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Railroad Resources of York County Pennsylvania

Photo: Stewartstown Railroad Bridge, Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS PA 205-15], 1991, Joseph E. B. Elliott, photographer,

Railroad Resources of York County Pennsylvania is a "multiple property resource" nomination that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the text below were selected, transcribed, and/or adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

Since the introduction of the railroad c. 1830, its lines have traversed York County by routes which run north to south and east to west. It has been responsible for the movement of goods and people, not only within the county's boundaries, but also for their movement into and out of the county. It became a source of transportation that not only helped develop the modern idea of determining distance by time, but brought about the sense of a quickened way of life that can still be felt today. The ability of the railroad to reach beyond the known distance of existing transportation modes brought the people of York County not only closer to those of the surrounding counties, but also brought them one step closer to the people of neighboring states. This feeling would not be renewed again until the development and use of the automobile and airplane.

Upon the introduction of the railroad industry into York County, those companies which were formed were relatively small and owned short distances of track. Known as shortline tracks, these railroads generally ran between towns or villages centered around the production of manufactured goods. Over time these rail lines were slowly merged to become part of larger networks, some of which are still in operation today.

The growth of the railroads within York County covered a period of nearly 144 years. Throughout this time, the lines gradually expanded and later declined as the passing of time and advancements in technology warranted their need and capability. The introduction of the railroad began in 1832 with the passage of a bill which chartered the York and Maryland Line Railroad. By 1867, the industry developed four railroads and 76 miles of track. In 1868 with the chartering of the Peach Bottom Railway, the railroads in York County began a period of expansion that would see an additional 125 miles constructed by 1928. After that, as a result of federal highway development, the need for rail service declined, bringing about the closing and abandonment of various lines throughout the county. In 1976, when the state of Pennsylvania purchased the right-of-way for the Northern Central Railway from the Penn Central Railroad, the period of decline ended. At that time York County had only nine more miles of track than it had at the end of the construction period. Since that time the railroad industry in York County has stabilized by moving freight on a local basis and by providing tourist excursions.


Since the latter portion of the 18th century, the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore were involved in a trade rivalry for the expanding western frontier and the settled interior, west of the Susquehanna River. The fertile lands in the numerous valleys were targeted due to their agricultural potential and abundant natural resources such as iron ore, limestone and slate. One of the most notable areas of economic development west of the Susquehanna was York County.

Throughout much of the early history of the Susquehanna Valley, the majority of the roads led south to Maryland and Baltimore, instead of east to Philadelphia. The Susquehanna River acted as a barrier for settlers and traders, while turnpikes and public roads were easily constructed southward in the gentle rolling land in southern York and Adams Counties. Also, the majority of the western frontier towns and villages were closer to Baltimore than to Philadelphia. The cost of shipping goods to Philadelphia on early roads was nearly twice as high as moving them south to Baltimore.

Although trade with Philadelphia merchants took place, the majority of the products from Susquehanna Valley farms or shops went to the businesses of Baltimore. This healthy partnership gained the attention of the city of Philadelphia by the early part of the nineteenth century when Harrisburg was selected as a permanent place for the state capital. Merchants in Philadelphia realized that Harrisburg's trade would more than likely be carried out with Baltimore, the closest big city.

With this in mind, Philadelphia businessmen petitioned the state legislature for funds to build turnpikes to the interior of the state. Up until this time, the state legislature had only made feeble attempts to construct the needed trade routes. Despite the barrage of petitions and pleas of Philadelphians, the legislature failed to make any notable progress towards an improved trade route. Finally in 1811, the state legislature appropriated funds for the construction and improvement of turnpikes to encourage trade between Philadelphia and the lands west of the Susquehanna River. This then, began the trade rivalry between two of the most important trade cities and sea ports in the newly formed nation.

Soon the minds of shrewd merchants and businessmen in both cities turned from turnpikes to the construction of canals to further increase the amount of trade to their cities. This time the Pennsylvania Legislature played a key role in the development and funding of canals, and they also blocked attempts to grant charters for the construction of canals in Pennsylvania to Maryland-based companies. The main canals that connected Philadelphia with the Susquehanna Valley were the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, which was opened in 1830 and connected Delaware City on the Delaware Bay to Chesapeake City on the Elk River, and the Pennsylvania State Works. The Pennsylvania State Works was completed in c. 1830. It included a canal from Pittsburgh east to Columbia, at which point the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad completed the route east to Philadelphia.

The investors in Baltimore, on the other hand, made less headway due to several factors. First, they pursued the hopeless cause of improving the natural channels in the Susquehanna River. Although this route had been used by traders for several decades, the numerous swift rapids and falls were hazardous to boatmen and the merchandise they carried. Also, Pennsylvania had constructed several dams in order to secure the needed water for the canals. These dams blocked downstream trade and also prohibited steam navigation. The Maryland Legislature finally decided to seek an alternative plan for a canal to run adjacent to the lower portion of the Susquehanna River.

The new Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal ran from Havre-de-Grace to Columbia, Pennsylvania (to connect with the Pennsylvania Works). Although it was seen as a viable and much needed source for the continuation of trade with south central Pennsylvania, the charter for the canal was not granted until 1835. By that time, Pennsylvania had already established two successful canals to serve the Susquehanna Valley, and investors in Baltimore were developing a third mode of transportation to reach into the interior of Pennsylvania, the railroad.

