The small town of Ridgely, Maryland located east of the Chesapeake Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula was a town that was once supposed to be a major city like Washington D.C., New York City or Los Angeles. How was this going to happen? The railroad was expanding through the peninsula. With the railroad ferry connecting the town of Cape Charles, Virginia (at the southern tip of the peninsula) to the ports of Norfolk, regular rail service was bringing rail service between Norfolk, Virginia and Philadelphia and New York City. Spur lines were connecting the towns to this main line. Among these small towns was the town of Ridgely. When the railroad came to town, local farmers brought their produce to the train station. They were loaded onto the train and transported to Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York City, and points beyond. The town experienced a big boom with the railroad. Along with freight, passenger service came to the town. Factories sprung up because of railroad service. Ridgely was on its way to be as big as New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia or… not. Passenger service ended in 1949 with the promise to expand freight service. Business and factories began to decline making less use of the railroad. Conrail, the last owner of the rail line, ceased all service in 1976. The railroad left Ridgely, and Ridgely was no longer a railroad town. With the railroad gone, the town was just a simple town in the Eastern Shore region of Maryland.
What was to be with this town now that the railroad is long gone? The answer began back in the 1930’s.
A local community group organized a memorial park in memory of those who fought in the American Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I. (Memorial Park was not the original name.) The park was established along the railroad line which was still in service at the time. Sadly, the park went into decline in the later part of that decade. With the railroad line being abandoned, the idea for a memorial park resurfaced. This one would commemorate what the railroad did for the town.
Welcome to the Railroad Memorial Park in Ridgely, Maryland. The park runs along the original rail line which is now a rail trail. It consists of an old telephone office which now service as a tourist information center, a Reading Caboose, the old train station and the original water trough used for horses to drink as they pulled the wagons from the farms to the train station. (The train station at the park was not the original depot. The original depot was east of the main road and was destroyed by fire.) Even though the park is quiet, you can get a feel of the railroad passing through. Although the railroad left the town of Ridgely, the town of Ridgely never left the railroad. The railroad still lives in Ridgely.
The Railroad Memorial Park is in the town of Ridgely, Maryland on the north side of the town center on Center Street (Maryland Route 312). The train station has an open house on the first Saturday of each month from March to October from 10:00am to 2:00pm. The open houses are hosted by the Ridgely Historical Society (http://ridgelyhistoricalsociety.com/), an all-volunteer organization and a chapter of the Caroline County Historical Society (http://carolinehistory.org/) who have gone through great efforts to keep the memory of Ridgely as a railroad town alive. The park is open twenty-four hours a day, and parking is on the street. Admission to the open house is free, but they gladly accept donations to help pay for expenses to keep the train station and park maintained. The website also has links to read about the rich history of the town.
As for the rail line that passed through the town of Ridgely, you can view remnants of the line south of the town as it parallels Maryland Route 309 between Maryland Route 404 and U.S. Route 50. The grade crossing on U.S. Route 50 at Maryland Route 322 was paved over, but you can still see the old tracks on either side of the highway. The tracks crossed Maryland Route 404 by a bridge. The bridge was destroyed to make room for the widening of Maryland Route 404. As you drive on Maryland Route 404 east of Maryland Route 309, you can see the old embankments on each side where the railroad crossed the highway.
Today, Ridgely, Maryland is a quiet town. It gets occasional visitors like Richard Petty. Yes, that Richard Petty, the one that drove race cars for a living. A picture of his visit is inside the train station, and it can be viewed during the open house. As for today, it is a quiet town. Back in its time, it was everything but quiet. On second thought, maybe it is not a quiet town after all as the ghosts of the railroad roars loud.
The two vintage photos of Ridgely are courtesy of the great people of the Ridgely Historical Society and the Caroline County Historical Society and are being used in this article with their permission.