Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lancaster Then and Now: Water & Orange

I love finding old pictures of downtown Lancaster. It fascinates me to see how the city has changed over the years. I could listen for hours to stories of old hangouts, long-defunct businesses, the people and the community of Lancaster from years gone by. Certainly, as I grow older, I grow nostalgic for the Lancaster of my childhood, but my interest goes back further than that to include the Lancaster my parents knew in their youth, and my grandparents before them. Getting the chance to see what was before through old photographs is a joy to me.

Not too long ago, in an insomnia-inspired late night 'Net surfing session, I found one of the most beautiful photos I've seen of a street scene in downtown Lancaster on a website devoted to railroad photography, RailPictures.net. I want to thank the photographer, John Dziobko, and his associate, Ray Peacock, for giving me permission to repost the photo here:

(click image to enlarge)

The vibrancy of the colors and the clarity of the image belie the fact that this photo was taken in December of 1966 - the month before I was born over four decades ago! (Take a moment, folks, to mourn the loss of Kodachrome film. It gave us "those nice bright colors"...) The original posting labeled the site of the photo only as "along Water Street." It looked so familiar, and yet unfamiliar at the same time.

Thanks to collaboration with friends on Twitter and Facebook, the location was determined to be the intersection of North Water and West Orange Streets, but initially we all thought the photo was looking south. If it were, though, the "One Way" sign on the right of the photo would be pointing the wrong way. Or, could Orange have possibly run the other direction at one point in time? Confused discussion ensued as we wracked our brains, and those who were around at the time tried to recall if there had been a time when Orange ran west-to-east rather than east-to-west. Finally, one of my Twitter friends figured it out: we were turned around the wrong way - it was Water and Orange, but facing north!

Should it have been so hard to figure, though? Had that intersection changed so drastically that it took a group of long-time and lifetime Lancastrians hours to recognize it? Well, judge for yourself:

(click image to enlarge)

Happened to be in the area about a week ago, and since I had my iPhone handy, I thought I'd try to take a quick snapshot of the same intersection from roughly the same vantage point. I didn't have the old photo with me to use as reference, so I didn't get the angle completely right, but I think close enough for comparison. So what has 42+ years done to the intersection?

Surprisingly little, actually. Aside from the three identified businesses in the original photos all having been replaced, the train tracks having been removed from the street, and some changes to building facades on the north side of Orange, little else has changed. The structure of the buildings remains the same, and there has been no change at all to the background buildings. The biggest giveawway should have been the fire escape on the right of the frame - still intact, still the same.

Helen's Lunch, on the right side of the original photo, is now the Lancaster Trophy House. The gray building on the north side of Orange, to the left of the train, was a liquor store in the original photo (I can't quite make out the name); it is now the Tally-Ho. The Gulf Station on the immediate left in the 1966 pic is now a Firestone. Note the gas prices back then?

I found only limited information on the train in the picture, identified as PR-1223. The engine is currently on permanent display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, and is the only preserved example of its class of steam locomotives of the Pennsylvania Railroad. As another friend on Twitter noted, how cool it would be to see a steam locomotive chugging through downtown Lancaster today!

If any fellow Lancastrians are reading this who remember the days when trains came through downtown, or who remember the eatery or the liquor store in the original picture, and have stories to share, please do in the comments section below. I'd love to hear your memories. I also hope to do future "then and now" posts where I compare an old photograph from somewhere in downtown Lancaster to a current snapshot of the same location.

Again, my great thanks to John Dziobko and Ray Peacock for their blessings in reproducing the original photo here. Ray is helping John set up a website, GodFatherRails, where more of his railroad photography will be shared - please check it out!

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  1. Bryan, thanks for your kind words. At 56, I also like to look back at photos of my old hometown. I am from Kalamazoo, MI. and there is a site featuring lots of the old shots of downtown that I so remember:
    Someone should do a similar site for Lancaster!

    I'd like to invite you and your fellow Lancasterans to check out the companion view John Dziobko snapped that day back in 1966 of the same train, it can be seen at: http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=159590

    It was taken the same day as the other photo, further up the street I assume. Especially check the window in the store above and left of the train to see an apparent adolescent staring out the window. Also, the nonchalant look of the pedestrians is interesting as this giant beast rolls by. As I have come to know John's body of rail photography (he's been shooting since 1947 and is still active going on 77), I can say a common thread in a lot of his photos is the human connection.

    Thanks for your update on the actual location/name of the cross street.

    Ray Peacock
    Madison, WI.

  2. Thanks, Ray - already have some folks on the case of identifying the exact location of the other shot!

    I also want to direct you to:


    There you'll find a thread on our local newspapers' website. An old high school buddy of mine has a column and blog there, and shared this post with his readers.

    A few responses have gone up there with a little more background info on the train (it apparently traveled through town each December to deliver Santa Claus to the Watt & Shand Department Store which sat on Lancaster's Center Square) and some history of the tracks on Water Street - you may be interested in reading the remembrances of some of the locals.

  3. Isn't it pretty clear that the second photo referenced was taken at most about 150' NORTH of where this one is? The North side of Orange?!

  4. If it were clear, would we have asked?