Montpelier, the Home of James and Dolley Madison, Montpelier Station, Virginia

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James Madison was the fourth President of the United States of America.  Before he was elected to the Office of the Presidency, he was one of the founding fathers who drafted the Constitution for the nation.  He then served as the Secretary of state under President Thomas Jefferson.  During his presidency, he presided over the War of 1812 where he was forced out of the White House due to the attack of the British who marched on Washington burning the White House and many other buildings.  After his presidency, he and his wife Dolley and his family left the White House and moved back to his lifelong home at Montpelier in central Virginia.  He and his family lived at Montpelier, and he remained there until his death, and he is buried at the cemetery also located Montpelier.

Today, you can visit the home of James Madison and his family.  You can take a guided tour of the family mansion and see the famous temple that is near the home.  You can take a walk through the gardens, and you can see the rebuilt slave quarters and the award winning exhibition The Mere Distinction of Colour.  You can step into the lab where archeologists are looking through their discoveries.  There are a few galleries that you can explore.  You can also hike a few trails through the woods, and you can visit the family cemetery and see where James and Dolley are buried.  A visit to Montpelier is a day very well spent, and you will get to know the life of the Madison family.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  That is so cool.  James Madison was a great man for giving us the Constitution, and he had a great wife who was very supportive of his efforts.  It would be great to visit this place.  There are a few issues that I do have.  First of all, there are no railroads here.  Second, although he may have been alive when the railroad was alive and running, he was never seen riding a train.  Plus, there were no railroads around Montpelier until after his death.  Since the Madison family had nothing to do with railroads, I will have nothing to do with Montpelier.”

Those are very valid points.  As far as it is known, James Madison never rode a train.  However, after his passing, his wife, Dolley did ride the train between Washington D.C. and New York City, and it is said that she may have taken a train ride between Washington D.C. and Richmond Virginia.  In her writings to a friend, she wrote about how much she enjoyed riding the train, but she never rode the train to Montpelier.  What does this have to do with the Madison’s at Montpelier and the railroad?  The answer is nothing.  That will dampen your spirits to visit Montpelier, but Montpelier itself does have something to do with the railroad.

As mentioned, Montpelier was the home of James Madison and his family.  The property consists of the mansion, the gardens, a small temple, the rebuilt slave quarters, an archeological lab, galleries, hiking trails and the family cemetery.  The property also consists of the Gilmore Cabin and an old train depot.  Some of you have fallen out of your seat at the mention of a train depot, but you have read correctly.  There is a train depot at Montpelier.  Built in 1910 to serve the town of Montpelier, it consisted of two waiting rooms: one for the ‘whites’ and one for the ‘colored’.  (Laws during the time required separate waiting rooms.)  There is also the ticket office where the station agent sold the tickets and also distributed the mail.  During its time of service, the depot was a flag stop (meaning that the train only stopped when passengers requested to stop here or a passenger is waiting), and the depot served passengers, freight and a post office.  There were platforms on each side of the tracks for passengers to board and de-board the train.  Side tracks allowed trains to unload freight at the freight house, and there was a trestle built for unloading coal.  Passenger service ended in 1967, and freight service ended in 1974, and the depot closed.  The side track was eventually taken up.

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Today, the depot remains and has been restored to its 1910 look.  The main railroad line still passes the depot, and, if you are fortunate enough, you may see a passing train.  You can also see where the passenger platforms were located.  A short ways from the depot is the ruins of the old coal trestle.  The depot houses the post office for Montpelier where you can get your letters stamped and mailed.

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Montpelier is open seven days a week, but hours vary throughout the year.  You will want to plan about two hours to do the house tour and the grounds plus an extra hour for the Gilmore Cabin and Train Depot.  It is located at 11350 Constitution Highway (Virginia Route 20) in Montpelier Station, Virginia.  (This is east of U.S. 33 in Barboursville and west of U.S. 15 in Orange.)  You can go to https://www.montpelier.org to get more information at Montpelier, admission, the hours for your day of your visit, read up on the lives of James and Dolley Madison and to purchase tickets.

