Last week we asked our readers to tell us some of their stories and memories of the old B&O railroad station on West Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen. Replies have come from old and young. Some are second-hand stories remembered from parents, fellow workers and friends who have passed from the community scene.
To begin, it might be best to explain the scene surrounding the 1885 Queen Anne style station. Years ago, the station stood in the midst of business activity created by its neighbors. The last of the 1800s, and the first decades of the 1900s, were bustling years of C.W. Baker's canninghouse and warehouse across the street, both passenger and freight activity and warehouses on the railroad property itself. Across the tracks, the George Slee General Merchandise Store was on the southeast corner of the railroad crossing, and the Southern Methodist Church was next to the Slee property. On the northwest corner of the rail crossing is the entry to Mt. Royal Avenue with its homes of some of Aberdeen's early business proprietors.
Heading westward are the mansion houses built by the Baker canning magnates and other families who played prominent roles in the business, political and social scene of the community. Over the years, some of the neighbors have passed away, buildings have been remodeled or torn down, the store gone and the church has seen numerous congregations and is now empty. Through the years, the old station still stands as a sentinel watching over all the activity and inactivity.
Other memories about the glamour of the railroad station itself come from Mary-Lynne Thompson Livezey. It was exciting to hear when her mother took her for shopping trips by way of the B&O train. Especially memorable were those trips near Christmas to see Santa Claus.
Ruth Lichi Peters, who has compiled a history of the old neighboring church when it was first built in the mid-1800s (known as the Southern Methodist Church), later the Lutheran Church in the 1940s, followed by the Evangel Assembly of God in the 1970s when her father was the fourth minister, wrote an amusing segment about one experience at the church in the later 1900s.
"One sound unique to the old church was the train coming through town. It wasn't an issue when the 1866 Chapel was built because the tracks on the north end of town weren't laid until the 1880s, but from then on, the rumbles, whistles and horns of the train became as well known to the congregations as any of the choirs' soloists.
"At precisely the same time during each service (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night), the train would make its presence known as it approached the crossing at West Bel Air Avenue. The increasing clatter of the wheels on the tracks, coupled with the warning blasts of the horns, would overpower even our modern sound system. By the time the train made its visitation, the pastor was usually well into his sermon. We were all so used to the regular event that it did not even phase us after a while. The minister would simply pause sometimes even mid-sentence wait for the sound to diminish, and carry on as though never interrupted.
"One time we had a guest speaker from out of town. He was fervently presenting his message when all of a sudden he stopped speaking, leaping upward and backward at the same time. When he landed, he froze in a most startled stance while we in the congregation wondered what had seized the poor man. After the train had passed and its rumblings trailed into the distance (we parishioners never "heard" it), the visiting minister relaxed and exclaimed, "I thought it was coming through the building!" We all had a good laugh and totally lost the point of his sermon that evening."
We recall stories told by George Baker, who lived in the old James B. Baker house. On his way to and from school he often saw important people on the platform of the station arriving or waiting for trains to Washington. People in the news in Aberdeen!
Our own memories include the connection between the Baker canninghouse, the Slee store and the B&O station. We would collect corn silk from the canninghouse, to sell it to Mr. Slee for a few pennies and then run across the tracks and buy candy from the gumball machine at the station. Those were the days!
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