This is a brief, incomplete and evolving history of NYC's Oil City branch and the Franklin Division, including predecessors, close relations, later history and ending. Sources of information include Fred Houser's series in "Shenango/604" newsletter of Shenango-Pymatuning Ry. Historical Society; Mercer County History ; copy of the 1914 Stockholders Report of the New York Central detailing the history of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern; notes from Al Buchan and Nate Clark.
The Jamestown & Franklin was incorporated in April 5, 1862 to build from Jamestown, PA to Franklin. Jamestown, PA at that time was the southern terminus of the Erie & Pittsburgh. Original intent was to tap the coal reserves in eastern Mercer County for commercial markets and to fuel the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula locomotive fleet. Jamestown allowed a routing through a water gap between the Shenango and Little Shenango Rivers and a relatively low grade between the Little Shenango and Sandy Creek watersheds.
The CP&A in 1852 when it completed its Cleveland to Erie route became part of the first rail route between New York City and Chicago, even though all the lines involved were semi-independent. The J&F was completed by 1864 to Franklin to reach the oil regions. In 1864 the CP&A who had helped with financing and building leased the J&F.
An example of this connection, CP&A's Amasa Stone was a key player in the construction of the J&F. Two places in Pennsylvania were named for him, Amasa where line crossed the A&GW (later Erie) and Stoneboro. Later, Amasa Stone was vilified by his involvement of the construction of the second Ashtabula Bridge that bridge collapsed in 1876 with great loss of life after 11 years service.
Since the E&P used the CP&A to get from Girard, PA, to Erie and financial obligations the CP&A held; mutual trackage rights were given to the J&F to operate between Jamestown and Girard Jct to connect with CP&A. One day, J&F ran a round trip from Jamestown to Stoneboro (later Franklin); the next day the same crew and locomotive did a round trip from Jamestown to Girard Jct. No runs on Sunday were scheduled.
Further routes into the oil region were accomplished in the 1868 formation of the Junction RR Co. which had absorbed the Oil Creek Jct. RR and Connection RR Co in the Franklin/Oil City area.
In 1864, the E&P was completed to New Castle to join the New Castle & Beaver Valley (later this part was the E&A branch of PRR) and the E&P came under control of the Pennsylvania RR interests with a lease executed in 1870. This put the CP&A, now the Lake Shore Ry., in a bind with the PRR's control of its connection to the J&F. It appears that the trackage rights over the E&P mentioned previously continued after 1870, but at a disadvantage to the J&F and the Lake Shore, limiting the traffic they could get out of the oil region (possibly still only 3 trains a week) and locomotive grade coal. This is evidenced of a report of an oil train derailment and fire north of Jamestown in 1871.
The Central Trunk Ry. was formed in 1868; it used a charter for a line from Jamestown to the state line that was owned by Dr. Gibson of Jamestown (his mausoleum is at the Jamestown cemetery). After an undetermined start in the 1860s and several postponements, the line from Ashtabula to Jamestown (via Jefferson, Dorset, and Andover) was completed in 1871 by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (Lake Shore's new name).
Now the LS&MS could offer an unrestricted route that was the most direct from the oil region to Rockefeller's refineries in Cleveland; it gave them an advantage over the A&GW and PRR. The competition to get Rockefeller's traffic started to end with completion of the first successful interstate pipeline from the oil region to Cleveland in 1879-80. Oil related traffic continued to be a significant part of the line's fortunes until middle of 20th Century, but the bulk of the unrefined product was not on the rails.
A recently viewed map of Jamestown circa 1873 showed the following. The J&F had a small engine house and turntable to the southeast of crossing about where entrance to the former lumberyard was; further east in the same quadrant was a connector from the J&F to the E&P. The original connector between the two lines is shown in the northeast quadrant. The E&P had an engine house south of the crossing (railroad direction east), probably for a helper engine stationed there to assist trains to Linesville. The line to the west to Andover and Ashtabula was listed as the Jamestown & Ashtabula. Its depot was on the southside of the J&A at the foot of Main Street; this is probably the same building that was moved to the northside of the tracks in 1930s to become the west end of the feed mill and now is a woodcarver's shop.
In 1872, the LS&MS and the Mahoning Coal RR built the line south from Andover to Youngstown finishing what later became called the "High Grade" line. Previously the Lake Shore had built to Ashtabula Harbor. This was an answer to the nearly simultaneous completion of the PY&A that was controlled by PRR. This got the LS&MS to Youngstown and connections to Pittsburgh which proved more profitable than the oil region eventually.
