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Great Railroad Stations - Cumberland, MD

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Great Railroad Stations

by John C. Dahl

Cumberland, Maryland

Photos by the author

The state of Maryland figures prominently in the saga of westward migration and the early expansion of the United States. The National Road built in the early 19th Century was a wagon trail to the promise of the west, connecting the great seaport of Baltimore with what eventually became the state of Indiana. Canal fever struck Maryland, with construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal in 1850. Cumberland was as far west as it could reach when the geographic barrier of the Allegheny Mountains stymied further progress. Economic obsolescence doomed canals. Railroads were the technology of choice, and in Cumberland they pre-dated the canal. "Canal craze" was already in mid-life by the time the C&O was built; the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was already there. Maryland has sometimes been called "the cradle of American railroading".

Street side view, Cumberland, MD. Western Maryland Railway.

Lewis Carroll, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, helped to inaugurate the pioneer Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1830. It would take twelve years before the railroad reached Cumberland and the narrow gap through the mountains that was the gateway to the west. The B&O would eventually reach Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis to the west; Washington, D.C., to the south, Philadelphia and New York to the north and east. Within Maryland, the B&O was certainly "lord of the domain", but in 1857 a small regional carrier in the Piedmont area west of Baltimore became the Western Maryland Railway. The well established B&O and the upstart would become fierce competitors in later years. George Gould, a rail tycoon who dreamed of forming a transcontinental operation, acquired control of the Western Maryland in 1902 and moved quickly to extend the line west. Engineered to high standards with tunnels and heavy steel bridges and trestles spanning the numerous waterways and valleys, the right of way was planned for an eventual double tracking. The financial panic of 1907 put a damper on the once grandiose Gould scheme of a transcontinental railroad empire, but the Western Maryland did manage to complete the Connellsville, Pennsylvania extension in 1913. This gave the railway the easiest crossing of the Allegheny Mountains, and also made it the shortest route from Pittsburgh to the port of Baltimore.

October 17, 2004. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad No. 734 rounds Helmstetter’s Curve

The Western Maryland Railway hired Baltimore architect C.M. Anderson and erected a large three storey brick depot, along Wills Creek near what had been the original terminus of the C&O canal. Nestled below the prominent court house and several magnificent stone churches of Cumberland, the depot was a gateway to the city. Railroad offices occupied the ground and upper levels, passenger waiting rooms the track level area. Interior furnishings of handsome oak wainscoting and trim complemented the station. An identical structure was also constructed in Hagerstown to the east of Cumberland, in the same year, 1913. Restored by a nonprofit group beginning in 1984 the station is now a part of the C&O Canal Visitors Center as well as home to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The tourist railroad operates a very interesting piece of former Western Maryland mainline and the former Cumberland and Pennsylvania to Frostburg, Maryland. During restoration of the depot, an authentic, operating locomotive tender standpipe was installed on the platform, along with reconstructed canopies. Western Maryland Scenic operates a very photogenic steam engine, Class H-7a, 2-8-0 number 734, constructed by Richmond’s Baldwin works. This engine is the star performer for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad leading tourist passenger trains and occasional "photo freight" charters around the still famous half mile horseshoe curve known as Helmstetter’s, west of Cumberland.

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This page was last updated Tuesday, March 22, 2005

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