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Old Main Line Photo Tour

B&O Old Main Line
Modern day photo tour

Accompanying each photo below are:

Click a photo to see a larger view. Please send your comments and corrections to Steve.


Mt. Airy Loop - Brief Historical Background:

Map - East

Map - East
Mile: Date: Jan 2005
Ease: View:
Area: IC2: 352
Map: Topographic Map

The B&O's alignment in this area changed so many times that a map is a necessity. The area from Mt. Airy east to Watersville is depicted here.

This map represents data from Harwood (1979), USGS maps (1945 and 1980), and aerial photos (1980) combined with research from my hiking and photographing the area many times over the course of several years.

The alignments are depicted on the map by colors that indicate the date of opening. The same colors are overlaid on some of the photos below to assist visualizing the route.


Original Route

Original Route
Mile: 0.0, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: B+ View: SW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 H 3, Ho 2 H 4 Topographic Maps

This tour begins with the view from the hillside of a new housing development on the east side of Mt. Airy. This vantage point helps us find the B&O's original 1831 alignment (green), and the location where the 1839 Mt. Airy Loop (magenta) had diverged, both now survived by little more than mounds of dirt.

This area has lain dormant for over a century, with the right-of-way slowly being reabsorbed by nature, except where dirt bikers have "maintained" it. The 1831 alignment had continued west toward the inclined planes, while on the right the 1839 Loop turned to the northwest and began its gradual ascent of the ridge.

The overgrowth here is so dense don't bother trying to track these old rights of way during the summer unless you bring a machete. Even in non-leaf season, the thorny brush makes going very difficult. It's no wonder this area has received little coverage by railroad historians.

The black fence catches runoff from the "Woodlands at Nottingham" housing development upon the hill.


Culvert

Culvert
Mile: 0.0, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: B View: S
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 H 3, Ho 2 H 4 Topographic Maps

Easily missed in the summer is another survivor. This culvert is found between the two large trees near the left edge of the prior photo.

The design and stone dressing are different than those of culverts found closer to Baltimore. It's likely a different contractor built these. The steel beams are something of an anachronism. They are too modern to date to 1830, and also look too modern (too little rust) to date to ~1900 when this route was abandoned. There are 13 beams in all, providing more than enough room for double track.


Bridge

Bridge
Mile: 0.2, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 G 3, Ho 2 G 4 Topographic Maps

Shoddy construction (look at the irregular stones) likely contributed to the demise of this bridge which the Loop had employed to span the tributary it follows up to the ridge.

It's difficult to determine now if this had been a stone arch bridge. The structure is substantial, rising about 15 feet above the water.

In the distance the top of the hill has been cleared to make room for new homes.


Extension

Extension
Mile: 0.2, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 G 3, Ho 2 G 4 Topographic Maps

Looking west from the top of the Loop's crumbling bridge provides a view of the Loop Extension, the short route which in 1901 connected the Loop with the then new Mt. Airy Cutoff, the track which runs through Mt. Airy tunnel.

The Extension is marked by black, and is not as steep as it would appear.


Emerging

Emerging
Mile: 0.4, 2:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C+ View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 G 3, Ho 2 G 4 Topographic Maps

The 1839 Loop emerges from the forest at the Mt. Airy Water Treatment Plant (right). This is also the location at which the original Loop and the 1901-constructed Extension (left) had met.


Loop and Extension

Loop and Extension
Mile: 0.4, 2:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C+ View: SE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 G 3, Ho 2 G 4 Topographic Maps

The location of this photo is not far from that of the prior, except looking the opposite direction. Note the same yellow wire caution tube in both pictures.

The 1839 Loop track (magenta "rails") emerged from the trees on the left. The path on the right (black "rails") is the 1901 Extension. While there probably had once been a track connection here, it's unlikely it was used for long: the Cutoff route + Extension quickly superceded the prior.

Next, we'll jump to the start of the Extension, and follow it back to this spot.


Watersville Junction

Watersville Junction
Mile: 0.0, 3:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: C View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 2 H 5, Ca 32 H 4 Topographic Maps

Now we've jumped to the opposite end of the Extension, at a spot the railroad christened Watersville Junction.

When the B&O finally tired of circling the Mt. Airy Loop, around 1900 it built what was called the Mt Airy Cutoff. Rather than loop around the town the Cutoff roughly paralleled the original 1831 alignment, the one with the inclined planes. Instead of inclined planes, the B&O bored Mt. Airy tunnel through the ridge, and regraded the ROW for many miles both east and west to spread out the steepness.

