The Electric Railway in Western Maryland

By Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

A century ago, there were hundreds of miles of trolley (also known as electric railway) tracks that traversed the state of Maryland. One can easily imagine the prevalence of trolleys in the urban areas of Maryland around Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC. However, in the early twentieth century, trolleys also operated across the farmlands and mountains of western Maryland.

Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway
Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway

Options for the electric railway in western Maryland first began to be realized in Richmond, Virginia in 1888 when inventor Frank Sprague proved that electric traction could travel up and down steep grades. In fact, electric railway could climb steeper grades than conventional steam railway. Further, trolleys used a lighter track than steam-powered railway.

All electric railway enterprises in western Maryland were private (non-governmental) ventures. One of the first such companies, the Frederick and Middletown Railway, was motivated to provide faster transportation of farm produce to markets and to make money through passenger transport. Construction of the new railway line began at Patrick and Carroll Streets in Frederick. In addition to purchasing right-of-way, investors in the company also bought land on the ridge of Catoctin Mountain along the trolley’s future route to Middletown. They developed this area, known as Braddock Heights, into a summer resort village. In August 1896, the first trolleys began shuttling passengers between Frederick and Braddock Heights. This mountain resort contained an amusement park, observatory, dance pavilion, theater, carousel, slide, and casino, in addition to inns and private summer houses. By October of that year, the line extended to Middletown.

Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source: antiquesnavigator.com
Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source: antiquesnavigator.com

Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, various companies constructed lines connecting western Maryland. In 1904, a final passage constructed over South Mountain provided direct conveyance between Frederick and Hagerstown. This full trolley trip took 2 hours to traverse 29 miles with 3,000’ in elevation change.

In addition to linking cities, the electric railway in western Maryland also connected urban and suburban areas. For example, before the end of the nineteenth century, the Hagerstown Railway created a loop around the city of Hagerstown and lines into the heart of downtown on Washington and South Potomac Streets.

Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org
Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Also, the line connecting Hagerstown and Williamsport, which ran along US Route 11, had a high ridership as a suburban operation.  

The electric railway remained popular for several decades, but eventually several factors contributed to its decline in western Maryland. The companies who owned and operated the trolleys began to realize that they could make more money by selling the electricity that they produced to power their trains to homes and businesses instead. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway company eventually became an electric utility business known as Potomac Edison. Through various consolidations and mergers, this company is known as FirstEnergy today.

Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress
Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress

The introduction of bus systems, including the Hagerstown city loop that passed the fairgrounds, and the improvement of roads for automobiles, including the reconstruction of US Route 40 over the mountains, also lead to the demise of electric railways. By the early 1950s, trolleys in Western Maryland ceased to provide passenger conveyance, and freight transportation lasted only several years longer.

Some of the places associated with the western Maryland electric railway systems have been retained and preserved. The Boonsboro Trolley Station was restored into a museum partly funded by MHT’s Historic Preservation Capital Grant Program. The Frederick Terminal and Office Building and the Washington and Frederick Railway Car Barn in Hagerstown also survive and are included in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (more information can be found here and here). Additionally, the Hagerstown and Frederick Trolley Trail Association is working to convert the old trolley line between Thurmont and Frederick into a multi-use trail, an effort that was recently awarded a Maryland Heritage Area Authority grant!

Boonsboro Trolley Station. Source: MHT photo

Sources:

Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books, 1970.

Janet L. Davis, “Braddock Heights Survey District,” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form F-4-8. Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 1992.

Edie Wallace and Paula Reed, “Boonsboro Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2004.

“Virtual Exhibit”, The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Historical Society, Inc. https://hfrhs.org/visitor/virtual-exhibit/

The Life of a Roadside Historical Marker

By Nancy Kurtz, Marker and Monuments Programs

The marker you pass on your journey, embossed with the Great Seal of Maryland, could have been born in the early 1930s, cast in iron and displayed along a narrow roadway in the days when the family car and the road trip were new ideas and local citizens wanted to inform travelers of the people, places and events important in their history.

The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) and Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) jointly manage the state roadside historical marker program.  The State Roads Commission began the program in 1933 in cooperation with the Maryland Historical Society.  The program was transferred to the Maryland Historical Trust in 1985, with new standards, criteria and placement guidelines added in 2001, including the requirement for markers to commemorate topics that carry statewide significance.  MHT reviews and approves new marker applications.  SHA installs and maintains the markers, and now funds all new and replacement markers.

