The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

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In the southeastern part of the state of West Virginia just west of the Virginia state line is the town of White Sulphur Springs.  It is a small town, but it has a great significance.  It is the home to the Greenbrier, a world renowned resort on 1,000 acres that is also a National Historic Landmark.  What began in 1778 as a visit to the ‘White Sulphur Spring’ and grew into a resort, it has hosted 27 U.S. Presidents, royalties and business leaders.  Today, you will be totally amazed as you walk around and visit all of the rooms and walk along the walking paths.  A visit or a stay at the Greenbrier will be a stay that you will never want to see come to an end.

President arrives with brother Milton

Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  This has got to be one amazing spot to have great dignitaries stay here.  It must be a sight to see.  There is one problem.  This is a magnificent resort and hotel that has no railroad.  Therefore, you will not be seeing me around these dignitaries or business leaders at this place.”

That is a very interesting thought.  This is a very luxurious resort, but the Greenbrier owes part of its success to the railroad.

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As mentioned, it all began in 1778.  However, it was closed during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 where both sides used the hotel as either a headquarters or hospital.  When the war ends, the resort is reopened.  In 1869, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway arrived in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and people came to the resort by train.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchases the property in 1910, and the Greenbrier Hotel is opened in 1913.  In 1931, a new depot was built to replace the one that had stood for many years.

Then World War II came.  In 1941 after the United States entered the war, the hotel is leased to the U.S. State Department.  In 1942, the U.S. Army purchased the Greenbrier and made it into a hospital.  When the war is over, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway repurchased the hotel, and it was remodeled and opened in 1948.  The existence of this high class resort is owed to the railroad, and the railroad is why thousands of people are able to enjoy this resort today.

Trains station 1942

Today, you can stay at the Greenbrier, and you can see how the resort was very significant role in the defense of the nation from the American Civil War to the Cold War, and you can see how the town of White Sulphur Springs became the unofficial capital of the United States of America.  (Please note that there is a security checkpoint that you must pass by to enter the resort.)  You can also see the train depot that was opened in 1931 across the street from the entrance where visitors can still ride the train to the resort today.

two locomotives c. 1931

The Greenbrier is located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia at 101 Main Street West (U.S. 60) on the west side of White Sulphur Springs and just minutes from Interstate 64.  You can go to http://www.greenbrier.com/ to get more information on this resort and to read deeper into the rich history plus to see events and activities the resort has to offer.  One of the activities is train watching at the historic depot.

When you book your stay at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, you are not just spending a night at a luxurious hotel.  You are staying on a historic piece of land that helped protect America.  You are staying where many greats once stayed.  You are staying at a place that was shaped by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.

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PLEASE NOTE that the black and while photos have been supplied by the Greenbrier to be used in this article.  The Greenbrier owns the copyrights to these photos.

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On a Roadside in America

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A family of a father, mother and a boy was taking a drive through Pennsylvania.  As they were going along, the suddenly engine stopped.  Fortunately, they were able to get safely off the road.  The father tried to start the car, but nothing happened.  They looked around and saw nothing around them.  The father stepped out of the car.  He walked back and forth and back and forth.

“Would you like to see my world?”

Startled, he turned and saw a man standing nearby.

“Come and see my world.”  The man urged them.

Not knowing what to do, the family went with the man.  After a short walk, they found themselves on a dirt road.  A band of cowboys on horseback came behind them and continued on.  They saw tracks beneath them, and a horn sounded.  They stepped off the tracks, and the trolley pulled up.

“Get on.”

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They boarded the trolley, and they began to roll along.  They saw Amish and farmers working in the fields.  They entered into a town, and they saw the many people strolling down the streets.  They arrived at the train station.

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“Hurry!  The train is almost here.”

They stepped off the trolley, and a steam train pulled up.

“All aboard!”  The conductor shouted.

They stepped aboard the train, and the train pulled away.  They rolled through the town, and they were out in the farmland.  They rode by waterfalls and over bridges and through tunnels.

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“This is amazing.”  The father was very amused.  “This cannot be real.”

But it is real.

Welcome to Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania.  Roadside America is a miniature village that was built by Laurence Gieringer with early help from his brother.  Each structure in the village was hand-built by Laurence himself, and he laid out the tracks for each of the trains, and he even designed the flowing waterfalls, the rivers and working fountains using real water, and he created the night scene.  Originally built in his home, he continued to build on to his village adding more buildings and trains.  The village grew in popularity and won a contest sponsored by a local newspaper where it won first place to a point where he was encouraged to go public.  It was opened to the public in 1953 in its current location in the structure it is currently in.  He continued to work on the village until his death in 1963, and the village has remained unchanged since then.

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Today, you can visit Roadside America.  The village is a display of 200 years of American history from the 1760’s to the 1960’s.  You can see the village full of model trains going around through the towns and farmlands.  You can see the old trolleys roll down the streets.  It has remained unchanged since 1963.  The village is owned by Laurence Gieringer’s descendants who intend to keep it the way he left it.

