1999 photo of location
On March 6, 1899 the Smethport branch of the Kushequa Railroad was incorporated ten months after the Kushequa Railroad. The purpose of the railroad was to give Elisha Kane access to the county seat of Smethport. The plan was to build seven miles from the McKean to East Smethport where connection was to be made with Buffalo-McKean Railroad.
Mr. Kane also got permission from the Smethport borough to lay his track along Water Street. Unfortunately the Shawmut Railroad heard about Elishsa's plan to build on Water Street and decided to put a crew of men to start laying track on Sunday the eleventh of July, 1899 to close out the Smethport Railroad.
On the next day Mr. Kane arrived to start laying down his tracks, but it was to late. The Pittsburg (no"h"), Shawmut & Northern Railroad (known as the Shawmut ) had already laid their track down forcing Mr. Kane to stop his railroad at Smethport.
The Death of Elisha Kent Kane
Elisha Kent Kane, 78, son of Major General Thomas L. Kane, organizer of the famous Civil War Bucktails and a nephew of the celebrated North Pole explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, whose namesake he was, died at his home in Kushequa, near Mt. Jewett, shortly after midnight Sunday.
Mr. Kane, a prominent brick manufacturer and owner of the famed Kushequa Railroad, which at one time had forty or fifty miles of right-a-way in McKean county, was one of the county's most distinguished citizens. He was a prominent leader of the National Prohibition Party and had been a candidate of that party for various high national and state offices.
His father, General Kane, was founder of the town of Kane. His youngest son, Hon. Elisha Kent Kane, Jr.,is a present representative in the State Assembly from McKean county. Deceased was a brother of Dr. Evan O'Neil Kane, celebrated Kane surgeon.
Mr. Kane had been in poor health for a long time and his condition took a critical turn two monthes ago.
The deceased leader was born in Germantown, PA., November 25, 1856. In 1860 he moved with his parents to Elk county and located on the present site of Rasscias. During the Civil War period he was left under the care and protection of his aunt.
The summer of 1864 he spent on the Barrett farm, now the site of the villiage of Comes, near Smethport. In the autmn of the same year he moved with his family to Kane, where he remained until 1872, when he entered Rugby Academy, Wilmington, Delaware. While at school he made his home with his uncle, Dr. John Kent Kane, a famous physician.
The following year he attended Germantown Academy and later spent four monthes as a student at Parker's Institute. In September, 1875, he entered the John C. Green School of Science. After a year in school, his father took him along on a mission to Texas and Mexico during the Mexican revolution.
Mr. Kane returned and in January, 1877, he entered Princeton, where he finished a course in engineering in one year, being graduated in 1878, the first to be graduated from that course. He worked with his father as civil engineer in the Kane land development projects, until General Kane died in September, 1883.
For six years after his fathers death Mr. Kane was chiefly occupied in the management and settlement of the family estate, which included development of the town of Kane, the Big Level and Kinzua Railroad, the village of Mt. Jewett and the Mt. Jewett Gas Company.
In 1888 he was severely injured by the explosion of natural gas. He finally recovered after weeks under expert medical care. In 1889 he enlarged his field of operation and began lumbering at Kushequa. Here he built the Mt. Jewett, Kinzua, and Riterville Railroad, running from Mt. Jewett to Kushequa and to the lumber lumber camp to facilitate lumber shipments.
Mr. Kane survived the changed conditions in the lumber business brought on by the reduction of the tariff on lumber by the President McKinley and Wilson bills. This act brought on financial destruction to many lumber men. In 1893 his mill and lumber yard, which contained 10,000,000 feet of lumber, was destroyed by fire. In 1894 the mill had been rebuilt and put in operation.
In 1895 he took advantage of a forest fire which destroyed many acres in the Kushequa section and opened up for settlement his tract and farm there. In 1897 he extended his railroad, under the name of Kushequa Railroad, from Kushequa to Smethport, this branch was extended to Farmers Valley the following year.
In 1906 Mr. Kane sold the Big Level and Kinzua Railroad and purchased the Smethport branch of the same railroad. Previous to 1904, Mr. Kane had organized the Kushequa Brick Co. and began the manufacture of the first vitrified brick and paving blocks made in McKean county. He found markets for his product extending from Boston to Cuba and to the midwest.
In his brick manufacturing enterprises he became known all over the country and held memberships in the National Paving Brick Manufacturers' Association, National Brick Makers' Association, and the Building Brick Makers' Association.
Much of this work was done not for his personal gain, but for the development of the community for which he lived.
Mr. Kane was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Kane, and some years ago was a delegate to the general assembly of the church in St. Louis.
Since 1884 he had been a party Prohibitionist, a delegate to all State and National conventions of that party had been a member of the State executive committee. He was a big factor in throwing the Prohibition Party endorsement to William J. Berry in his candidacy for State Treasurer. Mr. Kane also played a big part in blocking the endorsement of Lewis Emery, Jr., for govenor by the Prohibition Party.
There was not a state office for which Mr. Kane had not been, at one time or another, a candidate of his party- from member of assembly to United States Senator, He had served as a school director for a number od years. Mr. Kane had played a large part in the growth of the Prohibitionist Party in Pennsylvania.
On June 21, 1892 he was united in marriage to Miss Briselda E. Hayes of Venango county.
Surviving Mr. Kane are his widow; two sons, Evan O'Neill Kane, Jr. of Kushequa and Hon. E. Kent Kane of Kushequa; three daughters, Mrs. Howard N. Butler of Sanford, N.C., Mrs. Edgar A Johnson ans Miss Virginia Kane of Kushequa.