The New Castle & Franklin, later part of Western New York & Pennsylvania, had trackage rights from Oil City to Stoneboro; their route continued to New Castle via Mercer. At New Castle, before 1900 when WNY&P became a PRR property, the LS&MS had a friendly connection with the P&LE in addition to Youngstown.
In 1877, the Vanderbilt interests and the NYC&HR gained majority stock ownership of the LS&MS which continued semi-independent into the 20th Century.
The Jackson Coal Railroad Company was chartered February 26, 1883, to build an extension to a spur to the Mercer Iron and Coal Company's mines near Stoneboro, Pa., a distance of about 10 miles.
The New York Central interests by 1902 had acquired significant interest in the Reading, and planned to compete head to head with PRR for Chicago-Cleveland to Philadelphia freight. The Franklin and Clearfield Railroad Company was chartered June 19, 1902, to construct a road from Franklin, Pa., to Clearfield, Pa., a distance of 111 miles. This is the line that crossed the Allegheny River at Belmar and went to Rose. Further routing to Clearfield was via trackage rights on PRR and BR&P (later part of B&O). This line was completed in 1911. At Clearfield, connection was made to the NYC's Beach Creek RR; traffic then was forwarded to Newberry Jct to connect with the Reading. The Belmar cutoff between Polk Jct. and Belmar was constructed under the later JF&C; eliminating Franklin as a through point.
This project was the last major original rail construction in the Commonwealth; after this the only significant projects involved line relocations due to dam construction.
On the Youngstown line in 1902, a "Low Grade" line was built from Plymouth (now Carson) to Brookfield by the LS&MS and the Mahoning Coal RR; this is the current Norfolk Southern Youngstown line. Originally, line was double track with early application of automatic block signals.
Jamestown, Franklin & Clearfield was formed by merger, under contract dated January 26, 1909, of the Franklin and Clearfield Railroad Company, Jamestown and Franklin Railroad Company, Central Trunk Railway Company and Jackson Coal Railroad Company, consolidation effective March 8, 1909. These lines were leased to The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company, in perpetuity, from April 1, 1909; the LS&MS itself was merged into the New York Central System in 1914.
During WWI, the JF&C routing was used to bypass rail congestion at major yards on NYC, also many troop trains to bypass the same choke points.
The main symbol freights operated for decades were CP2 (Chicago-Philadelphia) eastbound and LS7 (Lake Shore) westbound. They used the High Grade from Andover to Dorset then onto the Low Grade between Dorset and Ashtabula.
During WWII, these trains were run in sections, as once again the routing via NYC and Reading proved its worth again. In addition to cars brought to Andover from the south to be picked up by CP2, a new through train YP4 (Youngstown-Philadelphia) eastbound was added to move material directly from Mahoning Valley war factories to port.
The following information is from a 1920 employee timetable of the Franklin Division of the NYC, which encompasses all of these lines:
There were three daily except Sunday passenger round trips from Oil City to Andover, one round trip from Oil City to Ashtabula on Sunday; daily except Sunday roundtrip for the PRR from Stoneboro to New Castle; daily except Sunday PRR roundtrip from PRR Jct. in Oil City to New Castle; a Sunday only PRR train from Stoneboro to New Castle. East of Franklin there was only the daily except Sunday LEF&C train to Clarion that had more mileage on NYC than its own route. The NYC (LS&MS) had a through passenger train when line was completed to Rose, but this was gone before 1917. It was possible to make the connection in Franklin to Oil City, New Castle or Andover (Ashtabula), but some waits could be long while others were quite short.
Most freight traffic on Oil City and JF&C were run by timetable too. The schedules show numerous scheduled meets between trains.
On the High Grade line, scheduled first class trains included three daily Buffalo-Pittsburgh trains including the Empire Ltd (not to be confused with the Empire State Express); two daily Ashtabula-Youngstown locals; one daily except Sunday local; the Sunday Only train to Oil City that left the High Grade at Andover; second class trains included a daily milk train both ways; a daily except Sunday way freight Ashtabula-Coalburg. The daily locals connected with Oil City trains in Andover.
Through freights and mineral trains were via the Low Grade normally. Exceptions were the through freights to and from the Oil City branch which used the High Grade between Andover and Dorset; through trains to Oil City branch from the south that used the High Grade from Latimer to Andover.