For the Cutoff, a totally new ROW was constructed on the south bank of the Patapsco River beginning east of Watersville, with plans to abandon the 1831-dated alignment on the north bank. Because the B&O still served customers in Mt. Airy, and the passenger station was on the Loop, it built a roughly half-mile long Extension to connect the Cutoff with the Loop.

This photo shows where the Extension and Cutoff had diverged. WX tower had once controlled the switch here, and may have been located near the utility pole near the center of this photo. The connection to the Loop proceeded through the gap in the trees at right. The tower was disused in either 1932 or 1933.

This spot was remote and relatively deserted in 1901, and remains difficult to reach today, though encroaching new housing developments nearby are beginning to change that.


extension

Extension
Mile: 0.0, 3:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: D+ View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 2 H 5, Ca 32 H 4 Topographic Maps

Stepping into the tree gap yields this scenic autumn view. Thanks to efforts of an occasional dirt biker, the route of the Extension remains visible as a path.

There are no rusty rails to be found here: this part of the Loop last saw trains in August 1957, and the rails were pulled up afterward.


Patapsco River Bridge

Patapsco River Bridge
Mile: 0.2, 3:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: C View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 2 H 5, Ca 32 H 4 Topographic Maps

Something wicked this way comes no more, but this disused substantial bridge amidst the colorful autumn forest is haunting evidence it once did.

This is one of the largest surviving single arch B&O stone bridges in the area covered by these photo tours. It was also the subject of the first photo ID contest at this site.

The bridge, which is close to 20 feet high at its center, spans the Patapsco River with Howard County on the left and Carroll County on the right. The inside of the arch is brick, and it was constructed around 1900 at the same time as the rest of the Extension.

The pipe at the right discharges "fragrant" effluent from the Mt. Airy sewage treatment plant... perhaps something wicked this way does still come.


1831 Route

1831 Route
Mile: 0.2, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 H 4, Ho 2 H 5 Topographic Maps

When standing atop the bridge of the prior photo, one can look west to see the route the B&O originally traversed between 1831 and 1839. That original route west to the inclined planes at Mt. Airy clung to the north bank of the Patapsco River seen here on the left. The presently active route, the Cutoff rides the south bank of the river (even further left and out of the picture).

The ROW did not have the sharp turns seen here. Those have been created by dirt bikers as they navigate their way around fallen trees.

Did the 1831 route and the Extension connect here? No. This point is their map intersection, but the Extention was constructed about 60 years after the the 1831 route had been superceded by the Loop.


Left Behind

Left Behind
Mile: 0.2, 3:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: C View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 H 4, Ho 2 H 5 Topographic Maps

After train service ended in 1957, cleanup crews were very thorough on the Extension, but an old wooden tie managed to escape. It now rests near the northwest corner of the Patapsco River bridge. Note the metal S-shaped pieces that have been tapped into the end, a railroad technique to hold together ties that have begun to split.


Sewage Treatment

Sewage Treatment
Mile: 0.4, 2:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: C+ View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 G 3, Ho 2 G 4 Topographic Maps

Here the Extension joins with the 1839 Loop where we had left off a few photos above.

Out, damned spot. Bacteria and machines work to cleanse whatever Mr. Airy has produced. I don't know when this facility was built, but obviously the railroad pre-dates it. Now the plant's access road occupies the disused right-of-way which is seen on the left, indicated by the almost obligatory utility poles.

Link: sewage plant wins award


Housing

Housing
Mile: 0.8, 2:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: C View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 F 3, Ho 2 F 4 Topographic Maps

Around year 2000, housing developments began to invade the area formerly reserved for the railroad. They provide the easiest way to reach this spot, if you don't mind climbing down a hill of brush and thorns.

The tall cylindrical structure near the left edge of this photo might be a new water tower under construction.


Got Milk?

Got Milk?
Mile: 1.0, 2:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: C View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 F 2, Ho 2 F 3 Topographic Maps

There was a reason cow catchers were installed on locomotives. This particular beast was afraid of me, and bolted when I approached, even though I wasn't belching steam and smoke. Well, not much anyway.

Try as they might in 1836, the B&O's surveyors were not able to find a route free of sharp curves. However, the very even grading, devoid of sudden ups and downs, is a hallmark of a railroad route. When you find such a route in a forest, it's a big hint that at one time trains had rolled by.