Come see Montpelier, the home of James Madison, President of the United States of America, the father of the United States Constitution.  Come and see the train depot where visitors once rode the train to visit Montpelier.

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The Rappahannock Railroad Museum, Fredericksburg, Virginia

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You have your everyday typical small railroad museum, and you have the Rappahannock Railroad Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  When you arrive, you will notice the two cabooses: one from the Fredericksburg, Richmond and Potomac Railroad and the other from the Norfolk and Western Railroad.  You then see a box car from Conrail and a baggage car from the Pennsylvania Railroad.  These for cars house the museum.  Inside you will see a few model train displays and memorabilia from the Fredericksburg, Richmond and Potomac Railroad to include old paintings and photos.  The RF&P caboose is set up like a normal caboose.  You then walk around outside and see the old signals and repair equipment.  There is even the passenger shed that is a replica of the old sheds that you saw along the railroad lines in years past.  All of these cars and maintenance equipment is displayed on spur lines of the CSX main line.

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If you had visited this museum in the old days, this would have been all that you would have seen.  You now have a reason to revisit this museum.

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The museum was able to acquire two trailers.  The one trailer displays more railroad memorabilia.  The other houses three model train displays.  You have the one HO scale display.  Then you have the smaller N scale display.  Then you have the larger O scale display.

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You may think that this is everything, but it is not.  There is the most important thing at the museum.

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How can you come to the museum and not ride the Little Yellow Train?  Maintenance of Way cars are assembled together to form a train, and you can ride this train along the spur track crossing two grade crossings to include the one at Virginia Route 2 and end at the main CSX line.  If you are fortunate enough, you may see an Amtrak or CSX train pass by.  When you return to the museum, you may want to take another ride.

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What appears to be a small museum has so much on the inside.  They go to great lengths to display the history of the Fredericksburg Richmond and Potomac Railroad as well as the importance of maintaining the tracks to ensure that the trains and the people stay safe as they roll on down the line.

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The Rappahannock Railroad Museum is located at 11700 Main Street in the Joseph Mills Industrial Park in Fredericksburg, Virginia just off Virginia Route 2 and U.S. Business Route 17.  It is easily accessible from Interstate 95, U.S. Routes 1 and 17 and from Virginia Route 3.  It is currently open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 12:00pm.  (They are currently looking into expanding their hours.)  Admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help with the expenses of operating the museum today and for generations to come.  Parking is available at the museum.  The Little Yellow Train runs every Saturday in fair weather.  Please note that the baggage cars and cabooses are not handicap accessible, but the model train building and new museum building is.

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The next time you are making your Saturday journey along Interstate 95, make a stopover in Fredericksburg and check out the Rappahannock Railroad Museum.  It is a detour that you will be happy to make.

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The Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers, Leakin Park, Baltimore, Maryland

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The city of Baltimore, Maryland is a city of many firsts.  It is where the National Anthem of the United States of America was written by a man named Francis Scott Key while in captivity on a ship looking towards the flag that was still waving above Fort McHenry.  It is the home of the first Catholic Church in the United States of America.  It is where the National Road, the first major road to go west, began.  It is also the birthplace of the American railroad and the home of the first Railroad Bridge and, south of the city, the first aqueduct.  The amazing thing is that all of these places exist today and can be visited.  As the birthplace of the American railroad, the city remains a railroad mecca in the nation, and many of the old railroad sites and stations remain although some of these places are no longer serving the railroad, but the sites have been preserved and can be visited.

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On the west side of the city is Leakin Park, and in this park you will find Orianda House, a Crimea estate that was the summer home of Thomas de Kay Winans.  What is special about Thomas de Kay Winans?  He just happened to be a wealthy railroad entrepreneur, and he was also the son of Ross Winans, an industrialist for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  With the park being a piece of railroad history, it would be fitting to be the home of a miniature railroad: the Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers.