Private funeral services will be held this Thursday, afternoon at 2:00 o'clock. The Rev. Gilbert A. Forbes, a former pastor of the Kushequa Curch will officciate. Burial will be in the Kane family plot in Forest Lawn Cemetary at Kane.
A New Century Brings the Competition of Two New Railroads
Two new railroads would serve Smethport beginning in 1845: the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern Railroad and the Kushequa Railroad. Neither, however, would have the same impact on Smethport’s growth and stature as had been sparked by the BB&K.
In 1899 the Shawmut and the Kushequa both laid track into Smethport at about the same time. In order to get to the planned destination beyond Smethport, they had to cross the existing BB&K rails just below where Lake Side Garage is today. This need to cross the BB&K would lead to a series of on-going disagreements between the two new railroads.
March of 1899, Elisha Kent Kane incorporated the Smethport Railroad as a way to connect his Kushequa system to the Pennsylvania R.R. at East Smethport. The Smethport Railroad was actually an extension of the Kushequa R.R., which Kane built from the Kushequa area up Kinzua Creek. It also went into the Ormsby area in order to tap the timber supplies that were needed to feed Kane’s huge saw mill in Kushequa. After crossing the McKean Brothers saw mill at McKeans, just a mile north of Ormsby, the railroad split into two sections. One section went down into Cole Creek and headed toward Farmers Valley. The other section went through Ormsby, and then paralleled the old East-West Highway (today’s PA State Route 59) down Ormsby hill, around a horseshoe loop on the hillside behind the Smethport Specialty toy factory, then alongside the golf course, across Hilton Avenue, and into Smethport.
The McKean County Miner, on October 12, 1899, described the railroad as “a snake path in the grass,” more than it resembled a railroad. The line began service on February 26, 1900. The depot was located just below 701 Water Street (Garvin Dille’s house) on the west of the entrance to Hamlin Lake Park. The BB&K depot was only a block east below Church Street. The BB&K tracks blocked the extension of the Kushequa any further toward East Smethport at that point.
The Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern R.R. arrived in Smethport at about the same time. The Shawmut, as it was called, showed little interest in building northward past the BB&K until it heard that the Kushequa had received permission by the Borough Council to lay track along Water Street. The Shawmut quickly learned of its competitor’s plans and sent an agent to Smethport. He brought with him a large amount of cash. He visited each property owner along the proposed Water Street route and bought the property for the railroad as he went. The Shawmut then made an agreement with BB&K railroad officials, who came to Smethport on a special train, to cross the narrow gauge railroad. A track gang installed the crossing and the Kushequa Railroad was blocked from accessing East Smethport for several more years. The Kushequa filed court action, but it was not resolved for three decades. Several more years passed before the Kushequa could get across the BB&K.
Another confrontation between the two railroads occurred a year after the Keating and Smethport Railroad made a deal with the owner of the BB&K to have control of the railroad from Ormsby into Smethport. The K&S operated between the Pennsylvania RR in East Smethport and the Shawmut in Smethport. The railroad, part of the Kushequa system, served the Keating Extract Co. in East Smethport to the BB&K crossing, a total trackage of about a mile. The deal discarded the BB&K’s Smethport branch from Ormsby into Smethport and to East Smethport where the BB&K connected with the Pennsylvania R.R. All freight and passengers coming to Smethport over the BB&K were forced to change trains at McKeans and take Kushequa trains into town. This was in January 1905.
The Kushequa started to change the BB&K’s 3 foot narrow gauge into standard gauge so that it could finally cross the Shawmut. The Shawmut disagreed with the legality of the move and took the matter to court. It wasn’t until 1913 that the court decreed that E. Kent Kane’s railroad could cross the Shawmut.
While Kane awaited the court decision, he found a way for his railroad to enter East Smethport. His plan was unique in design. He piggy-backed his standard gauge cars on to a narrow gauge flatcar pulled by a BB&K engine. The Kushequa cars were pulled over the crossing one at a time, and then unloaded on the other side. This was in the vicinity of the rear of Costa’s new supermarket near the trailer court. They were then assembled into a unified train and taken over the now standardized rails of the BB&K to East Smethport. After the court gave permission to cross the Shawmut in 1913, most all of the original BB&K line that had been standardized was scrapped and the Kushequa relocated along the north edge of the mill pond, then up the valley and into East Smethport.
Passenger service on the Kushequa into Smethport ended in 1917. All train service stopped in 1927. The Shawmut’s life was 20 years longer. Oddly, the Smethport Board of Trade sponsored an excursion over the Shawmut to Mount Jewett in the early days of its existence. The reason for the trip was to advance industrial development in Smethport, Marvindale, Hazel Hurst, and Mount Jewett. The glass or wood chemical industries were well established in those towns. Yet, by the time the Shawmut Railroad ran its last train through Smethport on April 1, 1947; most of the industries were gone.
All that exists today of these old railroads are the grades that traveled along the creek or up the steep hillside. Once they were used to transport passengers and freight from a busy town. Now they serve snowmobiles, hikers, and fishermen.
These industries weren't the only reason Smethport shared in this growth. Its position as county seat capitalized on the need for legal transactions and the subsequent growth of county government.
The Smethport community grew as a result. Hamlin's bank, and later the Grange Bank, prospered. Merchants thrived. The community infrastructure modernized, bringing water, gas lights, and eventually electricity to Smethport. Roads improved, railroad traffic increased, schools grew, churches increased.
While today finds a less than perfect economic climate, with many local graduates fleeing the area, there has also been a return to Smethport by many, bringing answers other than the heavy industry of the past 150 years. But without that history of industry, Smethport would still be a quaint town nestled in the valley, between two streams.
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