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The Old Lorton Workhouse, Lorton, Virginia

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You are in Washington D.C.  You have committed a crime and have been arrested.  You go to trail and is found guilty.  The sentence is prison.  Where did you go?  You were sent to the Lorton Reformatory in Lorton, Virginia where you would serve your time.

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Why Lorton, Virginia?

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The jail in the District of Columbia was overcrowded.  With no available property, land was acquired in suburban Virginia.  Beginning in 1910, prisoners were sent there to serve time.  The prison was enlarged through the years and became a workhouse where prisoners were taught agriculture, brickmaking and canning.  Among those imprisoned here were those from the National Women’s Party who, in the 1920’s, were arrested for protesting the women’s right to vote.  Among them was Lucy Barns, one of the founders of the movement.  The prison remained in operation until it was finally closed in 2001.

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What happened to the facility?

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55 acres along Virginia Route 123 was renovated.  If you go to Lorton Reformatory today, you would not be going to jail.  You will be going to visit artist studios to watch various artists paint their marvelous works.  You can see clay makers working with clay for their pottery projects.  You can even catch a show in the theater or visit the museum that tells the history of the prison.  As you walk around, you will see a reformatory that truly has been reformed.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is great.  I like how they made this place into where artist can do and display their work and that they did not demolish the place.  Now people can see history and works of art all in one place.  There is one problem.  There is no railroad here.  Therefore, I will not be seeing any art here.”

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Many of the structures of Lorton Reformatory have been preserved as art studios.  Other areas of the reformatory are being renovated in townhouses, and the women’s reformatory is the headquarters of Fairfax Water, a utility company.  What was not preserved… was the railroad.

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What is a way to reform prisoners?  Have them build a railroad.  This is how the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad was built, and it is the only railroad in the history of the United States of America built by prisoners.  Service on this narrow-gauge railroad began in 1911.  As trains from the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (CSX today) arrived at the station in Lorton (where the current Amtrak terminal is located), cargo was transferred to the ‘L&O’.  The cargo mainly consisted of prisoners, but other items to include bricks from a coke oven was also transported.  The line ran mainly along what is now Lorton Road.  (Interstate 95 was built over the rail line.)  The line was four miles long with a few spurs from the line as it went past the reformatory and finished at a wharf on the north shore of the Occoquan River across from the town of Occoquan.  The railroad was in operation until 1977.  During the entire operation the line was maintained by prisoners with the engineer and the track manager being the only civilian workers.  When the railroad was abandoned, much of the rolling stock and locomotives were sold.  The tunnel that went under Interstate 95 was filled in during a renovation project.  Other parts of the railroad line were paved over.

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Are there any signs of the railroad today?

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A section of the railroad line was converted into a rail trail.  Two structures were spared.  One of the structures was a brick arch bridge where the original Lorton Road cross over the tracks.  The structure is just north of the current Lorton Road and can be seen from the highway and a short hike.  The other structure is the coke oven that is now part of Occoquan Regional Park.  A short section of the railroad entering the oven has been preserved.  You can also see photos and artifacts of the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad in the museum that is on the premises.  (The museum is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm Wednesday to Sunday, and admission is free.)  If you are up for it, you can walk along the rail trail.

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Along with artists on display, there are also classes that can be taken from learning art to clay to cooking to acting to photography.  You can even catch a show in the theater.  Plus, on the second Saturday evening of each month artists are on display with the ‘Second Saturday Art Walk’.

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The Old Lorton Reformatory, also known as the Lorton Workhouse and the Workhouse Arts Center, is located at 9518 Workhouse Way in Lorton, Virginia just off Virginia Route 123.  You can learn more about the events and classes and the hours at http://www.workhousearts.org.

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So, if you are going to jail, Lorton Reformatory is a jail that you will want to go to.  You can see art, dance, a show and some history… and a little railroad history.

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*This is in memory of Bill Koch who preserved the information and artifacts of the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad for many generations to come.

**The photos of the clay maker and the pottery are being used by permission from the clay gallery at the Lorton Workhouse.

***The painting and the model are property of Patricia McMahon Rice and is being used by permission for this article.  She has ownership of both the painting and the model.  You can see her and her artwork at the Lorton Workhouse in Studio 608D.

