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B&O Washington Branch Photo Tour

B&O Washington Branch
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.


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Brief Historical Background: Patuxent Branch

Patuxent Branch

Patuxent Branch
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.0 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: NE
Area: A IC2:
Map: AA 5 A 10, Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

The Patuxent Branch splits from the Washington Branch at Savage, perhaps 200 feet south of the latter's bridge over the Little Patuxent River. As seen here, the branch veers left (northwest) just before the yellow CSX maintenance crane.

This tour page follows the branch northwestward to its end in present day Columbia.


Disconnected

Disconnected
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.0 Date: Oct 2005
Ease: B View: S
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

Sometime in 2005, after 115+ years of rail service, the Patuxent Branch was disconnected from the main. This view back to the former junction shows that nature is already reclaiming the right of way.

Lack of demand plus maintenance expenses were likely the primary reasons for the demise. The other photos on this page were snapped at an earlier date.

The tall signals protect mainline crossovers.


Hammond Branch Bridge

Hammond Branch Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.1 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

Just when I thought I had seen everything Central Maryland's historic rails had to offer, I discovered this gem of a timber supported bridge tucked away in a hidden location.

Shortly after splitting from the current main line, the Patuxent Branch rails must negotiate a high passage over the Hammond Branch stream. To my great surprise, this is accomplished by the timber bridge seen here, the only timber bridge I've found for any CSX trackage in the region.

The center section of the bridge is made of steel, and the number 1 is painted at the north (west) end. The condition of the timbers are too good for this to be the original structure from the 1800s. Even though this part of the branch is still in use, apparently neither the B&O or CSX has ever seen fit to replace the timber with stone and steel.


Fishplate

Fishplate
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.1 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

This area has many interesting artifacts, including old fishplates like this one. Fishplates are used to connect segmented rail. The "85" seen on this one might indicate it was forged in 1885. Since this branch was constructed in the late 1880s, that year would be appropriate.

Reader Mike Brown said:

    "The '85A' on the lower right hand side of the photo, designates the rail side of 85 pounds per yard. The 'A' designates the cross-section. On the lower left, is '100RB' denoting 100 pounds per yard 'RB' cross-section. The 'RJCo' denotes the manufacturer 'The Railway Joint Company'. This device is called a compromise rail joint. 'Fishplates' are actually different and definitely UK terminology."


Rail Date Stamp

Rail Date Stamp
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.1 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: C+ View: SE
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

A closeup image of the rail's date stamp at the northwest shore of the bridge reveals "96 IIIIIII" which translates to a forging date of July 1896.

Records indicate the Patuxent Branch was opened in the late 1880s. Why would the rails be replaced within about 10 years? The answer is, according to USGS maps, the spur originally separated from the main line on the north side of the Little Patuxent River, then quickly crossed over it to the south bank.

Perhaps the Little Patuxent bridge washed out in the 1890s, and rather than rebuild it, the railroad decided to move the starting point of the spur from the north bank to the south bank. This move instead necessitated a bridge over the Hammond Branch, which is a smaller stream than the Little Patuxent.


Deteriorating

Deteriorating
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.1 Date: Aug 2013
Ease: B View: S
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

After abandonment of the spur, CSX pulled up the rail hardware and left the bridge to slowly deteriorate. The bridge was removed soon after this photo.


MOW Equipment

MOW Equipment
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.3 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: C View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

A short distance farther up the branch, assorted CSX Maintenance-of-Way equipment rests for the weekend on a spur next to a trucking facility within the Savage Industrial Park.

Anybody know what these particular machines are named, or specifically what they do?


MOW Equipment

MOW Equipment
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.3 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: C View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

More MOW equipment. This unit is from Sperling Railway Services. Their Web site said: "We are manufacturers of innovative maintenance of way machinery, railroad signs, and accessories. Machinery includes a Quadrill 4-spindle dual head tie drill, a one-man rail gang base gauger, a diesel powered personnel carrier equipped with hydraulic tool circuit, and a single quick-change drill/screw spike driver."

Reader Chad Sperling wrote to describe the equipment:


Old Track

Old Track
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.4 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: C View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 9 Topographic Maps

From the appearance of these old tracks bending unevenly into the distance heading toward US 1, all that MOW equipment would seem to have come to the right place!


Savage

Savage
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.7 Date: Aug 2000
Ease: A View: S
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 8 Topographic Maps

For about 20 years the Patuxent Branch had ended here at Poist's liquid petroleum store, easily seen on the east side of US 1 while driving past. Every so often, CSX negotiated the old tracks to deliver a tanker car like this one (GATX 91861) to the facility.

In this photo, with the northbound lanes of US 1 at our back, you can glimpse the remaining tracks in the distant shadows between the tanker car and the telephone pole.