If this road appears to be climbing it's because it is. This spot is about halfway to the top of the ridge. The Mt. Airy Loop's maximum grade was 1.5% (1.5 feet of climb for 100 feet of distance). A 1.5% grade was more easily handled than the steeper (5.0%) inclined planes the Loop replaced, but still was a limiting factor for the B&O, particularly for long eastbound trains heavy with coal.


Farm

Farm
Mile: 1.2, 1:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 E 2, Ho 2 E 3 Topographic Maps

The road looks a bit narrow now, but yes, the Loop had been double tracked.

Two of Mt. Airy's water towers can be seen atop the ridge on the other side of MD 27 (cars in distance).

Link to older picture: unknown Mt. Airy location ~1860


Watkins Park

Watkins Park
Mile: 1.5, 1:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: A View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 E 2, Ho 2 E 3 Topographic Maps

After crossing MD 27, the Loop's ROW approaches the top of the ridge and is now an access road for Watkins Park. The gap in the distant trees (visually just right of the Stop sign) is the disused Loop.

In 1838, the man who owned the land at the top was named Henry Bussard (or Buzzard, historical references vary). When he learned the B&O had found the best way over the ridge was through his property, he decided to cooperate with the railroad in exchange for them building a depot. He sold the strip of land the B&O needed for a relatively cheap $250 ($3000/mile was the going rate), but managed to profit nicely in the end. He erected a tavern near the depot, and watched as the town of Mt. Airy grew up around the buildings, in turn increasing the value of his remaining land.

Volunteer work during the summer of 2014 has opened sections here to foot traffic. A caboose restoration project is next, details at Mount Airy Rails to Trails.


Cut

Cut
Mile: 1.6, 12:00 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ca 32 D 2, Ho 2 D 3 Topographic Maps

For contractor William Slater, this was the unkindest cut of all.

To reduce the Loop's grade, the B&O decided to pierce the ridge at the top with a cut through Mr. Bussard's land about a half mile long and 50 feet deep. Such a task would be no big deal with today's machinery, but in 1838 with little more than hammers and pickaxes, it was quite an undertaking.

For the job Slater employed more than 750 men and projected he would complete it within 5 months. However apparently the heat of the summer of 1838 was particulary fierce and many of Slater's crew began to get sick, then die. They encountered rock ledges then springs, and after the 5 months had elapsed, were barely halfway through.

Under time pressure, Slater resorted to blasting, a dangerous proposition in the narrow cut. As author James Dilts described it in The Great Road: "Except for the invention of the safety fuse in 1831, the techniques of blasting had not changed much in the 50 years since James Rumsey's happy-go-lucky crew of brawling ex-convicts 'used the power Rather too Extravagent' at the Great Falls of the Potomac" during the construction of a canal there.

Slater's crews ended up working through the winter of 1838/39, and the $130,000 5-month task took 12 months to finish. Apparently he went $10,000 over budget, but the railroad, citing the delay did not reimburse him. Incidentally, the B&O hauled material excavated from this cut downhill to Elysville (now Daniels) and used for the construction of the bridges there.

Our sense of perspective has been changed by huge modern construction projects so this cut seems not particularly impressive. In this view it's also obscured by fallen trees. An old railroad tie acts as a bridge across the runoff from the springs that still gush forth. Up ahead in places the steep sides of the cut have fallen in, and further ahead discarded tires and old appliances dot the landscape. Near the top, a plumbing contractor now uses the cut as a storage area of sorts.


Mt. Airy Station

Mt. Airy Station
Mile: 2.0, 12:00 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: A View: W
Area: A IC2: 342
Map: Ca 32 C 1, Ho 2 C 2 Topographic Maps

Just past the top of the ridge at the west end of the cut, the railroad did honor its promise to Henry Bussard and constructed a depot at this site. As the town grew around, the depot was in 1875 upgraded to a station made of brick. The center part of the building seen here is that station. Later, at the distant end, a passenger facility was appended, and at the closer end more room was added for freight handling.

After the B&O's passenger service to here ended around 1950, the building served successively as a feed store and antique store. As of 2004 it lives on as a pharmacy and doctors' office.

The tracks to here survived into the 1970s but are now gone. They're not far, however, for if you look across Main Street between the cars in the parking lot on the left, and through the trees, you'll see the corner of a white building. That's Mt. Airy Cold Storage, to which CSX still delivers boxcars.

Link: The Historical Society of Mount Airy



Continue to the western half of the Mt. Airy Loop tour

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