For those who invested in the idea of a railroad from Baltimore and reaching into southern Pennsylvania, it was felt that they would once and for all win the trade of the Susquehanna Valley and beat their long-time rivals in Philadelphia. Although the railroad was used as part of the Pennsylvania Works, the Commonwealth, up to this time, had failed to exploit its use for trade. The objective of the new railroad, as the investors saw it, would be to reach the Susquehanna River. Following several surveys, a route was chosen and it was decided that the tracks would extend from Baltimore, through York, to the town of York Haven which sits on the west bank of the river. Not only were Marylanders enthusiastic about this idea, but also many business people in the southern portion of the Susquehanna Valley, especially those in York County. In a short time the needed subscriptions were sold and a petition was presented to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in December, 1827.

Despite the overwhelming support shown by the residents of southern Pennsylvania, the bill to charter a railroad in this area took nearly five years to be passed. It was defeated when it came under attack by representatives from Philadelphia and their supporters in the eastern region of the state. Businesses in this area felt that they were entitled to the Susquehanna Valley trade, and the railroad was viewed as yet another way for Marylanders to divert it from them. As a result, legislators continually mustered the needed votes to deny the bill passage. Eventually, the opponents of the bill became divided, with votes continually moving to side with passage of the bill. It was finally passed on March 14, 1832, much to the joy of Baltimore and York County.

During this time, Maryland, which had approved a charter for a railroad in February of 1828, had begun construction of a line to run between Baltimore and the Pennsylvania state line. Named the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad Company, the line would enter Pennsylvania south of New Freedom Borough.

Chartered as the York and Maryland Line Railroad, the Pennsylvania-based railroad was to connect with the Maryland line south of New Freedom Borough. It was, for all intents and purposes, a northern extension of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. The Maryland-based company received a million dollar loan from the Maryland House of Representatives in order for it to begin construction of the new line. The company was also instrumental in organizing and constructing the Pennsylvania section. Grading of the line began but quickly became hampered by the hilly topography of the area and continual labor strikes for higher wages and better conditions. The stop-and-start work caused the line to slowly wind its way through southern York County.

Although the railroad was underway, the Marylanders were still not satisfied with the route of the railroad. Hoping to fulfill their wish of reaching the Susquehanna River, a petition was entered into the Pennsylvania General Assembly for a second railroad to be constructed from York to Wrightsville. Unlike the petition for the York and Maryland Line Railroad, this bill was quickly passed, and on April 15, 1835 the York and Wrightsville Railroad Company was created. Funding for this line came from the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad.

As the grading of the railroad progressed, once ardent supporters of the line now saw the destruction of their farmland and called for the withdrawal of the charter. With these petitions quickly thrown out of the assembly, the legislature instead passed a charter in March, 1836 for an additional railroad to be constructed from Gettysburg to Wrightsville. This complete turn-about created a flood of criticism and the two lines were incorporated into one. This new line was to be called the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad Company. The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad played a key role in its development by providing the needed capital stock for the new line, as they had done for the York and Maryland Line Railroad. In exchange, the Maryland company would be allowed to use its engines on the tracks between York and Wrightsville until the completion of the entire line. At that time, the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad would be required to pull the Baltimore and Susquehanna stock with its own engines.

For both companies, the York and Maryland Line Railroads and the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad, the earnings that they received were divided between profits for themselves and repaying the subscriptions and loans that were held by the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. The Maryland-based company required that they were paid first and were given a predetermined amount of the earnings in order to meet their expenses. That which was left over was kept by the individual lines.

In August of 1838, the York and Maryland Line Railroad Company opened for business. In conjunction with the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, it provided a through route from York to Baltimore. The line which travelled through four townships and three boroughs followed a path stretching through the south central portion of York County. Beginning in the center of York City, the line headed south passing through Spring Garden, North Codorus, Springfield and Shrewsbury Townships, with stations in Glen Rock, Railroad (Shrewsbury Station) and New Freedom Boroughs.

The line which was built by Maryland investors, for Maryland investors, also proved to be profitable for the merchants and businessmen in York. With the opening of the line, the city was "transferred into a vast hive, the receptacle of the wealth of the surrounding country." (Livingood, 133) Large quantities of goods and agricultural products began to pour into York from the surrounding countryside, as well as from communities as far away as Chambersburg and Carlisle. Among the raw materials that fed York's economy were coal, iron ore, stone, and lumber. In the year following the start up of the line, the earnings amounted to nearly $100,000, and a total of nearly 20,000 tons of freight was shipped on the route.

Two years after the opening of the York and Maryland Line, the division between York and Wrightsville was completed on the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad. A bridge was constructed across the Susquehanna to connect with the Pennsylvania State Works c. 1840. The line owned no stock of its own and moved freight by using cars of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Company. The line did surprisingly well, adding another $38,000 to the earnings of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad Company. That section which was planned to head west from York towards Gettysburg was never completed.

