HPP Work Weekend Helps Restore Historic Pennsylvania Railroad

students cheering at a historic railroad station
The HPP Work Weekend team at the Colebrookdale Railroad Station in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. photo / Thomas J. Campanella
a man holding a paving stone in each hand
Associate Professor Jeffrey Chusid holds two of the more than 20,000 brick pavers sorted by the students. photo / Thomas J. Campanela
three students clean the exterior of an old railroad car
Students cleaned restored passenger cars and demolished the non-historic interiors of two other cars. photo / Alyssa Loorya
three students sand a rusted railroad car
Three students work on one of the unrestored train cars. photo / Thomas J. Campanella
April 27, 2017

During the 2017 Historic Preservation Planning (HPP) Work Weekend in April, graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) sanded, painted, scraped, hauled, and stacked as they worked on projects associated with the historic Colebrookdale Railroad in Boyertown, Pennsylvania.

The group was made up of students in the spring semester Planning and Preservation Practice class taught by Associate Professor Jeffrey Chusid, who led the excursion. CRP faculty members Thomas J. Campanella, associate professor; Nathaniel Guest '98 (M.A. HPP '12), lecturer; Kris Hartley, lecturer; and Michael Tomlan, professor and director of HPP, also attended.

The Colebrookdale Railroad, known as the Secret Valley Line, is a tourist railroad operating in Berks and Montgomery counties, northwest of Philadelphia. The Civil War–era rail line connects sites of the earliest iron-making industries in the American colonies.

Overseen by the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust, the project's aim is heritage-based economic development through the restoration of historically significant rail equipment and infrastructure. The project provides jobs and preserves the rail corridor for future freight traffic. Guest, who is the trust's founder, said the Work Weekend accomplishments will help the community and propel the economic revitalization efforts that the trust promotes.

"It was a great honor to have Cornell join us," said Guest. "For many of us who are involved in the restoration projects, it was affirming to see the next generation of planners and preservationists applying their labor and intellect to the direct benefit of this — now very grateful — little southeastern Pennsylvania community."

The students pitched in on projects at the Boyertown station yard, including cleaning and sorting more than 20,000 historic brick pavers; sanding, priming, and painting dozens of feet of historic iron fencing; priming and painting historic iron gas lamps; demolishing the non-historic interiors of two train cars; and sanding and painting the trucks (wheel assemblies) of those cars. In addition to these activities, the group had a guided tour of Boyertown and visited Pottstown.

Akanksha Chauhan (M.R.P. '18) said the experience was magical. "Placemaking isn't always restricted to a place," said Chauhan. "The restoration of the old locomotives at Colebrookdale Railroad boosts both the pride of the Boyertown's community and its economy."

"It is common to discuss buildings with regards to restoration," said Maryam Rabi (M.A. HPP '20), graduate assistant in the class. "But working on restoring a railroad was a one of a kind experience." For Rabi, the opportunity to work alongside professionals as well as volunteers was especially rewarding. "The Colebrookdale Railroad team was thrilled to have us, making the whole experience not only educational but also very enjoyable."

"We accomplished a great deal in a short period of time, while also exposing the students to a new part of the country, and to a range of preservation practices and issues," said Chusid. A highlight of the weekend was "riding the railroad through the beautiful countryside while enjoying a Pennsylvania Dutch dinner."

The other students and alumni who participated in the work weekend were: Martin Abbott (Ph.D. CRP '23), Hannah Bahnmiller (M.R.P. '17), Paige Barnum (M.R.P. '17), Anna Callahan (M.R.P. '18), Shannon Cilento (M.A. HPP '18), Melanie Colter (M.A. HPP '17), Brian Cooley (M.A. HPP '17), Gabriel Curran (M.R.P. '18), Aundrea Cruz (M.R.P. '18), Pilar Delpino Marimon (M.R.P. '18), Mengbing Du (M.R.P. '18), Bailey Gathany (M.R.P. '18), Anya Gedrath-Smith (M.R.P. '18), Carlos Gemora (M.R.P. '17), Zongze Guo (M.R.P. '18), Richa Gupta (M.R.P. '18), Sena Kayasu (M.A. HPP '18), Abigail Lawton (M.A. HPP '17), Wenzheng Li (M.R.P. '18), Qianyi Luo (M.R.P. '18), Dominic Mathew (M.R.P. '18), Claire Meyer (M.A. HPP '18), Hannah Plummer (M.R.P. '18), Ashley Pryce (M.R.P. '18), former AAP student Stephanie Reinert, Ingvild Roald (M.R.P. '17), Dillon Robertson (M.R.P. '18), Andrew Roblee (M.A. HPP '17), Jennifer Rowan (M.A. HPP '17), Zachary Small (M.R.P. '18), Jacob Stock (M.R.P. '17), Paige Swartley '01 (M.A. HPP '94), Marisa Turesky (M.R.P. '18), Dylan Tuttle (M.R.P. '17), Michelle Van Meter (M.A. HPP '20), Andrew Varuzzo (M.R.P. '18), Shiyao Wang (M.R.P. '18), Olivia White (M.A. HPP '17), Gretchen Worth (MA HPP '20), Renee Yin (M.R.P. '18), Martin Ziech (M.R.P. '17), Joey Jiayun Zou (M.R.P. '18), and Tianqi Zou (M.R.P. '18).

By Patti Witten