A Visit to Pennsylvania's Old Timber Town: The Last Word
There is an old train depot in Sheffield in Warren County. It used to be a busy, busy place because of the vast forest land in the area. You can still go inside. Not to catch a train but to learn how Sheffield became 'The Last Great Lumber Town in Pennsylvania."
The old train station is now the home of the Sheffield Depot Preservation Society. Dennis Sturdevant, the society’s president, took me on a tour. Pictures on the walls tell the story of why Sheffield was bustling between the years 1890 and 1940. Bark from the hemlock tree was used to make tannin, the chemical needed to harden cattle hides. Seven tanneries were located in Sheffield in the late 1800s. Sheffield was also home to the largest saw mill east of the Mississippi. The busy lumber business meant a busy railroad depot.
"Everybody worked in connection with the railroad,” says Dennis. “The saw mill was booming at the time."
Sheffield's prosperity from lumber eventually came to an end. The saw mill closed in 1941. The once busy train depot closed in 1965.
"For years, I walked past this station all boarded up,” remembers Dennis. “The grass was high. It didn't seem liked anybody cared."
In 2006, Dennis had an idea to renovate the station. A nonprofit organization was formed. The Sheffield Depot Preservation Society re-opened the building as a heritage museum in 2016. Memories of the station's heyday live on. An old baggage cart is on display as is a mail cart donated by a Sheffield resident.
"The gentleman had it in his yard on the hill,” says Dennis. “I said 'Could I have that for the depot?’ and he goes, 'You can have it."
There's been other interesting donations. There's railroad timetables and tickets from when the Tionesta Valley Railway ran from Sheffield to small towns I've never heard of including Gilson, Donaldson, and Brookston. There's a reversible trolley seat designed to make sure no passenger had to ride facing backwards. There's also other examples of Sheffield from days gone by including equipment used by the town shoemaker in the 1930s.
These days the only trains that stop at the station are the model trains that are on display inside. But, the depot still welcomes visitors...anyone who wants to learn about Sheffield's past.
Many things have changed in Sheffield over the years. The town now has about 960 residents. Dennis says there was a high school football game played there in 1946. That game drew over 1,000 fans.