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Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey

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Imagine this.  You are on a ship.  You see nothing but open water around you.  You have been at sea for many days.  Then… you see it.  You see… the Statue of Liberty.  You have arrived in the land known as America.  The ship slowly passes the statue, and everyone cheers.  The ship pulls up to the dock of Ellis Island where you pass through customs.  “Welcome to America,” you hear.  You are now in the Land of the Free.

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Now some of you are saying, “That is so wonderful.  I always enjoyed watching those old stories on how people came to Ellis Island.  How about the Statue of Liberty?  It is always such an amazing site to see.  There is one very big problem.  When people came to America through Ellis Island, they came by boat, not by train.  When you are coming from Europe and Africa, boats, not trains, were the way you came.  Therefore, you will not see me anywhere around these islands.”

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You have a great point.  Because the Atlantic Ocean divides Europe and Africa from North America, everyone did arrive by boat.  How did they continue from here?

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As mentioned, people were brought to Ellis Island as it was were everyone went through U.S. Customs at the time.  Once they passed through customs, they were then ferried to what is now Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  Jersey City, New Jersey is where many first stepped onto mainland America.  However, they still went by boat.”

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That is true, but they did not stay there.  When they came to Jersey City, something special was awaiting them to take them deeper into this new land called America.  They arrived at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.  You have read it correctly.  They departed Jersey City by train to destinations across America.

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The terminal was built on land that was filled in from ballast of ocean-going ships.  The terminal was enlarged through the years to accommodate more passengers.  In 1914, a larger terminal was built with 20 sheds, and it was the largest train shed ever built.  It became a commuter station for those commuting to New York City connecting to the ferry.  In 1967, railroad traffic was rerouted to a terminal in Newark, and service ceased at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.  It fell into ruin until it was bought with state and local funds.  The head house was restored, but the shed areas were left in ruin as a reminder of what once was.  It was later added on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

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Today, the old Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal is part of Liberty State Park and has been preserved as a museum.  You can see a few cars on display to include a caboose, boxcar and baggage car.  You can see the ruins of the terminal where the people awaited the trains to take them to their destinations.  You can walk through the restored head house where people waited for the trains and purchased tickets.  If time allows, you can purchase tickets to ride the ferry to Ellis Island and to Liberty Island.  You can walk outside a get a great view of downtown New York City to include the Freedom Tower and a view of the Empire State Building.  You can also view the 9-11 Memorial that remembers those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center disaster.

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Liberty State Park is located at 1 Audrey Zapp Drive in Jersey City, New Jersey.  There is paid parking on the west side of the old terminal.  (It is right where the trains would have exited the terminal.)  There is no admission fee to walk around the park to see the old terminal, the skyline of New York City, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the 9-11 Memorial, but there is an admission fee for the ferry to both Ellis and Liberty Islands.  (Please note that there may be long wait times for the ferry.)  You can find more information on the hours, ferry times and the history of the terminal at https://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/liberty.html.

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The next time you see the Statue of Liberty or a photo of it, think of it as a lady welcoming people to a new land.  Think of it as a lady shining the light of freedom.  Think of it as the place where many rode their first train in North America.

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The Baltimore and Ohio Roundhouse, Martinsburg, West Virginia

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Martinsburg, West Virginia is a town located in the eastern panhandle of the state.  It is not a place that is on many lists of places to visit.  It can be overshadowed by nearby Harper’s Ferry that is known for its role in the American Civil War.  Martinsburg also had a role in the war.  The town has a few historic sites, but there is one site that stands out.

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Welcome to the Baltimore and Ohio Roundhouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  When the railroad came to Martinsburg in 1842, the roundhouse was built in 1849.  Trains were serviced here as they traveled east and west across the county.  Very few roundhouses remain as they were demolished after they were no longer needed, but historian and preservationist fought to save this one from demolition.  Why?  It is the oldest roundhouse in the world built with iron trusses supporting the roof that covers the turntable.

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During the American Civil War, Martinsburg was destroyed, and the railroad yards suffered much destruction by the hand of Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.  Locomotives that were seized in the ‘Great Train Raid of 1861’ were brought to Martinsburg.  He commanded his troops to destroy bridges and the tracks between Martinsburg and Point of Rocks, Maryland stopping train traffic.  The roundhouse and the shops plus many locomotives and rail cars were destroyed.  The war ended in 1865, and the roundhouse and shops were rebuilt in 1866.

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Through the years, the roundhouse went through the ‘Great Railroad Strike of 1877’, and the shops remained in service until 1988 when the work was sent to other locations.  The roundhouse was abandoned and was vandalized in 1990 leaving only the other walls.  The roundhouse was purchased by the Berkeley County Commission from CSX, and the preservation began.

