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

Beckleysville: The Sources of inspiration

It has been a hectic few weeks, and not much time for modeling with so many other activities going on recently. A fine illustration of why one should consider what is an achievable and sustainable model railroad to plan and build.

Beckleysville is a imagineered layout. However, it does draw its inspiration from many sources. Most model railroaders will immediately jump to what prototype railroads, but there is more than the railroad being modeled. The 30 inch gauge Maryland Central built the branch that ultimately ended in Beckleysville for a reason. If one looks at a county map of Baltimore County, you will discover Beckleysville road and an upper Beckleysville road. These roads once connected the farming village of Freeland in northern Baltimore county with the small town of Hampstead in north eastern Carroll County. Between them the area was once very rural and dotted with small family farms. The terrain is hilly, more wooded now than in 1914, and has small runs ( local name for creek) at the bottom of each little valley. Most homes had a fieldstone foundation, with the first and second stories with exterior brick walls. Barns were usually bank barns, some large, some barns very small and very peculiar in their construction. All the barns had fieldstone foundations are the large ones were timberframed.

Beckleysville has several interesting industries. The granary building is of similar construction, even though in reality it is across the street from Robert Fulton’s birthplace in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. A fieldstone foundation and a wooden first floor. The tobacco warehouse is located right next to it and has a similar fieldstone foundation with  —– walls. Both of these buildings were served by one spur along the 3 foot gauge Lancaster, Oxford, and Southern.

McClure’s store follows the same pattern. It is an actually building in the railroad town of Freeland along the old NCR/PRR/PC line from York to Baltimore. The station, of wood construction, lifted right from the Ma and Pa in Whiteford. The small creamery is another industry found along the LO&S or NYO&W.

The buildings served by, or operated by the railroad are small, of similar construction, and fit the construction of the rural area I wish to portray. My section house is a Ma and Pa prototype of wood construction. It is small and will not overpower the small yard area in Beckleysville.

Now on to what everyone has been waiting for, the prototype railroads. Three local, the Lancaster, Oxford, and Southern, the Ma and Pa, and the Stewartstown RR. One more is the northern division of the New. York, Ontario, and Western. Why these? Due to the meandering routes, rural farm communities they served, and how they where operated. The LO&S, probably not a very popular prototype for many due to its 3 ft gauge, small motive power, and very short life, is a perfect prototype example. I highly recommend finding and reading “Little, Old, and Slow” by Benjamin F.G. Kline to learn more about this small farmer’s railroad. The Northern Maryland’s corporate history would look quite similar to the LO&S, except the the Northern Maryland survived a few more years before being abandoned.

Other interesting sources included Jerold Apps “Horse Drawn Days: A Century of Farming with Horses”. Mr Apps is from the upper Midwest, but his memories are similar to what one could have found in the village of Beckleysville in May 1914. The online photograph collection of the Baltimore County public library was very useful as well.

To make a believable imagineered railroad, one needs to take the time to study what the story one is trying to tell. How do the buildings, both construction, and size help to tell the story. Besides using the railroad, how did people travel. In my story, horseback or carriages. Few cars or trucks are in use in my story of a small rural farming community in May 1914. The industries, for the most part, require few car movements. The creamery and station get the most business. This fact tells us a lot about our train. No twenty-five car long mixed train. Maybe a boxcar, but most days, a milk car and a combine will be the cars behind the locomotive. Sounds boring? Sounds like enough work for me on my schedule!