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

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,
Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain,

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


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.

Documenting Maryland’s Dairy Industry

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research & Survey

Dairy barns and supporting structures, such as milking parlors, silos, and farmyards, were once common features in Maryland’s agricultural landscape. Yet, no comprehensive survey or historic context exists that documents the role of the dairy industry in Maryland. As more and more farmers leave the industry, now is the time to capture these stories and document the associated historic resources before all tangible evidence disappears.

Martha Perry Robinson (Pattie). Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

To support this effort, the Maryland Historical Trust awarded the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design a non-capital grant to document historic dairy farms in Cecil, Carroll, and Frederick counties over the next two years. Additionally, the MHT Board of Trustees is funding the documentation of several farms in Garrett and Allegany counties. This project, eventually covering all 23 counties plus Baltimore City, is identified as a survey goal in the statewide preservation plan, PreserveMaryland II (2019-2023), and MHT staff from the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration is actively involved in the outreach, documentation, and research efforts.

Farmers from Western Maryland and staff from the Office of Research, Survey, & Registration at the Dairy Farmers Reunion at the Allegany County Fair in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Casey Pecoraro).

Changes in Maryland’s agricultural industry frequently translated to the built environment, requiring new forms and materials to meet evolving needs and advances. In the late nineteenth century, many Maryland farmers sought to diversify their agricultural production, moving from traditional crops such as wheat and tobacco to dairy, fruits, and vegetables. By the early twentieth century, countless dairy farmers shifted from using large multi-purpose barns that housed a variety of livestock to a more standardized barn design dedicated to safe dairy production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture publicized the new designs, which focused on increased light, ventilation, and materials, such as concrete, that promoted cleanliness. Additionally, advances in technology, such as the development of the feed silo in 1873 and improvements to refrigeration, pasteurization, and bottling, transformed the industry at the turn of the century.[1]

Main house at Leigh Castle Farm, Carroll County. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Near the town of Marston in Carroll County, Leigh Castle Farm is a representative early twentieth-century dairy farm that illustrates the shift in agricultural practices.[2] Harry and Martha (Robinson) Townshend purchased the roughly 53-acre farm in 1908 for $4,000. By 1910, the U.S. Census lists Harry as a farmer, with the household consisting of Harry, age 30; Martha, age 29; and Margaret, their one-year old daughter.[3] The family expanded three years later with the birth of their son Henry.

Martha Robinson Townshend and her mother Amanda Baden Robinson at the Carroll County farm. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to dairy production, the Townshends grew a variety of crops and raised chickens. In a letter dated July 20, 1914, Martha (known as Pattie) wrote to her mother, Amanda Baden Robinson, of Brandywine, Maryland: “We have had a very wet season and such heavy electric storms … I have certainly had a terrible time this summer – labor is scarce and high – some of Harry’s hay and wheat crop was damaged but I did my best … I have done but little canning – cherries rotted on the trees and my beans are to (sic) old to can now … Only have a small crop of chickens about a hundred and five … Am raising a calf, which is much trouble around the house (?) …”[4] On the eve of World War I and with a newly established farm, this passage illustrates the challenges and hard work of farming for a living.

Dairy barn constructed at the farm in 1929. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Between 1919 and 1923, the Townshends added a total of about eight acres to the farm. The farm expanded again with the construction of a sizable new dairy barn in 1929. Historic photographs in the collections of the National Museum of American History chronicle the barn-raising and show a typical, early twentieth-century concrete block and frame gambrel-roofed structure. Concrete block and structural terracotta tile were common materials used in the construction of dairy barns and milking parlors in the twentieth century, as more stringent sanitation laws were enacted. By 1930, the Agriculture Census showed 858 dairy farms in Carroll County, just behind Frederick and Harford counties, with a total of 5,652 farms classified as dairy operations in the state.[5] 

Additional research, such as agricultural or farm schedules, will provide further information into the operations of Leigh Castle Farm. As we move forward with our documentation and research efforts, MHT will continue to highlight examples of dairy-related buildings, farm complexes, and landscapes that help illustrate this important chapter in Maryland’s history.

[1] Diehlmann, Nicole A. and Jacob M. Bensen, Thematic Historic Context:  Dairy Farming in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland (Appendix F), March 2020.

[2] The farm became known as Leigh Castle, named after one of the early parcels of land.

[3] 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

[4] Letter to Amanda Baden from Martha (Pattie) Townshend, July 20, 1914. The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[5] Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 – Agriculture, Volume III, United States Government Printing Office (Washington, DC: 1932).

Introducing Map-Based Medusa: Viewing Maryland’s Historic Places in Real Time

By Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager

To kick off Preservation Month this May, the Maryland Historical Trust is pleased to announce a new interactive map-based tool, “map-based Medusa,” to explore the state’s inventory of historic places and archeological sites.  Taking advantage of new web-based mapping technology, map-based Medusa offers the opportunity to view Maryland’s extensive geographic database of historic and cultural properties and to access the records linked to these resources, all within an easily accessible user friendly interface.

Blog1The new system allows both in-house and remote access to the documentation of over 60,000 architectural and archeological resources in a variety of ways. Consultants and staff can view a proposed project area and see all known cultural resources, with links to Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms, National Register nominations, determinations of eligibility, and other detailed documents. Map-based Medusa also allows you to look up a property by name, address or inventory number, and view that property on a map along with associated forms and photos.

Most architectural information is freely available in Medusa. Archeological site location is restricted to qualified archeological professionals as mandated in the state’s Access to Site Location Policy. Any qualified professional can apply for a Medusa account to get access. For assistance using map-based Medusa, tutorials and FAQs are available online. We will introduce webinars and introductory videos in the coming months.


The new map-based Medusa application was created with the technical assistance of the Applications Development team of the Maryland Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust’s parent agency. We are grateful for the efforts of Information Services Manager Ted Cozmo, Doug Lyford, Greg Schuster, and Debbie Czerwinski, building on earlier database development work of Maureen Kavanagh, Carmen Swann and Jennifer Falkinburg. The online version of Medusa was supported in part through a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and by funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration through its Transportation Enhancement Program.

To start using map-based Medusa, go to

For more information, please contact Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager, at

Preparing for Future Floods

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach


Hoopers Island

As we turn from Ellicott City’s disaster response to recovery, and watch hurricanes threaten Florida and Hawaii, it’s hard not to think about all the places throughout Maryland that are prone to flooding. We built our earliest towns, cities, roads and rail lines along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. As ports and fishing industries boomed, we developed more. And let’s be honest: we all love to live and play near water. Continue reading

Cumberland’s Youth Summit

By Kathy McKenney, Historic Planner/Preservation Coordinator, City of Cumberland

With a Certified Local Government grant from the Maryland Historical Trust, the Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission and staff have partnered with Braddock Middle School to develop a first-ever Youth Summit. During the 2015-2016 school year, this project is bringing together local youth, educators, and preservation partners to investigate and engage with historic places in our city. The summit will give participating students real-world experience with a day focused on hands-on preservation maintenance and intensive sessions on using architecture as artifact, archival research, and place-based interpretation. Summit participants will visit, discuss, and analyze designated historic sites such as churches, the C&O Canal, and the Footer Dye Works Building. The students will craft stories about these places for their peers and the community at large. Project partners include the City of Cumberland’s Historic Preservation Commission, Allegany College of Maryland, the National Park Service C&O Canal National Historical Park, and Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority.

Cumberland Youth Summit 1

Visit to Dan’s Rock

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