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A Short History of the Emmitsburg Railroad

W. R. Hicks

At the time the Western Maryland Railroad prepared to build from Union Bridge, Md. to Hagerstown, Md. three routes over the mountain were considered. One of the projected routes was through the town of Emmitsburg, Md. The final decision of the railroad management resulted in locating the main line through Rocky Ridge, Md., a small community about seven miles south of Emmitsburg. This was a great disappointment to the citizens of the town of Emmitsburg who realized that the railroad would rapidly become the principal means of trans­porting goods rather than by stage and wagon.

On May 17, 1757, Mr. Samuel Emmit took out a patent for 2,250 acres of land. It wasn’t long before he sold off lots to incoming persons and established a center which was known as Poplar Fields, Md. In 1785, the town was laid out and named Emmitsburg, Md. 

[Historical Society Note: Mr. Hick's version of the founding of Emmitsburg is in error. For the correct history of the Towns' founding, please read: Setting the record straight, the real history of the Emmitsburg's founding.]

All hauling of merchandise from Baltimore, Md. to the West in the early days was done by teams, usually of six horses. Emmitsburg was on the road route to Pittsburgh, Pa. and hundreds of teams passed through the town each year as they traveled east and west. When the railroad construction reached a vicinity, the western terminal point of the railroad usually became the western terminal point for horse drawn traffic. 

As the railroad terminal points moved west, commerce, in many towns that did not have a railroad, was reduced and the taverns and stables along a turnpike closed because of a lack of business. The through stages ceased coming to Emmitsburg when the Western Maryland Railroad reached Thurmont, Md. The local stage line between Emmitsburg and the Western Maryland Railroad at Thurmont, Md. ceased to ran when the Emmitsburg Railroad was opened in 1875. Present day progress has again dictated that the short haul he handled over the highway.

The business people of Emmitsburg decided at a town meeting that the community needed a railroad connection to carry products to and from markets if the town was to stay in existence. On March 28th 1868, the Emmitsburg Railroad was incorporated by an act of the Maryland Assembly. The incorporators were: D.G. Adelsberger, Joseph Brawner, Joshua Walter, E. S. Taney, Joseph Byers, Dr. Andrew Annan, Isaac Hyder, George W. Rowe, Dr. James W. Bichelberger, Sr., Christian Zacharies, Michael Adelsberger.

From the number of incorporators you can recognize that the railroad was a community project even though it was encouraged by the Western Maryland Railroad. Mr. Joseph Motter was the first president. Under the charter, the company was authorized to build a railroad from Emmitsburg, Md., to a point on the Western Maryland Railroad west of the Monocacy River, the exact location to be determined by the board of directors. The survey for the route was made by Mr. Joseph S. Gitt, an outstanding engineer, who had done the survey work for the Western Maryland Railroad in preparation for the building to Hagerstown, Md.

The determined route for the Emmitsburg Railroad called for the beginning of construction at Emmitsburg, Md., east of the foundry and at Frederick Turnpike, heading south along the east side of the turnpike, crossing the avenue leading to St. Joseph’s College with a bridge 16 feet above the avenue, then deflecting left and making a crossing of Tom’s Creek with a Howe Truss bridge of 100 feet span and 23 feet above the water. After crossing the bridge the line deflected to the left again crossing Telegraph Road, thence deflecting to the right the line goes direct for several miles, passing west of the residences of Long, Ovelman and Black and parallel to the Rocky Ridge Road, which is crossed near Black’s store, continuing to run along Rocky Ridge Road until the tracks of the Western Maryland are reached on the west side of the town of Rocky Ridge, Md.

Emmitsburg Railroad Depot

The contemplated grades of the road were easy, as the southern terminus of the road is but fourteen feet below the terminus at Emmitsburg. The only grade worth mentioning is the ascent from Tom’s Creek to the table lands south of it. Ground was broken in July 1871, the Railroad started on the route as originally laid out. The grading work was done under contract by Mr. John Donoghue. In 1872, the grading was completed but it wasn’t until 1875 that Taylor Bros. had finished building the bridge and the light rails purchased from the Western Maryland Railroad under the agreement of August 26th 1875, had been put down. This used 40 pound rail had been taken up between Hagerstown, Md., and Williamsport, Md., when the Western Maryland Railroad replaced it with 60 pound rail.

November 22nd 1875 was the day the first train was operated. It was a big day with free excursion over the line for everybody. The first excursion train from Emmitsburg to Baltimore, Md., was run on November 27th 1875 when about 400 passengers bought tickets to make the trip. The first mail was handled over the road on December 6th, 1875. The original operation of the Emmitsburg Railroad was conducted by the Western Maryland Railroad on a cost basis as they were content to get their profit from the freight that originated on the Emmitsburg Railroad but was run over the Western Maryland Railroad.

