Our story begins back in 2004 when the the Stewartstown Railroad’s train whistles went silent. The final Easter Bunny Train to leave the station lead to the unexpected discovery that a major track rehabilitation was necessary in order to continue operations. At that time, the financial resources and volunteer labor needed to make it happen were not readily available. The Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc. was formed in 2006 when long-time supporters of the Stewartstown Railroad realized that a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization was desirable to recruit volunteers, seek financial support, and help promote the reactivation of the then-dormant railroad.
One of the first projects of the newly-formed Friends organization was to contact former volunteers and recruit them to join the new organization. The first few memberships were slow but steady, and enough positive feedback was received encouraging the founding members to continue moving forward. The Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc. has been growing steadily ever since.
With the permission of the railroad, Friends’ Members began work in 2008 to rehabilitate the Stewartstown Railroad’s buildings and track so it could once again operate trains. It was soon realized that this would be a very long process, as, by this time, the railroad had not seen any measurable amount of trackwork, let alone equipment maintenance, in four years. It was also during this time that the Stewartstown Railroad found itself fighting for life when the estate of a former railroad president decided to collect on a $352,415 debt that came due. Mr. Hart had loaned the railroad money during his 25-year tenure in an effort keep the historic Stewartstown railroad operating. His estate began abandonment proceedings before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in an effort to have the railroad declared abandoned, laying the way for civil court action to collect on the debt. After much consideration, a capital campaign was launched by the Friends to raise money to help save the railroad.
The Friends also began operating “open house” events at the station in Stewartstown one Sunday a month. Even though trains were not running, the Friends cleaned-up the waiting room and ticket office to show visitors what an early 20th century small town train station looked like. With support of free publicity from the local media outlets, folks started to drop-by and make donations to the Friends to help with restoration efforts. Sales from the Friends modest “gift shop” inventory augmented these donations.
By 2013, with the help of the Friends’ Capital Campaign, the Stewartstown Railroad was able to raise enough money to save itself and halt the abandonment proceedings. The proceeds from the Friends Capital Campaign was used to retire a like-amount of the Hart Estate debt.
Today, the Friends’ organization is more active than ever. Members volunteer weekly to rehabilitate the Station in Stewartstown, replace ties out on the railroad, operate trains, and progress work on the Friends’ open-air excursion car project. The Friends’ board is very active and has grown exponentially in the past year. We invite you to come on out and get involved on the Railroad.