Welcome to the Stationmaster’s House! Your virtual tour is made possible by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Mechanicsburg Museum Association invites you to explore the rooms of the Stationmaster’s House where you will learn about the Zacharias Family, the Cumberland Valley Rail Road, and life in Mechanicsburg from 1866 through 1876
on the rooms below to explore or use menu at left.
As you look at the Stationmaster’s House, can you imagine living so close to the railroad? If you lived at the Mechanicsburg Stationmaster’s House, you would be acutely aware of the fact that your home also served as a place of employment. Family life revolved around the schedule of the Cumberland Valley Railroad. When the stationmaster, George Adam Zacharias, moved with his wife Mary Ann (Riegel) Zacharias, and two young children, Frank and E. Gertrude into the new house, he undoubtedly felt a sense of pride. Yet it must have been difficult to live in constant view of the public.
Why did the Cumberland Valley Rail Road build the Stationmaster’s House? It was a business decision aimed at increasing profit while also providing an added employee incentive for the hardworking stationmaster. The brick house, set close to the tracks and passenger station, served as a form of corporate identity. The formidable residence was intended to impress, for the clever mix of operational and domestic architecture reflected the vision and success of the Cumberland Valley Rail Road. The purpose for building a Stationmaster’s House was to yield commercial return, and the CVRR had chosen Mechanicsburg for its prosperity. Not only had the town survived the Civil War years, including a brief occupation by the Confederates, it had developed a stable and growing economy. Surely the people of Mechanicsburg saw the Stationmaster’s House as a testament to their stability.
Was it unusual to have a brick house? There were other brick houses in Mechanicsburg during the time period, but the majority of houses were made of wood. Local histories and census reports in 1860-70 made particular note of brick dwellings, but not wood, so the added detail about construction suggests that brick was an important distinction. Brick was more costly than wood, and the railroad, highly aware of cost factors, would have made a visible statement by choosing the material. Also, safety must have played into the decision, for brick was less flammable than wood, and fire was always a concern near the railroad tracks. For that time period, the house was a modest size and appropriate for a middle class family.
Did life at the Stationmaster’s House bring extra attention? When Mr. Zacharias and his family began living in the Stationmaster’s House, they assumed great responsibility. They had to live up to the reputation of the CVRR, the town of Mechanicsburg, and their well-known extended families living in the area. To appreciate the significance of their family connection, it is important to realize that during the 1850’s, Mechanicsburg had grown at an amazing rate. The population had more than doubled as the town became a center for transportation. Surely townspeople were somewhat apprehensive about such rapid expansion. How would newcomers reinforce the values and morality of the community? Thus, by the 1860’s, citizens placed great emphasis on the importance of family reputation and connection. Most likely townspeople in 1858 were pleased by the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Zacharias, for the couple came from remarkable Pennsylvania families. Their union held significance, especially when viewed in the context of family accomplishment. Thus, when Mr. and Mrs. Zacharias moved into the new, brick house in 1866, the townspeople could look at them and realize how the Stationmaster and family reflected the future of Mechanicsburg.
Did the public come into the Stationmaster’s House? The public would not have entered the house unless invited by Mr. or Mrs. Zacharias. The passenger waiting area was in the station or depot, a few feet from the house. The office was the only area designated for public access. The rest of the house was considered a private residence. But you are welcome to come inside. The virtual tour allows you to enter the different rooms whereby you will discover how the family lived in relation with the railroad, and how they contributed to the town of Mechanicsburg. You are fortunate to take the virtual tour, for few Stationmaster Houses were built, and even fewer remain today.
Why was the Stationmaster’s House restored? In 1976, the Borough of Mechanicsburg deeded the Passenger Station and Stationmaster’s House to the Mechanicsburg Museum Association. The terms of the lease specified the annual “rent” of four strawberries, in recognition of the Strawberry Alley address. Then in 2005, the Mechanicsburg Museum Association through a generous donation from Attorney and Mrs. Richard C. Snelbaker purchased the two buildings from the Borough of Mechanicsburg. The Borough used the Passenger Station as their office until 2008. Also, in 1976, the MMA began restoring and furnishing the house. The house had fallen into disrepair after serving for many years as a railroad baggage building by the Cumberland Valley Rail Road and Railway Express Agency. Many volunteers gave hours of their time to help with the hard work of restoring the building. In addition to the restoration project, the MMA published “The Railroad in Mechanicsburg.” The report gave rise to the need for a cultural history of the Stationmaster and his family. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission funded a grant to develop the narrative of life at the Stationmaster’s House. The MMA engaged Nancy McKinley, Ph.D., as scholar in residence to research and develop the cultural and historical narrative. For the project, she researched how the Zacharias family lived, how they affected the community, and how they were perceived by the townspeople. In addition to researching primary sources in national, state, and local archives, as well as going on-site at museums and historical societies, she consulted with many other local historians. Fern Oram, MMA Recording Secretary and Past President, Jerry Reid, MMA Research, and Janeal Jaroh, Educational Curator, Cumberland County Historical Society shared a wealth of knowledge. The cultural and historical narrative of the Stationmaster and his family reflects historical facts within the context and interpretation of the time period.
Why does the virtual tour use the question and answer format? The format helps to focus attention on the artifacts whereby the material culture reveals family life within the context of historical developments. The Stationmaster’s House provides the frame for shaping and presenting the historical and cultural narrative. Also, the questions can serve as prompts for educational lesson plans in social studies and reading. In addition, the virtual tour is an effective pre-learning activity for students and teachers prior to taking a field trip to the Mechanicsburg Museum and Stationmaster’s House. Teachers can refer to PA State Standards listed at the end of each section when planning lessons and field trips.
What happens if new information is discovered? As is always the case with history, new information can expand awareness of the past. If you have knowledge, information, photos, letters, or additional insight about the Zacharias Family or the Stationmaster’s House, please share it with the Mechanicsburg Museum Association.© 2005-2014 Mechanicsburg Museum Association. All rights reserved.