B.B.& K. Railroad Station below
Church & Water Street
Head toward Bradford on the BB&K
probably from McKean County Historical Society
This photo scanned from : Bradford, Bordell & Kinzuaby Thomas Barber & James Woods, The Elma Press ©1971 p. 16
See this location 2000AD
The narrow gauge B. B.& K. was
constructed to Smethport in 1880.
Originally the Bradford, DeGolier & Smethport Railroad Company
The Bradord, DeGolier & Smethport Railroad Company was organized April 16, 1880, under charter, with L. Emery, Jr., president; Eben Brewer, secretary; Robert H. Rose, treasurer; R.B. Stone, George a. Berry, M.A. Sprague, C.S. King, P.H. Towell; and W.C. Kennedy, with the officiers named, directors. The people of Smethport soon entered the project, B.D. Hamlin, D. Sterrett and R.H. Rose, leading, and by April 22, $8,000 dollars were subscribed. In May, 1880, the Bradford, Bordell & Kinzua Railroad Company was consolidated with the Bradford, DeGolier & Smethport Road, the condition being that the latter's charter be surrendered, and $30,000 subscribed to the stock of the first-named company.
History of the Counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron & Potter, Pennsylvania Vol 1 J.H. Beers & Co, Publishers ©1890
The B.B.& K. was first begun at Bradford in 1880-81. It went from Bradford to Kinzua Junction to Rew City so that the vast oil and lumber reserves there could be more easily moved to market.
The narrow gauge B. B.& K.
By May 19, 1880, seven miles of track had been laid and grading had been completed as far as Knox City. On May 27, 11 miles of track was completed and the road was within a short distance of Rew City. Grading was complete for about 6 miles and track laying started the first of May.
The decision was also made in 1880 to extend the railroad on to Smethport and East Smethport.
In 1880 the branch to Smethport had over 300 men at work on its construction. In October 200 more men were added to the Smethport project.. The Bradford to Rew City railroad branched off at Kinzua Junction to come to Smethport. Construction time was 75 days.
The new Smethport B.B.& K. Depot was built below the Water Street -Church Street intersection. In 1881 the Pierce House Hotel was built on Water Street just east of the BB&K Station
The first stockholders meeting was held in 1881. A gala banquet was held at the Bennett House in Smethport and a special train was used for the stockholders, trip from Bradford to Smethport..
The company purchased the first locomotive from the Parker and Karns City Railroad. It was a small Model 2-6-0 built by Brooks, of Dunkirk, N.Y. Highly ornamented with brass and had been sent to the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876, where it had won a prize, equipped with Ames vacuum brakes and had a diaphragm air pump mounted under the cab. The cab itself was made of black walnut, silver dollars had been cast into the bell metal to give it a clear ring. The locomotive had 12x18 inch cylinders and 36 inch drivers, and weighed 16 tons. The tender weighed 10 tons. Formerly Parker and Karns City No. 2, it was assigned No. 1 on the BB&K.
The B.B.& K., under the able management of Col. Carter, continued to thrive. Trains ran frequently and were prosperous, both on the Smethport branch and on the longer line to Eldred and Wellsville. The branch to Attica over the T.V.& C. was not as profitable as the other parts of the line but it was making money, and its trains were as good as any on the B.B.&K. system, if not as frequent. There were accidents, as usual, but they were usually minor and, as with most hastily constructed short lines, they were taken in stride as something to be expected.
Summer always came and with it the excursions that proved so profitable to the yard wide railroad. A performance at the opera house in Bradford was always reason enough to run at least one special train from Smethport, and more specials were run when court was in session at the County seat.
Travel between Bradford and Smethport was very popular for both freight and passengers. Oil boom town Bradford had lots of interesting shops were open around the clock. The citizens of Bradford were used to the excitement in connection with the B.B.& K.
The B.B.& K. hauled people and lumber back and forth. The main sources of revenue earned by the lines in McKean County were, passengers, oil well supplies, and general supplies for the oil towns they served and the lumber industry. The main use for B.B.& K. was for lumber when the lumber boom started going away the oil industry reenergized lumber.
Source: BradfordBordellandKinzua © 1971By: Thomas Barber and James Wood
McKean County Miner
March 19, 1908
The much discussed and disputed ownership of the building formerly used as a station by the B. B. & K. railroad in Smethport seems to have been settled for a time at least by a recent decision of the superior court.
This decision affirmed one previously rendered by the common pleas court of this county. The official title of this case is: "Ada M. Young, administrator cum testamento annexo of the last will and testament of Ann Elida Taylor, deceased, Appellant, vs. W. I. Oviatt Appellee." The matter involved in the case was brought about by W. I. Oviatt attempting to move the building, which he was alleged to have purchased, from the ground on which it stands. A preliminiary injunction was secured restraining him from moving the building and the ownership of the structure was the subject taken to the common pleas court, which decided in favor of Mr. Oviatt, and the superior court has affirmed this decision.
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 R.R. and the Kushequa R.R. 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.