Tower Architecture

“CW Cabin” – Hinton, West Virginia – Chesapeake & Ohio – Robert Staples photo

Railroads today are very standardized in their operations and equipment. It is very difficult to distinguish one railroad from another other than by their paint scheme. Things were different in the golden age of railroading. The railroads were very different from each other in terms of operating practices, the equipment used to move freight, and even the structures used to support operations such as depots or interlocking towers.

I will cover just the general look and design that the railroads followed most of the time. Please keep in mind that there were always exceptions to the rules.

Each railroad’s towers had their distinctive look and most followed a standard design or plan, but even within the same railroad, the towers could differ in looks or style from line to line.

Pennsylvania Railroad

Pennsylvania’s towers in the east looked different from the ones that were on their New York to Chicago line. (Ft. Wayne Line) Starting in World War II, PRR built towers that looked to me like small castles, complete with parapets. The technical term for this feature was “crenelations.” These were constructed after the original tower was destroyed by fire or derailment. Dunkirk Ohio is a prime example of this.

“Dunkirk” – Dunkirk, Ohio – Pennsylvania RR – Dan Maners photo
“Hunt” – Huntingdon, Pennyslvania – Pennsylvania RR – Bruce Vogel photo
“Upper Sandusky” – Upper Sandusky, Ohio – Pennsylvania RR – Dave Oroszi photo
Adams – Ft. Wayne, Indiana – Pennsylvania RR – Dan Maners photo
“Vandalia” – Vandalia, Illinois – Pennsylvania RR – Dan Maners photo

New York Central

Another example were New York Central’s towers on the former Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four Route). I believe that these towers that “stood on stilts” were unique to the Big Four. As time went on some of these towers received closed-in bottoms.

“Winchester” – Winchester, Indiana – New York Central – Photographer unknown
“Cobb” – Coal Bluff, Indiana – New York Central – Bob McCord photo
“Morgan” – Quincy, Ohio – New York Central – Jay Williams photo

The towers that stood on the New York Central in the east, especially on the “Water Level Route” were large, well built , brick structures.

“SS#30” – Utica, New York – New York Central – Mark Hinsdale photo
“X” – Dunkirk, New York – New York Central – Chip Syme photo

Baltimore & Ohio

Baltimore and Ohio’s interlockers were easy to distinguish. They were two story wooden structures with “fish scale” sidings right below the window line. B&O displayed the tower’s call letters prominently in the second story window.

“CF” Confluence, Pennsylvania – Baltimore & Ohio – Photographer unknown
“HO” – Hancock, West Virginia – Baltimore & Ohio – Photographer unknown

Chesapeake & Ohio

Chesapeake and Ohio’s towers with their two-story brick design, complete with iron overhangs, were some of the handsomest towers ever built. Somewhere along the line C&O changed their plans and built solid, one story, brick towers. As a side note, C&O referred to their interlockings as “cabins”

“NJ Cabin” – Edgington, Kentucky – Chesapeake & Ohio – Joe Ferguson photo
“C Cabin” – Carey, Ohio – Chesapeake & Ohio – Charlie Whipp photo
“A Cabin” – Millard Ave, Toledo, Ohio – Chesapeake & Ohio – Dan Maners photo

New Haven

The New York, New Haven and Hartford’s towers were beautiful structures. They were constructed of concrete with their call letters cast into a “shield” mounted under the window line and topped off with a distinctive pagoda-style roof. Some of their older towers were simple wood structures.

“SS#38” – Stamford, Connecticut – New Haven RR – Tom Donahue photo
“SS#202” (Bank Street) – Waterbury, Connecticut – Hew Haven RR – Tom Donahue photo
“SS#80” (Air Line Jct.) – New Haven, Connecticut – New Haven RR – Tom Donahue photo
“SS#79” (Mill River Jct.) – New Haven, Connecticut – New Haven RR – Tom Donahue photo


The last railroad I will mention is the Erie. They were easy to identify. Like other railroads the Erie in later years went to a concrete block design.

“GS” – Kingsland, Indiana – Erie RR – photographer unknown
“Newton” – Newton, Indiana – Erie RR – Bob McCord photo

Dan ManersText Copyright 2018 – Photographs Copyright as credited.


Birthday Finest

The town of New Canaan, Connecticut was established in 1731, and was an agricultural community with a few small shoe making businesses. Then in 1868, the expanding New Haven Railroad built a branch line of 7.9 miles from the Stamford Main Line to connect New Canaan with the outside world. At the time, the post-civil war population was 2,497. Fast forward one hundred years to 1968, and the population had grown to around 17,100, and the town was becoming an affluent and sought after place for New York executives to live with a 70 minute commute between home and work.

Although the New Haven Railroad in 1968 was in dire physical and financial condition, the centennial of the New Canaan Branch could not go unrecognized, so the town and the railroad decided to celebrate appropriately. The station building was spruced up with new paint, and for the weekend the New Haven sent two of their freshly repainted freight engines up to town to be on display for the locals to see.

Main Station - New Canaan, Connecticut - 1968
Main Station – New Canaan, Connecticut – 1968

The railroad definition of a station is “a place named in the timetable”. Nothing more. It can be just a sign, or an architecturally grand structure for a big city. Within the town of New Canaan, there is another station – Talmadge Hill. This little station was originally just one step above a flag stop in stature; all the trains stopped there, but usually only a few hardy passengers got on or off.

Although it was tiny, the railroad’s Bridge and Building painters decided Talmadge Hill was deserving of a centennial celebratory sprucing up as well, so after dressing up New Canaan, they used a couple of gallons of paint to spruce up the station building.

On this day, the little building is resplendent and proud, all dressed up in birthday finest and ready to shelter any waiting passengers from the rain. Even the sign is new, announcing to everyone that Talmadge Hill Station is ready and able to serve.

Talmadge Hill Station - New Canaan, Connecticut - 1968
Talmadge Hill Station – New Canaan, Connecticut – 1968

A great deal has changed since I took this photo in 1968. In those days, the morning newpapers for the commuters were left on a bench inside the station. Alongside was an unlocked metal box, which held the nickels and dimes left by the commuters, strictly on the honor system. The following day the agent returned in the early hours with the next days papers and collected the coins from the day before.

In 1971, the station building was demolished and replaced by high level platforms, fixed seating, and lighting, and new train cars. Today, the hundreds of commuters who park in several lots surrounding the station, probably have no idea that Talmadge Hill is nearing it’s 150th birthday, but never as well dressed as it was in 1968.

Bob HughesPhotographs and text Copyright 2016