The family name of Bell rings out when tracing the history of the Bells Gap Railroad. This smaller but crucial railway line connected major rail routes in Punxsutawney to the major Pennsylvania Railroad line in Bellwood, in Blair County.
The Bells Gap Railroad traversed its way through portions of Bell, Jordan and Beccaria Townships, in the south-central and western areas of Clearfield County.
The Bells Gap Railroad was incorporated in 1871 to connect Bells Mills (Bellwood) to Lloydville, near Blandburg, in Cambria County.
Within a few years, the line would be built to connect Mountaindale and Glasgow in northern Cambria County and continue northwesterly to Utahville, Coalport, Berwindale, LaJose and McGees Mills in Clearfield County, before reaching Punxsutawney in Jefferson County.
Once these locales were connected by rail, cargos of lumber, coal and hemlock bark (for tanneries) could move back and forth from a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main trans state route in Bellwood to the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh rail lines in Punxsutawney and points northward.
The Bells Gap railroad did, indeed, fill a gap in order to more easily ship rail freight between northern and southern Pennsylvania.
A reader may be confused by the overuse of the Bell family name. Bell Township, in Clearfield County was named for the Greenwood Bell family, who were early settlers there and prominent in the timber and lumber trade.
Bellwood, once known as Tuckahoe, was named for the Edward Bell family who settled in northern Blair County. It is unknown and perhaps unlikely that the two families were related.
Anyone who leaves Clearfield County to drive state Route 865, down Blandburg Mountain to Rootville, near Bellwood today, has to be careful. The road is steep and full of curves. Winter driving there can be frightening.
One can imagine the danger of heavily-laden rail cars making their way down the once nearly paralleling railway line that had nearly seven miles of a 3.0 grade drop of 158 feet to the mile. Engines would likewise have to slowly chug their way up the grade to reach the heights of the Allegheny Front.
The Bells Gap railroad was soon sold in 1874, taking the name of the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad Company, as it remained operational for some years to come.
The map shown traces the route of the Bells Gap railroad. The photo shows a small but powerful engine near a trestle type bridge in McGees Mills, in Bell Township.