The leading spirits in raising the money for the construction of the railroad were Rev. John McCloskey of Mt. St. Marys College, D. G. Adeisberger of Emmitsburg and Joslaua Higgs of Rocky Ridge, Md. Before the road was completed the funds ran out and construction was held up for about two years. The Sisters of Charity of St Joseph’s, who would benefit greatly by having the railroad bring in their fuel and supplies came forward with a substantial subscription to the bond issue. ‘Plus insured completion. In 1879 the Company took over its own operation from the Western Maryland Railroad. Engine No. I was purchased from the Baldwin Locomotive Works.

It was announced that the Gettysburg and Emmitsburg Railroad had been incorporated on November 10th 1882 to construct a railroad from the projected Round Top Railroad at Round Top, Pa., (near Gettysburg) to the Maryland State Line in Adams County, a distance of about six miles. Capital stock to be $60,000 and the headquarters to be at Hanover, Pa.

This prompted the Emmitsburg Railroad management to give such a competitive possibility some real consideration. On August 22nd 1890, Mr. Beaton Smith of York, Pa., completed the survey for the Emmitsburg Railroad front Emmitsburg, Md. to Gettysburg, Pa., a distance of about eleven miles with light grades for most of the distance. No connecting line was ever built.

After several years of effort it was found that the new railroad could not pay interest on the first mortgage bonds that had been issued. The bonds were scaled down and a new mortgage given which, after some years, was also defaulted.

In 1896 the railroad passed into the hands of J. Roger McSherry. Vincent Sebold and Isaac S. Annan, as receivers. For several years no interest had been paid on the bonded debt of $121,850.

On September 11th 1897 a public auction was held at Frederick, Md. The railroad was purchased for $29,500 by a syndicate representing the bondholders. Reorganization of a company of the same name was completed on April 14th 1898. The first hoard of directors under the reorganization were Hunes A. Elder. William A. Himes. Vincent Sebold, William G. Blair, Dr. J. B. Brawner and James D. Nusseor.

On July 20th 1890 the following officers were elected: Dr. James A. Elder, President, William A. Himes, Vice-president, William G. Blair, Treasurer, Dr. J. B. Brawner, Secretary, and Vincent Sebold, Counsel. Mr. Elder lived but a short time so at the annual election held on November 3rd 1898, Mr. W. A. Himnes of New Oxford, Md. was elected president and Rev. William O’Hara was elected a director and vice-president. Mr. Vincent Sebold, who was to guide the railroad for many years was elected general Manager.

When the new management assumed control the property of the railroad consisted of very little more than the traditional two streaks of rust and the right of way. From the earnings of the rail road, he new management progressively rebuilt the entire line. Replacing the old iron rails with 10 pound steel rails ; the wooden bridges wit It substantial new iron structures, and the roadbed with new ballast. 

New motive power was purchased and the rolling stock was renovated. The depots were rebuilt, and to better serve the customers of the company, a new grain elevator and coal chutes were constructed at Emmitsburg. All of these improvements were made without placing any bonded or floating debt and in addition the railroad began paying a small dividend of two per cent to the stockholders.

In 1906, the charter of lie rail road company was amended by the Maryland Legislature to enable the company to extend in any direction in Frederick County, buy, lease or consolidate with any other company and to operate by steam or electricity.

This request to the Maryland Legislature was made after the officers of the Emmitsburg Railroad had traversed and considered a route for a proposed extension of the railroad from the southern terminus at Rocky Ridge to Woodsboro, Md., where a proposed connection could be made with the Pennsylvania Railroad. The length of the proposed addition would have been 41/2 miles in length. There was also going on at the same time much discussion about the Frederick, Thurmont and Northern Railroad being built and its taking over the Emmitsburg Railroad as part of the Proposed route to Gettysburg.

The Western Union Telegraph Company made an agreement with the Emmitsburg Railroad in 1906 and started at once to put up their wires along the right of way. The minutes of December 14th 1908 show some Christmas spirit when a motion was made and passed to give to each regular employee two tons of coal and each daily worker one ton.

The days from July 13th to July 16th, 1909 were the period of a Big Home Coming Celebration at Emmitsburg. The Emmitsburg Railroad provided extra trains at special rates and carried more passengers during the week than at any other time in the history of the railroad. The Western Maryland ran special trains from Baltimore to Rocky Ridge. Md. where the train was taken over by the Emmitsburg Railroad and the Washington. Frederick and Gettysburg provided through service from Frederick. Md. by the way of Thurmont. The fare was $1.00 round trip.

