Railroad Depots of Northwest Pennsylvania by Dan West

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Railroad Depots of Northwest Pennsylvania
by Dan West
Arcadia, 128 pp., paperback $21.95

Two years ago, I was traveling to northwestern Pennsylvania to attend a meeting in Titusville, when I took a slight detour to photograph Union Station in Erie. The one resource that could really have helped me was Dan West’s Railroad Depots of Northwest Pennsylvania. Who knew there were so many stations in a region that seems so remote and detached from the rest of the commonwealth yet serves as a vital crossroads between the East Coast and the Midwest? Dan West certainly does. For more than 20 years, West has provided researchers with an invaluable starting point through the Pennsylvania Railroad Stations Past & Present website (west2k.com/pa.htm), a county-by-county database of all the lost, nearly lost and surviving passenger stations, terminals and freight houses in Pennsylvania. West’s book Railroad Depots of Northwest Pennsylvania explores one of those regions in greater detail.

After a brief but effective introduction, West launches into a region-by-region “sampling” of passenger and freight stations in the northwestern corner of the state, leaving very few stones unturned. Captions do not merely describe the 231 photos and credit their sources, but they also provide a richness to the story of each seemingly mundane structure. For example, while the introduction provides the necessary overview of the “Erie Gauge War,” the captions reveal how stations and accompanying trackage of those communities were affected.

Clearly, no two depots were alike, and few followed a standard design. In some cases, houses were turned into stations, stations into houses or hotels, box cars into freight houses, and stations into barns. West reveals how elaborate stations were when times were good for railroads, and how makeshift they were when times were not so good. If you are into “station chasing” as I am, or if you are interested in the architecture that defined this important homegrown industry, Dan West’s book is clearly the definitive guide you want on the passenger and freight stations of northwestern Pennsylvania.

Patrick C. Morrison
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania