The Mystery of Brady Lake Tower

It has been 50 years since the Brady Lake Tower operator routinely watched over the tracks from these windows.

It has been 50 years since the Brady Lake Tower operator routinely watched over the tracks from these windows.

Curiosity as much as anything motivated me to venture to the 40th anniversary celebration of Towner’s Wood Park in Portage County.

For years I’ve made the park a place to hang out and watch Norfolk Southern trains pass by on the adjacent Cleveland Line.

Looming over the park is the former Brady Lake Tower – once known as Brady’s Lake Tower – that was operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The tower controlled the junction of the east end of the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh with the Pennsy.

There has always been an air of mystery about Brady Lake Tower. I had never been inside of it and long wondered what there was to see. The answer turned out to be “not much.”

For the 40th anniversary event, the park district converted the bottom floor of the concrete tower into a makeshift exhibit area.

There was poster about railroads, but much of the information was about nature.

The second story of Brady Lake Tower looks like a wreck. The Park District uses it for storage of all manner of things.

There are holes in the ceiling and no trace of anything that was associated with the railroad other than the structure itself.

I wasn’t expecting to find the interlocking machine, the operator’s desk, or clipboards containing railroad bulletins and orders hanging on the wall that had been left behind.

Those have long since been removed.

There were a few reminders of the railroad on the first floor, but those were obvious only if you knew what you were looking at.

You had to use your imagination to “see” the railroad presence on the top floor.

Photographs of the interior of Brady Lake Tower are rare or nonexistent. There are some images of the exterior, including a photo made by Paul Geiger that is published on Page 100 of Volume 12 of the Pennsylvania Railroad Facilities series by Morning Sun books.

We know that the original Cleveland & Pittsburgh ran through what is now the parking lot at Tower’s Woods.

The C&P was a single-track railroad that crossed the predecessor of the Erie Railroad at grade at Brady Lake.

When the PRR rebuilt its line in the early 1900s, the tracks were shifted to their current alignment and at least a portion of the former right of way between Brady Lake and Ravenna was sold to the Erie.

The rebuilding gave the Pennsy a better grade for its ore trains and slightly shortened the distance between Hudson and Ravenna.

The Pennsy facilities book reports that Brady Lake was removed from service on May 14, 1966, but kept intact to “be placed in service by train order or general order.” By 1970, its interlocking capability had been removed.

We don’t know for certain when Brady Lake Tower was built. A PRR track diagram from 1965 has the notation “built (or rebuilt) 1928.”

The LE&P opened in 1911. Could the tower have been built then? Or was it built earlier?

I’ve heard various speculations from railroad historians on that point but my visit Saturday yielded no new hard information about the origin of Brady Lake Tower.

I enjoyed my visit to the tower. One of the speakers said the bottom floor might be converted to a light food service facility that is open part time to sell snacks and beverages.

Towner’s Woods is the most popular park in the Portage Park District network and strategically located on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail.

So Brady Lake Tower seems assured to have a long continued life.

But as for when that life began as a railroad facility, some mysteries, it seems, might never be solved.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

A view from a window of the operator's bay of the Norfolk Southern tracks. The trees weren't there back when this was an active tower.

A view from a window of the operator’s bay of the Norfolk Southern tracks. The trees weren’t there back when this was an active tower.

To say the least, the second floor of Brady Lake Tower is cluttered. The view is looking toward where the operator's desk probably sat.

To say the least, the second floor of Brady Lake Tower is cluttered.
The view is looking toward where the operator’s desk probably sat.

Roger Durfee records the railroad exhibit on the first floor of Brady Lake Tower with his cell phone.

Roger Durfee records the railroad exhibit on the first floor of Brady Lake Tower with his cell phone.

Bruce Dzeda gives a presentation of the railroads that passed through Brady Lake.

Bruce Dzeda gives a presentation of the railroads that passed through Brady Lake.

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2 Responses to “The Mystery of Brady Lake Tower”

  1. Jim H Says:

    From “PRR Facilities In Color, Vol. 12”, page 100

    ‘Brady Lake Tower was the location of a block and interlocking station built in 1928 to control crossovers and a flying junction with the NYC Lake Erie & Pittsburgh (LE&P). On February 11, 1957, General Order #207 shortened the tower’s name to “Brady.” As connection traffic decline, Brady was taken out of service as a block and interlocking station on May 14, 1966 to “be placed in service by train order or general order.” In other words, it was converted to an emergency block station.’

    This must refer to the newly rebuilt tower since a “Railway Review” article from 09/13/1919 mentions a new 36 lever Union Switch and Signal frame being installed at Brady Lake that year.

    Jim

  2. Richard M Says:

    My father took me inside the tower in the early 60’s. I remember there was one employee and many levers on the upper level. In retrospect it must have been one boring job as there wasn’t much train travel between the Erie and the PRR.

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