Vanderbilts Folly

A fascinating story of a Gilded Age rivalry that led to the creation of America’s first superhighway.

Rivalries are common in american history, ranging from those among sport teams to among 1ab6752f-9b6b-42ff-9e03-89fb037b0533 cities. one of the fiercest occured between the pennsylvania railroad and the new york central 6d9ec81d-c071-4d7a-92ce-fc71e691177a railroad. these two railroads were the oil and water of the railroad world. they were the domineering rail

Lines, connecting the ports and industries in the north east with the west. 22afa8c9-c6e8-473f-9f58-97fd0ae29492 rivalry led to the creation of c67f15b2-981c-488c-80a7-e04f0a8c1358 in 1881 william h. vanderbilt president of the new york central and hudson river railroad, noticed a railroad under construction, paralleling his own between the new york city area to

Buffalo. b446bf97-b14e-49dd-86c0-253bc3ce790c it ran along the opposite shores of the hudson and mohawk rivers where new york central main line ran. fd41e393-d6c6-4f2c-b4b4-f5f89eb175af the railroad’s name was new york west shore and buffalo, or known simply as the west shore. e04d6085-48a7-4665-be8a-b0db80b8a09c transcontinental link and to break the monopoly of the new

York central, ie to put a dent in f914221f-7f31-4cb2-97a9-f675c57b53a5 moved fast. he bought the west shore’s connection in buffalo the nickel plate road, and created a rate war which drove the west shore into bankruptcy. af85e1ea-db40-430d-bb9f-848e19bba308 from the pennsylvania railroad 6b2c29b7-44be-47de-9e90-160dad4aac8a who vanderbilt suspected was behind the west shore

To begin with. he decided to retaliate. e57d0e2a-229c-44f6-b69c-862acb2ef7b7 the pennsy, as it was known, enjoyed its own monopoly between philadelphia and pittsburgh. much to the chagrin of pittsburgh elites, particularly steel barons, such as andrew carnegie. william h. vanderbilt approached them with a plan. he sought their backing to build and finance a new railroad named

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The south pennsylvania railroad. its goal to compete with the pennsy over the allegheny mountains. carnegie especially was excited, the proposed route would serve his homestead steel plant directly. he convinced other wealthy pittsburghers to invest. the plan was in motion. 0264510f-25a9-43ac-9a4e-21e433406807 surveyors and engineers began working on the route. vanderbilt

Started investing in rail lines to be friendly connections such as the pittsburgh and lake erie and the philadelphia and reading. connecting in harrisburg, then on to jersey city slash new york city. construction began on a railroad that crossed 6 mountain ridges using numerous tunnels, curves and overcoming steep grades. the pennsy took notice and started slashing rates

On its own rail line, which the central responded to in kind. the intensity of this competition was causing the stock value of each respected railroad to plummet and caused panic among shareholders. the madness had to stop. jpmorgan, who recently helped vanderbilt sell new york central shares to foreign investors, stepped in to mediate the affair. he was concerned that

The rate war would spread to other railroads, decimating wall street. he called for a meeting of representatives from the pennsy and the central on his yacht the corsair. the meeting occurred as the ship sailed the waters around new york city, preventing anyone walking out of the meeting until a deal was 49bbf401-8cfc-4633-93e5-4a21bf685759 struck the deal created in short,

Dictated the central would take the west shore, and the pennsy would take over the unfinished south pennsylvania, each repaying each others debts for the now quelled conflict. edd5752e-77dd-456f-9329-bcc0641ecbc9 jp morgan’s renown grew with this deal, making him the dominant force in railroads, and by extension, the american economy. one could argue vanderbilt won, for the

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West shore became the more direct route for rail freight, and today its main line is still used by csx transportation along the hudson to access the ports in northern 95fa4442-ea6b-46c0-a6aa-7a9df9d8334d new jersey. the pennsy did not do anything with the south pennsylvania. the unfinished railroad with its graded right of way and blasted tunnels sat incomplete and unused.

In the 1930s, the state of pennsylvania barely had any highways.  automobiles, now becoming the dominant form of transportation dealt with steep grades and sharp curves in the allegheny mountains, accidents were common as state-of-the-art toll highway was proposed in 1934 to solve this, possessing four lanes across, with a median with controlled access via on and

Off ramps.  to save costs it would be built on the abandoned south pennsylvania railroad right of way, adapting its tunnels, already bored, cut down costs significantly. 1935 saw the creation of feasibility study by the pennsylvania legislator. and the following year, the pennsylvania turnpike commission was created. in 1938, funding was acquired via bonds and a

$24,000,000 grant from the work 9ba247b8-14a4-437b-9e0e-406ced9689bd franklin roosevelt. a loan from the reconstruction finance corporation and an additional grant from the public works administration secured more db5e9789-cd7d-4b5b-98c2-880b270a63a5 funding. the pennsylvania turnpike can be considered a new deal project. 9fd64ccc-2aba-4c39-a4e3-78b4bb130e92 in building

The turnpike, six of the original railroad tunnels were used. the road would open in 1940 as america’s first long distance limited access highway. a69ae84e-0977-4226-9a72-66b72337d4b6 which other highways would be 6ad8525f-dc20-4b71-ab2d-e0c34c250cc4 inspiration for the new jersey 669f202b-c4f3-4f68-99bd-cffa6466986b turnpike, the new york state thruway and the interstate

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Highway system. today though original parts have been bypassed, three of the original railroad tunnels built by vanderbilt are still used by america’s first superhighway.

Transcribed from video
Vanderbilt's Folly By NPS Hyde Park