The Washington. Frederick and Gettysburg would haul by electric motor as far as Thurmont. The train would be shifted to the Western Maryland Railroad tracks and picked up by an Emmitsburg Railroad engine which would haul over the Western Maryland as far as Rocky Ridge and then over their own tracks to Emmitsburg. The Emmitsburg Railroad rented addition cars from the Western Maryland Railroad during this busy time. The minutes of January 22nd 1910 indicate that a motion was made and passed giving the manager the power to settle with those hurt in a small wreck at Rocky Ridge, Md.

On December 27th 1912 the general manager was authorized to dispose of engine No. 2. In September 1911, the Emmitsburg Railroad became a railroad of distinction when they provided parlor car service, at no extra charge, for their seven mile line. The parlor car formerly used on the run from Baltimore to Gettysburg was bought from the Western Maryland Railroad for $400.00. It was completely refurbished by the Emmitsburg Rail Road and remained in service for many years. 

One of the chairs from the car is now in a private home in Emmitsburg. It was in 1919 that General Manager Sebold was authorized by the board of directors to purchase an engine offered for sale by the Bellefonte Railroad, if, in his opinion, it would be economical and suit the purchase of the Emmitsburg Railroad. After making the trip and examining the engine Mr. Sebold decided not to make the purchase. Before the close of the year he did purchase engine No. 44 from the Western Maryland for $4600.00.

The decline of passenger business had reached the point, in 1920, where it was not economical to run a passenger train. To replace the train, a gasoline car was purchased for $950.00. In 1921, the bus from Gettysburg started running to Emmitsburg and terminated in the center of town. 

The Emmitsburg Railroad sled a protest with the Public Service Commission in aim effort to have the busses terminate at the railroad station and provide a schedule that would meet time trains. This failed and passenger train riders continued to decline as the busses took them over. A severe loss was suffered by time railroad with the passing of Mr. Sebold. He was succeeded in 1925 by Mr. James M. Alvey, as General Manager.

The passenger needs declined to such a point that in July 1925, the service was discontinued and the Public Service Commission granted permission to the company to operate a truck line over the state highway from Emmitsburg to Rocky Ridge for the carrying of mail, express and L.C.L.

While this was an economy, there did not remain enough business to pay the expense of running a railroad on a when needed basis, so, at a special meeting of the board of directors, held on February 9th 1940, it was voted to abandon the railroad as soon as possible.

Operations ceased on May 15th 1940 and the railroad was sold at public sale on August 28th 1940. May 8th 1941, the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized abandonment after which it was quickly torn up and sold for scrap. Today (1954) you can still follow much of the old road bed and tracks still curve away from Rock Ridge station as a part of a wye on the Western Maryland Railroad.

The only time that train orders were ever used on the Emmitsburg Railroad was a near accident that could have been most severe, it was the practice for the passenger train to haul to Rocky Ridge the Market Car, whenever it was ready, so that this important revenue ear would not be delayed in making connections with the Western Maryland Railroad. One day the passenger train departed leaving this important car. When it was realized what had happened, the general manager gave written orders for the passenger train to wait on the return trip at Motters’ Station, where there was a passing track. 

The message was telephoned to Rocky Ridge and the written orders were turned over to the conductor and engineer of the passenger train. In the meantime the general manager collected a crew of men at the engine house, told them to get steam up as soon as possible in the spare engine, which was then under low fire, pick up the forgotten car and go to Rocky Ridge to try to meet the Western Maryland Railroad connection. Mr. Sebold did not realize that the crew could get the engine and car on their way so soon when he sent the orders for the passenger train to meet. It was his belief that the passenger train would have quite a wait at the siding.

The brakes on the engine of the extra were not working So that slowing down was handled by a brakeman on the car. With poor brakes and a desire to make haste the extra crew came on before the passenger train, which was loaded with school children, could reach Mutters’ Station siding. Mr. Fox, one of the trainmen on time passenger train, hearing the extra coming, and realizing that the passenger train could not be backed into the siding in time, ran ahead to the switch and threw it, just as the engine of the extra was bearing down. 

The extra swayed on to the spur track with the expectation that it would possibly leave the rails and crash into time passenger train. The unexpected happened, the extra stayed on the rails and came to a halt before going over the end of the siding. Many hearts sank when they realized how close they had come to a serious accident. No more written train orders were ever used.

The roster of time Emmitsburg Railroad is complete as to the total number of engines that they had. In the earliest days, before the Emmitsburg Railroad had its own motive power. Western Maryland Railroad engines were used. Also, whenever additional or temporary replacement power was needed engines were rented. There is a record of Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad engine No. 5 being used while Emmitsburg Railroad No. 1 was at the Union Bridge, Md. shops of the Western Maryland Railroad for overhaul.

Read George Wireman's history of the Emmitsburg Railroad

Have your own memories of the Emmitsburg?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

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