The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, which also opened in 1840, proved to be a measure of competition for the railroad, because both transported freight between Maryland's port cities and the Pennsylvania State Works at Columbia. Although trade by railroad had proven to be highly profitable, with the addition of the canal, there were scarcely enough goods to be divided between the two transportation routes. In the first several years following the opening of the canal, the railroad's freight dropped from nearly 150,000 tons yearly to only 112,000 tons. In 1846 relief from this competition came when flooding caused extensive damage to the canal walls and locks and forced it to temporarily close. After that, the freight moved by the rail lines (combined) climbed by nearly 40,000 tons.

The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad was also faced by competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which received a charter in April of 1846 to construct a railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. This line would then connect to Philadelphia by consolidating the lines of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad's link to Pittsburgh limited the Baltimore line's potential for expansion to the west. Fortunately for the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, the Pennsylvania Legislature in April 1846 also chartered the York and Cumberland Railroad to be constructed from York to Bridgeport, a town on the west bank of the Susquehanna River opposite Harrisburg. This gave the Baltimore and Susquehanna the opportunity to open up new lines to the north rather than moving west. The new company became affiliated with the Maryland-based railroad, which again helped financially and logistically in the organization of the new line.

Yet, at this point in time, the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad was in no condition to provide funding for the new company, so construction was delayed for several years. During this time the company attempted to reorganize, seeking money from both private citizens and the state of Maryland for the completion of the new railroad and to help pay back some of their acquired debt. Although little help came from the private sector, the Maryland government saw the advantage of a railroad to the north and provided funds to assist the company.

The York and Cumberland Railroad was completed in February of 1851. Like the two Pennsylvania-based railroads before it, an agreement was made between the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad and the York and Cumberland Railroad that allowed for the former to provide the engines and rolling stock (both freight and passenger) in exchange for a percentage of both freight and passenger service. In this case, the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad received one-third of the passenger service and one-half of the freight service. In the first year of operation the York and Cumberland Railroad earned nearly $20,200.00, of which $7,931.00 was slated for the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. The railroad passed through the northeastern portion of York County, stopping at the villages of Emigsville, Mount Wolf, Goldsboro and York Haven.

With the development of the rail system that stretched across the state from east to west, there was little hope of the Baltimore and Susquehanna tapping into the service from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Instead, the investors felt that they would profit by pushing farther north. Like the western portion of the state, the northern region of Pennsylvania was rich in coal, and up until this time it had not yet received rail service. As a result, the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad petitioned the Pennsylvania Legislature for a charter to construct a railroad from Bridgeport north to Sunbury. Although the petition received much criticism from the Philadelphia representatives and others from the east, the bill was passed and a charter was granted in April of 1851. To be called the Susquehanna Railroad, the line would extend 54 miles north towards the anthracite coal regions and also left open the option to one day cross the New York state line and connect with the New York rail system.

Construction on this new line began in February of 1853, but again financial trouble began to plague the company and work was postponed in March of 1854. Despite the attempts to stabilize their finances, the new line would not be completed by the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. Instead, the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, in order to save its financial investments and numerous rail lines, merged with the Pennsylvania-based railroads it had helped to create. On December 4, 1854, through acts passed by the legislatures of both Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Northern Central Railway was formed by the consolidation of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad; the York and Maryland Line Railroad; the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad; the York and Cumberland Railroad; and the Susquehanna Railroad.

The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, which was instrumental in developing the early railroads of York County, succeeded in bringing about its own demise. With its continual drive northward, its thirst for higher profits, and its efforts to support the smaller railroads, the company was unable to continue to compete in the trade rivalry between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Instead it was forced to merge with the numerous shortline railroads it helped to develop. Together, as the Northern Central Railway, they would attempt to move northward in order to reach the untouched regions of the state.

During the construction of the numerous rail lines northward in York County, a line was also being constructed in the western region of the county. Having received a charter in March of 1847, the route of the Hanover Branch Railroad stretched from the Borough of Hanover at the southwestern edge of the county to its intersection with the York and Maryland Line Railroad at a point that became known as Hanover Junction. Surveyed in 1849 by Christian Ehrman, the line began operating in October of 1852. In its first three years of business it was, like the remaining lines in York, affiliated with the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. However, at the time of the consolidation of the Northern Central Railway, the Hanover Branch Railroad Company came under the direction of its own directors. The company operated under this management for nearly twenty years.

Increasing competition from the Northern Central Railway caused the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to put pressure on the state legislature of Maryland to require the Northern Central to pay their acquired debt. Unable to do so, the stocks of the railway fell and they were unable to meet their expenses. At this time, the directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad moved in and bought the controlling interest of its stock, and thus the Northern Central Railway came under new ownership. However, this ownership was quick to fail. In the monetary panic which followed the election of President Lincoln in 1860, the Baltimore and Ohio was forced to sell the stock of the Northern Central Railway to John Edgar Thompson, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Thompson purchased 12,775 shares or 28.26 percent of the total 45,200 shares and thus owned the controlling interest. In April of 1861, by an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature, the stock was transferred from Thompson to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad went on to purchase an additional 2,500 shares.