Track Relic

Track Relic
Mile: 19.4, spur 0.8 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: A View: NW
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 8 Topographic Maps

Until the mid-1980s, the Patuxent Branch's tracks crossed US 1 and continued northwest along the south bank of Little Patuxent River toward the Savage Mill. This photo from a parking lot on the west side of US 1 shows the track remains of what was likely a siding to serve the building at right. Meanwhile, I believe the Branch continued along the path delineated by the overhead telephone lines at left (confirmed by reader Charley Wingate).

Not seen to the left is the site of Freestate Raceway, a harness racing track that closed around 1990. Now a shopping center occupies the location.


Savage Mill

Savage Mill
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.0 Date: Sep 2000
Ease: A View: NW
Area: A IC2: 393
Map: Ho 20 B 8 Topographic Maps

In order to serve Savage Mill (seen behind the bridge), the Branch sprouts a tiny siding to cross the river. The river is spanned by means of a Bollman Bridge, shown here adorned by a red, white and blue bunting for its dedication as a National Historic Landmark. This is the last surviving Bollman Bridge of this general design. The vibrant colors combined with the interesting bridge structure make this my favorite photo of the Washington Branch tour pages.

In 1849 Wendell Bollman designed some of the first iron bridges in the world. The B&O, tired of building expensive stone bridges, asked him to create a railroad bridge. At the time, steel cables had not yet been invented, so this bridge was constructed with a large number of solid strips of iron. Records indicate that this particular bridge was moved here from another location on the B&O, but that original location is not known.

Link: Bollman survivor in Meyersdale, PA


Decorated
NEW! Dec 2013

Decorated
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.1 Date: Dec 2013
Ease: A View: SW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 B 8 Topographic Maps

For the first time in anyone's memory, for the 2013 holidays the bridge was decorated with lights. This is not the first time Christmas has come to Savage Mill.

After the mill closed in 1947, its buildings briefly served as Santa Heim, Merrieland, a Christmas ornament factory and holiday destination. The B&O operated free holiday train service from Washington and Baltimore, and on the property Santa Heim ran its own small train rides for children. Santa Heim overspent and went bankrupt after less than 3 years, selling to a family that still oversees the mill to house small businesses.

Link: Santa Heim


Bollman Bridge

Bollman Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.0 Date: Apr 1999
Ease: A View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 B 8 Topographic Maps

Here's a closeup of the Bollman Bridge. The signpost reads "Bollman Iron Truss Bridge - 1869 - Spanning the Little Patuxent River is the sole surviving example of the bridging system invented 1850 by Wendel Bollman, Baltimore Engineer. It was the first system entirely of iron used by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the first in America. Through 1873 the company built about 100 such bridges."

The historical picture linked below captures just a small part of the bridge nearest the mill just after coal, presumably delivered by train, had been dumped.

Links to older pictures: Pic, Pic Group


NHL Ceremony

NHL Ceremony
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.1 Date: Sep 2000
Ease: A View: SE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 B 8 Topographic Maps

On September 16, 2000 Savage's Bollman Bridge was bestowed with a National Historic Landmark designation, the highest level of such recognition. Among the speakers at the ceremony seen here were James Robey (Howard County Executive), and Herbert Harwood, noted B&O historian and author of the Impossible Challenge books referenced within this virtual tour.

Link: National Historic Landmark Nomination document


Abandoned ROW

Abandoned ROW
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.5 Date: Mar 2000
Ease: B View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 8 Topographic Maps

In 1902, the B&O extended the Patuxent Branch several miles upstream past the mill in order to serve granite quarries in the Guilford area.

Thanks to a rails-to-trails project starting at the Bollman Bridge, you can now walk the abandoned ROW. This is the scenery you'll find. The river makes a fair drop here, which is why the location downstream was chosen for a mill.


Culvert

Culvert
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.6 Date: Mar 2000
Ease: B View: NE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 7 Topographic Maps

Watch carefully and you'll find a couple of original stone culverts along the route.


Gabbro Bridge

Gabbro Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.8 Date: Mar 2000
Ease: C+ View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 7 Topographic Maps

At the current end of the rails-to-trails path you'll find these ruins of a bridge that carried the Patuxent Branch over the Middle Patuxent River. An old B&O schedule calls this spot "Gabbro" a name which might indicate the purpose of the mystery structures seen in photos below.

Gabbro is a type of igneous rock that often contains a fair amount of iron. In the 19th century it was an important source of iron in the eastern US. A variety called Baltimore Gabbro is commonly found in eastern Howard County.

