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Side Quest: Why does the Enola Low-Grade have a medieval castle turret?

If you look to the south while walking along the Enola Low-Grade between Red Hill Road and Trout Run, you might notice what appears to be a medieval castle turret high on the ridge. The structure is instead a gatehouse for the Enola Low-Grade’s complicated reservoir water distribution system.

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The Smith Tower gatehouse viewed through a telephoto lens.

Thirsty?

Of all the resources required for the operation of the steam era locomotive, none was more deceptively vital than water. By volume, a steam locomotive could consume eight times as much water as coal. Between the Enola Low-Grade and the nearby Pennsylvania Railroad main line, the estimated average daily consumption of water exceeded two million gallons per day. 😱

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Enola Low-Grade is in red and the Pennsylvania Railroad main line in dark black.

Finding a strategic location for servicing the freight route was a challenge for the PRR as the Enola Low-Grade headed west over the deep valley of Pequea Creek toward the
Susquehanna River. Facilities were created by carving a wider right-of-way through the ridge of Red Hill.

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Smith Tower near Red Hill Road

At this location, they built Smith Tower. Formerly known as “SF” for Shenks Ferry, it was wedged between the tracks and a rock face. At its peak, six tracks stretched west of Smith Tower, with three of them extending for nearly two miles. This made it possible to move an entire train out of dedicated east and westbound traffic. By 1941, the average Enola Low-Grade freight length peaked at 89 cars or 3,500 to 4,000 feet long.

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The gatehouse is visible in the upper right corner.

Directly above Smith Tower were the gatehouse (also called a valve house) and a 500,000-gallon reservoir. The image below shows the building of the reservoir around 1906.

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The following two images are taken at nearly the same spot shows the reservoir empty and how it appears today almost 115 years later from Hollow Wood Drive.

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The reservoir as it appears today. Look carefully at the photo’s center, the roof of the gatehouse is visible.

In addition to Smith Tower, which operated as a switching tower, the location also served as host for a water station, ash dump, employee dwellings, track maintenance storage, and the westernmost reservoir of the water distribution system.

The ”village” of facilities in the Smith Tower area serviced the Enola Low-Grade for more than eighty years.

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The gatehouse in August 1906.

Despite electricity replacing steam engines, water continued to power the Enola Low-Grade just in a different form. When the dam at Safe Harbor was completed, the mighty Susquehanna River helped power one of the nation’s busiest freight roads with electricity for nearly 50 years.

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All that remains of Smith Tower today is this chimney base.

If you would like to learn more about the Enola Low-Grade and its history, click here. From the satellite map below, you can see the gatehouse and reservoir.


For the exact GPS location of the Smith Tower, click here.

Before You Go

The remains of Smith Tower are easily accessible lying along the edge of the Enola Low-Grade. It is an easy .7 mile walk from the Red Hill Road parking area. However, the Smith Tower gatehouse and reservoir are on private property. Luckily you can see the gatehouse from the rail trail. Please limit your sightseeing from that vantage point.

The Complete List of Culverts & Tunnels of the Enola Low-Grade

Check out my growing list of the Enola Low-Grade’s tunnels and culverts with GPS locations and photos.

 

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