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Aberdeen's historic B&O station moves slowly toward restoration

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Restoration of Aberdeen's long-dilapidated historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train station might finally be moving forward with plans to construct a new foundation for the eventual relocation of the building.

The Historical Society of Harford County, which is spearheading the restoration effort, hopes to move the station back 50 feet from the tracks by March, society director Maryanna Skowronski said last week.

Moving the platform and building, which is required by its owner, CSX Railroad, is the first step on the long road to rebuilding the station as a public building.

"It's going to be moved," Skowronski promised, explaining weather-related delays kept the move from happening by the end of 2013, as originally promised.

"We had hoped to have the foundation constructed by the end of December... but the weather is, unfortunately, an aberration this year," she said. "It's always the weather, the weather, the weather."

Last spring, Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett warned the society's leaders that he had limited patience for getting the project done, telling them the city was tired of "this eyesore."

Skowronski said the society will have spent roughly $140,000 on the project to date, with moving the platform, a feasibility study and various other expenses.

Most of that, $100,000, is coming from two Maryland Historical Trust grants, she said.

Donations have also come from some private individuals and groups such as Preservation Maryland.

"We are continuing to raise funds. We are working kind of in concert with the Aberdeen Room and Museum," Skowronski said.

Kinsley Construction is donating materials and Vulcan Materials is donating concrete for the foundation, she said.

"We are in the process of soliciting donations for the cinder blocks," she added.

Wolfe Movers has been contracted to do the move, she said.

Skowronski has no ultimate timeline for when the station might become a restaurant or other public building.

She is definitely optimistic, however, that the building, which has not seen passengers since the 1950s, would eventually get a new life.

"It's a large project and once it's on to its new foundation, then we hope to begin the actual rehabilitation, because we don't want it to sit any longer than it has to," she said.

Skowronski said she knows both city government and residents are unhappy with the station's current appearance, which Bennett called "Disney World's haunted house" in 2013.

"We know neighbors are concerned about appearances and the town has concerns about safety issues," she said.

Proud past

The station, which is off West Bel Air Avenue in downtown Aberdeen, is a major part of the city's and Harford County's history and would be a big opportunity for the city to have a publicly accessible historic building, Skowronski said.

Though the building is surrounded by a chain link fence and so rundown it looks as though a strong wind could blow it over, the station has a proud past.

It was built in 1885 at a time when the leaders of the B&O began building their line between Baltimore and Philadelphia to offer passenger service from Washington, D.C., to New York City.

Their goal was to better compete with the rival Pennsylvania Railroad, whose tracks north of Baltimore the B&O had been using for years under an arrangement that favored the owner, according to "Royal Blue Line" by Herbert Harwood Jr., a history of the line whose iconic Royal Blue name for its passenger trains has long outlived the trains themselves. (Although the B&O built and owned its tracks from Washington to Philadelphia, its trains used trackage rights from the Reading and Central of New Jersey railroads to take passengers between Philadelphia and Jersey City, N.J., where they disembarked and took a ferryboat across the Hudson River to Manhattan.)

The Aberdeen B&O station was designed by Frank Furness, one of the pre-eminent American architects of the Victorian era, whose distinctive private mansions and public buildings, many of them railroad stations both large and small, could be found all around Furness' native Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

Aberdeen was a regular station stop for many Royal Blue Line trains but despite the B&O's many innovations on the line in the decades after service began, business began to decline rapidly following World War II, as was the case with many passenger railroads. All B&O passenger service north of Baltimore was abandoned in 1958, with the final Royal Blue Service train running on April 26, 1958.

In later years, the station was used by track gangs, car inspectors and signal maintenance crews, until CSX, the B&O's successor, stopped using it altogether in the 1990s.

The building then started to deteriorate rapidly and by the early 2000s, the railroad was planning to demolish it until the Harford Historical Society and other preservation-minded groups stepped in and won it a reprieve from the wrecking ball. Since then, there have been periodic emergency efforts required to stabilize the building.

Saving history

Aberdeen's station is the last one standing along the former Royal Blue Line north of Baltimore. Even the B&O's distinctive terminal designed by Furness in central Philadelphia has been gone 50 years.

"When you think of Aberdeen, so many of its historic buildings and sights are gone because much of it was taken over when the Aberdeen Proving Ground was built during its early years," Skowronski said, noting that many of the early buildings on the post and the homes and farm buildings that preceded them are gone.

"Aberdeen has some beautiful historic homes but they are all privately owned, and the public doesn't have access to them," she said.

"We have just always felt like the train station, once it's restored," will be giving something back to Aberdeen, she said.

She added it will be an important site from a tourism perspective and, as such, many residents have told the society they are glad something is being done with it.

"We really feel confident that once it's restored, it's going to be something that people want to come and see," she said.

Despite appearances, "we want people to know that it is a viable station and we are grateful that people have been patient," Skowronski said. "We are grateful that people are as appreciative as they are."

"I think people want to see it happen," she added.

Aegis editor Allan Vought contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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