Reality vs Imagineered: The Northern Maryland Railway, Part I

Why Beckleysville? You would be hard pressed to attempt to find it on a map. Did it ever have a railroad? The reality is no, but it may have. In my original design, Beckleysville was at the end of a branchline of the equally imagineered Northern Maryland Railway.

Chartered in the “hay-day” of narrow gauge railroad building in the early 1870s, it somehow survived until 1920. The Northern Maryland was to run from Havre de Grace along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay through the farmlands of Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick counties to its western terminus in Frederick, Maryland. A branch to Hanover, Pennsylvania was planned as well. As with most grand designs this never truly materialized. The railroad ended up running from Westminster, Maryland to Bel Air, Maryland serving farm communities in Carroll, Baltimore, and Harford counties several miles below the Mason-Dixon Line. Northern Maryland story is similar to the Lancaster, Oxford, and Southern railroad’s history. The railroad’s best days were in the past when we catch up to it in Beckleysville. World War One did see a slight uptick in freight revenue, but increased use of trucks after the war saw the little railroad fade into the weeds and eventual abandonment in the mid 1920s.

The closest railroad to Beckleysville is the equally unknown Gunpowder Valley Railroad. However, the stillborn Parkton and Manchester Railroad planned right of way may have gone through the area as well. The Parkton and Manchester, or sometimes listed Manchester and Parkton was going to be a narrow gauge railroad

Distant influences are the Stewartstown Railroad, New Park and Fawn Grove RR (later part of the Stewartstown RR until it was abandoned), the Lancaster, Oxford and Southern (also 3ft Gauge), and the Maryland and Pennsylvania RR and it’s narrow gauge predecessors. Of course, some of the right of way ideas are borrowed from the Northern Central Railroad, which was taken over by the Pennsylvania RR.

The Gunpowder Valley Railroad was a standard gauge shoreline about 3 miles or so in length built from the Western Maryland connection about 1/2 mile north of Alesia, Maryland. It served at least one paper mill and one gunpowder mill. It’s right of way is mapped at the “Abandoned Rails” website. The newspaper clipping below is the auction notice in November 1898.

Clip from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, Friday November 11, 1898.

The Parkton and Manchester was a planned narrow gauge railroad, presumably in 3 foot gauge, connecting to the Northern Central in Parkton and the Western Maryland in Manchester, or so I think. There isn’t much history that I have been able to unearth regarding the company or it’s organizers. Presumably, the railroad was aiming for the agricultural business in the Bachmann Valley area of eastern Carroll County. The line was about 14-17 miles long and about maybe 3-5 miles of the eastern end we’re graded. Part of a fill built to cross Owl Branch (creek) just west of Parkton can still be seen from southbound I-83 and on Google Earth.

Editor’s Note: This post was getting very long so I decided to break it down into shorter posts.

Reality vs Imagineered: The Northern Maryland Railway, Part I

@ January 2021.

By: H. Mathews

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