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Railroad provided help after Antietam battle

May 05, 2006|by BILL KNODE / Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum

Editor's Note: The Washington County Commissioners have designated this week as Washington County History Week. To celebrate the week, The Herald-Mail is publishing a five-part series written by local historians about the events, people and products that shaped the county.




In 1841, the Franklin Railroad arrived in Hagerstown. It began in Chambersburg, Pa., passed through Greencastle, Pa., and Maugansville, and entered Hagerstown in the area now occupied by Maryland Metals on Church Street. The cut through the rocks where Burhans Boulevard crosses over the tracks at the north end is still used by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

Like many early railroads, trial and error was common, costs of construction and equipment were underestimated, and the Franklin was underfunded.

The Franklin gave Hagerstown a north-south railroad for freight and passenger service, connecting with the Cumberland Valley railroad at Chambersburg, Pa.

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At the time of the Civil War, the Franklin was still the only railroad in Hagerstown. The B&O had bypassed Hagerstown to the south and the Western Maryland Railroad had only reached Westminster, Md.

In the days before the Battle of Antietam, Gen. Longstreet's Confederates occupied Hagerstown. A Franklin Railroad train was arriving through the cut when it came upon a Confederate camp; the engineer quickly threw the locomotive in reverse and backed the train to Greencastle.

The Franklin did not play a part in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, but it did play an important part after the battle. The day after the battle, ammunition trains began to arrive in Hagerstown. In the weeks after the battle, supplies for the Union Army continued to arrive and there was a jam of cars for weeks with little going north.

Railroad construction was stalled by the war. But with the end of war, Hagerstown and Washington County looked forward to additional connections, especially to Baltimore. This valley was a rich grainery of corn and wheat and many mills. Travel to Baltimore was slow and sometimes took the best part of a week with horse, mule and oxen power. Trains would be able to make the trip in less than a day.

By 1869, the Baltimore and Ohio completed a branch line from Weverton through Keedysville to Hagerstown. A passenger station was built on Antietam Street on the site now occupied by The Herald-Mail Co. Freight sidings and a turntable were built near the station. Also, the Norfolk and Western arrived from the south. Hagerstown now had freight and passenger connections to Baltimore and Washington, and south into Virginia.

The last railroad to arrive was the Western Maryland in 1872. Though small when compared to the B&O and the Pennsylvania, it had the most impact. Hagerstown now had its main line connection to Baltimore. From Westminster, the WM built through the mountains in what was to become PenMar, through Smithsburg and Chewsville into the north of the city. Passenger stations were built at Potomac Avenue and at the southwest corner of West Washington Street and the railroad. What is now North Burhans Boulevard was the original road bed for the WM.

A roundhouse and turntable were built in the area now occupied by Thomas, Bennett and Hunter, and a wooden freight house was constructed at the corner of Church Street and the railroad. An unloading shed was built next to the freight house; remnants of the shed were just recently pulled down. The WM also built a siding to the Hagerstown Academy. This was the high school for boys and was located on Academy Hill, which was behind what is now Off The Deep End on West Antietam Street. This track, which goes through the City Park, is still called Academy Junction.

Within a few years, tracks were extended to Williamsport and coal was unloaded from C&O Canal boats into WM cars at the Cushwa Basin. Coal traffic grew and became the main commodity on the WM for the next 75 years.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the railroads grew rapidly as did many businesses. Moller Organs, Beachley Furniture, Brandt Cabinet, Hagerstown Brewery, Miller Furniture Factory, Pangborn Corp. and Hagerstown Shoe, as well as many other businesses, were made possible by the ability of the railroads to move products to distant markets. Hagerstown and Washington County became industrial as well as agricultural. The railroads were the largest employers in the area from the 1870s into the 1940s.

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