When the valley traveled by rail: Author writes history of region's streetcars, railroads
Posted by jonathanwichter on April 05 2015 05:20:48
In a postcard from circ 1907-10, a streetcar shares the roadway with horse carts, automobiles and pedestrians on East State Street in Sharon just east of Shenango Avenue. The cars ran on rails and were powered by electricity from over head wires that they touched with a spring loaded arm as a "trolley."
SHARON – Rewind a century to the age of streetcars. Sharon was one of the top dogs in the industry.
So says Wayne A. Cole, 70, of Beaver Falls, the author of 15 books, 11 of them a series on the history of western Pennsylvania railroads.
“Sharon was a top gun of the streetcar era,” Cole said. “New York didn’t even have an organized streetcar system.”
The Sharon Historical Society, a fledgling group founded about a year ago, welcomed Cole to its March meeting where he spoke about the streetcar era in Sharon to a packed room of about 50 people.
“What remains behind tells a really great story,” Cole said.
Cole’s latest book, “Ghost Rails XI Shenango Valley,” has a section dedicated to streetcars, or trolleys, and almost one-third of the book is dedicated to the private mill railroad of the former Sharon Steel Corp.
In the Sharon Steel section, Cole chronicles the history of steelmaking, going back to Sharon Steel Hoop and U.S. Steel’s Farrell Works.
He describes Sharon Steel as “one of the most customized steelmakers in America 1900 to 2000, a survivor of the 1981 American steel crash.”
Cole devotes another 100 pages of the book to the streetcar and interurban lines in New Castle, Youngstown and Sharon. He said that the streetcar lines built in the city to transport mill workers.
“Without these early streetcars, steel mill development would have certainly been hampered,” Cole said.
Sharon’s organized streetcar system started in December 1892 with a line to Sharpsville and grew through mergers with other lines, including those to Wheatland and West Middlesex. By 1915 it consisted of six routes running about every 20 minutes from State Street and branching out to neighboring towns. At the height of business, Sharon had 36 streetcars in operation.
The street railway – some of the tracks still lie hidden beneath blacktop around the city – ran through Hubbard to Sharon, Sharpsville and West Middlesex.
“You could travel from here to Chicago in the streetcar,” Cole said, referring to the various interconnecting interurban lines.
Cole presented a slide show with photos, some never seen before, and maps and charts showing exactly where the lines ran.
The last streetcar of the Shenango Valley lines pulled into its station just more than 75 years ago at 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, 1939.
“That’s when the buses started and the streetcar ended,” Cole said. “It was the end of a transportation era.”
Cole is a self-proclaimed “hobo.” He started riding freight trains in 1964 with short rides to Cumberland, Md., and Chicago. In 1966, he branched out to Spokane, Wash., which led to numerous trips across North America.
Cole then rode the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1971, which connects the European and Chinese rail networks.
He rode freight trains into the 1980s then settled in Beaver Falls, where he taught English for 35 years at Blackhawk High School. He became very interested in local and industrialized history but never dreamed of writing one book, let alone 15.
Cole said he dedicated so much of the latest book to Sharon Steel and the Sharon area because a lot of his research led him right back to Sharon.
TO ORDER “Ghost Rails XI Shenango Valley Steel,” contact Wayne Cole at or Colebooks, 1402 Seminole Circle, Beaver Falls, PA 15010