The trackage from Polk Jct. to Stoneboro was double tracked and had automatic block signals at that time, so you can see there was some business to be done. Rest of way between Andover Jct. and Rose and Polk Jct. to Oil City was single track, manual block operation. The High Grade (Carson-Brookfield) was also single track, manual block operation except from Dorset to Andover which was double tracked and used automatic block signals. The Low Grade was double track and used manual and automatic block signals. The portion between Ashtabula Harbor and Carson was double tracked except from Gulf to Carson where it was three tracks; this was manual block territory. The portion between Brookfield and Thornhill was three tracks and Thornhill to Youngstown was double track with automatic block signals between stations.
A peculiarity of the Oil City and the JF&C branches was that eastward trains were odd numbered and westward movements were even numbered. This came about because of movements off the Youngstown line at Andover were already southbound (normally odd numbered), so they just continued it eastward.
By mid 1930s there was only one Oil City-Ashtabula passenger train. For a short time, this was operated with a gas-electric. A public timetable of early 1930's shows that you could take this train at around 7 AM from Oil City, make a connection in Ashtabula and be in Chicago at 7:30 PM (CST). Finally, Oil City Branch rail passenger service was replaced by 1935 with a bus.
In the 1930s, the Franklin Division became part of the NYC's Erie Division.
Scheduled passenger service on the High Grade during the 1930s went to the three through trains for about 20 years then service became curtailed during the 1950s.
In early 1950s, NYC rerouted CP2 and LS7 via the Pennsylvania Div northward into New York State. Only on occasion due to traffic congestion on the NYC's main east of Buffalo or detours would they operate on the Oil City and JF&C branches.
As the oil region became less important the line to Oil City had less traffic. The original F&C line from Franklin to Belmar disappeared in the 1930s. There was some track realignments in the 1960s that put the NYC onto about a mile of the E-L's Oil City line. By 1970s after PC formed, the line from Franklin to Polk Jct. was about gone with most but not all traffic from Franklin taken to Oil City and put on former PRR lines. I do remember being at my grandmother's in Jamestown watching a westbound freight with parts of the Amalie refinery that had burnt up in the summer of 1970. After Conrail was formed, Polk Jct. to Franklin was abandoned. Some trackage exists at the Wolf's Head refinery in Reno, which may be last part of J&F left.
In 1950's, NYC reorganized divisions again, and the Erie, Cleveland and Cleveland Terminal divisions became the Lake Division.
The High Grade except for Carson to Jefferson and Dorset to Andover was abandoned about 1962. The Dorset- Andover section was then operated as part of the Oil City Branch. Carson-Jefferson was operated as the Jefferson branch through NYC/PC/Conrail until dropped by Conrail and State of Ohio took control; the Astabula, Carson & Jefferson Railroad operates it for Ohio. The remaining Buffalo-Pittsburgh overnight passenger train made a stop in Dorset (which had not served as a passenger stop for years) for Jefferson, Andover and Kinsman until train's end in 1963 (?).
NYC and later Penn Central  did have an amount of coal traffic on the Oil City and JF&C branches, but track conditions deteriorated to point that trains were limited to 10 mph. During 1950s and 1960s, one major shipper was Blazon Mfg. (yard swingsets) in Jamestown; they produced a number of boxcar loads every several days.
In a turn in history, by 1970 PC built a connector in Jamestown in the s.w. quadrant of diamond allowing westbound (north compass direction) traffic off E&P to travel west on the Oil City branch. In 1971, PC took out the diamond and E&P from Linesville to Girard Jct was abandoned. Service from Jamestown to Linesville was done as required by the Ashtabula-Stoneboro crews who cut off their train in Jamestown and went up the E&P to drop-off cars or pick-up in Westford or Linesville; sometimes taking hours to complete the round trip.
After Conrail was formed, much money was spent to improve track conditions towards a 25 mph standard, put back in a connector at Amasa to the former EL which wasn't used much. Conrail used the Oil City/JF&C route until coal banks were exhausted that were feeding it (i.e. mines along LEF&C).
In 1988, Conrail abandoned the trackage from Dorset to Rose leaving only a spur from Dorset Jct [CP14] to just short of Ohio Route 193. In 1999, the freight and passenger depots in Andover were moved to the Wayne Township grounds of the Ashtabula Antique Engine Society next to the Low Grade.
For a map and pictures for parts of this line, see Ashtabula to Brookfield Station.
See also the New Castle Branch.
Thanks to Paul Stumpff for contributing information about this route.