Remembering the romance of the rails in Westminster [Eagle Archives]

Carroll Eagle

On Dec. 26, 1896, an article in the local newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, carried a lead article on the new train station that had opened in downtown Westminster near the intersection of the railroad tracks and Main Street.

Sadly, for reasons that no one today seems to fully comprehend, the wonderful building was unceremoniously torn down in 1961.

Nationwide, the railroad freight business had declined for multiple reasons. In part, the railroads were slow to adjust to the competition offered by truck traffic on the new interstate highway system. On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 which created a 41,000-mile 'National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.'

Passenger train service was discontinued in Westminster on Oct. 3, 1960 when it could no longer compete with the same service being provided by buses on the 'new' highway – Route 140, which opened in July 1954.

Today, the heyday of the railroad in Carroll County from 1861 to 1961 is the stuff of romance and urban legend. Nevertheless, the railroad is interwoven throughout much of the fabric of Westminster history.

A previous Eagle Archives article written many years ago reported that Joseph D. Brooks, mayor of Westminster from 1892 to 1895, gave an address on the county's birthday, Jan. 19, 1923, in which he observed that the "town owes its growth to three things, all of which happened in spite of its residents: the building of the Baltimore pike, the central location in the county, which made it the county seat, and the construction of the Western Maryland Railroad."

The history of the Western Maryland Railroad was recently the topic at one of the popular Historical Society of Carroll County 'Box Lunch Talk' by Harry R. Parks, Jr., an archivist with the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society in Union Bridge. The 45-minute talk extensively covered the beginning of the railroad, its construction, impact on Westminster in 1863 before and after the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, its rapid expansion and subsequent decline.

According to Parks, the railroad arrived in Westminster on June 15, 1861. More than 120 years later, on "October 1, 1983 the Chessie System assumed total control of all operations and facilities, thus ending what had been the Western Maryland Railway."

Today, the original main railway line through Westminster, from Emory Grove in Baltimore County to Highfield, on the border with Pennsylvania in Frederick County, is operated by the Maryland Midland Railway, which is owned by the Genessee & Wyoming Railway.

Parks also noted, "The Western Maryland Railway Historical Society, founded in 1967, owns and maintains a museum in Union Bridge consisting of the original 1902 Western Maryland Railroad main office building and adjoining station building. The museum is a repository for historic Western Maryland Railway collections of archives, photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia."

Trains and train gardens are especially popular with children and their parents during the holiday season. Richard Liebno, a board member of the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society said at the box lunch talk presentation, "Visitors are welcome to our museum in downtown Union Bridge. We are open on Sundays from 1 to 4 PM. and Wednesdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

"Group tours can be arranged at other times by appointment. We have Western Maryland Railway archives, displays and an N-Scale layout modeling the railroad line from Union Bridge west through Keymar, Detour, Thurmont to Camp David."

For more information go to westernmarylandrhs.com.

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