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The Railroad Museum of New England, Thomaston, Connecticut

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When you think about the New England region of the United States of America, what comes to mind?  You will hear about the colors of the leaves in the fall.  You hear about the many small towns.  You will hear about the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock and the story of the first Thanksgiving feast.  You will hear about the many lighthouses along the coastline.  You will hear about the great skiing in the mountains.  You will hear about the story of the American Revolution to include events around Boston, Massachusetts like the ‘Shot Heard Around the World’, the ‘Boston Tea Party’ and Paul Revere’s ride.  You will hear about the maritime history to include the many lobster boats and the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest commissioned naval ship in the world docked in Boston Harbor.  You thank about major universities like Harvard, Yale, Boston College University and the University of Connecticut.  For some sports fans, you constant hear about the Boston, the second most championed city in North America with the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics, the third most championed sports team in North America behind the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Yankees and, it must be mentioned, the New England Patriots who is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with the most Super Bowl Championships.  (Sadly, for Patriot fans, the Green Bay Packers are the most championed professional football team with 13.)

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These are great reasons to have a vacation in New England, but did you know that New England has many great railroads, great railroad museums and great railroad excursions?

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Welcome to the Railroad Museum of New England.  Located in the small town of Thomaston, Connecticut, it is a museum that preserves the railroad heritage of the region, and they have scenic train rides on the Naugatuck Railroad.  The museum displays many locomotives and rolling stock that have rolled through New England.  The train rides are on vintage passenger are pulled by vintage locomotives.  It is all centered around the old Thomaston depot which houses the ticket office and the gift shop.

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Of course, your main reason to visit is to ride the train.  Where does the train go?  Most of the excursion follows the Naugatuck River.  Each excursion varies in time and where it goes.  One thing you will experience is a vintage ride through the scenery of this tranquil river valley.

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The Railroad Museum of New England is an all-volunteer organization that tells the story of the rich railroad heritage of the region.  All the restoration work, the workers in the ticket office and gift shop and those who work on the train is done by those who so desire to keep this history around for many years to come.  Donations to the museum is used strictly for restoration and for expenses to operate the railroad.

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The Railroad Museum of New England is located at 242 East Main Street in Thomaston, Connecticut.  Although the rolling stock on display can be viewed at any time and are on display all year round, they are only opened for interior viewing when the trains are running.  Trains operate from April to December.  Parking is on site and is free.  You can get more information on the schedules, displays, directions and to learn about the trains at http://www.rmne.org.

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You have many great reasons to visit New England.  The Railroad Museum of New England is another reason to visit.

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Before Promontory, It Began in Baltimore

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The day was May 10, 1869.  The place was Promontory, Utah.  Two trains had arrived at this town.  A major triumph had occurred.  For the first time in the history of North American railroading, a rail line from Sacramento, California and a rail line from Omaha, Nebraska and Midwest had come together.  The Central Pacific Railroad had met with the Union Pacific Railroad.  The Transcontinental Railroad was completed.  Passengers were able to travel by train from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast.  As they were driving in each spike, the very last one was made of gold making one of the greatest feats in transportation history.  A nation was united, and it was all made possible by the railroad.  Although it was not a railroad that went coast to coast, it allowed travel from the Atlantic Coast Line to the Pacific Coast Line.  (A continuous rail line that allowed coast to coast travel was built through Denver allowing continuous passenger travel.)

Friday, May 10, 2019 is the 150th anniversary of this moment.  However, this feat that was accomplished in Utah… began in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

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The first stretch of track in Baltimore, Maryland, and it continued to what is now Ellicott City, Maryland.  From there, it continued west and crossed the Potomac River at what is now Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia making this the first time the railroad was ever out of the state of Maryland.  It continued west to Chicago, Illinois.  Throughout the years other railroads were established and went westward.  Among these railroads was the Union Pacific which began in Omaha, Nebraska, and it began to move west through the Rocky Mountains… making its way to Promontory, Utah.  Through these years, railroads were built along the Pacific Coast.  The Central Pacific then built a line going east from Sacramento through the Cascade Mountains and across the deserts in Nevada… and they arrived in Promontory.

Today, you can visit the site of the birthplace of American railroading in Baltimore, Maryland at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum which has the oldest collection of rolling stock in the nation (http://www.borail.org/).  While you are there, you can take a ride on the first mile and a half of track laid in the United States.  One block north on Lemmon Street, you can visit the Irish Railroad Workers Museum (http://www.irishshrine.org/) where the builders of the first railroad once lived.  You can visit the oldest surviving train station in the United States in Ellicott City, Maryland built at the end of the first stretch of railroad.  It has been preserved and is home to the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum (https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Baltimore-Ohio-Station-at-Ellicott-City).