The line, which continued to be referred to as the Northern Central Railway, saw little change during the beginning of the 1860's as a result of the Civil War. The railway did, however, prove to be a valuable route for the movement of troops from the North to the Southern theatre. The Northern Central Railway was viewed as a safer route than the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which came under constant attack from raids by Confederate cavalry. In all, 33 bridges were destroyed on the route of the Northern Central Railway between York and Baltimore during the Civil War. The biggest loss came about on June 28, 1863, when Union troops burned the Wrightsville bridge as a result of the attempted crossing by Confederate John B. Gordon and his forces. The largest number of York County railroad bridges were destroyed during the Battle of Gettysburg a few days later. The Confederate troops, who were spread throughout York County, burned the railroad bridges in an attempt to stop the flow of Federal troops from Washington D.C.

Although the line suffered at the hands of southern troops, it also profited from the Civil War. Earnings which were in the area of $1,000,000 in 1860 tripled by the third year of the war to approximately $3,051,000.

Following the organization of the Northern Central Railway, little railroad construction took place in York County for nearly fourteen years. The completion of the lines affiliated with the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad marked the end of the period noted for the introduction of the railroad in York County. In future years numerous additional rail lines would be built, expanding the railroads in York County by hundreds of miles and millions of dollars.


The rail line which began the expansion of the railroads in York County was the Peach Bottom Railway. The railway had behind it one central figure, Stephen G. Boyd. Boyd, who was born and raised in the town of Peach Bottom, was elected as a State Representative in 1866. This office gave him the opportunity in which to draft and secure a bill for the incorporation of the Peach Bottom Railway Company in March 1868. The company was to build a railroad from the Huntington-Broad Top coal fields, near the center of the state, through York to Philadelphia, crossing the Susquehanna River at Peach Bottom near Delta on the Maryland state line. The construction of this railway was to take place in three divisions. The Western Division was composed of track from Huntington to York, the Middle Division from York to the western side of the Susquehanna River and the Eastern Division, which would complete the railway to Philadelphia. This proposed route was designed in order to take advantage of two areas of revenue within Pennsylvania. The first was the coal fields in the western portion of the state, which up until that time were served by only the Pennsylvania Railroad. The second profitable area was near Delta, Pennsylvania, which had been quarrying large amounts of slate since the mid-18th century.

The route was surveyed by Colonel John M. Hood. Upon completion of the survey in both the Middle and Western Division, Hood recommended to the Board of Directors that a narrow gauge track of 3' 0'' should be used. Due to the winding and curving route in the Muddy Creek valley in southern York County, the narrow gauge would be able to better accommodate sharp curves and provide a lower investment of funds. With no experience in railroad and no other examples of railroads built with narrow gauge track, the directors approved Hood's suggestion. At this time narrow gauge track was beginning to appear on railroads throughout the United States. It was not learned until many years later of the unfortunate effects this choice would have. Later, when a standard width of track was established, it became impossible for those companies which used narrow gauge track to interchange cars on different rail lines. Also, because the cars had to be narrower, the Railroad was able to carry less freight.

The Middle Division was the first of the three sections to undergo construction in 1872. When the route was first planned, the track was to curve west toward Hanover Junction in order to connect with the Northern Central Railway. If done, this would have left the City of York without direct access to the Peach Bottom Railway's services. With this in mind, several York businessmen approached Boyd. Due to the large population of York and realizing its potential for expanding traffic, Boyd and the remaining directors decided to extend the route and send the railroad into York. The construction was begun once subscriptions of $50,000 were sold. At the outset, the work consisted of grading the railroad from York, south to Red Lion Summit, then to Felton, and continuing its path along the banks of Muddy Creek. It was decided to also pass through the Borough of Red Lion due to its large revenues in both cigar manufacturing and the furniture business. Within two years, the grading had been completed for 27 miles, to the village of Woodbine. Yet only two miles of grading had been done from Peach Bottom west towards Delta, thus leaving a space of approximately 9 miles left unfinished. The Peach Bottom Railway Company in April of 1874 contracted the work of James Schall for one thousand tons of 30-pound track to be bought at the rate of $65.00 a ton. It was also at this time that they hired John E. Matthews as chief engineer. Colonel Hood had been suggested for this position, but had left the Peach Bottom Company to work for the Western Maryland Railroad. Matthews held his position for only a year before being replaced by S. M. Manifold, his assistant. The company also contracted Conley and Eppley for laying the track, as well as John A. Barnett and William Ramsay to build the numerous bridges along the route.

The Western Division from the outset, suffered from the lack of planning and funds. In order to reach Broad Top, the railroad had to pass through seemingly insurmountable topographical obstacles. On Hood's first survey he was unable to determine a feasible route, yet a second look at the area proved successful. The road would head west from York through East Berlin, Biglerville, and Arendtsville, then along the Chambersburg-Gettysburg Road over South Mountain to Chambersburg. Once past Chambersburg, the geography was still challenging as the track was forced to surmount six more mountain ranges. As a result, construction of the track was delayed, and the Western Division failed following the Bank Panic of 1873.

The Eastern Division of the Peach Bottom Railway, which likewise suffered economic problems was slow in moving towards the construction of its track. Beginning in Lancaster County on the east side of the Susquehanna River and building towards Philadelphia, the track was only completed to Oxford, a distance of 20 miles. The division had difficulties in selling stock for the line because of its route through mostly rural land, without a major population source lying within its reach. The needed capital was not raised and completion of the line was suspended.