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Today, trains still pass by the roundhouse, but only passenger trains stop here to pick up passengers at the nearby Caperton Station.  You can get a great view of the roundhouse from the parking lot.  Also, tours are also available on select Saturdays from March to November.

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The Martinsburg Roundhouse in located at 100 Liberty Street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  It is across the tracks from the Caperton Station.  Tours are available for $5.00.  Please note that the roundhouse is currently not handicap accessible, but they hope to make it accessible in the future.  Access to the roundhouse does require climbing stairs, and much of the floor is uneven.  The roundhouse also has a room that can also be rented out for events.  You can get more information at https://www.themartinsburgroundhouse.com/.

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Martinsburg, West Virginia is a place of much history, and it has much history around the railroad.  Now you have a reason to visit Martinsburg, and if the roundhouse is not open for tours, worry not.  It is still a great site to see.

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When Railroads Changed History: Standard Time

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Time keeping is something that has been done throughout the centuries.  It was done using a sundial held towards the sun.  However, without the modern communications, time would be different in every location.  It would be 3:00pm in Buffalo, New York and 4:30pm in Jacksonville, Florida, but it is the exact same time.  In the 1700’s, this was not a problem, but in the 2010’s, this would be a very big problem.  Imagine seeing the Seattle Seahawks play the Arizona Cardinals in Seattle at 4:00pm.  It starts at 4:00pm in Seattle, but in Portland, Oregon, it is 4:00pm, and it is halftime in Seattle.  Yes, this is big a problem.  With the railroad coming on the scene, this was also a problem as different towns kept different times.

In 1883, the railroads in the United States and Canada began what was known as ‘Railroad Standard Time’ which split the nations into Time Zones.  This allowed the towns serviced by the railroads at the time specified by the zone itself.  It was later referred to as simply ‘Standard Time’, and the Standard Time Act was enacted by Congress on March 19, 1918.  Now time zones are around the world, and it was all made possible by the railroad.

The next time you look at your watch or the clock on your I-phone, remember that it was the railroad that made sure that 3:00pm at the post office is also 3:00pm at the bar across the street.

 

 

*-The clocks the photograph are part of an exhibit at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  You can learn more about the museum at http://www.borail.org.

Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Maryland

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It was started by two brothers, Edward and Edwin Baltzley.  It began as a real estate investment, and it became the assembly site of the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Chautauqua Assembly.  Structures were erected.  ‘Glen Echo on the Potomac’ was born.  The name was later shortened to Glen Echo Park.  Through the years, it became an entertainment venue and then evolved into an amusement park.  There were bumper cars, a carousel, a roller coaster, a swimming pool, a dance hall and an amphitheater.  For those who lived in the nation’s capital, it was a great escape.  It began to decline in the 1960’s, and the park closed in 1968.

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Today, the National Park Service owns the park.  (They took control in 1970.)  The structures except for the amphitheater remain.  (The amphitheater is in ruins with little of it remaining.)  The rides except for the carousel, are gone.  (The carousel operates in the warmer months.)  Only the façade of the pool remains.  The buildings that once housed a bowling alley and popcorn stand now houses art studios, a museum and a puppet theater.  The ballroom still hosts dances.  A trip to Glen Echo Park is a trip through time.

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Now some of you are saying, “What a really neat place.  There is probably a lot of history here.  It is kind of like the Coney Island of Washington D.C.  The problem is that there are no railroads here.  Therefore, you will not see me here as I do not find this place amusing.”

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You are right.  This is just a historic park.  There is no railroad here… but that was not always the case.

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In the beginning, Glen Echo was a simple getaway from Washington D.C.  There was very little development as you see today.  People came here to ride the bumper cars.  They came to ride the carousel.  They came to relax by or take a dip into the Crystal Pool.  They came to ride the rides.  They came here to enjoy the entertainment and to have fun.

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But how did they get here?

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When the Baltzley Brother established Glen Echo Park, also established the Glen Echo Railroad, a trolley line that ran between the park and Washington D.C.  In 1903, the Washington Railway took over the trolley line and the park.  The era of the ‘trolley park’ was born when trolleys brought people from the inner cities to the amusement parks outside the city.  Through the years, the trolley line changed names, but the passengers were thrilled to ride the trolley to and from the park.  Through the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the streetcars in Washington D.C. went into decline, and trolley service ceased… and it was the end of the trolley ride to Glen Echo Park.

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Today, as you enter the park from the main parking lot, you cross the bridge over Minnehaha Creek.  You can see the old trolley bridge that remains intact.  (It is part of a bike trail.)  You continue into the park and look upon the old carousel.  To the left you will see a stone tower which now houses artist studios.  You walk through what was the original entry point to the park.  You look down and see the old streetcar tracks.  The parking lot that is before you were built on the old trolley line.  To the right the came from the city, and they offloaded from the trolley into the park.  You walk forward and turn around to see the Glen Echo Park sign that still welcomes people to the park today.  This is Glen Echo Park.

