Fairfax, Virginia and the Railroad

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Fairfax, Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C. that is west of the city, and it is the county seat of Fairfax County, Virginia.  The town was established in 1805 and named after Thomas Fairfax.  It played a role in the American Civil War as it was the site of the first land battle of the war (after the first shot fired at Fort Sumter) known as the Battle of Fairfax Courthouse.  A second battle took place here years later days before the battle of Gettysburg which, although the Confederates won the war, impeded their progress in their march to Gettysburg.  Although Virginia was a Confederate state, Fairfax was a Union stronghold.  Blenheim, a brick farmhouse, was used as a hospital.  The Gunnell House was also the site of a night raid by John Mosby (known as the ‘Gray Ghost’) who invaded the home at night and kidnapped a Union officer while he was in bed and rode him out of town on a horse.  With all this history, only the Gunnell House remains in its original location.  Blenheim was relocated less than a mile from its location, and the battlefield was overrun with development.

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You read all of this, and you say to yourself, “This would have been a great town to have a railroad pass through.”

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It would have been a great town to have a railroad, and it was part of the plan for the Manassas Gap Railroad.  A line had already been built between Mount Jackson, Virginia and the junction with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in Manassas Junction (Manassas today).   A line was proposed to branch off from Gainesville a run a few miles north of the Orange and Alexandria’s line passing through the towns of Chantilly, Fairfax and Annandale and ending up in Alexandria.  This would have allowed the farms of the Shenandoah Valley direct access with the ports of Alexandria without the dependence of the Orange and Alexandria and the Baltimore and Ohio.  Construction of this line began in the 1850’s.  The costs began to be more than expected, and the Civil War happened.  Much of the costs went to funding the war effort.  The line was abandoned without any tracks being laid.

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Although development destroyed most of the original Manassas Gap Railroad bed, there are places where some of it remains.  In Annandale, you can visit the Hidden Oaks Nature Center to see some of the original roadbed, and you can walk on the roadbed at the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site.  A small section of the roadbed can be seen in Fairfax on Judicial Drive between Page Drive and Main Street.  There is a section that runs through the property of the Sully Historic Site in Chantilly.  You can also see sections of the roadbed on the Manassas National Battlefield.

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Did Fairfax ever get a railroad?  There was an electric trolley line known as the Washington, Arlington and Falls Church that did run from Arlington to what is now the Old Town of Fairfax.  It arrived in Fairfax in the early 1900’s with the terminus of the line at the Old Courthouse of the corner of Main Street and the Chain Bridge Road.  Service ceased in the 1940’s, and the tracks have been taken up although there are a few remnants of the line in the town.

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With the trolley line gone and the Manassas Gap Railroad abandoning their rail line, how would the people of Fairfax have access to the rest of the nation other than by horse?  The closest rail line was the Orange and Alexandria Railroad which was four miles south by way of the Ox Road.

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In 1851, the town of Lee’s Station was established where the Ox Road crossed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  A year later, the town was named Fairfax Station after its proximity to the town of Fairfax.  The town began as a simple train station, but other structures were built to include the Saint Mary’s Church, the oldest Catholic church in Fairfax County.  The church attendees were immigrants from Ireland who came to work on the railroad.  It was just a simple town until the Civil War came.  In 1862, the church became a hospital.  Wounded from the Union and Confederacy were brought from the second Battle of Manassas by train to the train station, and they were taken to the church to be cared for.  Among the caretakers was a lady named Clara Barton.  It was this incident and a few others that motivated her to find the American Red Cross.  There was also a small skirmish that took place here on the grounds of the church.

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When the war was over, Fairfax Station went back to a simple stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  The railroad line changed ownership through the years, but passenger trains continued to stop at the depot until 1973.  The depot was abandoned.  It was about to be demolished, but a local organization known as ‘Friends of the Fairfax Station Incorporated’.  The depot was moved to a location away from the tracks to a safe location, and it was converted into a museum.  Today, you can visit the museum (https://www.fairfax-station.org) and learn about the history of the region.  It is one of only three surviving train stations in Fairfax County, Virginia, and it is the only train station in the county that is in proximity of a railroad line.

