Destination Pennsylvania: A trip to the World Famous Horseshoe Curve

Pennsylvania News

ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — The World Famous Horseshoe Curve is a must-see attraction for anyone, especially if you’re a train lover.

The Horseshoe Curve in the 1860s

The National Historic Landmark is located in Altoona and was considered revolutionary for the time.

“They basically made it so you could travel from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in a day,” Andrew Brumbaugh, the curator at the Railroaders Memorial Museum & World Famous Horseshoe Curve, said.

A steam locomotive on the Horseshoe Curve

In the 1850s, engineers were able to figure out a way to build a railroad on the side of the mountain to make traveling quicker.

“If you were living in Philadelphia or New York and you want to travel across the country, you are pretty much traveling on the Horseshoe Curve early on,” Brumbaugh explained. “Other routes were developed later, but that’s probably one of the most direct routes and one of the fastest.”

The Horseshoe Curve opened February 15, 1854. It took 450 Irish immigrants using only hand tools to complete the daunting task.

An early panoramic of the Horseshoe Curve

“It was 12 hours a day of either digging or laying rail,” Brumbaugh said.

They worked these long hours for just about a quarter every day.

The attraction eventually became known as an engineering marvel and helped put Altoona on the map.

“I mean you can’t really talk about the history of Altoona without talking about the history of the Curve,” Brumbaugh said. “The Curve kind of contributed to the birth of the city.”

The centennial celebration in 1954

During WWII, the Horseshoe Curve was at its peak.

At one point a train would pass through about every 10 minutes. It even became the target of Nazi spies.

“Eight German saboteurs landed in Long Island with a list of targets, some money and explosives,” Brumbaugh said. “On that list there were like aluminum plants, the hydroelectric dams up at Niagara Falls and then the Horseshoe Curve. They actually had railroad police and military police here guarding the Curve until the end of the war.”

A recent aerial shot taken in the fall

To this day, people from all over the world come to Altoona to see the attraction.

When you visit you not only get to learn about its incredible history by visiting the museum, but you also get to enjoy the beautiful views while watching the many trains that pass through.

The World Famous Horseshoe Curve is open Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The funicular is currently out of service due to mechanical reasons. They’re hoping to have it operational later this year. According to the website, to access the track-side, visitors must instead climb the stairs and rates are currently discounted.

You can also view the live stream at any time of the day.

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