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Roadside America is located at 109 Roadside Drive in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania.  It is just off Interstate 78 / U.S. 22 between Allentown and Harrisburg.  Admission is just $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for children 6 to 11, $7.00 for seniors 65 and those in military service. 5 and under are free.  There is plenty of parking.  Plus, you can visit the Dutch Gifthaus next door to find some good gifts.  You can get more information at https://www.roadsideamerica.co/.

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Roadside America is a roadside attraction worth going off the road for.  It is a roadside attraction about the history of America.  It is a roadside attraction that is the work of one man, and it is a roadside attraction that remains unchanged.  Most important of all, it is a roadside attraction with lots and lots of trains.

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The Danbury Railroad Museum, Danbury, Connecticut

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What do you think about when you think about the city of Danbury, Connecticut?  Some people have heard of this city, but if they tried to tell you what is there, you will more likely get dumb looks although it was nicknamed the ‘Hat City’ as it was once the site of a hat manufacturing center.  It is one of the largest cities in the state, and it has a few historic sites, but the most significant site is the old train station.  It is one of the few train stations that was located at a junction.  Today, this train station is the home of the Danbury Railroad Museum.

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Located a few blocks from the center of town, the Danbury Railroad Museum has a huge collection inside and outside.  You enter the old train station into the old waiting room.  You see the old benches where passengers once sat on waiting for their trains to come.  You have the old ticket window where the tickets were bought.  In the next room is where you will see the numerous model trains depicting different scenes from the mountains to the towns to the old rail yards.

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This is what is inside.  Now you have to see what is outside.

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You exit the depot, and you are standing on one of the platforms used during the days when it was a passenger station.  You cross the tracks, and you enter into the yard.  Before you is vintage rolling stock from locomotives like the Boston and Maine 2-6-0 Number 1455 and Number 2013 of the New York Central and New Haven FL9 Number 2006 to many passengers cars used for cross country travel and commuter service and cabooses plus a post office car, and it has four operating engines: an Alco RS-1, a BUDD car, a GE 44 tonner and a Pfizer SW-8.

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This is not your little town railroad museum.  It is a museum that tells the story of the depot and the railroad story of Danbury.  When you arrive, you will need to spend a little time here.  If you are fortunate enough, you may see a train pass on by.

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The Danbury Railroad Museum is located at 120 White Street (intersection of White Street and Patriot Drive).  Directions from the interstates are on the webpage.  They are open year round although hours do vary between summer and winter.  They are mainly open between 10:00am and 4:00pm with lesser hours on Sunday.  Admission is $7.00 for visitors age 3 and older.  (Prices may vary for special events.)  Train rides in the rail yard are also available on the weekends from April to November.  There is parking right at the museum.  You can learn more about the museum, the museum hours and to see their special events throughout the year at http://danburyrailwaymuseum.org/.

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The next time you think about the city of Danbury, Connecticut, you can now think about the Danbury Railroad Museum.

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Happy Trains-giving

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Now some of you are asking, “What in the world is this thing?”

This is called ‘Trains-giving’.  So you are still puzzled.  Allow me to give you an explanation.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that was set aside on the fourth Thursday of November as a day to give thanks to the Almighty God.

Now some of you are asking, “Are we getting religious here?  You are beginning to sound like those church people.”

Thanksgiving is a day set aside as a day to thank Almighty God.  The Thanksgiving that we are most familiar with is the one that took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived in what was the ‘New World’ from Europe to escape religious persecution.  They got established here, but they had a hard time surviving.  They eventually interacted with the Native American tribe who taught them how to live off the land.  This eventually transferred into the big feast that we all have come to know with the main course being that famous turkey that many of us enjoy every Thanksgiving.

Yes, when most of us think about the story of Thanksgiving, we think about the one in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and you can visit Plymouth Rock which is in a cage of steel bars, and you can visit the Plimouth Living History Museum which shows the life of Massachusetts in 1620.

However, that actual first Thanksgiving did not happen here.

It happened in Virginia.  The year was 1619.  It was on the northern shore of the James River east of where Richmond now stands.  What happened at this Thanksgiving?  There was no feast like they had in Massachusetts.  It was simply a prayer thanking God for their safe arrival.  Today, you can visit the Berkeley Plantation that was built on the site of the First Thanksgiving, and you can visit the monument that was erected on the site where they landed and prayed.

Now some of you are saying, “This is so wonderful.  I now know the story of Thanksgiving.  The problem is that the railroad was not established at the time.  None of the Pilgrims or the men who arrived in Virginia rode a train.  Therefore, the railroad has nothing to do with the First Thanksgiving.”

You are correct to say that the railroad had nothing to do with the First Thanksgiving in either Massachusetts or Virginia, but since the railroad was built in America beginning in Baltimore and going across the nation, the railroad has been a big part of the holiday taking travelers to and from their destinations.  With those passengers, we cannot forget the engineers, the conductors, the porters, the baggage handlers, the waiters, the ticket masters, the mechanics, the track workers and the many people who work hard to get the trains to your destinations on time for your Thanksgiving dinner.  Without all of them, the trains would not be taking you home for the holiday, and many of them are sacrificing their time so that you can have time to spend the day with those you love.

At the time I want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of those who work on the trains whether as an employee or a volunteer and to those who ride them.  Thank you for keeping the trains running all year long.