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What about Fairfax itself?  Fairfax Station is today just a name.  The trains pass through without stopping.  They stop in Alexandria.  They stop in Manassas.  There are commuter train stops in the county with an Amtrak stop in Burke, but no trains stop at Fairfax Station.  Although Fairfax has grown tremendously through the years, the old town pales in comparison to the old towns of Manassas and Alexandria.  What if the Manassas Gap Railroad completed its line?  What if passengers were able to pull up in the old town like they can in Manassas and Alexandria as opposed to traveling four miles from town?  As for now, Fairfax is just an old town between two larger more popular old towns that have railroads.

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At the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

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There it is standing before you.  What is it?  You are looking at the Mount Clare Roundhouse.  What is special about this roundhouse?  Before it was the home of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, it was a place where locomotives and rolling stock were serviced.  You enter this massive room.  You are surrounded by the oldest collection of locomotives and rail cars in the entire world.  The old stagecoaches are next to a replica of the very first train in North America.  The stagecoaches that were pulled by horses that once ran along the nearby National Road is now next to the very first locomotive in the history of North America.  What is this locomotive called?  Well, it was a horse, but it pulled a passenger coach on rails.  Then came the York locomotive.  Well, you see the replica of the original as well as a replica of the Tom Thumb.

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The great thing about being in this roundhouse looking at these locomotives is that each one of these locomotives, as well as the other rolling stock, have great stories to tell.  The ‘Thatcher Perkins’ pulled Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train.  The Cass Railroad shay locomotive pulled logging cars for the mountainside to a little milling town of Cass, West Virginia.  The Central Railroad of New Jersey’s 592 is a humpback locomotive known as an ‘Atlantic Humpback’ because it ran mainly along the Atlantic seaboard, with its cab in the middle of the boiler as opposed to being behind the boiler.  Even if you are not an expert on locomotives, you will appreciate the William Mason and the J. C. Davis for their fancy artwork.

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The thing about the collection at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum is that the collection cannot fit in the roundhouse.  Fortunately, The Passenger Car Shop remains, and you can find some great rolling stock there.  What do you see?  Well, you cannot miss the Number 490 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway known as the ‘Hudson’ with the bright yellow paint.  (Sadly, the luxury passenger cars behind it are not available for board, but it would have been great to ride back in the days of operation.)  You have the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Number 5300 known as the President Washington.  However, this locomotive is dwarfed by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Number 1604, an ‘Alleghany’ locomotive which is one of only two of these types of locomotives that remain.  (The other is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.)  If you need to come down to size, you have the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Number 1000, a switcher locomotive use to move rail cars at a yard in New York City.

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Just when you thought that you have seen it all, you have not.  Of course, what is visiting the museum without riding along the first mile and a half of track laid in North America?  No, it is not pulled by a horse but a vintage locomotive with vintage rail cars to include a parlor car where you can ride in luxury.

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The Baltimore and Ohio Museum is the site of the Birthplace of American Railroading.  Every step you take here and in the surrounding neighborhood of homes which housed the railroad workers is a step into history.

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A Little Message

Hello  Everyone.  I  am  letting  everyone  know  that  with  everything  being  shut  down,  I  plan  to   on.  However,  some  things  will  be  put  on  hold  until  everything  gets  reopened  again.  As  for  now  you  will  be  getting  other  things  from  me  so  I  hope  that  this  can  go  away  soon  and  get  back  to  normal.

Pennypacker Mills, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania

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About a little over thirty miles northwest of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a small town known as Schwenksville.  In this town is where you will find Pennypacker Mills.  Who is it named after?  It was the home of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker who served as the governor of the state of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907.  However, it was not named after the governor.  It was named after the brother of his great-great-grandfather Peter Pennypacker who owned and operated the mill.  Samuel bought the property from a cousin who was a descendant of Peter Pennypacker because he was interested in the family history, and it was a great was a great location in the country.  (The land was also the site of an encampment for George Washington and his army during the American Revolutionary War.)  When you visit Pennypacker Mills, you will see the home the way it was in the early part of the twentieth century.  With the well landscaped grounds, you may find yourself going back in time when you visit this place.

