Northampton Press

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Photos courtesy of MIKE BEDNAR, RANDOLF KULP AND LARRY OBERLYIronton Railroad caboose, 1968 Photos courtesy of MIKE BEDNAR, RANDOLF KULP AND LARRY OBERLYIronton Railroad caboose, 1968
Ironton steam engine, 1948 Ironton steam engine, 1948
Ironton engine in Egypt, 1970 Ironton engine in Egypt, 1970

Taking a look at the Ironton Railroad

Wednesday, December 26, 2018 by ED PANY Curator, Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum in Columns

Today, I am over in Hokendauqua with my friend Mike Bednar, a Darktown resident and noted railroad historian. We are looking at what remains of the Thomas Iron Company and Ironton Railroad.

Both companies were very important to the residents, providing employment and company homes. Thomas even provided electricity for Hokendauqua homes — but forgot Darktown.

The Ironton Railroad, chartered in 1859, hauled iron ore from Ironton to the Thomas Iron Company. The iron company was founded by David Thomas, an iron master born in Wales. The original Ironton Railroad was 5-1/2 miles in length, later growing to 14 miles and eventually reaching Orefield and Siegersville.

By 1900, iron was being replaced by steel, so the business declined. A new industry, Portland Cement, led by David Saylor, was a boom to the Ironton Railroad. The small railroad would serve 14 cement plants.

An engine house was constructed in Hokendauqua along with an interchange with the Jersey Central Railroad. The railroad even provided passenger service to the cement mills until 1921. Their railroad stops in 1970 were Catasauqua, Hokendauqua, Lower Coplay, Coplay, Saylor, Egypt, West Coplay, Kohlers, Steckels, Lesleys and Ormrod.

In 1923, the Reading Company and Lehigh Valley Railroad purchased the Ironton Railroad. Both companies operated the railroad until 1976 when Conrail took control.

Mike writes, “The best year in revenues for the railroad was 1955. Truck competition caused a sharp drop in revenue.”

The slow decline led to its closing in 1984. The memories of the local railroad faded into history when the tracks were torn up in 1990. As Mike and this writer walked a section of the Ironton Railroad trail, we recalled an era when railroads carried the material that helped build America.

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In two weeks, Mr. Bednar will be boarding a Northampton and Bath Railroad engine.