 

The Thanksgiving display and train mural is from Hinton, West Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’

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Fourscore and a good number of years ago in early July of 1863, the Confederate Army led by General Robert E. Lee had pushed their way into the state of Pennsylvania to a town known as Gettysburg.  They entered into the North in hopes of winning the American Civil War, but the tide turned.  The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the war, and the Confederate Army was forced to retreat back to the South and, years later, to their surrender.

On November 19, 1893, President Abraham Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg to dedicate the National Cemetery.  It was at this very ceremony where he gave his famous speech known as ‘The Gettysburg Address’.  It is considered to be one of the greatest speeches in history.  Although it mentions about what happened in Gettysburg months earlier, there is a story behind the speech on how it was delivered.

If you are wondering if the speech was delivered by the railroad, you are absolutely right.  This speech was delivered by the railroad.  The ride began in Washington D.C.  It went north through Baltimore, and he continued into Pennsylvania all the way to Hanover Junction.  (The tracks between the state line and Hanover Junction remains and can be ridden by the ‘Steam Into History’ excursion train.)  While at Hanover Junction, he switched trains, and he rode the line to Gettysburg.  (Only a small section of the spur exists today.  The rest of the tracks between here and Hanover were taken up.)  Abraham Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg by train at what is now called the Lincoln Train Station.  (It is a museum today.)  From there he stayed at the home of David Wills to prepare his speech, and the next day, the speech was made.

Whether you are in your American History class of if you are visiting the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania of even if you visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., you can see the words of the Gettysburg Address:

(Copied from Wikipedia)

 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

The next time you hear or read these words, remember that these words were delivered by a man who rode to train to Gettysburg.

The Story of Brunswick, Maryland

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The town of Brunswick, Maryland is a suburb of Washington D.C. that sits on the Potomac River.  Originally named Berlin after the numerous German settlers who made their home here and later changed to Brunswick, the town was a small stop on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which ran from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland.  It remained a small town until something new came along.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had arrived to the town, and everything changed.  A roundhouse and shops and a rail yard were built which brought workers to the town causing the population to grow.  In a short time this town was a railroad town.

Today, Brunswick holds it railroad heritage in spite of the fact that the rail yard was reduced in the 1950’s and that the roundhouse was demolished, but the original yard tower still stands.  (It is currently not open to the public and is on CSX Railroad property.)  You can see the old passenger train depot where passengers rode the train from Brunswick to various places across America.  (Today, the depot serves as a commuter train station for those going to and from Washington D.C.)  You can stroll through the commuter parking lot and stand where rail cars were once stored waiting to be connected to trains.  Of course, you have to watch the passing trains.

At the intersection of Maple Avenue and Potomac Street, you will find a small park with a gazebo and a large mural of a train plus and old rail signal.

Then you make your way west on Potomac Street to the Brunswick Heritage Museum.  You enter the museum, and you can visit the C&O Canal Museum and Visitor Center on the first floor.  You go up to the second floor, and you can see displays of life in Brunswick and how the people lived.  Then you go to the third floor, and you will see a model train display of the railroad between the town of Brunswick and Union Station in Washington D.C.  The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday, and admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help with the costs of keeping the museum running.  You can learn more about the museum hours and upcoming events at http://brunswickmuseum.org.

As you walk through the town, you will feel that this is a true railroad town.  Every fall, the town has it Railroad Heritage Days to celebrate the town’s railroad heritage.  For two days there are model train displays, and there are trains rides available where you can ride along the tracks the Baltimore and Ohio originally ran on.  If you need a souvenir, you can visit the Brunswick High School booth where you can buy a shirt.  Their team name is the ‘Railroaders’ in case you are wondering.

The town of Brunswick, Maryland is a quiet town situated far from the major roadways of U.S. Routes 15 and 340 as well as Virginia Route 7 to the south.  It is always a great spot to sit and watch the trains roll by.  If you get hungry, there are a few great restaurants and ice cream shops a short walk away.  You can learn more about the town at https://brunswickmd.gov.  It is a town truly worth your time.

The Ghosts of the Trains

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You park your car in the lot next to the rail trail.  You get out and walk to the old train station that now serves as a rest stop for those using the trail.  You sit on the bench to take a brief rest, and then… it hits you.  You look left.  You look right.  It is just a trail that was once a right of way of a railroad line, but the tracks were taken up many years ago.  You look at the old train station… and it hits you again.  You begin to imagine the days when the trains passed through here.  You hear the whistle.

Wait!  There is no train here.  The tracks have been gone for years.  The whistle blows again.  You look around, and passengers are arriving at the depot.  The train arrives.  People get off and on the train.  The platform is full of people.  Where did the come from?

“All aboard!”  The conductor shouts.

The train starts to pull away, and the people are leaving the station.  The train is gone, but all you see is an empty rail trail and an old train station.

Imagine the days when the rail trails were once rail lines where people rode the trains and where freight trains rolled along.  Imagine the days when those old train stations were the center of activity in the town where the ticket master sold tickets and where people sat and waited for the trains.  These are the ghosts of the trains.

 

The photo is of the old train terminal at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.