May 11, 2020
By: Katherine Evers, Assistant Superintendent at White Clay Creek State Park and Alegna Adams, Administrative Assistant at Auburn Valley
Coal-fired trains ran 39 miles from Pomeroy, PA through Newark, down to Delaware City in the late 1860s through the 1930s. This line passed through valleys and ran along waterways – such as White Clay Creek. Sixty-five bridges were made to accommodate the route. It transported a variety of goods ranging from cattle and milk to walnut logs and peaches. It also transported clay that was mined here by the Newark China Clay Company, which extracted and processed kaolin (white clay) for more than 30 years. The rail-line was quite busy in its early days with 15 trains passing through Landenberg a day!
On May 1, 1873, the first passenger car ran the rail. It was locally known as the “Pumpsie Doodle” or “Pommy-Diddle.” Initially, it ran two passenger trains each day (with no trains on Sundays). However, when they lost their mail contract, the line was cut back to one train per day. The last passenger car ran in 1928. Less than 10 years later, in 1936, parts of the line were gradually abandoned, as well. Today only parts south of Newark are still in use.
In addition to alternative methods of transportation popularizing, the railway had many problems with cows wandering onto the tracks and the need for constant bridge repairs.
According to The High Line Part IV – “The Pumpsie Doodle” by Melvyn Small – the most likely reasons the railway shut down are that it never turned a profit and a winter route from Philadelphia to Delaware City was no longer needed, whereas, ships could remain a mode of transport year-round. “The ice-free port sought in 1860 was no longer a factor [for keeping the P-N Railroad running] – pollution of the Delaware River allowed the Port of Philadelphia to remain ice-free!”
With all these issues combined, it is now referred to as “The railroad that should never have been built.” Although it no longer had a place in the local industry, the locals missed the steam engines and a poem was published in the Newark Post in 1926 lamenting its shutdown.
The following is an excerpt of the poem “The Passing of an Old Friend: On the Abandonment of the Pomeroy and Newark Steam Train” by Miss E. E. Tweed published in the Newark Post 1926:
“…Fifty years and still some added since Pomeroy took her iron-trail, Through mossy rocks and shaded fern-beds like a path through Eden’s vale.
All these years and Pomeroy’s left us – left us in our valley homes; You have gone but memory lingers, echoing your warning tones.
We have watched you from our windows since we first connected to see, Like a friend that’s always welcome, we bailed you in childish glee…”
Many years after the tracks were abandoned and scrapped, parts of the throughway were repurposed as hiking and biking trails. The Pomeroy and Newark Rail Trail follows part of the line that passed through Newark and White Clay Creek State Park. The trail meanders along the creek, and abutment ruins are still visible where railway bridges once stood. Parts of the rail’s right-of-way have also been repurposed in portions of Charles Bailey and PennDel Trails.
Follow along the yellow brick railroad from the North end of White Clay Creek State Park and enjoy the ride described below – as seen from the eyes of a passenger on the Pumpsie Doodle.
The railroad follows the White Clay Creek more closely as the topography closes in on the railroad. We arrive at Yeatman Station. Between Yeatman and Thompson, another gorge is encountered with the hills rising steeply to 170 feet or more. Still following the creek, but crossing and recrossing when necessary, we come to Thompson, Delaware. There was only one siding for public delivery at Thompson.
The last gorge is between Thompson and Tweed. After Tweed, it is mostly level and straight. The White Clay Creek is crossed one more time after Tweed and then climbs out of the White Clay Valley.