our history,” said Bill Swaney, a historical society member.
Anybody with interest in learning more about the train station is encouraged to contact the group.
David McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-772-6362 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.