Conrail predecessor documents bound for shredder saved instead

Trains Industry Newsletter
Get a weekly roundup of the industry news you need.
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine. View our privacy policy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Northeastern railway preservationists have saved hundreds of drawings — some dating to the 1860s — from Conrail predecessors from the shredder in what has been called a “monumental achievement” for railroad historians.

The documents came from the Smithsonian Institution, which collected them between 1981 to 1984. With an Aug. 1 deadline to move or shred the documents, Smithsonian archivist Craig Orr offered the drawings to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, but the commission was unable to accept the materials on that schedule.

Kurt Bell, an archivist with the historical commission, offered to help find new homes for the materials. Bell says in an interview with Trains News Wire the collection included more than 100 boxes, each containing three cubic feet of drawings. There were more than 639 cubic feet of materials. Mostly bridges, stations, and other structures, the drawings had never been processed and had been held at the Smithsonian's storage depot in Suitland, Md., since their acquisition.

Bell arranged for the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society, the New York Central System Historical Society, the Pennsylvania Railroad & Technical Society, and the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society to accept 81 boxes with an additional 31 boxes and seven crates of material going to the Industrial Archives & Library in Bethlehem, Pa. The University of Michigan received one box of Michigan Central documents, while the University of Connecticut's Dodd Research Center took three boxes of New Haven items.

Rick Bates, a volunteer archivist at the Reading Co., museum, says, “Overall, this is a really monumental achievement in rail history preservation. I can't speak for the other railroads, but for the Reading, this more than doubles the number of former Reading Railroad buildings for which architectural plans are known to exist in publicly accessible archival sources.”

Nicholas Zmijewskis of Industrial Archives and History says "We have begun going through the Lehigh Valley material, which is composed primarily of bridge and structure drawings, with a lot of marine and even some Morris Canal dating from their control of the property. Several researchers have already used two of the drawings.” Industrial Archives received the largest portion of the Smithsonian materials.

Leave a Comment
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Please keep your feedback on-topic and respectful. Trains staffers reserve the right to edit or delete any comments.


Complex railroad locations.

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy
Subscribe Up To 54% off the newsstand price!
Subscribe To Trains Mag Today