Railroad tower in East Stroudsburg
East Stroudsburg Railroad Tower on Analomink Street.
Monroe County Historical Association
and Kendrick Bisset
East Stroudsburg Railroad Tower Society President
The history of Monroe County’s rail lines began over 150 years ago. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad established tracks on the east side of the Brodhead Creek, and the first train to New York from Scranton passed through East Stroudsburg on May 13, 1856.
Near the corner of Lackawanna and Analomink streets in East Stroudsburg stands a strange, small building located just next to the railroad tracks. With a footprint of only about 15 by 21 feet, the tower stands two stories tall.
This is the railroad signal tower. With its many windows in the upper floor, the tower provided a man working inside with a clear view of the tracks. The man could also be easily seen from below, but the structure was private, not open to the public, and perhaps there was a bit of a mystery about what the building was for and why the man was working there.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the tower was not as private or as restricted as the railroad company would have liked, and there are many local stories of the tower’s illicit visitors. The visitors were likely even more curious, and perhaps a bit mystified about the tower’s workings after they got inside.
The East Stroudsburg Tower controlled the switches and signals on the main tracks between Broad Street and Federal Street. When the tower was built in 1908, there were two main tracks from Federal Street to Hoboken, N.J., four tracks from Broad Street to Henryville (about nine miles north of the tower), and at least two other tracks. There were several other tracks and switches in the area, but these were not controlled from the tower.
Large levers inside the tower operated the switches and signals through mechanical connections. Through links and cranks, the levers pushed and pulled rods alongside the track to move switches, signals, and locking devices. The levers were equipped with mechanical locking so that they could only be moved in the correct sequence.
First, the switches were positioned and then locked. Only then could a signal be cleared. Once the signal was cleared, the switches and locks could not be moved. The interlocking between the levers gave the name “interlocking machine” to the assembly of levers. The power to move the levers, switches, locks, and signals came from the tower operator’s arms — hence, the nickname for this type of interlocking: an “armstrong” machine.
The East Stroudsburg tower has 38 levers, and when the tower was first built, all 38 levers were used. This was unusual; most towers were provided with spare levers, or at least spare spaces for levers. Over the years, some switches and signals were removed, leaving a few levers as spares.
A major reason for the change to the operation was made in about 1937, when the mechanical signals (“semaphores’) were replaced by color light signals (red, yellow and green lights).
The relays and circuits for this change required the installation of the concrete relay house next to the tower. Since only one lever was needed to control a signal (instead of as many as three levers for the three semaphore arms on a signal), many more levers became spares.
Two of the levers in the tower operated mechanical crossing gates across Analomink Street, just outside the tower. There were four gates, two on each side of the tracks. When lowered, the gates provided a barricade to road traffic. Today, the mechanical gates have been replaced by automatic electrically-operated gates with flashing lights.
The tower was manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Only one man (women almost never worked as tower operators) was on duty at a time. The tower was equipped with a toilet and a sink, although in 1908, there may just have been an outhouse. Heat was provided by a coal stove in the downstairs room, but originally there was a central steam boiler for the Stroudsburg area which probably heated the tower (as well as several other buildings).
In 1917, there were over 4,000 mechanical towers across the United States. Today, there are none in service, and only a handful have been preserved. Where did all of these towers go? Some were replaced with power interlocking machines while others were abandoned when tracks were abandoned. The East Stroudsburg tower contained an example of a signal system which replaced many other towers.
There were several other towers in the area. West Henryville controlled the west end of tracks 3 and 4. Analomink controlled the entrance to the small yard there. Gravel Place (near present Mill Creek Road) controlled connections to the roundhouse for helper locomotives, and Slateford Junction controlled the junction between the “old main” and the new (in 1911) cutoff across to New Jersey. These towers were all manned full time.
In 1942, the towers at West Henryville and Analomink were replaced by electric interlockings, remotely controlled from the Gravel Place tower. The new system, known as Centralized Traffic Control (CTC), allowed one operator to control several interlockings, with controls and indications transmitted over a single pair of wires. Small levers and indication lights allowed operation without much physical effort; the switches were equipped with electric motors, and the locking was performed electrically instead of mechanically.
The small CTC machine was moved from Gravel Place to East Stroudsburg in 1950, and the interlocking at Gravel Place was replaced by CTC. Finally, the interlocking at Slateford Junction was added to the CTC machine in 1951, closing that tower.
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad carried a significant amount of traffic, both freight and passenger. As late as 1958, there were seven passenger trains a day in each direction past the East Stroudsburg tower, and many more freight trains. The main line was double track all the way from Hoboken to Buffalo, and these tracks received heavy use.
Even with this level of traffic, the Lackawanna, along with other railroads in the northeast, was in financial trouble even before hurricanes Connie and Diane hit the Poconos in August 1955. The rainfall from the two hurricanes destroyed several areas of the Lackawanna’s track, and brought all rail traffic in the Poconos to a halt for several weeks. Among much other damage, Bell’s Bridge, about two and a half miles east of Stroudsburg, was destroyed. This double track bridge was replaced by a single track bridge in September 1955.
The weakened Lackawanna finally merged with the Erie Railroad in October 1960 to form the Erie Lackawanna. Passenger service through Stroudsburg ended in January 1970. The Erie Lackawanna, in turn, merged with other railroads to form Conrail on April 1, 1976. During this time, rail traffic declined, and track and signal systems were removed.
As far as we know, the tower was finally removed from service in 1986.
That the tower has survived since its closure is something of a miracle. Conrail seemed to have a policy of scrapping abandoned facilities, but for some reason, the tower did not suffer this fate. The largest piece of equipment in the tower, the mechanical interlocking machine, is largely intact.
When one thinks of a rail system, pictures of large engines pulling multiple cars and train stations that picked up and dropped off passengers and freight come to mind, but it is important to recognize the small, unassuming buildings that actually ensured the safety and efficiency of the entire rail system.
The East Stroudsburg Railroad Tower Society has been working for about 10 years to restore the tower. Much of the effort has been devoted to the building, which is the last, or at least one of two, wooden Lackawanna towers remaining. The roof is tight, windows have been replaced, there is new paint inside and out, and there is new electrical wiring.
The all-volunteer nonprofit Society has begun to work on the signal equipment inside.
The East Stroudsburg Railroad Tower Society will host an Open House on December 13, 14 and 20 from 10 am to 4 pm in conjunction with the Eastburg Community Alliance and the Delaware Water Gap Station Preservation Partnership Santa Train.
For additional information, please visit www.esrrtower.org.