Sayre museum re-opening Saturday with new railroad exhibit

SAYRE - The Sayre Historical Society is opening Saturday with a new exhibit "Working on the Railroad" featuring more than 25 unique images of railroad employees working in Sayre.

CAPTION: In a June 3, 1944 photograph, Mrs. Clyde Carrington, left, drives a tractor while her daughter, Mrs. Myrtle Pruyne, works in a labor gang. (Her husband was in the U.S. Army). Robert Carrington, second from right, had just returned from the South Pacific when this photograph was taken while Clyde Carrington, at right, was a machinist in the locomotive shop at Sayre. The photograph is one of several featured in a new exhibit at the Sayre Historical Society opening Saturday.

The exhibit will be featured in the museum's Rotating Exhibit Room starting Saturday and running until September 6. A history of the railroad in Sayre from the earliest days is also featured as part of the exhibit. Admission is free.

The museum, located in the historic Lehigh Valley Railroad Station in downtown Sayre, features two floors of history including two HO-scale model train layouts, local history displays, military uniforms and a gift shop. The historical society also maintains a Sayre-built Lehigh Valley Railroad caboose (#95011) that is open for tours.

A series of ten murals has been added to the Lehigh Avenue wall of the former Newberry building now housing the Desmond Street Guthrie facility. The murals are viewable from the museum grounds. In addition, eight new kiosks outlining the history of Sayre have been added to the area surrounding the museum.

The history of the railroad in Sayre starts back in the days of the Pennsylvania & New York Canal and Railroad Company. The earliest mention of a railroad in the Penn-York Valley dates to the proposed Tioga Point Railroad in 1841 that was never built. The exhibit features historical dates compiled by late railroad historian Hart Seeley and author Richard Palmer.

In 1849, the New York & Erie Railroad was completed between Owego and Elmira. It wasn't until 1856 that the Junction Canal opened from Athens to Elmira covering a distance of 18 miles.

In 1865, the Pennsylvania & New York Canal and Railroad Company was incorporated taking over the North Branch Canal. The P & NY joined the Southern Central Railroad and the Ithaca & Towanda Railroad at a point between Waverly and Athens that was called Southern Central Junction and later Sayre.

Railroad shops were built at Waverly Junction in the 1870's followed by new shops built in Sayre in 1880.

According to the May 16, 1902 Sayre Evening News, new shops were proposed for Sayre that would be able to repair "heaviest class of motive power." Those shops, often referred to the "System Shops," were completed in 1904 and the locomotive repair building was called by some accounts the largest railroad shop under one roof in the world.

The railroad also offered an apprentice program for young employees starting in about 1909 implemented by F.N. Hibbits, who was superintendent of motive power for the Lehigh Valley and called the "father" of the apprentice system.

"The proof of the success of the system is the fact that almost all our boys fulfill their apprenticeships and remain with the company," said Mr. Hibbits, according to the January 30, 1914 Waverly Free Press.

The railroad was a mainstay of the local economy for many years providing employment for thousands of people in Sayre, Athens, Waverly and surrounding areas.

Dieselization of the railroad began in 1945 as the Lehigh purchased freight engines from General Motors. Complete dieselization was completed in 1951.

In 1962, the Pennsylvania Railroad took total control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The move toward highway trucking and other factors spelled defeat for many eastern anthracite railroads including the Lehigh Valley which declared bankruptcy on July 24, 1970.

By February 16, 1974, the Lehigh Valley had 599 employees in the Sayre area and on November 20, 1975, it was announced that the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Sayre Shops would not be part of the Consolidated Rail plan. At the time the shops had 275 employees.

On March 30, 1976, the era of the Lehigh Valley Railroad came to an end.

The Sayre Historical Society is a member-supported organization staffed by volunteers and funded in part by the Bradford County United Way and the Bradford County Tourism Promotion Agency.

Starting Saturday, the museum will be open Saturdays from 10 to 4 and Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

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