By 1875, the Middle Division, although not yet finished, was operating and doing quite well. The company owned only two locomotives, four passenger cars and twenty-four freight cars, yet was able to gross nearly $22,500. One year later with the tracks completed to Delta, the company enjoyed an increase in profit by two-thirds, grossing $37,071. At this point, it was decided that the company should extend its track from Delta to Peach Bottom. Although the grading had been completed, there was constant disagreement over whether the town of Peach Bottom could provide enough traffic for the line to make it worthwhile. It was decided that the move would be made, even though the company was in no financial state at this point to finish the job.

At the time the railroad was completed, it suffered from indebtedness amounting to nearly $333,000. By 1881 the financial problem became too great and creditors for both the Middle and Eastern Divisions sued for bankruptcy. In September of that same year the Eastern Division was sold for a mere $5,000 and became known as the Lancaster, Oxford and Southern Railway. The Middle Division of the railway was sold to its bond holders and became the York and Peach Bottom Railway Co. in 1882.

After becoming the York and Peach Bottom Railway Company, track was finally laid from Delta to Peach Bottom. The section of track, which consisted of approximately 5.7 miles, was opened approximately one year after the formation of the new company. Although the Peach Bottom extension provided little additional revenue, the company performed rather well, achieving a profit throughout much of the 1880's.

At the same time that the General Assembly of Pennsylvania was forming the Peach Bottom Railway Company, Maryland was likewise attempting to form a shortline railroad between Baltimore and Philadelphia in 1867. The line, which was to cross the Susquehanna River near Conowingo, was given the name The Maryland Central Railroad Company. Although the company received a charter, they failed to begin construction. By 1878 they merged with the Baltimore and Delta Railroad Co., which was constructing a route between Baltimore and the village of Delta on the Pennsylvania state line. The new company was chartered in 1882, yet it retained the name Maryland Central Railroad Company. It operated for several years before being sold and reorganized as the Maryland Central Railway Company.

In 1889 the Maryland Central Railway Company leased the York and Peach Bottom Railway and established a narrow gauge line from Baltimore to York. Three years later it became known as the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company. This line ran until 1893, at which time two receivers were appointed, one for each line. In 1894 the Pennsylvania line was christened the York Southern Railroad Company and its tracks were widened to standard gauge by 1895. The Maryland portion of the line was sold in 1894 and became the Baltimore and Lehigh Railway Company. This section of track was also widened to standard gauge by 1900. Both lines operated independently for approximately two years before joining to become the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad in February of 1901.

At its height, the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad traversed the Townships of Spring Garden, York, Windsor, Chanceford, Lower Chanceford and Peach Bottom, with stations at York, Red Lion and Felton Borough and several small villages.

The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, when it ran as a continuous line between York and Baltimore consisted of 77.2 miles of track. Although the two cities which the line connects are only 49 air miles apart, the route that the track follows adds an additional twenty-eight miles to the trip. The trip, even at its fastest time, was still nearly four hours and ten minutes long. The track consisted of 111 trestles and 476 curves, fifty-five of which are between sixteen and fifty degrees. Due to the large number of curves that make up this line, and considering the fact that no more than one-half mile of track is continuously straight, no engines over fourteen feet of rigid wheel base were permitted. One reason for its extreme curves is the seventeen mile section of track from Castle Fin to Muddy Creek Forks which runs adjacent to the banks of Muddy Creek. The rail line also had two branches to nearby freight centers. The first branch consisted of 2 miles of track from Delta to the rich slate quarries at Slate Hill, and the second was a 1 mile long branch running from Dallastown Junction to Dallastown Borough.

Passenger service was provided on the Northern Central line, however trade in raw materials, agricultural products, and manufactured goods generated the majority of the company's revenue. In 1871, as a result of the continual growth of railroad traffic between York and Baltimore, the Pennsylvania Railroad decided that an additional set of tracks was required on the Northern Central. A second set of tracks was placed on the route parallel to the first, and a number of the old trestle bridges were replaced by stone and masonry arch bridges. Another improvement on the Pennsylvania Railroad was the construction of a steel truss bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville in 1897. Prior to that the tracks crossed the river on a covered bridge.

Another line which was constructed during the expansion of the railroad was chartered in March of 1873 by the Pennsylvania Legislature. Known as the Hanover and York Railroad Company, the line was to stretch 18 miles between the two boroughs. Commonly known as the "Shortline," the freight carried on this line was previously handled by the Hanover Branch Railroad and the Northern Central Railway. Operating independently for some time, the Hanover and York line eventually came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad in October of 1887. It was later run by the Frederick Branch Division and was extended to Frederick, Maryland to connect with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Western Maryland Railroad enters Pennsylvania in the southwestern corner of York County, near Hanover Borough. Organized largely by Baltimore businessmen, the railroad is a consolidation of several smaller railroads. Within much of York County, the Western Maryland Railroad was formed through a merger with the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company in 1917. The Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway was a consolidation of the Bachman Valley Railroad and the Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad. The Bachman Valley Railroad (constructed 1871) entered York County across the Maryland State line in Manheim Township and connected with the Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad at Valley Junction. The Eastern Extension of the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway was constructed in 1892 and extended from Porters Sideling to York, a distance of only fifteen miles. This new route was known as the York Branch and was designed to compete directly with the Frederick Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad for service to York's thriving industries. The route of the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railroad Company was leased by the Western Maryland for approximately 30 years before being purchased in 1917. The Western Maryland Railroad provided yet another link between York and Baltimore and brought increased trade to several villages in York County, among others, Spring Grove, Thomasville, West York and Porters Sideling.

