A few weeks ago, my wife and I found ourselves driving down through the beautiful foliage of Harpers Ferry road as we headed to Brunswick days. This is the same road that my Father in law Leon travelled for over thirty years when he worked on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad.
As we enjoyed the scenery, we continued our trip by Sandy Hook where all the houses are built on one side of the street, and made our way through the little town of Knoxville and by the location where the old Acme store used to be.
Times have changed a lot since my youth and the history of Brunswick goes back a lot further than I once realized.
As we parked along Potomac Street and began our stroll down the hill by the little tents set up along the street, the smells of those vendor foods were telling me that it must be getting close to noon.
Leon’s wife Ethel and her daughter Sheila would always travel down this very street every other Thursday many years ago to the B & O Railroad Station to pick up Leon’s check.
Small town America built up by miles and miles of Railroad tracks and the movement of those railroad cars carrying all sorts of supplies and materials. Families rewarded by hard work and the economics of our country’s growth.
People still yearn for the progress of those days, and the freight yards of yesterday.
We stopped by the little Railroad Museum that is also situated along this street, and as I gazed around the lobby, I picked up a book called “Brunswick: 100 Years of Memories.” Since I always enjoy a town’s past, I purchased the book. Several writers Betty Cavalier, Richard and William Harrington and Mary Margrabe have contributed articles.
Within the pages of this text I discovered an interesting historical path of this small town. According to H. Austin Cooper, Brunswick’s first settlement was established in 1728 by an Indian trader named Abraham Pennington on a piece of land called “Coxon Rest”. Just before this settlement, however, the Iroquois Indians always referred to this place as “Eel Pot” which was the name given for the trap they used to catch eels from the Potomac.
As a young lad, I remember catching many of these same slithering creatures from the river around Dargan bend with my fishing line, and having my grandmother fry them up in one of those old cast iron skillets.
Tankerville, Berlin and Barry would be other names used for this location.
In the 1890s this little town of Berlin with a population of 300 would soon begin expanding to over 3,000 residents because of the creation of the railroad freight yards and the hauling of coal.
Since there was another Berlin in Maryland on the Eastern Shore, the Post Office was directed to find another name for the town along the Potomac.
An April 6, 1890, while the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was still growing an official from the Railroad was asked about replacing the name “Berlin”. The name he suggested was “Brunswick” supposedly in honor of those Germans who came to this country from Brunswick, Germany to work on the tracks.
Many of the houses built in the 1890s still dot the rolling slopes of this town.
Brunswick is a fascinating little place with a rich history.
Like many locals, my father-in-law Leon made a good living for his family while working for the B & O railroad.
To reconnect with this period of time when railroads ruled, I sometimes rise before dawn to take an unscheduled field trip on the 6:05 AM Marc train to Union Station in DC.
With a cup of coffee in one hand, a newspaper in the other, I board the train and listen for the train whistles that make Brunswick such a special place…
Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.