Since the name Connellsville is so well known to railroad and industrial historians, the natural assumption is that the coming of the railroad put the town on the map and in the history books. That's not quite true...actually, Connellsville initially evolved as a boat-building center. Boats in the mountains? Well, it seems that Mother Nature wants to put limits on her gifts to man and, in the case of the Youghiogheny River, She decided to place enough rocks and shallow water in the river just upstream from Connellsville to create a "limit of ascending navigation." Downstream from Connellsville, however, the river was navigable to the Ohio River. So Zachariah Connell and several other pioneers arrived in 1770 and by 1788 boat building had developed as a local industry...light watercraft could traverse the river, there was plenty of nearby wood and coal was discovered in the area to provide cargo. The townsite was laid out in 1793 and was known originally as Connell's Ferry.
P&C station Connellsville
The P&C reached Connellsville from Turtle Creek near Pittsburgh in 1857 and by 1860 a line was extended southwest to Uniontown. The resultant traffic was mostly coke and coal moving westbound to Pittsburgh and this traffic pattern meant that Connellsville was merely another stop along the way.
New P&C station
Train 66 prepares to depart
the Connellsville station wind her way southwest over the FM&P.
Even the opening of the Cumberland extension in 1871 did not result in enough traffic to make Connellsville a significant railroad center. True, some local industries prospered and some classification work evolved, but as late as 1899 company sidings had a capacity of only 856 cars.
Being about 92 miles from Cumberland and about 60 miles from Pittsburgh, Connellsville did become a division point even thought he line west was relatively short, which is another way of saying that Connellsville was chosen as the best location compared to other spots that were worse. A yard in the Canyon was impossible and to put one closer to Pittsburgh would have made the Cumberland line too long. The "one hundred mile" division was a sound one in the steam era...crews simply could not handle more hours per day and power changes were usually mandatory. Only the coming of the diesel in the middle of this century obsoleted the "one hundred mile" division on all railroads and, in the event, ultimately made yards like Connellsville redundant.
Explosive industrial growth in the last quarter of the last century, and particularly in the 1890's, put Connellsville in the spotlight and by the turn of the century a large expansion of facilities was essential. In the period 1902 - 1904, B&O invested big dollars to add view yard tracks, shops, roundhouse, water jugs, icing facilities and turntable. Even then later, the focus was on westbound traffic..in fact, the eastbound yard was flat-switching until the end.
This expansion created a yard capacity of about 2,000 cars...by the middle of this century, it was not enough. For example, in 1946 there were 668 engine and train crews stationed at Connellsville plus 228 other operating employees. Anchor hocking Glass Corporation alone was receiving an average of 467 cars a month and shipping 730 cars.
In 1952 Connellsville dispatched an average of 81,000 cars per month...while a hump had been installed int he westbound yard, it was "rider".
In short, Connellsville was being drowned in traffic. In 1953, approval was given for another major expansion and it was substantially completed by August of 1955.
Pushbutton car retarders and switches were installed in the westbound yard and two tracks were lengthened to "full train" capacity to speed westbound make-up trains and mainliners.
Since about 75% of eastbound business was pre-classified for main tracking through Connellsville, track-length increases to hold longer trains was the principal improvement in this yard.
Overall, capacity was increased to 2,600 cars and the return on investment was 56%.