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Some of you are saying, “This is great.  I am pretty sure that this is probably a very nice house.  However, there are no railroads at this place.  Therefore, I will not be campaigning for this place.”

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You have a great point.  There are no railroads at this site.  So, what does this place have to do with the railroad?

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As mentioned, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker lived at this home.  While here, he traveling to Philadelphia where he also had a law office.  How did he travel?

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Some of you are saying, “Duh!  He was chauffeured in his limousine.”

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When it comes to those of great wealth, that would be a common answer.  However, Mr. Pennypacker was not your average traveler.  He traveled by train.  How?  If you were to visit Schwenksville today, you will not find any railroads, but you will find a rail trail.  It is a short walk from Pennypacker Mills to where he boarded the train.  When you visit the town, you will see a train depot that is now an ice cream shop, and a mural of a locomotive.  Is this old depot where Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker boarded the train?  Well, no.  That depot was built in 1943 as a replacement of the original depot that burned down in 1942, and the original depot is what you will see in the mural.  Maybe you will want to hike the trail as it runs along a creek.  What other connection is there with the railroad?  Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker is the grandson of Matthias Pennypacker, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.

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Now you have a reason to visit Pennypacker Mills.  It is owned and operated by Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites who also own the rail trail.  (The rail trail is part of the national rails-to-trails initiative.)  It is located at 5 Haldeman Road in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania just off Pennsylvania Route 73.  It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  (Closed Mondays and state holidays.)  Admission is free.  (Donations gladly accepted.)  Parking is on site.  Along with the mansion tour you can also walk the grounds.  You can get more information and read more into the life of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker at https://www.montcopa.org/928/Pennypacker-Mills.

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There are two other historic homes you can visit while you are in the region that are part of the Montgomery County Parks system.  The first is the Peter Wentz Farmstead in Worchester, Pennsylvania located on Pennsylvania Route 73 east of Pennypacker Mills.  Unlike Pennypacker Mills, there is no railroad history or connections at this site.  You can get information about the Peter Wentz Farmstead at https://www.montcopa.org/929/Peter-Wentz-Farmstead.  The other site is Pottsgrove Manor in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the home of ironmaster John Potts.  Does Pottsgrove Manor have a connection to the railroads.  Yes, it does… in a not-so-good way.  The Colebrookdale Railroad passes near the mansion.  During one trip in 1877, a stray spark flew out from the train and landed on the roof of the grist mill causing it to burn to the ground.  Do not worry.  The railroad and the manor have long since reconciled with each other, but you can still visit the mansion, and you can watch trains from the front of the house.  The Colebrookdale Railroad is in the process of building a stop in Pottstown that will be a short walk to the mansion.  You can learn more about Pottsgrove Manor, when you can visit and more about its history at https://www.montcopa.org/930/Pottsgrove-Manor.

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Marshall County Museum, Plymouth, Indiana

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There is a town in northern central Indiana called Plymouth.  In this small town is the Marshall County Museum.  This museum tells the history of the county.  If you really want to know the history of Marshall County, Indiana, visit the Marshall County Museum in Plymouth, Indiana.

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Some of you are saying, “Interesting.  I have never heard of the town of Plymouth, Indiana, and I have never heard of Marshall County.  It is a good thing that they have this museum.  If not, nobody would know about Marshall County.  There is one problem.  This museum is a county museum and not a railroad museum.  Therefore, you will not see me visiting this place.”

 

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It is a museum about Marshall County so why visit this museum?

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As mentioned, it is a museum that displays the story of the county from home life to school life to the local sports.  This museum is filled with artifacts.  This museum also has a very special room.  What is this room?  The Train Room.  No, this is not some small model train that goes in a small circle.  This display is a good size.  From steam to diesel, the trains go down the trains.  There are also trains on the walls plus old photos of the old train depot.  You may be spending a little time in this room.

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Although the Marshall County Museum is about the area around Plymouth, out-of-towners will appreciate this place.  It is run and operated by the Marshall County Historical Society.  It is located at 123 North Michigan Street (Indiana Route 17) in the heart of Plymouth.  It is minutes from U.S. Routes 6, 30 and 31.  The building is handicap accessible.  Parking is street parking.  You can learn more at https://mchistoricalsociety.org/.

