Railroads played important role in Aberdeen's history [Column]

Record columnist
If it had not been for railroads, the history of Aberdeen would read quite differently

First of a series of columns on Aberdeen and the railroads

With the attention paid to the moving of the old B&O station in Aberdeen, and it is exciting, people often ask when did the first railroads laid their tracks through the little village of Aberdeen?

Allow us to go back to the "Harford Historical Bulletin No.54" that we compiled at the time of Aberdeen's centennial in 1992. We had already used the importance of the railroads as a main exhibit in the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum, so we had researched the history of the railroads.

We wrote: "If it had not been for railroads, the history of Aberdeen would read quite differently."

By 1885 the village, situated in a very strategic location in the middle third of the through route from Washington to New York, was being served by two railroads.

The tracks for the two were constructed parallel to one another some five blocks apart, providing transportation necessary for the products of the surrounding dairies, farmlands and canneries to reach markets in the large cities of the East.

These rail lines provided boundaries for three adjoining, but separate, centers, Aberdeen between the tracks, Halls Cross Roads to the east and Mechanicsville to the west. At the time of incorporation in 1892, the area, with a population of some 600, was known by the one name – Aberdeen.

Although the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) was the first railroad in Maryland, it had concentrated its efforts southward from Baltimore to Ellicott City in 1830. It was the tiny Baltimore and Port Deposit, incorporated in 1831, that built the first tracks through the Village of Aberdeen.

The Baltimore & Port Deposit merged with the larger Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore (PW&B) in 1838, with corporate offices in the three cities after which the railroad was named.

That would enable some large area landowners with unprofitable estates to divide them up into thrifty little market farms and gardens and not only benefit himself, the counties and the city of Baltimore, but give profitable business to the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad.

Approximately nine acres of a total 1,100 acres in Halls Park belonged to the "Railroad to Philadelphia." Otho Scott, prominent attorney of the mid-1800s, was the original counsel for the PW&B Railroad.

The PW&B had one major bottleneck on the route from Baltimore to Philadelphia – the Susquehanna River. The General Assembly of Maryland made it lawful for pile bridges over all the rivers and streams along the way, except the Susquehanna.

Ferries had been operating on the Susquehanna since 1695, and from the 1830s all trains were ferried across on railroad scows. In the winter of 1851-52, the ice was so thick that tracks were laid upon it between Jan. 15 and Feb. 24, when the spring thaws set in.

In 1866, the problem was solved by a 3,200-foot 13-span wooden bridge. The late Harford State Sen. William S. James recalled that his grandfather, Harry James, worked on the bridge in 1866 after returning from the Union Army. Before 1878, Harry James had purchased the house beside the PW&B tracks that was built by the railroad in 1855.

The railroad gave the name "Aberdeen" to the railroad stop because Edmund Law Rogers had bought land and drew the original plat of the "Village of Aberdeen in 1852." This plat hangs on the wall of the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum.

This plat is an important discovery by George Harold Baker Sr. in the attic of his home on West Bel Air Avenue, and his gift to the Aberdeen Room. Mr. Baker was one of the original charter members of the museum in 1987.

Charlotte Cronin writes a weekly column about Aberdeen – its history and current events – for The Record newspaper. She and her late husband, William R. "Doc" Cronin, were instrumental in establishing The Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum.

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