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The Old Main Line
Updated August 2001

The Old Main Line

We are going to travel west from Relay towards the other junction at Point of Rocks. All of these sites require driving.

The rest of the Old Main Line is generally accessible at various points throughout Patapsco State Park. A set of ADC maps (you will want Howard, Carroll, and Balto. counties) will make for an interesting trip in a car from point to point. Steve Okonski's Area Photo Site now has an excellent photo tour of this area.

Train watching on the Old Main Line is pretty pointless. There is traffic, but not enough be worth waiting for.


At Ilchester the track comes out of a tunnel right onto a truss and then plate bridge past a box plant. This is also the site of the ex-Patterson Viaduct (washed away in the flood of 1868). I would avoid this area except on weekends, due to truck traffic; you can reach it from MD 144 on River Road, or from MD 103 on Ilchester Road. Legal parking is very difficult. At one end of the bridge you can see the foundation of the former Ilchester station. Supposedly you can head along the track toward Ellicott City and find traces of the WW II era coal and water station, but all I ever found was a circular concrete foundation.

In recent years a pedestrian deck has been provided on the railroad bridge. I question whether it is legal to use this, but is used a lot. The reason for all the truck traffic is the recycling facility which takes up the old factory buildings; if you like old industrial things, there is stuff to look at here, although (as usual) the trespassing issue arises.

It is possible to get down to the remains of the Patterson Viaduct, although it is perhaps best attempted in the winter. If you are following Ilchester Road from the plant, under the current railroad bridge, and along the river, on the left you will see an area where the shoulder of the road is unusually wide. This is where the track crossed the road in the previous century. Hop over the guardrail (this is legal, it's a state park) and follow the point of "land" that juts out toward the river. The last little narrow piece will suddenly stop, and you will apparently be standing on an old bridge abutment, directly facing another abutment on the other side of the river. This dates back to about 1869, when the washed out viaduct was replaced with a Bollman truss. But the spot on which you stand isn't what it appears to be. Go back towards the road until you find a way down. You will see that the "abutment" you were standing on was actually one arch of the original bridge itself.

One can approach this area from the other direction by starting at Avalon and heading upriver on the park trails, down below the railroad. At the dam, there is a path up to the railroad grade at the point at which the original grade peels away from the current track. This curls around the hill and stops abruptly at the point where the Patterson viaduct used to be. Directly across the river are the remains. If you keep your eyes open, you might see, in the middle of the path early on, one of the original granite blocks used for the first rail. It is a flat rock about 1 by 3 feet, almost flush with the ground, with a shallow slot and a hole or two bored at one edge-- that's where the strap rail was attached.

Ellicott City

Ellicott City was the original terminus of the B&O, and the depot (the oldest in the world, Mt. Clare, being an imposter) has been turned into a small museum with a layout, a caboose, and some interesting archaeological stuff about the building itself. The stone arches carrying the railroad across Tiber Creek immediately adjoining the station are original; the flour mill on the north bank is the direct descendant of the original Ellicott mills, and produces excellent cornmeal and pancake mix (in the guise of Washington Flour). Ellicott City itself is crammed full of shops including some rather eccentric junk/antique enterprises.


At Daniels the railroad has been rerouted twice, and the remains of the first two grades are easily accessible. Go north to the end of US 29 and turn right; then turn left at Daniels Road. This wanders down to the river where there is parking. The road continues, passing a dam and a stone church, and disappearing under the railroad into a motley mess of factory ruins, renovated factory ruins, piles of mulch... Harwood provides a much more extensive description of what can be seen here, but basically one can climb up to the church and (with the help of binoculars) view the factory ruins and, in the winter, the abandoned church across the river. Just below the dam are piers from a previous RR bridge, and above the dam around the bend are the much shorter remnants of its companion. Both are part of an early realignment. The path along the river follows the earliest grade and crosses several 150 year old bridges; there are also occaisional stone "rails" to be seen, as at Ilchester. It used to be possible to approach from the other side of the river from two directions, but the easier of the two now affords no parking due to erosion. The other way is to follow the abandoned road along the North side of the river until it disappears, at which point the path will continue under the existing railroad bridge. You can see at this point some of the grading and an abutment for the siding into the factory. Continuing past the abandoned church you will come upon the "lower" Elysville bridge remains. (It is possible to ford the river here in the summer.) a bit further on the path forks, with part leading up to the old bridge abutment, and the other curving off to the right into the woods. This path here follows Elysville Cutoff between the two old bridges. Eventually the path curves back up to the tracks.

Along the way on this route you will pass a spot where the path (at this point gravel) widens out a bit and a branch of the path peels off and heads up the hillside. This leads, more or less, to another ruined church, which in this case there is some documentation to be found. This is the remains of St. Stanislas Kostka Roman Catholic Church. As you can see by following the link, it burned down in 1926 (although the claim that this picture shows it after fire is doubtful; there's not enough visible damage) to be replaced by a new building nearby. I have never seen any trace of this latter building, although indications are that it stood near the river.

Some of this can be explored in a couple of hours, but it would take the better part of a day to see everything that Harwood lists. Prepare for some muddy spots.

Union Dam Tunnel

In the Hollofield area of the park there is an extremely steep trail to Union Dam. The path deposits you right at the mouth of a tunnel.


The road which once crossed the river at this point was washed out years ago (probably Agnes again). On the North side of the river there is a large state-owned complex which is the remains of the old Henryton Center, first a tuberculosis sanitorium, and then later, in the '60s, a centered for the adult retarded. It closed in 1985, but it is posted and the police keep an active interest in it. The reason for this is that there is a residential treatment area for adolescent criminals and drug users quite close by. I would quite frankly recommend avoiding this area.

Sykesville Station

The B&O station in Sykesville is worth a trip; it can be reached easily by following old Route 32 through town. It has been renovated and turned into a pleasant restaurant. This is the prototype for LifeLike's "Baldwin" or "Mainline" station.

For some reason an odd little collection of old rolling stock has settled in around the Southern States beside the station. At my last visit (Feb. 2000) the Conrail caboose that has sat their for some years had been joined, on a different track, by an old B&O wooden caboose and a C&O painted diner, the latter appearing to hold some sort of model railroad layout.

If you continue through town, heading north, you will at one point see a RR bridge way overhead. This once carried a spur to the mental hospital, but I believe the track has been abandoned for years.

Mt. Airy

Harwood describes a lot of little sights around Mt. Airy (including the planes) which I have never attempted. The only two that are easy are the bridge on the (now abandoned) eastern half of the old Mt. Airy branch, which can be seen on Twin Arch Road, and the station itself. The station has been cleaned up considerably, and is interesting in that, like Ellicott City, it represents the railroad before it had anything resembling archetectural pretensions.

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