Link: Geologic Map of Howard County


Gabbro Bridge

Gabbro Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 1.8 Date: Oct 2001
Ease: C View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 7 Topographic Maps

You can also hike in from the other (north) side to reach the Gabbro Bridge. Someone has kindly cobbled together a wooden handrail for the steep climb down to the river and look up to get this view.

Notice the unusual foundation construction which appears to be of poured concrete. When this bridge was built, the Savage Mill was still operational, and its dam held back the river to roughly the depth where the granite stones meet the foundation.

The historical picture linked below provides a distant view of the bridge that had been here, as well as the water at full height. It is the only picture of this railroad bridge that I've seen anywhere. The view is from downstream near the Savage Mill's dam, which is now in ruins.

Link to older picture: Pic


Mystery Structure

Mystery Structure
Mile: 19.4, spur 2.2 Date: Oct 2001
Ease: C+ View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 6 Topographic Maps

The ROW continues northward, hugging the west bank of the Little Patuxent River. Adjacent to the disused ROW and about midway between the Gabbro Bridge and Vollmerhausen Road stand these puzzling ruins which still tower about 10 feet high. Not seen in this picture is a parallel wall of equivalent height made of stone rather than concrete.

The proximity to the ROW implies it was involved in railroad operations. A coaling tower? This is a remote location for coaling.

Could this structure have been involved in water control for Savage Mill's dam system? This idea doesn't fit well either because the mill is about 1.5 miles downstream.

The nearby name of Gabbro (iron-rich rock) could indicate this site had been used for iron making.

Yet another possibility is one suggested by Herb Harwood, noted B&O historian, who wrote:

    "Steve - I can think of one other possibility for the Patuxent branch mystery, but it's a real long shot. Some time in the early 1900s the B&O planned a cutoff route around Baltimore, leaving the OML at Gorsuch and running generally NE roughly along the route of Old Court and Joppa Roads, to eventually meet the Phila. line at Van Bibber, MD (west of Edgewood). The idea was to bypass the congestion around the Baltimore terminal (especially the Howard St. tunnel) and reduce mileage for OML freight traffic going to/from points north of Baltimore. There also may have been vague plans to join this with the Washington branch. From what I've been told, some grading work was started at Gorsuch, but obviously not much was ever done with the plan.

    "And about the time of WWI the PRR had a plan to use this route jointly with the B&O. The PRR line (going from south to north) would leave its Washington line near Landover, swing NW north of Laurel, and follow the Little Patuxent north to meet the "new" B&O cutoff line at Granite. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- these structures were built as part of that plan."

Still more information comes courtesy Ken Skrivseth, a volunteer at the Laurel Historical Society which operates the Laurel Museum on Main Street:

    "Back in the 1870's there was a cotton mill in Guilford MD, (probably a small one), so I wonder if some of what you are seeing in your photos might be from a mill dam or mill race from that time. We know about the Guilford cotton mill because we have the diaries of the Laurel Cotton Mill Superintendent from that period, and he (George H. Nye) would travel up to "The Guilford" as he called it, from time to time, with mill supplies, or to borrow supplies. I will dig through my notes and see what else I may have on it. I think the mill operator at Guilford was named Heath, and there are one or two Heath graves in Guilford at the Alberta Gary (see below) memorial Methodist Church there along old Rt. 32. There is a map from 1878 (a Hopkins Atlas) that shows the Guilford community - I'll try to find a copy, as it will show whether or not there was a rail line back then and will provide you with an idea of how big an operation they had there. From your web pages I suppose that there was no rail line there yet, back in 1878.

    "By the way, Alberta Gary was the daughter of James A Gary, president of James A. Gary & Sons of Baltimore, which operated mills in Laurel, Alberton, and Guilford, among possibly others."

Monica Fortner relays info on signage in the area:

    "The maps of Savage Park call your mystery structure a stone finishing operation. My impression is that granite taken from the nearby quarry was cut to desirable dimensions at teh stone finishing operation and then loaded onto trains. The Park has identified large metal coils on the hill above the mystery structure. The coils supposedly held wood planks forming a water holding tank. There is also a pipe leading from the water holding tank down towards the mystery structure. The information on the kiosk at the Wincopin entrance to Savage Park says that the water was used to cool the saws at the stone finishing operation below."

Link: Laurel Historical Society


Vollmerhausen Road

Vollmerhausen Road
Mile: 19.4, spur 2.6 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: A View: NE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 5 Topographic Maps

"What railroad? Where?"

That's the comment I'd expect from most people who now drive past this spot. Both time and the energies of cleanup crews have removed virtually all traces of the railroad. The former ROW is now the rails-to-trails path which resumes on the far side of Vollmerhausen Road.

On September 24, 2001 the tornado which struck College Park and Laurel also plowed right through here and downed many trees.

