The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) still beckoned to us, even though we hadn’t liked the east-from-Hancock section of it very much (for that stretch, recommend sticking to the C&O Canal, which is further away from the highway and a little more pleasant, but read more about that here). The blurb about the western half in the Rails to Trails book sounded interesting, mentioning the remains of an old cement factory, and some views of the Potomac.
|Remnants of the rail road era still evident along the WMRT.|
A humid summer morning seemed like an ideal time to check out the rest of the trail; it was mostly a shaded trail and it wasn’t supposed to get much past 85 degrees. We started where we’d turned around the last trip, planning on an easy 20-mile ride (which turned into more of a 23 mile ride, still easy). There’s a convenient park and ride just east of the Park and Dine along Main Street (MD Rt 144), the main drag leading into Hancock from I70.
The Western Maryland Railway actually operated in Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. It was primarily a coal-hauling and freight railroad, with a small passenger train operation. It once stretched from Baltimore through Hagerstown and Hancock to Cumberland and on into Pennsylvania.
The railroad started on May 27, 1852, when the Maryland General Assembly granted a charter to the “Baltimore, Carroll & Frederick Rail Road” to build a line from Baltimore northwest through Westminister then west to Hagerstown. The name of the enterprise was soon changed to “Western Maryland Rail Road.”
The line was opened as far as Union Bridge in November 1862, and as with many railroads in war-torn areas, the Union and Confederate armies skirmished over it, but it was in the hands of the Union Army during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Construction resumed in 1868. The line reached Hagerstown in 1872 and was extended a few miles to a connection with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at Williamsport in 1873. The main line eventually was extended from Williamsport and Big Pool, MD, and across the Potomac River to Cherry Run, WV. In 1881, The railroad leased a line north to Shippensburg, PA.
Most of the original railroad west of Big Pool has been abandoned, including the 2,375-foot summit of the Allegheny Mountains and the Eastern Continental Divide near Deal, PA. In addition to CSX, portions of the former WM are now operated by Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, the Maryland Midland Railway, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, and York Railway. Other portions are now rail trails, such as the Western Maryland Rail Trail.
Brunswick to Dargan Bend
Canal Pride Days
Locks 33 and 34
Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry)
Monocacy & Catoctin Aqueducts
Paw Paw Tunnel to Lock 56
Swain’s Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain’s Lock