The history of our trail began in September 1869 when twenty-one sections of the Butler Branch Railroad were placed in the hands of contractors. Shortly after work began on the Freeport end; but not until the close of February, 1870, was ground broken at Butler. In October, construction trains were run to Delano or Wolf’s Stations. This work was prosecuted with vigor and the road formally opened to the pulic on January 18, 1871.
The event was made the occasion of great celebration, the festivities lasted two days. An excursion train consisting of five coaches, a baggage car and locomotive left Butler with 180 passengers. Perhaps the most interesting feature of these festivities was the mock funeral of the Butler and Freeport Stage Line.
The cost of the construction of the twenty-one miles of railroad was $400,000. It was constructed under the authority of the act of April 7, 1864 and the railroad was operated by the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company. On June 1, 1888, the road was leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for a period of forty years, the rental being the net earnings. Built as a branch of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad between Butler and Freeport it tapped the quality limestone deposits needed by the growing Pittsburgh steel industry. Construction of the line opened up the entire region to growth and travel. Butler developed its own steel industry using the line to haul iron ore. Also farm produce, sand from the mines that opened up along the railroad, oil from local wells and bricks from the brickyards that grew along the line could be shipped to their markets on the train. Train time was exciting for the communities like Sarver, Cabot and Great Belt that sprang up because of the railroad.
Remnants of several of the many industries that flourished along the railroad in the 19th and early 20th centuries are still visible along the trail. Keep a sharp eye out and you’ll spot old stone foundations, small dams and the remainders of brick kilns along the way. North of Cabot the former Saxon City Hotel, built in 1871 still remains. The line became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1903 and was taken out of service in 1987. The Freeport Historical Society is raising funds to refurbish Valley (Mickey’s) Mill, a 19th century grist mill which is just a block from our trail in Laneville.
The Butler-Freeport Community Trail was officially opened on October 4, 1992. For over nine years, further development of our project has been delayed by legal challenges to the ownership of the trail corridor. These lawsuits have been withdrawn and we look forward to completing the entire trail by 2010. In Febuary, 2004 PennDot released bids for the completion of the southern 3 miles of the trail which was mostly complete when the Sept 17, 2004 Hurrican Ivan flood damaged portions of the trail. The contractor has completed repairs to this section. In Dec 2004 FEMA announced that the trail as a public park would qualify for restoration funds from flood damage. The trail council together with the township have completed these repairs. In 2008 brush has been cleared and mowing completed along the unfinished Butler Section. A bridge is planned across Coal Run which will connect to the trail to Father Marinaro Park. The PA DCNR approved plans and permits for the Final Four Miles Project which will improve drainage and resurface the trail south to Bonnie Brook Road on Nov 1, 2009.