Link to map: 2001 tornado path


Path

Path
Mile: 19.4, spur 2.7 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: B+ View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 5 Topographic Maps

The path is quite scenic; only the straight-arrow route hints that a railroad once travelled here. Note to self: return during autumn leaf season. Subsequent note: the September 2001 tornado downed many trees, branches and leaves here, so the autumn colors were not what they could have been.


Spider

Spider
Mile: 19.4, spur 2.8 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 4 Topographic Maps

Cobwebs are an appropriate reminder that this area hasn't seen a train for over 70 years. Here a spider enjoys the prior night's catch from a position above a small, forgotten patch of ballast, the only railroading artifact I could find along this stretch.


I-95

I-95
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.1 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: B View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 4 Topographic Maps

The noise of traffic high above is your first warning of approaching I-95, which is otherwise shrouded by foliage. Note the cement columns of the highway bridge at center right.


New Culvert

New Culvert
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.5 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: SE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 3 Topographic Maps

Unfortunately, on this portion of the path the original stone culverts have been replaced by ugly, modern galvanized pipes, like that seen in this shadows at center.

Curiously, for several hundred feet, the riverside edge (far edge in this photo) of the path is lined with large stones, some of which show evidence of drilling. Perhaps these boulders served as the trackbed foundation, or perhaps a granite-laden train derailed here long ago and dumped its cargo.


Guilford Bridge

Guilford Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.8 Date: Jul 1999
Ease: B View: E
Area: A IC2: 343
Map: Ho 19 K 2 Topographic Maps

Almost 4 miles from where the Branch began in Savage is where you'll find this rusting bridge over the Little Patuxent River. It is located in the Guilford area of Columbia, and until the 1920s spanned the river to serve the granite quarries that operated in the vicinity of what is now Gerwig Lane. It can be found near where Old Guilford Road meets Guilford Road just west of where the latter crosses under Rt. 32.

As of October 2002, this bridge has been overlaid with a wooden path to incorporate it into a rails-to-trails path connecting Columbia and Savage. You can now walk and bike across the bridge. It's great this old railroading artifact has found a new life.

Reader J. Dave Baker wrote to say:

    "Utterly, totally fascinating website!

    "I have thought of many things and wondered about them for years, but one of the things I have wondered the most about was an old abandoned steel bridge at Guilford. When I went through your site and found that picture the other day, I was stunned! I couldn't wait to show my wife when she got home from work. My dad and I used to park directly across from that bridge and he would walk up into the quarry area. He would make me wait in the car. He told me that he used to swim there as a child. You site shows what it looks like now and it is unrecognizable from what I remember it to be although the bridge looks exactly the way I remember it, (except that the river looks much lower than I remember it to be)."

Link: Real-time USGS stream flow data near this location


Guilford Bridge

Guilford Bridge
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.8 Date: Oct 2002
Ease: A View: N
Area: A IC2: 343
Map: Ho 19 K 2 Topographic Maps

Here's the Guilford Pratt Truss bridge after preservation efforts have incorporated it into a walking/biking that connects Columbia and Savage.

Link to older picture: Preservation effort


PBT Sign

PBT Sign
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.8 Date: Jun 2005
Ease: A View: E
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 19 K 2 Topographic Maps

This county parks department sign documents the history of the Patuxent Branch Trail. Someone even dug up (heh) a few old pictures of the Guilford Quarry. Nice job!

Link: Patuxent Branch Trail map (PDF)


Old Guilford Road

Old Guilford Road
Mile: 19.4, spur 3.9 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: A View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 19 K 2 Topographic Maps

All but erased by the development of Columbia is the continuance of the Patuxent Branch's ROW. The rusting bridge is behind us in this view of the intersection of Guilford Road and Old Guilford Road. I believe the ROW had continued along the left edge of the office building across the street.


Quarry Pond

Quarry Pond
Mile: 19.4, spur 4.0 Date: Dec 2002
Ease: A View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 19 K 2 Topographic Maps

One of the former quarry's excavations now creates a scenic pond for the office building seen in the prior photo. I believe the Patuxent Branch terminated close to here on the right side of this pond. Present day multilane Route 32 traverses just beyond the rear edge of the pond.


Quarry Remains

Quarry Remains
Mile: 19.4, spur 4.1 Date: Aug 2001
Ease: A View: E
Area: A IC2:
Map: Ho 19 K 1 Topographic Maps

A large boulder serves as a reminder that the Maryland Granite Company and the Howard Granite Company, which operated here until the 1920s, were the endpoint of the Patuxent Branch.

Just behind the trees at the center of this photo is the endpoint of the more modern Columbia Spur whose route is followed by another page of this tour.



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