More than a decade of effort by members of the Historical Society of Harford County paid off earlier this week when the 129-year-old former Aberdeen B&O Railroad station was moved 50 feet from the space it had occupied along the railroad tracks since 1885.
"They say that miracles happen at Christmas, and it's certainly happening for us today," Maryanna Skowronski, director of the Historical Society, said as the work got under way Tuesday.
Once a stop on the B&O's old Royal Blue passenger line between Baltimore and Philadelphia, the building has not been used as a passenger rail stop since the late 1950s, when passenger service was discontinued.
The current owner of the adjoining rail line, CSX Corporation, wanted the station moved for safety reasons because of its proximity to its busy intercity freight operations. The station has been vacant for a number of the years after the railroad quite using it for track gangs and to store supplies.
The Historical Society has been working with CSX, the City of Aberdeen and various local and state historic preservation groups for about 11 years to find a new location for the station where it can be restored and reopened to the public as a museum or for some other public use. The Maryland Historical Trust has provided $100,000 in grants to support the project.
"The fact that the Historical Society managed to cut this agreement with the railroad is pretty historic in itself, because they have worked so hard on this and they have negotiated back and forth so long," Anne Raines, the capital grants and loans administrator for the Maryland Historical Trust, said.
The former passenger rail station off West Bel Air Avenue is a one-and-a-half-story, Victorian-style structure built with a wooden frame and brick foundation, according to a description provided by the Historical Society.
The station was designed by noted architect Frank Furness, a Civil War veteran who designed a number of railroad stations in the Northeast, both small stops like the one in Aberdeen and more grandiose urban terminals like the old Broad Street Station in his native Philadelphia. The existing Amtrak station in Wilmington was also designed by Furness, as was an adjoining office building.
Several CSX freight trains went by as members of the Historical Society and their supporters stood in a steady rain and watched as workers with Wolfe House & Building Movers of Pennsylvania painstakingly moved the station from its former foundation to a nearby 14,000-square-foot parcel donated by CSX.
"It's been a culmination of a lot of work on behalf of CSX, the City of Aberdeen, the Harford County historical society and then the Aberdeen Room and Museum," said Rick Herbig, a member and past president of the Historical Society's Board of Trustees.
The four-man Wolfe crew used a Buckingham SmartSteer system, which included wheeled dollies placed under the building and connected by multiple cables to a power unit, to move the structure via remote control.
"That steers the wheels and keeps them electronically in line so we can rotate the building and do what we need to do with it," Nevin Buckingham, the crew chief, said.
The 2,465-square-foot station, along with the steel I-beams placed under it to support the structure, weighed 130 tons, according to Buckingham.
He noted the move was not particularly difficult since the structure was being moved across open ground.
"On a project like this, we have a lot of room, wide open, so it makes it very easy to do what we need to do," he said.
The entire move took about three hours. Skowronski said the building would sit on the wheels through the night, after which a wooden "cribbing" was placed under it for support.
Work is expected to begin on a permanent foundation in early January, she said.
Skowronski also noted that nine volunteers spent the previous Saturday removing the old bricks from the structure.
Jack Davis, 79, a member of the Northern Chesapeake Archaeological Society, was among those volunteers.
The Emporia, Kansas, native arrived at Aberdeen Station in 1954, when he was assigned to the Army's Ordnance School at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"It was nice," he said of the station. "It was a homey place, real homey; it wasn't a big commercial venture."
He went on to spend three years as an instructor specializing in the maintenance and recovery of tracked and wheeled military vehicles, and he ended up staying in Aberdeen.
"In the meantime, I met a young lady from Harford County, and we got married, and I bought property and we stayed here," he said.
Davis noted that there was a brick walkway when he got on the train in Emporia, and he stepped off the train onto bricks when he arrived in Aberdeen.
He said he has a brick from the Emporia station, and he was able to obtain an Aberdeen brick.
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"I always wanted a brick from this station to signify my trip from Emporia to Aberdeen," Davis said.