The route of the Northern Central Railway bypassed two boroughs in the southern portion of York County, Stewartstown and Shrewsbury. The businessmen and investors of the two boroughs sought to enjoy the benefits of direct rail service and thus raised the needed capital in order to build the Stewartstown Railroad. Consisting of 7.2 miles of track, the railroad began in Stewartstown and connected with the Northern Central line at New Freedom Borough. The route which the railroad takes causes it to pass through the southern portion of Shrewsbury Borough. In 1905, the villages of New Park and Fawn Grove felt that they too would benefit from rail service and raised the funds necessary to extend the Stewartstown line two miles east to Fawn Grove. The railroad at the present time is used for both the hauling of freight and train excursions.

During the expansion of the railroads in York County, an additional five lines were constructed. This brought the total to seven railroads which crisscrossed the county travelling east and west, north and south. Near the end of the expansion period, the numerous railroads were slowly consolidated and merged into the larger and more powerful rail lines which travelled throughout the state of Pennsylvania and the east coast. These mergers decreased the number of lines in the county to only four. At this time, the Pennsylvania Railroad stretched from the Maryland state line below New Freedom Borough, northward through York City, turning slightly to the northeast to the Susquehanna River, and then turning northward once more, crossing the Yellow Breeches Creek into Cumberland County. The Pennsylvania Railroad was also able to continue eastward towards Philadelphia crossing the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville. The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad also had a north to south route, although it only ran as far north as York City. The east to west routes were covered by the Western Maryland Railroad and again the Pennsylvania Railroad, both running from York to Hanover Borough and exiting the county along the Adams County line. The Stewartstown Railroad, which also travelled east to west, only ran 9 miles connecting Fawn Grove, Stewartstown and Shrewsbury boroughs with the Northern Central Railway.

With the expansion of the railroads and the formation of the various routes, several junctions were established. As a result, a number of communities became well known as hubs for the movement of freight and goods. The first and largest was York City which proved itself as a hub shortly after the opening of the York and Maryland Line Railroad. At the height of the railroad's expansion, five different lines came together in York. With the route that the lines took evenly divided between North, South, East and West, the freight could be transferred from one line to the other, north to Harrisburg, south to Maryland, west to Hanover or east to Philadelphia. Although other junctions were formed, none were as active as York City. The second junction that was created was at Hanover Junction when the Hanover Branch Railroad connected with the York and Maryland Line Railroad (later the Northern Central Railway). Sitting within North Codorus Township and south of Seven Valleys Borough, Hanover Junction became an industrious junction with tons of freight changing lines annually. As a result of the introduction of numerous rail lines in the western portion of York County, Hanover Borough quickly became known, as a hub for lines connecting to Baltimore and York. Rail lines such as the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railroad, the Western Maryland Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad utilized routes that passed through Hanover. With the construction of the Stewartstown Railroad and its connection with the Northern Central Railway, the Borough of New Freedom also became a junction. Due to the small amount of freight that was moved on the Stewartstown Railroad, New Freedom was not as active as the others.

The expansion of the railroads was also responsible for an increase in the population and growth in the size of established communities or villages that came in contact with the various rail lines. Several communities were also founded along routes of the rail lines as a result of junctions or cross roads. In terms of the growth of established communities, the most notable example is York City. The construction of the York and Maryland Line Railroad and those that followed brought to the city increased revenues and jobs which resulted in an increased population. The industrial sector also rapidly expanded within York City. With the multiple rail lines that came through York, the numerous industries were able to have a readily available supply of raw materials and an expanded distribution network for finished products. Within York, the majority of the industries established were found along the routes of the railroads at the outskirts of the city. Towns such as Hanover, Spring Grove, Wrightsville and New Freedom, which were established communities at the time of arrival of the railroad, also saw an increase in the industrial sector.

Although growth occurred in such communities, for the most part, the railroads selected their routes by hoping to connect communities with established industries and trade. One small village which was founded as a result of the railroad is Railroad Borough. Sitting on the route of the Northern Central Railway, the borough was originally known as Shrewsbury Station. Because the Borough of Shrewsbury, which is located to the east of Railroad, was bypassed by the route of the Northern Central, a small station was established at this point on the line to provide access to Shrewsbury's merchants and passengers. In time, a village developed. Businesses were established adjacent to the railroad, most notably a brewery and tanneries, and workers then constructed homes near the shops and factories. Several other villages developed as a result of their association with the railroads. The route of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad helped to develop the communities of Brogueville, Yoe and Bryansville Station. The Hanover Branch Railroad helped to establish the villages of Smith Station and Porters Sideling.

