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News Maryland Harford County Forest Hill

Ma & Pa Railroad artifacts, photos, documents sought by preservation group

A new effort is under way to preserve the history of the iconic Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad that ran through the heart of Harford County more than 50 years ago.

A group responsible for the annual Maryland & Pennsylvania Month celebration in Delta, Pa., has begun a drive to locate, acquire, authenticate, preserve and display material relating to the Ma & Pa Railroad and its predecessors.

"So much material relating to the railroad's history has already been lost that steps must be taken to prevent further losses," Jerome Murphy, a Fork resident who is a member of the group and a collector of Ma & Pa photographs and documents, said.

Murphy said members of his group feel much historical material still remains in the file cabinets, drawers, closets, basements and attics of those who have had an association with the famous short line and their families and descendants.

"We feel it is important that this material be made available for future generations to see and enjoy," he said.

In a spirit of cooperation, the Old Line Museum, at 602 Main St. in Delta, is working with Murphy's group and will open the museum to receive any found material from the Ma & Pa from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 23 and 24, March 23 and 24 and April 20 and 21.

Murphy said his group is especially interested in finding photos of locomotives, freight and passenger cars, stations along the route, other buildings, timetables, annual reports, newspaper articles and photographs of former employees, as well as anything else remotely connected with the railroad and its narrow gauge predecessors.

On collection days, there will be a mini display of Ma & Pa related material at the museum.

For questions about pickup or delivery, or if the above dates are not satisfactory, call 410-371-3778 or e-mail Godblessmatt@yahoo.com.

During its heyday in the first half of the 20th century, the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad provided passenger and freight service between York, Pa., and Baltimore over a circuitous 77-mile route that included about 23 miles through Harford County from Cardiff to Fallston.

The railroad had a dozen station stops in Harford, and many of its employees were Harford residents. The Ma & Pa served industries and farms along its route, including hauling milk to Baltimore dairies and slate from the quarries along Slate Ridge at the Maryland and Pennsylvania border.

The railroad became unprofitable after World War II because of competition from trucks, the decline of the slate industry and the eventual loss of its contract to haul mail. Passenger service between York and Baltimore was ended in the early 1950s. In 1958, the railroad eliminated freight service and removed the trackage along its Maryland Division from Baltimore to Whiteford. Freight service between York and Whiteford stopped after Tropical Storm Agnes washed out parts of the trackage and damaged bridges and was never resumed, after which the railroad continued to operate only as a switching and bridge line in the York area.

Today, remnants of the railroad can still be seen in Harford, 55 years after it ended operations, including stone abutments from stream and highway crossings, portions of the old track right-of-way and the former station at Forest Hill, which remains intact. The popular county walking trails in the Bel Air and Forest Hill areas are named the Ma & Pa Trail because the paths mostly follow the former railroad's right-of-way.

Every June, the Old Line Museum and Maryland and Pennsylvania preservations put on special programs to remember the railroad and to help educate the public about the role the railroad played in the history of Central Maryland and the communities it served. The museum has an extensive collection of Ma & Pa Railroad artifacts, and the Historical Society of Harford County in Bel Air is home to a collection of photographs and documents from the railroad.

Two books have also been published specifically about the Ma & Pa Railroad. "The Ma & Pa: A History of the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad," written by George W. Hilton, was first published in 1963, with a second edition coming out in 1999 from Johns Hopkins University Press. "The Ma & Pa Remembered: A History of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad" was written by Harford County residents Henry C. Peden Jr. and Jack L. Shagena Jr. and published in 2011. Numerous magazine articles have also been published about the railroad and its colorful history.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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