The Simple Joy of a Christmas Train Garden

Trains and Christmas seem to go together. The first model trains appeared in 1891 and 13 years later, a group of English hobbyists began building little worlds to go along with these wonderful trains. Electric model trains appeared just before WWI, and the 1920s saw an explosion of these as toys for the wealthy. By the 1950s, model trains were the most common Christmas gift for little boys.

There are numerous model train displays throughout the year, but the holiday season brings out even more, usually holiday themed displays — often referred to as Christmas Gardens or Christmas Train Gardens. This year, we went to the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Company #2 to see its Christmas Train Garden.

Christmas train gardens are a Baltimore tradition. “The custom is known only to Baltimore and many of the smaller towns of Pennsylvania,” according to a 1936 article in The (Baltimore) Sun, “particularly those settled originally by people of German origin.” According to the B&O Railroad Museum, in the late 1800s, German immigrants would set up scenes as they had done in Europe, and of course, because Baltimore itself is the home to the oldest railroad in the United States (the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad), it was natural that model trains would be integrated into these scenes.

In homes, often model trains and the accompanying villages were built around Christmas trees. In the 1930s and into the 1950s, the B&O Railroad itself often displayed model train layouts at stations or cities along its routes.

Although you can find holiday model train displays elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region, in the Baltimore metro region, it’s a tradition, especially within volunteer fire departments. And good news — there are numerous Christmas train gardens to enjoy.

I didn’t know all this until I started doing some background research for this article. I only knew that I brought my children to the local fire department’s Christmas train garden every year, every year delighting in the creative displays, which were built every year from scratch, from the plywood platform to the imaginative miniature world we see.

See below for an admittedly incomplete list of Maryland Christmas train gardens in Maryland.

Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, 5200 Southwestern Boulevard Baltimore, MD;

Baltimore City Fire Department, Engine Company 45 and Medic 14, 2700 Glen Avenue, Baltimore, MD;

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, 901 West Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD;

Cambridge Rescue Fire Company, 307 Gay Street, Cambridge, MD;

Easton Volunteer Fire Department, 315 Aurora Park Drive, Easton, MD;

Ellicott City Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station Museum, 2711 Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City, MD

Ellicott City Fire Company #2, 4150 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City, MD;

Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, 300 South Burhan’s Boulevard (US 11), Hagerstown, MD;

Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company, 3825 Federal Hill Road, Jarrettsville, MD;

Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company, 702 North Main Street, Mount Airy, MD;

Pleasant Valley Community Fire Company, 2030 South Pleasant Valley Road, Westminster, MD;

Upperco Volunteer Fire Company, 16020 Carnival Avenue, Upperco, MD;

Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Department, 214 Wise Avenue, Dundalk, MD;

White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, 10331 Philadelphia Road, White Marsh, MD;

Can’t get enough of the holidays? Add these to your holiday bucket list!

Follow the MidAtlantic DayTrips on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest, and LinkedIn.