The rural areas of York County also benefitted from the construction of the numerous railroads. The farmers, like the industries, benefited from an expanding market offered by the new lines. They were now able to sell their goods to produce buyers in Baltimore, Philadelphia and other ready markets. The farmers also benefited by the ability of the railroads to introduce new fertilizers. This exposure to new products and methods helped the farmers to improve their production of crops.


At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, railroads were the chief source of commerce and long distance travel. The invention of the automobile, which led to the development of the modern highway system, began to tap the vast movement of freight from the railroad industry. The lines began to suffer a decline in revenues, and numerous railroads ceased their operations. The decline, which started around the time of the Great Depression, saw a slight rise in the industry as a result of World War II. However, following the end of the war, a continual decline began that would finally level off in the 1970's.

The Northern Central Railway, during the first half of the 20th century, made no measurable increase or decrease in freight or passenger service. One notable point is the repair, replacement or construction of the majority of the bridges on the line between Baltimore and York. This work, for the most part, occurred during the decade of the 1920's. Also at this time, the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a bridge across the Susquehanna River to connect the Lancaster County network with the former York and Cumberland line at Wago Junction in East Manchester Township. In 1964, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad merged to become the Penn Central Railroad. As a result of declining freight service, the section of track between York and Wrightsville was abandoned and eventually the bridge spanning the Susquehanna River was dismantled. In 1972, the ensuing floods of Hurricane Agnes caused extensive damage to the rail lines between the Maryland state line and York City, ending the rail service on this section of the route.

At the turn of the twentieth century the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad relied heavily on passenger service, which made up 50% of their gross earnings. As before, the freight which produced the other half of the earnings consisted of lumber, grain, dairy products, quarry products, coal and the mail. In the first year after conversion of the entire route to standard gauge the company's revenues were approximately $70,000. Yet, no more then six years later, its income climbed to $114,913.

In the few years preceding World War I, the railroad experienced a decline in profits, yet a turnabout came when the government took over the rail line for military purposes during the war. At the close of the war the company's financial situation continued on a positive note until the onset of the Depression in the 1930's. Although the company experienced financial difficulty, earnings did not fall below $40,000 throughout the 1930's. The company's most prosperous years came at the close of World War II between the years 1946 to 1951. During this period an average of 15 million tons of freight was hauled annually. In combination with the passenger service, the Maryland and Pennsylvania's earnings exceeded 1 million dollars. Although freight service was continuing to climb, passenger service was rapidly declining. With the steady increase in the number of automobiles, people no longer needed to rely on rail service for long distance transportation. As a result, passenger service was discontinued in 1954. That same year, the company received its biggest setback when the Federal Government cancelled its mail contract.

From 1954 to the beginning of the 1970's the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad survived on freight service alone. During the late 1950's the portion of the line between Baltimore and Whiteford, Maryland was closed and abandoned. This left only 42 of the original 77 miles still in service. The railroad continued to lose money, in 1961 earning only approximately $300,000. The railroad continued to handle freight service within York County. By the 1960's 90% of the freight service was supported by a mere seven companies. The remaining ten percent included companies in Red Lion, Delta and elsewhere throughout York County. The freight service continued to fall and by 1969 only 4,000 car loads of material were transported on the line.

In 1971, after numerous years of declining revenues, the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad was purchased by Emons Industries of New York. Emons bought 98 percent of the shares and attempted to bring the rail line back to life. At the start of its new life, the line consisted of only several engines and no box cars. Emons decided that it would generate a larger income through leasing its newly purchased box cars to other railroad companies.

The Western Maryland railroad is still in use today although the line is now owned by CSX. They too have suffered from the decline in the use of rail service yet have been able to maintain the line through York County. The portion of the route known as the York Branch was abandoned and removed between 1928 and 1934.

The Stewartstown Railroad suffered much the same decline as the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad. During the 1920's the line annually shipped an average of 500,000 ton miles. By 1931, this figure dropped below 200,000 ton miles and would not climb over that amount again. In 1935 the 2 mile section of track between Stewartstown and Fawn Grove was closed and abandoned. In time, the freight service on the line declined so that trips were made only when needed.

The routes of the railroads within York County, as with other areas, suffered from the advancement of trucking systems that made movement of freight by train largely obsolete. The ability of shipping goods by truck was seen as more economically efficient and at times was even faster.


In 1976, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation purchased the property associated with the Northern Central Railway and later the deed was transferred to the County of York for one dollar. Today, the County of York leases the line of the Northern Central Railway to the Stewartstown Railroad. Plans are presently being made to create a Rails to Trails program which would connect with the trail that exists on the old route of the Northern Central in Maryland.

By 1977, Emons Industries' plan to lease its rolling stock seemed to have worked and the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Company doubled its revenues. It owned 1300 box cars which were in motion on railroad tracks throughout the country. Today, although the company faces financial problems, the rail line is again moving freight on its line, with a hint of success. In 1989, the company transported 8,000 car loads of freight.