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Every second Sunday of the month from April to November, the Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers, known as CALS for short, operate miniature trains around Leakin Park.  The trains leave the shop, and they pull up to the station where everyone boards.  The train makes a large loop around the field before it returns back to the station.  There is 3400 feet of seven and a half inch track that one-eighth scale trains run on.  They run steam locomotives as well as diesel locomotives replicating the locomotives you would see on the main lines.  Whether you are young or old, you will enjoy your ride on the train.

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The Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers is located in Leakin Park along Windsor Mill Road in Baltimore, Maryland.  It is just minutes from Interstate 70.  The trains run from 11:00am to 3:30pm.  The train rides are free, and you can ride as many times as you like.  However, donations are greatly appreciated to help with the costs of running the trains and to keep the trains running for many generations to come.  You can learn more about the trains and the railroad club at http://calslivesteam.org/, or you can check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CALSteamers/.  You can also get detailed directions from Interstate 70 at http://www.railfanguides.us/livediesel/cals/index.htm.

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Are you free on the second Sunday of the month?  Spend that Sunday on the Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers.  It will be time well spent.

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“You Have Been Working on the Railroad”

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You have been working on the railroad all the live long day, but you are not doing it to pass the time away.  Maybe those of you who volunteer on those excursion railroads or at railroad museums may be passing the time away, but those who get paid are doing it for a living, and they are helping many people along the way.  Regardless, you all have a passion for the railroad.  From the man who sells the tickets to the engineer to the conductor to the porter to the chef to the waiter to the baggage handler to the mechanic to the tracker worker to the museum curator to the gift shop worker to the volunteer worker to the restoration worker to the model railroad builder to the photographer to the writer to the historian to the information person to the travel agent, you all play a big role in the railroad.  It is because of you that the railroad has life today.  When the people ride the train or ship freight or just watch the trains at their favorite watching spot or see the train at the museum, it is all possible because of you.

To the people of Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Trains Magazine plus all the short line railroads and the railroad museums, have a Happy Labor Day.  Your labor is not in vain.

Harris Tower, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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It was back in the day.  A train was arriving into the yard.  As it entered the yard, it began to separate.  A man in a tower would watch the train arrive a separate.  He would move switches to put the cars on the correct tracks to build trains going to other cities.  Day and night someone would have to move the switches to get the cars on the correct tracks and, at the same time, avoid collisions.  Through the years, technology allowed the switching to be done from a central location, and the towers were no longer used.  Many of them were demolished over time.

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Welcome to Harris Tower in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a tower that was spared demolition and was made into a museum where visitors can see the life of a man in the tower.  You can see the old switch boards, the original interlocking machine, the original 113 levers used to switch the tracks, the old desk, a typewriter, and a great view of the trains passing by.  You can even watch the Amtrak trains pull into the nearby passenger station as you are at the end of the electrified section of the railroad.

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The tower was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1930, and it had a whole lot of business while in operation as over one hundred trains passed by.  It later served the Penn Central Railroad and Amtrak until it was decommissioned in 1991.  It is now a museum owned by the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today, you can operate the same levers as were operated by those who worked in the tower, and you can watch your progress on the lighted switch board.  After being here for a short while, you may forget what year you are in.  It is also a great train watching spot that is air conditioned.  How many train watching spots have that claim?

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The Harris Tower is one of the few preserved towers in the world, but it is also a tower that still has its original equipment in working condition.  Even though it is not connected to the current rails today, you can still get a feel of life in a railroad tower.

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The Harris Tower is located at the intersection of 7th Street and Walnut Street in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It is a short walk from the State Capitol.  It is open on Saturdays from late May through late October from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  There are a few parking spots at the tower.  Otherwise, there is street parking and a parking lot adjacent to the tower and is free on Saturdays.  Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted to help with the museum operations and to help keep this great train watching spot air conditioned.  There are also private opening and showing for groups or individuals with a prior arrangement and a proper donation.  You can go to www.HarrisTower.org to get more information and to read more into the history of the tower.

