Rail traffic through Aberdeen included mail, passengers [Column]

Record columnist
During the very early history of the railroads, each station became a post office

Second in a series of columns about Aberdeen and the railroads.

With eyes upon the moving of the B&O station building in Aberdeen, we will continue with our story about the railroads and Aberdeen.

We talked about how Edmund Law Rogers drew his plat of the Village of Aberdeen in 1852, naming the streets in Aberdeen, and naming the community, and the railroad stop on the old Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad – Aberdeen. This first railroad through Aberdeen, the PW&B, built the first station in 1855, according to its annual report.

In the construction through the village, the PW&B crossed Post Road at Poplar Hill just south of Aberdeen. Eventually, the crossing was closed and Post Road rerouted over Front Street (Route 40 south of the intersection with Bel Air Avenue) to Bel Air Avenue. The road then turned east, crossed the railroad and rejoined Post Road at Halls Cross Roads.

Continuous problems plagued the railroad. In 1847, as reported by J.R. Trimble, engineer and general superintendent, if the stops of mail trains for "way" passengers could be dispensed with, the trips could be made from city to city in five hours, even including 1 1/4 hours at the crossing of the Susquehanna. The same year, repairs of the steamboat "Susquehanna" amounted to $16,200.

In 1849, on the route from Baltimore to Havre de Grace, square bars, 40-pounds per yard, laid on cross ties with continuous bearing of wood were constructed, with 9,000 new ties inserted that year. "It would be judicious to replace present square bar rails, resting on continuous wood bearing, with heavy track."

By January 1850, in the 12th Annual Report of the PW&B, sidings measured 432 feet at Halls Cross Roads and 927 feet at Perrymansville. Running time was nearly 26 1/2 mph with three stops for wood and water.

"There have been no less than six accidents by engines thrown off of the track, five by cattle and one by obstruction on the track. These casualties have added about $4,000 for repairs to engines," the report states.

By the end of 1850, the superintendent reported that time between Baltimore and Philadelphia was 3 1/2 hours with a running time of 30 mph. Watchmen were reported receiving a salary of $1,891 per annum.

During the very early history of the railroads, each station became a post office. The PW&B had a contract with the U.S. Post Office for transportation of one mail daily with annual compensation of $21,500, according to its report.

The steam locomotive practically eliminated stagecoaches on the Post Road (the main road between Baltimore and Philadelphia) and trains carried all mail and passengers. Mail was deposited at each stop and taken from there by wagon to its destination. At first, the house built by the railroad was a very busy place. It sat on the north side of Bel Air Avenue on the west side of the tracks where the entrance to the pedestrian overpass now stands.

All railroad business was conducted at the station. Passengers bought tickets and waited for the trains beside the tracks. A crossing watchman's shed was built next to it, where the watchman would alert traffic of approaching trains. Letters could be mailed there, and sacks of mail dropped there.

Then, about 1870, a two-story station was built on the west side of the tracks south of Bel Air Avenue. This frame station contained an office on the first floor and living quarters for the agent on the second. This structure remained until another station was built at the site about 1890.

When we continue with the railroad's role in the history of Aberdeen, the story will turn to the coming of the Baltimore and Ohio.

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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