Of the twenty-six miles of track that are in use today, only 2.3 miles of original track remain. With the majority of the original line abandoned by the company, efforts have been made to preserve the track. The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Society recently purchased an eight mile section of track in York County from Laurel to Bridgeton from Emons Industries. It is the hope of the Society to preserve this section of track and eventually use it for rail excursions.

The Stewartstown Rail road operates on its own line, as well as leasing the route of the Northern Central from the County of York. The company uses both lines for the periodic movement of freight and train excursions.

Railroads of York County, PA

Bachman Valley Railroad Company
• Chartered in May, 1871
• Constructed in 1871 between Black Rock, MD and Valley Junction, PA
• Consolidated into the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway in 1886

Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company
• Formed in 1886 through consolidation of the Bachman Valley Railroad Company and Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad Company, the line was leased to the Western Maryland Railroad Company
• Constructed the Eastern Extension, from Porters Sideling to York in 1892
• Sold to Western Maryland Railroad Company in 1917

Baltimore and Lehigh Railway Company
• Formed through a merger between the York and Peach Bottom Railway Company and the Maryland Central Railroad Company in 1892
• Split to form the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad and the York Southern Railroad in 1893

Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad Company
• Chartered by the Maryland Legislature in February, 1828
• Leased York and Maryland Line Railroad and the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad
• Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway December 4, 1854

Hanover and York Railroad Company
• Chartered in March, 1873
• Constructed in 1874 between Hanover Borough and York City
• Purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad in October, 1887

Hanover Branch Railroad Company
• Chartered in March, 1847
• Constructed in 1847 between Hanover Borough and Hanover Junction on the York and Maryland Line
• Incorporated into the Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad in 1860

Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg Railroad Company
• Incorporated in 1860 through the consolidation of the Gettysburg Railroad Company and the Hanover Branch Railroad Company
• Merged with the Bachman Valley Railroad to become the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway in 1886

Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Company
• Formed in February 1901 as a consolidation of the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company and the York Southern Railroad Company.
• Purchased by Emons Industries of New York in 1971

Maryland Central Railroad
• Chartered in 1867 but never began construction.
• Merged in 1878 with the Baltimore and Delta Railroad Company who were constructing a line from Baltimore to Delta. Retained the Maryland Central name
• Re-chartered in 1882 with the same name
• Sold and reorganized in 1885 as the Maryland Central Railway Company
• Leased the York and Peach Bottom Railway in 1889 and established a narrow gauge line from Baltimore to York
• Merged with the York and Peach Bottom Railway Company in 1891 to become the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company

Northern Central Railway Company
• Formed on December 4,1854 as a consolidation of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, the York and Maryland Line Railroad, the York and Cumberland Railroad, the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad and the Susquehanna Railroad.
• Purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad c. 1855
• Purchased by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1860

Peach Bottom Railway Company
• Chartered in March 1868
• Constructed in 1872 between Delta Borough and York City
-Purchased in 1882 and became the York and Peach Bottom Railway

Pennsylvania Railroad Company
• Purchased Northern Central Railway from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1860
• Purchased the Hanover and York Railroad in October, 1887
• Sold the Northern Central Railway Division to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1976

Stewartstown Railroad
• Chartered in September 1885
• Constructed in 1885 between Stewartstown Borough and New Freedom Borough where it joined the Northern Central Railway
• Still owned and operated by the Stewartstown Railroad

Western Maryland Railroad Company (within York County)
• Leased the lines of the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway beginning in 1886
• Bought the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway in 1917

York and Cumberland Railroad Company
• Chartered in April, 1846
• Constructed from 1849 to 1851 between York City and Bridgeport
• Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway, December 4, 1854

York and Maryland Line Railroad Company
• Chartered in March, 1832
• Constructed in 1833 from the Maryland state line to York City
• Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway, December 4, 1854

York and Peach Bottom Railway Company
• Formed in 1882 through a purchase of the Peach Bottom Railway
• Merged with the Maryland Central Railway Company in 1891 to become the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company

York and Wrightsville Railroad Company
• Chartered in April, 1835
• Constructed in 1836 between York City and Wrightsville
• Incorporated into the York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad Company in March, 1836
• Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway Company December 4,1854

York Southern Railroad Company
• Formed in 1894 when the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company was split
• Merged in February, 1901 with the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company to become the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Company

York, Wrightsville and Gettysburg Railroad Company
• Chartered in March, 1836 and immediately incorporated with the York and Wrightsville Railroad Company • Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway, December 4, 1854


Pennsylvania Railroad Museum, Manuscript Files, Strasburg, PA.

Prowell, George. History of York County, J. H. Beers and Co., Chicago, 1907.

Saylor, Roger B. The Railroads of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, 1964.

Schotter, H. W., The Growth and Development of The Pennsylvania Railroad, 1846- -1926, Allen, Lane and Scott, Philadelphia, 1927.

Sipes, William B., The Pennsylvania Railroad, The Passenger Department, Philadelphia, 1875.

Williams, Harold A., The Western Maryland Railway Story, Western Maryland Railway Company, Baltimore, 1952.

Wilson, William Bender, History of The Pennsylvania Railroad Vol. I and II, Henry T. Coates and Co., Philadelphia, 1914.

  1. Shaffer, Thomas N., Historic York, Inc., Railroad Resources of York County Pennsylvania, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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