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So, you not only have a reason to visit Plymouth, Indiana, but you also have a reason to visit the Marshall County Museum.  They would love to have you visit.

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The Erie Zoo, Erie, Pennsylvania

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The city of Erie, Pennsylvania is in the northwestern part of the state on the south shore of Lake Erie.  It is the second largest port city in the state.  (Philadelphia is number one.)  It is home to a maritime museum where the U.S.S. Niagara is docked, and it is home to a few lighthouses.  Then you have Presque Isle State Park.  Like other cities, it has a zoo.  The Erie Zoo may not compare to the big city zoos, but it is still an enjoyable place to visit.

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Some of you are saying, “This is great.  It is a small zoo compared to many zoos across the country.  It has animals like any other zoo, but there are no trains.  Therefore, I will not waste my time at this place.”

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Yes, it is a zoo.  Yes, it has animals just like any other zoo.  This zoo also has something that rail fans like.  Why is it?  A train.  It is a miniature train.  It is a small version of a C. P. Huntington which was used on the transcontinental Railroad.  This C. P. Huntington runs at the Erie Zoo.

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Some of you are saying, “I know.  It goes down the track, around a loop, and comes back.  I have been on these mini trains.  It is the same thing.”

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It does go down the track, and it crosses a bridge.  It goes through a tunnel, and then it goes across a long trestle.  Yes, it is a long bending trestle.  Then the fun begins.  It becomes a safari train.  The tracks go through an animal pen where you get up close to rams, deer, antelope and ducks.  Be advised.  This is not your average mini train ride.

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While you are walking around looking at the animals, you will find another discovery.  What is this discovery?  You will discover a model train.  It includes a huge train trestle, a farm, a covered bridge and a few structures.

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The Erie Zoo is located at 432 West 38th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania.  It is minutes from downtown and from Interstates 90 and U.S. Route 20.  It is open from March to November (closed in December, January and February) from 10:00am to 5:00pm.  Admission to the zoo is $10.00 for those 13 to 62, $8.00 for those over 62 and $6.00 for those 2 to 12.  The train will cost $3.00 more.  It runs weather permitting, and it is accessible to those who are handicap and for those in wheelchairs.  You can get more information at https://www.eriezoo.org/.

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Now you have a reason to visit the Erie Zoo for something other than seeing animals.  You can take a train ride.  It is worth a visit.

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The Corner Field Model Railroad Museum and Trading Post Train Shop, Middlefield, Ohio

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You are driving across Ohio, and you come upon a baseball field.  Next to the baseball field is a railroad crossing sign next to a small building.  Curious to see what is going on, you pull into the lot.  What could be here?

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Welcome to the Corner Field Model Railroad Museum and Trading Post Train Shop.  You go inside, and you are greeted by friendly people behind the counter.  You look around the hobby shop, but you did see that there is a model railroad museum.

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Some of you are saying, “I know.  It is a model railroad museum with a hobby shop.  You see the trains in the hobby shop and then watch this train go around in a small circle, and that is their museum.  I have seen these places so many times.  They are just not worth your time.”

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Corner Field Model Railroad Museum and Trading Post Train Shop.  No, it is not a train going around in some small circle.  It is more like a very big circle.  As you enter the museum, you will be amazed.  This display is huge.  How huge?  It happens to be the largest family owned and operated O gauge train display in the United States of America.  Yes, it was built by one family and not a model railroad club, and it remains in the family to this current day.  You see trains going over bridges and past buildings some of which are at least sixty years old.  From steam to diesel, this display will amaze you.  You may think about going back to see it again.

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The Corner Field Model Railroad Museum and Trading Post Train Shop is a hidden treasure that is waiting for you to discover it.  It is located at 16720 Pioneer Road in Middlefield, Ohio (in the Huntsburg Township).  They are opened year-round from Wednesday to Sunday.  (Hours vary by day.)  Admission to the museum is $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors and $5.00 for kids 4 to 12. You can get directions, hours for the day you visit, and learn more about the hobby at http://cornerfieldmodelrailroadmuseumandhobby.com/.

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