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So you never had a reason to visit Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Now you do.  Visit Harrisburg, and visit the Harris Tower.

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The First Military Railroad in America

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From the American Civil War to this present day, the railroad has played a role in the military not just in the United States but in other countries around the world.  Do you know where the railroad was first used for military service?  It was during the American Civil War, and it was used during the First Battle of Manassas although not on the battlefield itself.  General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson did use the railroad to transport his troops between Delaplane, Virginia to the Manassas Junction (now Manassas) to march his troops to the battlefield, but there was a railroad built specifically for military use.   Sadly, most of the railroad bed is gone, but there are a few markers at places where the train once ran.

It began north of the railroad junction (which is where Wellington Road crosses the tracks) past the old train station in what is now Old Town Manassas, and it went five and a half miles north from there.  Where did it go?  It went across Liberia Plantation (just the house and a cemetery remains today), and it sloped down towards Bull Run where it crossed on a long trestle bridge about a quarter mile south from Cub Run.  It continued north through rocky cuts that were blasted with black powder.  It entered into a field owned by James Murtaugh, a local farmer, and it terminated there.  This spot today is off New Braddock Road across the street from Centre Ridge Elementary School.  A monument marking the northern terminus is in a clump of trees next to a playground.  There is also a sign on Route 28 at the north end of Old Centreville Road (just south of New Braddock Road).

Now some of you are saying, “That is very cool to see where the where the world’s first military railroad was, but Centreville, Virginia?  Nothing happened there.  Besides, the battlefield is miles west of here.”

When you visit Centreville, Virginia today, you see modern homes and shopping centers.  You do not notice the historic sites which are hidden away from the major roads of Interstate 66, U.S. Route 29, Virginia Route 28 and the current routing of Braddock Road.  You would have no idea that this was a very historic town, and although no battles were fought here, it was a strategic town in the battles of Manassas and Ox Hill.  The Centreville Historic District is accessible from U.S. Route 29, and many of the old structures and old forts remain today.  Braddock Road, which has been altered through the years and was split into three roads with the building of Interstate 66, was the main street that went from the mountains to the ports of Alexandria.  The town is on high ground which made it a perfect spot to set up camps to watch for oncoming Union troops.  The camp was set up on the south side of the town, and the railroad supplied the camp by way of the Alexandria and Orange Railroad.  (That main line still passes through Manassas today and is operated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad.)

What happened to the first military railroad?

The Centerville Confederate Military Railroad, the name of America’s first military railroad that was constructed between December 1861 and January 1862, was strictly used for supplying the Confederate camps in and around Centreville and was never used as a passenger railroad.  The Confederate Army departed from Centreville in March 1862, and they destroyed everything of military value to include the rolling stock and the bridge across Bull Run.  The rails were taken up by Federal troops in July of the same year and were taken to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  That was the end of the short life of the first military railroad.

As the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area grew, some of the sites including the railroad bed was destroyed and replaced with houses.  Through the years, archaeologist and historians tried to search for some of the sites using old maps from the Civil War area, and although they were able to find some sites, the other sites may be forever gone.  As for the military railroad bed, most of it was destroyed, but some of it does remain although on private property.  In the early 1970’s, archeologists and historians were able to find the northern terminus of the railroad and have marked it with a small monument.  The monument is on public property and can be visited although you will not be able to see where the railroad went from there.

The next time you are driving through Centreville, Virginia, remember that you are driving through history, and that you are passing through the area of America’s first ever military railroad.

