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The story of two rail lines through Aberdeen helping the city to develop [Column]

Record columnist

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

We continue on with the story of the role the railroads played in the development of Aberdeen.

We know that the first tracks through Aberdeen were those of the tiny Baltimore and Port Deposit, incorporated in 1831, that chugged through the village of Aberdeen. It merged with the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore in 1838. This is the present location of the MARC with its overpasses on the east side of Route 40.

During the development before 1880, all the railroads remained independent working partners, each contributing cars and splitting revenues. This history of the two railroads through the village of Aberdeen involved the story of the power play by John Garrett, president of the B&O.

By 1840, less than five years after the B&O had finished its Washington tracks, railroads like the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore had been operating along the New York-Washington route through the village of Aberdeen. The PW&B was the longest single line in the chain, linking the cities of its name and ending at President Street in Baltimore.

Except for the B&O, the various separate railroads were short regional ones without interest elsewhere. Each had a monopoly in its own territory. With no financial commitments, the B&O had the best of two worlds.

All of this came to an end in March 1881, when the Pennsylvania Railroad gathered in 92 percent of the PW&B stock. Two weeks afterward, the B&O's Garrett went back to the little Delaware Western Railroad, announced that he had bought it, and prepared to head east.

In 1884, PW&B refused to transport B&O trains or cars. This action was upheld in a court case of the B&O vs. the PRR. So Garrett decided to build his own Baltimore-Philadelphia line, whatever the cost.

The B&O rails were completed through the village of Aberdeen about 1885 with its new bridge over the Susquehanna River, one-half mile north of the one for the PRR. Its piers stood on the former Palmer's Island. The name for the island was changed to Garrett Island in honor of John Garrett.

So by the time Aberdeen was incorporated in 1892, there were two flourishing rail lines with steam locomotives giving definition to the community. According to the first tax records in 1892, the PW&B Railroad added to the tax base of the town by $118.50, and the B&O Railroad by $82.88 in that first year of incorporation of the Town of Aberdeen.

The second railroad was not only a source of revenue for Aberdeen, but an added convenience for quick and comfortable transportation. Both railroads were considered assets when the federal government chose the adjacent area for Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1917. During both World War I and World War II, both railroads served the nation in the transportation of troops and materials.

In carrying out Garrett's dictum to create a first-class railroad, his B&O paid particular attention to it station structures such as the one in Aberdeen that we are excited about today.

As for the PW&B, the railroad was absorbed into the PRR system in 1902. In 1908, the present bridge over the Susquehanna was completed. The PRR line from Baltimore to Philadelphia was electrified about 1930, receiving most of its power from the Philadelphia Electric Company, some of which came from Conowingo Dam. It was one of the first railroads to convert to electric power.

According to the Harford Democrat and Aberdeen Enterprise of Feb. 4, 1944: "In addition to new stations recently completed, PRR is making other improvements, tearing down and removing several warehouses, one of which had long been a landmark in the area of Aberdeen, having been used by the canned goods firm of CW Baker for many years and recently by Livezey Lumber Company."

In the early years of World War II, the old house used as the first station was demolished. In the early 1980s, both pedestrian and vehicular overpasses were built, greatly changing the face of Aberdeen. Passenger traffic, having been greatly reduced over the years, has been revived since May 1991 with the introduction of the MARC commuter service and the old PRR station building renovated once again.

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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