The former Bessemer & Lake Erie passenger station in Greenville, Pennsylvania, is now an insurance office. The view is looking southward.
The former Bessemer & Lake Erie passenger station in Greenville, Pennsylvania, was quiet.
It was a hot, muggy summer afternoon and insurance offices aren’t normally open on Sundays.
All was quiet on the railroad, too, and not too many people other than those in passing cars were out and about in downtown Greenville.
Now operated as a State Farm office, the Mission-style Greenville depot is in remarkably good condition.
The exterior probably is more attractive now than it was when the railroad still used the building.
It has been 60 years since the last Bessemer passenger train pulled away from the Greenville station. No. 12 backed out at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 5, en route to Erie, Pennsylvania.
More than 200 passengers boarded the train that morning in Greenville and by the time the train reached Erie it had boarded more than 400.
A newspaper account of the last trip said that passengers had to stand in the aisles and in the baggage section of a combine car because all seats had been taken well before the train reached Erie.
The B&LE was never a major passenger carrier, but it did have its passenger heyday as did other railroads.
That was in the early 20th century when it ran four trains a day between North Bessemer and Erie. Consists routinely were 12 to 14 cars.
Service peaked in 1913 when the Bessemer carried 1.1 million passengers. There were just two years between 1909 and 1920 when the B&LE did not carry a million passengers.
The last passenger trains on the Conneaut branch ran on March 31, 1932. In 1954, the railroad was carried 5,857 passengers, an average of 10 per train.
On May 17, 1954, service ended between Greenville and North Bessemer, leaving Nos. 12 and 13 as the last varnish on the Bessemer.
Nos. 12 and 13 usually operated between Greenville and Erie with a diesel locomotive, a combine car and one coach. For the final trips, though, the trains carried two additional coaches.
The Record-Argus of Greenville gave the last trips extensive coverage. It was front page news the day before the last run and the Monday following the last trips. The newspaper also published a full page of photographs on Monday.
Aside from it being the last northbound trip, the run of No. 13 was also eventful because it had to back up five miles rather than proceeding straight ahead from the depot.
That was due to flooding at Osgood that forced the train to back up to Kremis to reach the then-named KO Subdivision. The train resumed its normal route at KO Junction, which is known today as Sandy.
The detour added 23 minutes to the final run and gave the passengers a look at places they would not otherwise see from the train.
The newspaper said that No. 12 carried 425 passengers, but just 126 of them had purchased tickets. The rest rode on passes.
The last southbound trip of No. 13 had a similar situation. The train carried 588 passenger of which 286 purchased tickets.
For the southbound trip, the B&LE in Erie sold commemorative tickets that noted that it was the last passenger trip. On the back of the ticket was a brief history of the more than 85 years of passenger service on the route.
Some purchased the ticket to have a keepsake but did not ride the train.
No. 13 had a load of Cub Scouts who rode to Greenville and then returned by automobiles driven by a dozen parents.
The Scouts sang songs, including, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, which they rewrote to “We’ve been riding on the Bessemer, the bullet is her name.”
The Record-Argus noted that members of National Railway Historical Society chapters traveled to Greenville for the occasion, some getting there aboard a chartered bus.
In Conneautville, children held up farewell signs as the train stopped there for the final time.
The newspaper noted that only two flag stops lacked people waiting to board the final trips.
No. 13 arrived in Greenville at 4:05 p.m. The platform was crowded with well-wishers and those waiting to pick up family and friends who had ridden the last Bessemer passenger train.
By then the flooding at Osgood has subsided and No. 13 could travel its normal route.
The railroad make a photograph of the last crew of conductor W.K. Putnam, engineer C.F. Burns, fireman P. Dinchart and baggageman C.G. Reitz.
Then the crowd dispersed and a chapter in the history of Bessemer had ended.
It would not be the last time, though, that a passenger train passed by the Greenville depot.
The Akron Railroad Club sponsored a chartered round trip that originated in Greenville and ran to North Bessemer on June 26, 1955.
Some ARRC members turned out several years ago to photograph or watch a chartered train sponsored by the American Association of Private Car Owners, which ran over the B&LE on a rare mileage excursion.
I didn’t know most of this history as I stood on the remnants of the brick platform in Greenville and made photographs of the station as it looks today.
Although the history of the railroad that passes by this station dates to the middle 19th century, the B&LE itself came into being in late 1900.
I wondered what stories those who passed through the station’s doors over the years could tell about why they were at the station or why they were taking the train.
Were they off to college? Off to begin basic training in the Army? Off to visit grandma in Erie or Pittsburgh? Off on business? Off to start a new life? Their stories were, I’m sure, as varied as those who rode the trains back then.
Most of the passengers and the railroaders who served them, whether aboard the trains or in the station, are gone now and each passing day obscures further the memory of Bessemer & Lake Erie passenger service.
The Greenville station is part of the city’s Commercial Historic District, which was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2000. That probably assures that the B&LE station will remain standing.
It was late afternoon and I faced a long drive home. I took another look around, made a few more photos and thought again about all of those stories that could be told about waiting for a train at the station.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
It’s not likely that the hedges at the Greenville station existed in the middle 1950s when B&LE passengers trains last ran. The view is looking northward.
It has been 60 years since baggage and express shipments moved through these doors to a waiting train.
Much care and flare has gone into restoring and maintaining the B&LE passenger station in Greenville.
Railroad agents no longer look out these bay windows to see if the next scheduled train is approaching the station.