Historic Roscoe Village, Coshocton, Ohio

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In the early years of America, pioneers were looking for ways to make their way across the land.  A system of canals was built to allow boats to go from big waterway to big waterway.  One of these canals was the Ohio and Erie Canal which connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River.  One of the towns the canal was to pass through was Roscoe.  Originally established in 1816 and named Caldersburgh after James Calder, the town’s founder who happened to be a bankrupt merchant and established the town hoping to attract the local farmers who did not wish to pay for a ferry ride across the Muskegon River to nearby Coshocton.  It was later named Roscoe after an English historian named William Roscoe who was also a poet and also happened to be an abolitionist.  When the first boat arrived by canal in 1830, the town of Roscoe was a thriving canal town, and it was the fourth largest port on the Ohio and Erie Canal.    Today, you can visit the Historic Roscoe Village which has been restored to what the town once was.

Now some of you are saying, “This is so nice.  How wonderful it is to see how a canal helped a town thrive.  However, there is one problem.  There are no railroads in the Historic Roscoe Village.  Therefore, I will not be visiting this place.”

The Historic Roscoe Village was an original town on a canal system that connected inland towns to the major port cities on the Atlantic seaboard, and they canal made Roscoe a very thriving town, but the Ohio and Erie Canal, like many other canals of the day, became less efficient when another form of transportation was able to get goods across the nation much faster than the canal boats ever could.  That form of transportation was the railroad which stopped in the nearby town of Coshocton.  This took commerce away from Roscoe and the canal which caused the town to decline.  In 1913, there was a state wide flood that destroyed the canal, and it was let to ruin.  Today, only the lock ruins, basins filled with trees and the tow path remains.

Now you are saying, “So the railroad doomed the canals.  However, if you visit the Historic Roscoe Village, you will not see any railroads.”

You will not see any railroads in the Historic Roscoe Village, but that was not always the case.

The Historic Roscoe Village is built to resemble the canal town that it once was.  On the east side of the village, you can see remnants of the original canal at least the parts that were not succumb to Ohio State Highway 16.  On the north side of the village, some of the canal was preserved to include the basin where the Walhonding Canal, a feeder canal, connected with the Ohio and Erie Canal.  As boats entered this canal, it had to pass through a triple lock.  (Most canals mainly pass through one lock at a time.)  From there it continued north.  Years later, the canal was doomed and ceased operation.

Here is the moment of truth.

When Walhonding Canal was abandoned, the canal bed became the road bed for the Walhonding Valley Railroad.  It was controversial in the beginning as there were those who did not wish the railroad to be built on the old canal property, but it was built in four years, and a place where there were once boats now had trains with bridges built over the old canal.  Railroad service continued until 1936.  If you were to visit the Triple Locks today, you will see very little evidence of a railroad right-of-way, but you can get a sense of something that once was.

The Historic Roscoe Village consists of many old structures along the main street.  There are many restaurants and shops throughout the village.  There is no admission charge to walk through the village itself, but you will need to pay admission to enter into select structures to include a print shop, broom shop, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office and home, a school, a toll house and a weave shop.  Most of the docents are dress in period costume to give you a feel of the time period.  Other sites include the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum located in the village and a canal boat ride on the Monticello III along a section of the canal that has been restored.  The Visitor Center also has a small museum where you can see a photo of the old railroad bridge crossing the Muskegon River, and you can stroll through the garden outside and gaze at the waterfall.  The Triple Lock Ruins are a short walk from the Visitor Center.  The village also has venues to hosts events like parties and weddings.  They also have events throughout the year.  The Historic Roscoe Village is operated by the Montgomery Foundation and the Roscoe Village Foundation to bring the Canal Era to the present day.

Historic Roscoe Village is located in the town of Coshocton, Ohio.  It is just off Ohio Route 16 and south of U.S. 36.  There is parking in the town and plenty of parking at the Visitor Center.  The village is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm seven days a week.  You can get more information and to read more about the history of the village at https://www.roscoevillage.com.  If you have a little extra time, you can go into the town of Coshocton and visit the old train depot and freight house and grab a drink at the Railroad Saloon.

The next time you hear about the Historic Roscoe Village, do not just think of it as just a canal town.  Think of it as a place where a train once passed through.

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[Looking across the basin at the Triple Locks.  The railroad passed right through here.]