RM-733h THE BANK ROAD old

The Bank Road marker, when it was young

When either agency is notified of a marker problem, SHA staff pick up the marker and start the refurbishing, repair or replacement process.  A tag is installed on the pole to notify the public of its whereabouts.  If you should notice a sudden unexplained disappearance, a marker on the ground or other problem, please contact Nancy Kurtz at 410-697-9561nancy.kurtz@maryland.gov, or send in a problem report found on the MHT marker website:  http://mht.maryland.gov/documents/pdf/research/MarkerReport.pdf.

With over 800 markers installed since the 1930s, maintenance is ongoing. Markers requiring repair or refurbishing are sent off-site for the work, usually in groups of two or more.  Sandblasting and welding repairs can take three to four weeks.  Repainting can take four to six weeks.  Reinstallation is dependent on weather and work schedule, and usually grouped geographically, so can take two to three months after repainting.  The best time estimate for the whole process would be approximately six months, but can vary according to these factors.

One important aspect of reinstalling a marker is safety.  Roadways, traffic volumes and speed have changed through the years and do not always allow reinstallation in the original location.  Where possible, the markers are placed near a side road to allow drivers to pull off the highway.

RM-733 THE BANK ROAD refurbished

The Bank Road marker, refurbished

The early markers are historic in their own right.  Although some show the scars of damage and repair, we strive to keep them on the roadways well into the future.  The history of the marker program, thematic tours, application procedures, photographs and maps are found on the MHT website, including a keyword search for travelers who pass a marker at today’s highway speeds. To learn more, please visit:  http://mht.maryland.gov/historicalmarkers/Search.aspx

 

Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

Floating a Watch Box Down the Potomac: a Section 106 Success Story

By Amanda Apple, Preservation Officer, Review and Compliance

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Starting Condition of Watch Box at NSF Indian Head

Until recently, the oldest building at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head in Southern Maryland was believed to be the watch box (also known as a guard shack). Originally, in 1854, this little yellow building helped secure the Eighth Street entrance of the Washington Navy Yard. The watch box functioned as a sentry post manned by Marines until approximately

1905, after which it was relocated to NSF Indian Head by barge. Munitions produced at the Navy Yard were shipped down the Potomac River for proving at Indian Head on a regular basis, so the inclusion of the 13’x13’ building would not have been considered unusual. At NSF Indian Head, the watch box served as a foreman’s office, the main telephone switch facility, and a grounds store house between 1911 and 1932, after which time it was finally abandoned to the elements. In 1997, the watch box was identified as a contributing element to the Naval Proving Ground Historic District, significant as the original location of the proof work for the Navy Yard, and for its later role in testing smokeless powder manufactured at the nearby Single Base line.

Loaded on the travel dolly

Loaded on the travel dolly

Recently, the Navy decided to demolish its deteriorating and unused Piers 3 and 4 at the Washington Navy Yard, contributing elements to the Central Yard National Historic Landmark. As part of its obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Navy entered into an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Officers for Maryland and the District of Columbia to mitigate the harm to the historic district caused by the demolition of the piers. All parties agreed that the relocation of the little watch box from NSF Indian Head to its original home at the Navy Yard would help mitigate the loss. NSF Indian Head had no potential beneficial reuse for this building, due to its small size and extensive renovation costs.

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

Watch Box being lifted on to the barge at NSF Indian Head. Photo courtesy of Thomas Wright, NSF Indian Head

In April 2015, the watch box started its journey home to Washington. The 11-ton, Italianate – style building had an internal wood frame fabricated with custom corner angles and cables on the exterior which were attached to a steel beam base, so as help the building maintain its shape and not be damaged in the move. The building was lifted and placed on a remote controlled travel dolly and driven approximately half a mile to the pier at NSF Indian Head, where it was then placed on a barge with a crane. After a five hour barge ride back up the Potomac River, the watch box was offloaded with the crane at the Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

Watch box being craned off the barge at the Washington Navy Yard.

The watch box is currently waiting in a parking lot for its final move to West Leutze Park. When the project is complete, the historic watch box will be positioned just south of its original location on the Washington Navy Yard. It will be restored to serve as a historic and educational display. Stay tuned to see the final product in a future post!

National Recreational Trail Grants Available – Applications Due July 1, 2010

Each year Maryland is apportioned National Recreational Trails Program funds through the Federal Surface Transportation Equity Act for disbursement to qualifying projects. These funds, administered by the Maryland State Highway Administration, have made it possible for communities across the State to develop, improve and maintain trails in order to provide access to Maryland’s awesome natural and recreational resources. Continue reading