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The Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill, and Switchback Gravity Railroad


Updated January 1, 2007

The Switch-Back Gravity Railroad was completed in 1827 to transport coal from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk and on to the Lehigh Canal for delivery to points south. For almost 20 years this was a one way trip from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk and soon proved to be a problem. Empty cars had to wait for the full cars, thus creating a bottle-neck in Mauch Chunk. A return track, or back-track, from Mauch Chunk to Summit Hill was completed in 1845.

The back track consisted of two planes, Mount Pisgah and Mount Jefferson, to deliver the cars to the tops of their respective hills. The ride from Mt. Pisgah to Mt. Jefferson was almost 7 miles. A barney car, connected to steel bands from an engine house atop the hill, pulled the cars uphill and gravity took over from there. The ride up the Mt. Pisgah plane was over 2300 feet while Mt. Jefferson was just over 2000 feet. The distance between the planes was nearly 7 miles and the ride from Mt. Jefferson into Summit Hill was less than 1 mile.

Early Passenger Cars

In 1861, a 12 seat passenger car, consisting of 2 wooden benches (shown above) and a baggage car ran 3 times a day. This was the beginning of a major tourist attraction. By the early 1870's, over 35,000 visitors rode the Switchback with that number tripling over the next decade. With the completion of the Hauto tunnel in 1872, the Switchback was no longer needed for coal delivery, it was used solely for tourism. The photos are from Kleckner and J. Brown.


Views around the Mt. Jefferson Engine House

These 2 views are from 1897. The picture on the left shows a car being pulled up by the barney car and about to enter the engine house. The cables on the right were attached to counter balances. The picture on the right shows part of the cistern that was used to power the steam engines.

The picture on the left shows 'Dottie and Roy' posing on the engine house and on the right is Hazel Gormley (my grandmother).

Here the car is exiting and about to take a short trip into town.

This picture is from the 1930s after the Switch-Back usefulness had ended.

Here are two views from the plane side of the engine house.

Here is the view if you were seated in a car riding up the plane about to enter the engine house.

Views from the top of Mt. Jefferson

These views were taken from inside the engine house looking down. The photo on the left is from a Zelner stereoview.

The view of the Bloomingdale Valley on left is from M.A. Kleckner. The right side view, from Purviance, shows the cable that extended from the bottom of the plane that rang a bell so it was known that the car was ready to be pulled up the plane. Both views are from the 1870s.

The two views above are from 1897 and 1924.

Views from the Mt. Jefferson Barney Pit

Here are two great views of the Barney car heading back into the pit to await its next car. The Purviance shot is on the left. The other photo was printed for the Switch-Back Bazaar.

The views above show the Barney car pulling a loaded car up the plane. These stereoviews printed by Gates and Berry, Kelly, Chadwick respectively.

Two views from Gates and Zellner.

The view on the left is handwritten on the back 'Mt. Jefferson' and is possibly an early Kleckner view. The other photo is from the 'American Views' series.

Here a car is about to go over the Barney Pit and await the ride up the plane.

Stan Henniger poses by the pit.

Mt. Jefferson Crossover

The Mt. Jefferson plane crossed over the track that went from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk. Here are two photos of a car crossing.

Views around the Mt. Pisgah Engine House

A postcard view of the Mt. Pisgah engine house.

A stereoview from an unknown phtotgrapher showing the trestle that led from the engine house.

This is the Pavilion which was located on the top of Mt. Pisgah around the trestle. The pavilion opened in the summer of 1872. It was destroyed by a storm in October 1878 and not rebuilt.

Views from the top of Mt. Pisgah

Two views from the top of Mt. Pisgah. The first from the 'Best Series' stereoview and the second from a photo dated 1924.

Views from the Mt. Pisgah Barney Pit

The views above are Jos. Brown stereoviews from the late 1860s, when coal was still being hauled on the Switch-Back.

Another view with coal cars, this one from M.A. Kleckner. The other view is from an unknown photographer. They are stacks of railroad ties in the background.

The first view is from an L.E. Walker oversized stereoview. It appears the conductor is ready to ring the bell so the car can be pulled up the plane. The second view has some unusual posing for the photographer. It was published by Switch-Back Bazaar.

Two more scenes from stereoviews. The photo on the left, by Purviance, is a nice shot of a closed car that was used in the spring and fall during cooler weather. The other is from Zellner.

This picture is looking down from the Switch-Back tracks before the car arrived at the Mauch Chunk Depot.

Tickets and Time Schedules

In April of 1912, The Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill and Switch-Back Railroad was renamed the Mauch Chunk Switch-Back Railway Company under Asa P. and Charles A. Blakslee of Mauch Chunk and Norman K. Putnam of Nazereth. During this time, it was still only 50 cents for a round trip and a whole nickel from Bloomingdale to Summit Hill.

The tickets from 1925 were good for one trip during the 1925 season.

The tickets above are a set of excursion tickets from Philadelphia dated October 7, 1878. I am missing the Philadelphia to Bethlehem ticket.

Here are 4 time schedules from 1876, 1880, 1890, and 1908.

The following pictures are from a souvenir booklet - The Switch-Back R.R. - published in 1901.

The pictures above are from the area of the crossover. The picture on the right is the 5 mile tree, which was just west of the crossover.

The first picture is the crossover on the Mt. Jefferson plane and the second picture is looking up the slope of the plane.

This picture is an area called Griffith Curve. In the background the Mt. Jefferson Powerhouse can be seen.

If you would like to view other pictures of Summit Hill click on the buttons below to visit other views of town.

Back to the home page.

Views of Front (Ludlow), Holland, White, Hazard, Chestnut, and Market Streets.

Pictures of the town Schools and Churches.

This page has pictures from soda bottles, Pharmacy bottles, and early Victorian Trade cards from stores.

View pictures of the Burning Mines and some of the equipment used.

Pictures of the Armory, SwitchBack Station, Eagle Hotel, Summit Inn, Post Office and early pictures of houses.

This page has views of the Panther Creek Valley and also some 'general' mining views.

This page lists the graduating classes up to 1929 (I will be adding more) as well as a couple of graduation pictures.

If you have a website, or a list of surnames with your email address, pertaining to relatives that lived in the Panther Valley, email me and I will add the list to this page.

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