Thursday, January 9, 2014

Railroad History in Ellicott City, Maryland

Railroads seem to dominate life in the Baumgarten household these days. My twin boys love trains, and Santa just got them a wooden train table for Christmas. I'll also admit to being a train aficionado, ever since the days of HO model railroading in my parents' basement. (In a former life, I was even a railroad lawyer representing Union Pacific!) It should come as no surprise that we've had some train-related family outings, including the requisite stops at local model railroad displays. But no visit so far can match the Sunday we spent at the B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City, Maryland.

Ellicott City, known as Ellicott's Mills in the nineteenth century, was the terminus of the nation's first thirteen miles of commercial rail. The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad built the station in 1830-31 out of local granite. Now part of the B&O Railroad Museum system, it is considered "the oldest surviving railroad station in America." (B&O Railroad Museum, Ellicott City Station website.) The railroad first used the station for handling freight, but made changes in 1856-57 to accommodate passenger traffic.

Streetside view of the  Ellicott City Station, part of the B&O Railroad Museum. A Civil War Trails marker sits in the foreground. For more information, see the Historical Marker Database.
During the Civil War, the B&O Railroad played a pivotal role in moving men and materiel for the Union military. Various Federal units were assigned to protect the rails at Ellicott's Mills. The homegrown Patapsco Guards, organized in September 1861, stood watch over the railroad until the spring of the following year. The 12th New Jersey was encamped at Ellicott's Mills from September-December 1862. Pennsylvania and Maine troops also performed guard duty in the town. Confederate prisoners of war captured at Antietam and Gettysburg were kept at the Ellicott's Mills Station while awaiting parole or transportation to prison camps. After the Battle of Monocacy in July 1864, the defeated Federals retreated through Ellicott's Mills as they made their way to Baltimore by train and on foot.

Trackside view of the station looking towards the north (away from Baltimore). The Patapsco River sits at the bottom of an embankment located just beyond the fence and elevated tracks to the right. The doors to the car house are visible in the middle of the building. By the 1840s, trains were no longer pulled into the station. A replica of the first horse-drawn passenger rail car, Pioneer, sits on tracks outside the station.

A close-up view of the horse-drawn passenger car Pioneer. The first trains on the B&O Railroad were drawn by horses. More powerful steam locomotives soon replaced them.
View of the station's administrative office, which later served as the ladies' waiting room. The museum has added a few Civil War-era touches (Union great coat, national colors of the Patapsco Guards, and portrait of President Lincoln), even if not technically correct to the period when the room was used as an administrative office (1831-56).

The station's telegraph room and ticket office, which was added during the 1856-57 conversion for passenger service. Men purchased their tickets through the window on the right; women and children bought theirs from a window on the opposite wall.

View past the Pioneer to the 1885 freight house and 1927 "I-5" caboose. The freight building now houses a 40-foot HO-gauge model of the B&O line between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills. In honor of the Sesquicentennial, the museum has chosen to depict the thirteen mile stretch as it appeared during the Civil War.
Detail of model railroad display in freight house showing Union artillery emplacement, Camp Relay, and the Thomas Viaduct.
View of Main Street in Ellicott City. A walk through the historic town, whose streets are lined with many shops and restaurants, is well worth the time following a visit to the train station. During the Civil War, mill workers and merchants in Ellicott City and surrounding Howard County were largely Unionist, although pockets of Confederate sympathizers also existed. 
My son Jack standing in front of the last remaining arch of the Oliver Viaduct over the Tiber River. The railroad station sits to the right of the viaduct. Originally composed of three arches, the Oliver Viaduct was completed in 1830 and carried trains across the Baltimore & Frederick Turnpike, or National Road (today's Main Street/MD 144).
The railroad Bridge across Main Street welcomes visitors to Ellicott City. The bridge connects with the remaining arch of the Oliver Viaduct to the left.
View of the Patapsco River on a beautiful fall day. The railroad station sits above the river to the right.

The B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City made the Civil War Trust's "Essential To-Do List" for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. After my trip to the museum in October, I understood why. The station transports visitors back to a day when the B&O Railroad was essential to the Union war effort. A stroll through the old town past nineteenth century buildings further enhances the time travel effect. Whether you are a Civil War enthusiast, a railroad fan, or simply curious about history, I'd recommend a visit to Ellicott City and the B&O Railroad Museum.

More Information

For additional information about visiting the B&O Railroad Museum's Ellicott City Station, see here. The museum's main complex is located in Baltimore.

"The War Came By Train" is the B&O Railroad Museum's special commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The museum is sponsoring a variety of Civil War-related events and exhibits now through December 2015. The day I visited the Ellicott City Station, for instance, the museum was featuring an interpretative panel on the role of the Patapsco Guards during the Gettysburg Campaign. For more information on the 150th commemoration, including events in Ellicott City, see the museum's website. provides extensive information on visiting the town, including attractions, restaurants, and shopping.

A list of historical markers in Ellicott City, including Civil War Trails stops, can be found here.


Aside from the links provided in the above text, the following sources were useful in compiling this post:

B&O Railroad Museum, "Image 2: The Oliver Viaduct"; Lisa Kawata, "Union soldiers' letters offer insight about Civil War camp in Ellicott City," Baltimore Sun, Feb. 1, 2011; Janet P. Kusterer & Victoria Goeller, Remembering Ellicott City: Stories from the Patapsco River Valley (2009); Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources, "The Thomas Viaduct -- A Vital Link"; Maryland Historical Trust, "Inventory Form for State Historic Sites Survey: Oliver Viaduct"; Maryland Historical Trust, "National Register Listings: Howard County: Ellicott City Station, B&O Railway"; John F. Stover, History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1987).

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