Susquehanna Depot PA                      The Great Depression

Passenger Station 1912

History of Italian immigrants who worked for the American Railroads.  The focus is on the Erie Railroad and Susquehanna, PA. My father and many other immigrant Italians worked for this railroad.  In the early 1880s as immigrants exited the Castle Garden immigration depot;  they were solicited by railroad representatives to work in the railroad repair facilities. Castle Garden is now known as Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan in New York.           

August of 1989, my wife Pia, and I traveled from our home in Rialto, California to Binghamton, New York.  The purpose for the trip was to do some research (primarily from old newspaper files) for this book.  We also got to talk to old family friends in Susquehanna, PA., where my family lived until I was 12.   In 1939 we moved to Hornell, New York, where my family lived during my teenage years.  I secretly wished that by seeing old neighborhoods and schools in both towns; I could capture in my mind and heart some of my childhood.   We visited Pia's sister in Binghamton, went to Schenectady to see my cousins, Chuck and Jack.  We stopped in Saddle Brook, N. J., to see our niece Mary, (my sister Marie's daughter) and all Marie's grand children; and we visited Marie's grave.  In Johnson City we visited familiar places, and then we went to Calvary Catholic Cemetery where my parents are buried.

I vividly remember the years of the Great Depression in Susquehanna, and the hardships our family faced.  I recall, too, the Erie Railroad and the part it played in our family's life, and in the lives of many other families in our small community.  Susquehanna was a division terminal on the Erie. it had repair shops, a roundhouse, coal pockets, and both westbound and eastbound yards.  On the other side of the Susquehanna River, and west of town at the eastbound yards, pusher engines were added to all eastbound freight trains.   The freights labored to attain as much speed as possible to make it 9 miles up the hill to Gulf Summit.  When they reached the station and downtown, they were already going 50 miles per hour or more.  I can still hear the huffing and puffing of the steam eng ines in front and the pusher engines in the rear of each freight train as they headed up the hill.  A sound that still lies deep in my mind was  as we sat on our front porch summer evenings.  Was the distant slow chug, chug, chug, coming from across the valley as the steam engines labored to push the freight trains up the hill to the summit.   Even though we lived 4 streets up the side of the mountain from the railroad tracks, we could hear those eastbound freight trains leaving town.  The wind sometimes blew the smoke and soot from the engines up the hill to our house.

The home we lived in on Prospect Street is still there, of course it has been remodeled once or twice in 60 years.  Fill dirt around the house covers the water well; where, as children, we had cool water to drink and to make Kool Aid with in the summer.  The big red barn where we played, and where dad kept our milk cow, tools, and other assorted items, had been torn down many years before.   

The garden dad maintained on the side and the back of our house, and his carefully placed stone borders between terraced garden plots are gone.  Weeds now grow where once that small amount of land went a long way to provide our family with food during those Great Depression years.   

Down on Washington Street, defying the elements, the red brick outside walls, the roof and the bell tower of the Washington Street School still stand.  The year 1889 chiseled in concrete on the bell tower looks as good as it may have looked in 1889.

The grounds around the old school are overgrown with weeds.  Gone was the lively chatter of children playing on the playground in the back of the school; nor could I hear the strict voices of the teachers who taught there more than 60 years ago.  

Many of the downtown buildings were familiar because they were there in the 1930s.  St. Johns Catholic church looked the same.  At St. Johns cemetery, the grave of my little sister who died in 1933, recaptured some memories of her and my feelings of those times.

The old railroad station, a large brick structure, is being restored and is now a historic landmark.  There was no one waiting to board an east or westbound passenger train.  There is no station diner where once the loud train crews stopped to eat before they made their runs east on the Delaware Division to Port Jervis, or west on the Susquehanna Division to Hornell.  The diner was also a place for towns' people who might decide to get a snack or meal any time, day or night.   

As I stood on the station platform there was only one track in front of me.  Beyond the mainline tracks there used to be westbound yards; it is now covered with trees and brush two or three hundred yards. all the way to the Susquehanna River. East of the station, the largest stretch of flat land Susquehanna has, there were, back shops, roundhouse, and the continuation of the westbound yards.  Today, in their place, is a small shopping plaza.   

Susquehanna now is a sleepy community of about the same (2,500) population.  The Erie railroad no longer exists.  The successor railroad (Con-rail) daily runs a couple of freight trains each way.  One could hardly know it was ever the thriving railroad community that it was in the early part of the 20th century.

Ku Klux Klan Yes Susquehanna and Italians had problems with. See details in the book "Coppa Monte"

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