A glimpse into the railroad industry of yesteryear and its large links to Maryland.
By Lisa Halvorsen, Woodall’s Campground Directory
It’s “all aboard” for train buffs visiting Maryland, as this small state has a large number of interesting museums and historic sites with a strong railroad connection. You also can enjoy a scenic rail excursion and visit some former railroad depots that have been given a second life as restaurants or museums. So hop on board to explore the state’s rich railroad heritage.
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
Maryland lays claim to having the first railroad in the United States. The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad Company was chartered in 1827 with its first stretch of tracks – 13 miles from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now Ellicott City) – completed in 1830. Learn all about its history at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, the largest repository of American railroad artifacts (everything from pocket watches and dining car china to tools), assorted memorabilia, locomotives and rolling stock in the world. Your ticket includes train rides (April through December) and admission to the 40–acre complex located in Baltimore, including the 1884 roundhouse where the majority of the exhibits are housed.
Train touring is one of the most fun camping activities and if you like history too, consider buying a discounted combination ticket, which will entitle you to visit both this museum and the Ellicott City Station, the country’s oldest railroad station. Today the site includes the 1831 depot, a 1927 I-5 caboose, and a replica of the first horse-drawn passenger railcar. The freight house, designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin, head architect for the B&O Railroad in the late 1800s, contains a 40-foot HO-gauge model train layout of the original 13 miles of commercial track.
You can visit other historic B&O train stations, designed by Baldwin in Oakland, Laurel, Rockville, Gaithersburg and Point of Rocks. The latter, a favorite with photographers, is considered to be one of B&O’s signature landmark stations.
For an insight into the life of a wealthy railroad family, tour the Evergreen House in Baltimore, which contains impressive artworks and elaborately decorated rooms. This opulent Italianate mansion was built in 1857, but purchased from the original owners two decades later by John Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad, for his son, T. Harrison Garrett.
In addition to touring many of the 48 rooms, including a bathroom done in gold leaf, you can view the exquisite home theater and Rare Book Library, which includes more than 28,000 volumes, some dating back to the 15th century.
Intriguing Railroad Museums
Northwest of Baltimore in the town of Union Bridge, the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society Museum contains a large collection of artifacts and photos from the defunct Western Maryland Railway. Or visit the Brunswick Railroad Museum where you can explore the history of the town of Brunswick, which attributes its early population growth to the B&O Railroad. View exhibits showing the railroad’s impact on the area and an HO-scale model railroad layout depicting the B&O passenger line from Union Station in Washington, D.C., to the town’s five-mile rail yard – once the largest in the United States.
Hagerstown has three railroad museums. The Train Room and Museum features a two-level, four-track O-gauge model railroad along with an amazing 5000-piece collection of Lionel products dating back to 1900, rare toys and other train items, many of pre-World War II-vintage. Visit the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum with its model train layouts and exhibits on the seven railroads that once ran through town, giving Hagerstown the nickname, “Hub City.”
Then check out the Hagerstown Railroad Museum at City Park, which includes hundreds of signs, tools and other items – most from the Western Maryland Railroad – used by railroad workers on the job. The museum has an 1885 pump car and an 1875 velocipede on display, as well as several cabooses, but the centerpiece is the Engine 202 Steam Locomotive. The last remaining engine of its kind, it was built in 1912 and operated on the Western Maryland Railroad line from Hagerstown to Baltimore until retirement in 1953.
At the Perryville Railroad Museum, located at the Perryville Train Station, you can learn about people who worked for the railroad over the years. Train museums in Sudlersville and Stevensville feature exhibits in restored depots, as does the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum. It’s located in the original depot built in the early 1900s in Chesapeake Beach as a terminus for the rail line, which carried passengers from Washington, D.C. to this beach community from 1900 to 1935.
The museum offers visitors a glimpse into the early history of the Chesapeake Beach Railway Company and Amusement Park. One of the original parlor cars, “Dolores,” has been restored and can be viewed by museum visitors along with exhibits including railway memorabilia and a 1914 “depot hack” or taxi used to transport arriving passengers.
In Gaithersburg, you can tour the Gaithersburg Community Museum in the B&O Railroad Station complex, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Outside the freight house, which houses railroad exhibits and an HO-scale model train layout, you can check out several vintage trains, including a 1918 Buffalo Creek and Gauley steam locomotive, a 1942 B&O Railroad wagon-top caboose, and a World War II Defense Transportation Corps troop kitchen car.
You also might enjoy a stop at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, where you can learn more about the city of Baltimore’s streetcars, also called trolleys, which ran from 1859 to 1963. Here, visitors can enjoy a vintage streetcar ride. The National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville also offers rides, and its model streetcar layout representing the 1930s streetcars, and its collections of artifacts, should not be missed.
Camping Activity: Riding the Rails
If you are a railroad enthusiast, you can’t visit Maryland without taking a scenic train excursion. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad offers narrated excursions and special themed-trips such as murder mysteries, from May through December. For an extra fee with advance reservations, you can ride in the locomotive’s cab.
Trains depart from the Western Maryland Station in Cumberland for the 32-mile round-trip through the Allegheny Mountains to Frostburg and back. The station, built in the 1920s, also houses the C&O Canal Museum. During the 90-minute layover in Frostburg, watch as the locomotive is turned on the turntable or visit the shops and the Thrasher Carriage Museum.
On the Walkersville Southern Railroad, which operates on weekends from May through October, enjoy Maryland’s rural countryside along with views of the Monocacy River and Catoctin Mountains from your seat in a 1920s passenger car. Trains leave from the Walkersville Station, built in the late 1800s for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Time permitting, stop to inspect the Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge, spanning the Little Patuxent River in Savage. It was constructed in 1869 and is one of only two remaining semi-suspension iron bridges in the world. The Thomas Viaduct is another architectural marvel. Completed in 1835, it was the first curved, multi-arch stone railroad bridge in the country, and today is the largest bridge of its kind. The bridge, which spans the Patapsco River near Elkridge, was named for Philip Thomas, the first president of the B&O Railroad.
Finally, consider visiting some old railroad depots that have been renovated for a new use. In Hagerstown you can dine at Junction 808, a refurbished boxcar housing a railroad-themed restaurant, or at Burhans Station, located across from the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.
In the historic railroad town of Sykesville, shop at Purkey’s Toy Trains, a unique, old-fashioned model-railroad store on Main Street. Then it’s on to Baldwin’s Station where you can partake in lunch or dinner while you watch the trains rumble by. The restaurant is named for the famous railroad architect who designed the original depot.
While not located in a train depot, Layton’s Family Restaurant in Ocean City is a popular railroad-themed restaurant you can visit 24 hours a day. It even has an indoor train garden in the breakfast buffet room.
Historic train depots also have been given new life as museum buildings, including the Baltimore Civil War Museum, located in Baltimore proper.The Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards is housed in the old B&O passenger train station part of the Camden Yards Sports Complex. The former rail yard is now the official ball field for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.
To complete your camping activities in Maryland, contact railway societies in Maryland to learn more about local railroad history and events scheduled during your visit. Baltimore is headquarters for the Chesapeake and Allegheny Steam Preservation Society and the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers. Or get in touch with the Maryland Steam Historical Society or the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society.