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You can go west and visit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa (http://www.uprrmuseum.org/).  Here you will see the history of the Union Pacific Railroad, the second oldest still operating railroad in the nation.  (The Strasburg Railroad is the oldest in the nation, but the Union Pacific covers far much more territory.  The Strasburg was established and remains a short line railroad.)  Housed in the historic Carnegie Library, the museum has an extensive collection of artifacts, and it has a detailed history of the constructing of the Transcontinental Railroad.  While in Council Bluffs you can see the Golden Spike Monument located at 9th Avenue and South 21st Street.  You can visit Kenefick Park in Omaha, Nebraska (https://www.lauritzengardens.org/about/kenefick_park/index.asp) where two of the greatest locomotives of the Union Pacific, Centennial Number 6900, a diesel locomotive, and Big Boy Number 4023, the largest steam locomotive in the world, rest overlooking the Missouri River Valley.

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You can follow along the Transcontinental Route of which most remains active today, and you can hike along the areas where the tracks were taken up and see the old tunnels and snow sheds.  While traveling along this route you will pass by the largest railroad yard in the world in North Platte, Nebraska where you can watch the yard operations from a tower that overlooks the yard.

You can visit the California State Railroad Museum (https://www.californiarailroad.museum/) which is located at Sacramento, California.  It was in Sacramento where the Transcontinental Railroad was built going east.

Most important of all, you can visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah (https://www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm) to see the site where America was united with one golden spike.  You can stand on the spot where the final spike was driven and get a glimpse of what it was like with the two locomotives facing each other.

As you remember that moment of in Promontory, Utah with the unity of the Pacific Coast and the Atlantic Coast and the Midwest, take the time to remember where this moment began… in a city called Baltimore.

If you want a detailed story of the Transcontinental Railroad, you can go to the Kalmbach Hobby Store and order Journey to Promontory that details the process of building the railroad and The Golden Spike Route Today that follows the route of the railroad.  Both DVD’s and other books are available at https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/.

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The Hagerstown Railroad Museum at City Park, Hagerstown, Maryland

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Hagerstown, Maryland is a city located in the western part of the state.  Nicknamed the ‘Hub City’, it is a crossroads for the highways and for the railroads.  Near the center of the city is ‘City Park’.  It is considered to be one of the most beautiful city parks in America which includes a fountain, the Hager House and Museum which is the home of the city’s founder, a band shell for concerts, the Mansion House Arts Center, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and, most important to those who love trains, the Hagerstown Railroad Museum.

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As you enter through the gate, you will see Number 202 from the Western Maryland Railway.  This locomotive has a special home here as it served the city for many years.  There are also two old cabooses of which you can climb into and see what it was like to be in a caboose.  There are also a few old railroad signals.  Inside, you will see a model train display and an old hand car, two maintenance cars, an old waiting bench, old track switches plus much memorabilia from the trains that passed through the city.

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The Hagerstown Railroad Museum is located 525 Highland Way inside the City Park of Hagerstown, Maryland.  It is a short walk from Mansion House Arts Center.  Parking is available at the museum.  It is open Fridays and Saturdays only from mid-April to October between 10:00am to 4:00pm.  Admission is $4.00 for adults, $2.00 for those 62 and up, $1.00 for those 6 to 12 with those under six free.  Although most of the museum is handicap accessible, the cabooses and Number 202 is not handicap accessible.  You can get more information about the museum and upcoming events at https://www.hagerstownmd.org/310/City-Park-Train-Hub.

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The next time you are approaching Hagerstown, Maryland, do not drive by.  Stop in.  Enjoy the ‘City Park’ and visit the Hagerstown Railroad Museum.

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The West Virginia Railroad Museum, Elkins, West Virginia

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Here you are.  You are in Elkins, West Virginia.  You have done one of the best things to do in Elkins: ride the train.  You just got off the Cheat Mountain Salamander or the Tygart Flyer or the Mountain Explorer.  Your day is done here.  Right?

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Wrong!  You must make your way to the West Virginia Railroad Museum.

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Just a short walk from the Elkins Depot is the West Virginia Railroad Museum.  You will not see any old locomotives, old rail cars or old cabooses.  What you will find is detailed chronologic history of railroading in the state of West Virginia.  From the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the coal mines to the different towns across the state, the railroad has been a big part of the state.  The museum features model trains to include displays of towns and industrial areas, old railroad maintenance equipment.  There are also old photos of the railroads.  It is a small museum, but you will see much about the railroads of West Virginia, and they have changing exhibits each year so you will want to come back again and again.