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Glen Echo Park is owned by the National Park Service which controls the museum and the carousel, but the art studios, ballroom, theater, classes and the ballroom is operated but the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture.  It is located at 7300 MacArthur Boulevard in Glen Echo, Maryland.  Admission to the park is free, but programs, theater and dances may charge admission.  There is plenty of parking.  You can learn more about the park itself at https://glenechopark.org/ and at www.nps.gov/glec.

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Take a journey to Glen Echo Park.  Take a journey today, and go back in time.

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John Henry Historical Park, Talcott, West Virginia

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This is the story of a man who took on a challenge… against technology.  What was this challenge?  It was the hammer in the hand of John Henry versus the steam-powered drill.  The year was 1870 in a valley in south-southeastern West Virginia.  Who was victorious?  It should be obvious.  There is no possibility that man can win against modern technology… unless you are John Henry.  That is the truth.  John Henry using just his hammer and the strength of the muscles in his arms defeated the steam-powered drill.  It was a challenge that made him victorious… and sadly ended his life.  When the challenge was over, he dropped his hammer… and he fell over and died.  He became an American folk hero in the years following with a famous song plus a few movies.  His story continues to live on through the years.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is such an amazing story, and he was an amazing man.  It is so sad that he died the way he did.  Does that interest me?  No.  He may be great folklore, but I enjoy hearing stories about trains.  Therefore, I will not be that interested in the life of John Henry.”

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John Henry was an African-American man who was very muscular.  Very little is known about his birth or about his life.  He was famed for swinging a hammer to drive spikes to create holes for explosives.  What were the explosives for?  He was a railroad worker for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and the explosives were used to blast out tunnels.  He was working on the Great Bend Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia where his big challenge against the steam-powered drill took place, and it is said that he was buried somewhere near the east portal of the tunnel.

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Not as many people may not know about John Henry today as they did in the past, but his legacy as a hard-working man and a worker on the railroad continues.  The John Henry Historical Park was established to commemorate this great man.  The statue that was originally erected in 1972 on the Big Bend Mountain overlooking the current site park was relocated to the east port of the Great Bend Tunnel in 2014 where it can be seen by everyone who visits the Great Bend Tunnel.

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The John Henry Historical Park is located on West Virginia Routes 3 and 12 on the west side of the town center of Talcott, West Virginia.  The park is open from dawn to dusk all year round.  There is no admission.  The park consists of the statue of John Henry, the east portal of the Great Bend Tunnel (entry into the tunnel is not permitted), ruins of the equipment used to build the tunnel, a monument to the workers plus the replacement tunnel and the relocated railroad line that is still active.  You can learn more about the park at www.johnhenryhistoricalpark.com.

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The John Henry Historical Park is a great place of history, a place that inspired a legend and folk hero, and, in you are fortunate enough, a place where you can watch a train pass through a tunnel.

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‘On a Midnight Train’

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Imagine this.  You have a lady who lives in a small town where she has very few friends.  She has no opportunities.  She is very lonely.  What does she do?  She goes to the train station.  She buys a ticket for a random train.  The train arrives at midnight.  She boards the train and goes for a ride hoping that opportunity would find her.

You now have a man who is a native of Detroit, Michigan and had spent his entire life there.  He seems to find nothing but dead ends where he goes.  He wants out, but what can he do?  He goes to the train station, and he buys a random ticket.  The train arrives at midnight.  He boards the train in hopes that it would take him to a better life.

The man takes his seat… and he just happens to be across the aisle from the lady from the small town.  Their eyes meet.  She gets up… and sits next to him.  They engage in conversation.  It is not long before they fall in love.

Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  This sounds like the song that the rock band ‘Journey’ sang back in the 1980’s.”

It sure does.  Don’t Stop Believin’ was a hit song by the band ‘Journey’, and it remains an iconic hit song to this present day.  The premise of the song is two people boarding… a train, and they meet.  Imagine how many people have found their special someone while riding a train.  For a fan of trains, it can make Valentine’s Day very special.

I hope that you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  If you do not have a loved one to celebrate the day with, may true love find you one day.  May you enjoy the ‘journey’, and ‘don’t stop believing’ that your best days are ahead.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Depot, Covington, Virginia

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The town of Covington, Virginia, located in western Virginia, was a major stop along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.  Although passenger service is no longer available in the town, the town has preserved its two depots.  The Red Depot is used to host events and can be rented out.  The other depot, the old Chesapeake and Ohio Depot, houses the Allegheny Historical Society Museum.  Although most of the museum focuses on the region around Covington, you can still see the old ticket office and the waiting room.  There is even a model train display.

The C&O Depot is located at 149 Maple Avenue.  Please note that this museum is only open during the week.  It does not open on weekends.  Parking is street parking, and there is plenty of it.