Today’s American railroads are the products of hundreds of mergers and combinations of earlier lines, so it’s a good bet that there’s a good story behind any particular stretch of track. Here’s the tangled tale of the route followed by Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains as they head south from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
A 15-foot marble obelisk is made to be seen, which makes the current location of the Newkirk Viaduct Monument unfortunate.
One of the oldest public artworks in a city famous for them, the spike of white marble stands in the trash-strewn shadow of the 49th Street Bridge, a four-lane roadway in the Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Kingsessing. To find it, hike along the bridge’s weedy sidewalk and lean over the concrete railing. Or catch a glimpse from a passing train: the obelisk sits along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor right-of-way, by tracks that also serve SEPTA’s Airport Line.
Neither view gives the 18381839 monument its due. Designed by one of America’s foremost architects, the obelisk carries detailed inscriptions on all four sides: the names of four railroad companies and dozens of their executives and engineers. Now worn by time and obscured by graffiti, the chiseled letters still bear witness to an achievement of vast importance: the completion of a rail link from the young nation’s largest metropolis to the burgeoning cities to the south.
Once upon a time the Newkirk Viaduct Monument stood proudly near the foot of its eponymous bridge near the western bank of the Schuylkill River. Now it sits in obscurity about a quarter-mile inland. What happened?