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The West Virginia Railroad Museum is a project site of the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area.  It is located on the upper floor of the old Darden Mill which was built on railroad property making it a great place for the museum.  Opened in 2014, it is a great compliment to your visit to Elkins.  It is open from mid-April to October from Thursday to Sunday 9:30am to 5:00pm.  General admission only $5.00 with children under five free.  It is located at 2 Railroad Avenue in Elkins, West Virginia.  Parking is on the street, or you can park at the depot.  You can learn more about the museum and about some of the restoration projects they are working on at https://wvrailmuseum.com.

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Next time you ride the Mountain Trains from Elkins,West Virginia, take a little extra time to see the West Virginia Railroad Museum.

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Gaithersburg Community Museum, Gaithersburg, Maryland

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Gaithersburg, Maryland is a suburb of Washington D.C. although it is the fourth largest city in the state of Maryland behind Baltimore and two other suburbs, Frederick and Rockville.  It was settled as ‘Log Town’ in 1765 as an agricultural town.  By 1805 it was known as Gaithersburg after Benjamin Gaither, a man who owned a general store that was located at the crossroads of the town.  The town continued to grow and was incorporated as a town in 1878.  In 1968, it was incorporated as a city.  To this day the city continues to thrive making it a major business town.  You can make a visit to the Gaithersburg Community Museum and see the history of how the city developed to what it is today.

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Now some of you are saying, “That is so nice.  I had never heard of Gaithersburg, Maryland before, and I have never heard of the Gaithersburg Community Museum.  It is nice to hear about the success of this city.  However, I am more interested in railroads.  Therefore, I am not interested in Gaithersburg, Maryland or this museum.”

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As mentioned, Gaithersburg was originally settled as an agricultural town.  However, something came here that changed this town.

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When Gaithersburg was settled, it was along what is now Maryland Route 335 which runs between Washington D.C. and Frederick, Maryland.  (A few of the original structures remain including a manor house next to the Gaithersburg High School.)  This was the center of town until 1873.  What happened?  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came to the area and built at train station.  The railroad was a major contributor to the growth of the town.  The town center moved from the ‘Frederick Road’ (now Maryland Route 355) to the train station on the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and this remains the town center to the present day.  (The line is now owned by CSX.)  Today, it would be a fitting place to have the Gaithersburg Community Museum which is housed in the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad freight house.

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The exhibits at the Gaithersburg Community Museum explores the history of Gaithersburg including the railroad history.  The museum also has a caboose, a Rail Diesel Car used to transport commuters on the Marc Commuter Trains that still serve the station today, and Number 14 from the Buffalo Creek Railroad.  Once you are finished seeing the exhibits, you can grab a drink or sandwich next door in the old passenger station.  If you are fortunate enough, you can watch a CSX, Amtrak or Marc Commuter train roll by.

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The Gaithersburg Community Museum is located at 9 South Summit Avenue next to the CSX line.  It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  Admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help keep the museum running.  Parking is free as well.  You can see more about the museum at https://www.gaithersburgmd.gov/about-us/city-facilities/gaithersburg-community-museum.

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The Connecticut Trolley Museum, East Windsor, Connecticut

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Very few cities use trolleys as a means of transit today, and the days of the trolley are fading into memory.  There are many trolley museums across the United States of America that are trying to keep the memory of the trolley alive.  One of those museums is the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor, Connecticut.

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Now some of you are saying, “I know.  This is just another trolley museum.  You come to the museum.  You see the trolleys on display.  You see their restoration projects.  You ride the trolley down the line to some destination.  You wave at people going by.  They have special events.  Yippee.  Face it.  This is just like any other trolley museum.”

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You can say that.  They do have an extensive collection of trolleys and interurban cars.  Much of their collection was used in the urban regions of Connecticut plus a few from Brooklyn, New York and Chicago, Illinois.  The museum goes deep into the history of trolleys in the state of Connecticut.  The Connecticut Trolley Museum is a trolley museum with so much more.  It is worth a visit.

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The Connecticut Trolley Museum is located at 58 North Road (Connecticut Route 140) in East Windsor, Connecticut just east of Interstate 91 and U.S. Route 5.  They are open between April and December.  (Hours vary through the season.)  Admission is only $11.00 for adults, and there is plenty of parking on site.  You can learn more about the museum, their collection, events and the days it is open at https://www.ct-trolley.org/.

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Make your way to the Connecticut Trolley Museum… a trolley museum that is much more.

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