Exploring the Abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in Fulton County

The abandoned South Penn Railroad stone arch culvert in Fulton County.

The abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in Fulton County is a perfectly-preserved remnant of a railroad that never was.

The interior of the abandoned South Penn Railroad arch near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
The interior of the abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

Built by skilled Sicilian stone masons without any mortar, this aqueduct looks as good now as it did when it was first built nearly 140 years ago!

The 199-foot long abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in Fulton County.
The 199-foot long abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in Fulton County.

History of the Abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct

In the late 1800s, William Vanderbilt was one of the richest railroad barons in the world.

William Vanderbilt owned the New York Central Railroad and was the financial backer of the South Pennsylvania Railroad.
William Vanderbilt owned the New York Central Railroad and was the financial backer of the South Pennsylvania Railroad.

He, along with fellow titan of industry Andrew Carnegie, set out to build a railroad that would compete directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Portrait of Andrew Carnegie who founded the town of Scotia.
Portrait of Andrew Carnegie, investor in the South Penn Railroad.

They chose a route across southern Pennsylvania (thus the name) that would require nine tunnels to be dug, along with numerous bridges and aqueducts to be constructed, to carry their rail line across rivers and streams.

Image of Andrew Carnegie standing next to the Rays Hill Tunnel during initial construction.
Image of Andrew Carnegie standing near the Rays Hill Tunnel during initial construction of the South Penn Railroad.

One of those aqueducts was to be built near the Sideling Hill Tunnel, to carry the rail line over a small tributary of Oregon Creek.

Topside view of the abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
Topside view of the abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

To build these tunnels, bridge abutments, and aqueducts, Vanderbilt and Carnegie brought in Sicilian stone masons, some of the most skilled stone workers in the world at the time.

The intricately-crafted South Pennsylvania Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.
The intricately-crafted South Pennsylvania Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.

Cutting and fitting the stones onsite, these stone masons created structures as beautiful as they were functional.

The cut-stone interior of the South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.
The cut-stone interior of the abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest.

This particular aqueduct is 15-feet high, 10-feet wide, and 199-feet long.

The northern portal of the abandoned South Penn Railroad aqueduct.
The northern portal of the abandoned South Penn Railroad aqueduct.

Ultimately, the South Penn Railroad was never completed, as Vanderbilt and Carnegie struck a deal with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1885, and the project was abandoned.

The abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest, near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
The abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct in the Buchanan State Forest, near the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

How to Find the Abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct

The abandoned South Penn Railroad Aqueduct can be reached via the red-blazed Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest.

The Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest in Fulton County.
The Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest in Fulton County.

The trailhead is located roughly 0.4 miles west of the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp, along Oregon Road (a State Forest road).

A map to the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp in Fulton County.
A map to the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp in Fulton County.

There is a large parking area between the trailhead and the Abandoned PA Turnpike bridge over Oregon Road.

Parking area for the Railroad Arch Trail, along Oregon Road next to the abandoned PA Turnpike.
Parking area for the Railroad Arch Trail, along Oregon Road next to the abandoned PA Turnpike.

Approximately 200 yards from the trailhead you’ll pass the ruins of a dynamite shed.

A dynamite shed along the Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest.
A dynamite shed along the Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest.

The trail eventually crosses over the small stream you’ve been hiking next to, via the footbridge pictured below.

Foot bridge along the Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest.
Foot bridge along the Railroad Arch Trail in the Buchanan State Forest.

You’ll reach the aqueduct 0.3 miles from the trailhead on Oregon Road.

Approaching the southern end of the abandoned South Pennsylvania railroad aqueduct near Sideling Hill.
Approaching the southern end of the abandoned South Pennsylvania railroad aqueduct near Sideling Hill.

Enjoy, but do not disturb the aqueduct – it’s a beautifully preserved part of Pennsylvania’s railroading history!

Close-up of the stonework on the South Penn Railroad Aqueduct.
Close-up of the stonework on the South Penn Railroad Aqueduct.

Nearby Attractions

As mentioned previously, the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp is less than half a mile east of the Railroad Arch Trail.

Inside the General's quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp.
Inside the General’s quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp.

This former CCC camp housed German prisoners of war from the end of the war in 1945 until the spring of 1946.

The former officers quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp in Fulton County, PA.
The former officers quarters at the abandoned Sideling Hill POW Camp in Fulton County, PA.

The Abandoned PA Turnpike is a 13 mile stretch of abandoned superhighway that loosely follows the original proposed route of the South Penn Railroad.

The Abandoned PA Turnpike Pike 2 Bike Trail
Rays Hill Tunnel along the Abandoned PA Turnpike.

The highlights of the Abandoned PA Turnpike are two tunnels, both originally started in 1883 then abandoned when the South Penn Railroad project was halted.

A photographer illuminated by a spotlight inside the Sideling Hill Tunnel.
A photographer illuminated by a spotlight inside the Sideling Hill Tunnel.

Big Mountain Overlook in Fulton County is one of the best roadside scenic vistas in all of Pennsylvania!

Big Mountain Overlook in the Buchanan State Forest on an August afternoon.
Big Mountain Overlook in the Buchanan State Forest on an August afternoon.

Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County is home to a 42 acre lake, miles of hiking trails, and several excellent scenic overlooks.

A fisherman at Cowans Gap State Park.
A fishing pier at Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County.

The 7 Best Scenic Overlooks in the Buchanan State Forest will introduce you to more excellent views near the South Penn Railroad Aqueduct.

Fall foliage at Bark Road Vista in Fulton County PA
Fall foliage at Bark Road Vista in Fulton County, PA.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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