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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Maryland

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Who is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton?  She was the first person born in what would become the United States of America to become a canonized saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  Born on August 28, 1774 in New York City, she spent her life nursing the sick.  She became a Catholic and began a school for young girls.  She later moved to the town of Emmitsburg, Maryland where she committed herself to ministry and established a school for girls.  She died in Emmitsburg on January 4, 1821 at the age of 46.  Her short life has been outdone by her long legacy.  Her remains in a crypt at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.  Today, you can visit this shrine and get a great glimpse of the life of this great woman.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow.  This is one incredible woman who gave so much of her life to help the sick and unfortunate.  She is truly one that needs to be honored.  However, there is one very big problem.  It is mentioned that she died in 1821.  This means that she had never seen a train.  Plus, there is no railroad line in Emmitsburg or at the shrine.  Therefore, you will not see me paying any homage to this place.”

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You have a point there.  Since she passed away in 1821, she was not alive in 1828 when the first train ran in Baltimore in 1828.  As for the shrine, it has a little railroad history.

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When you visit the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, you will see the Basilica.  The basement has a small museum detailing the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  You can enter the Basilica itself and see the pews and stained-glass windows.  There are statues and paintings.  You can see the pulpit where the priest delivers the sermon.  There is also the crypt where her remains are entombed.  When you go outside and see the school extending to the left from the basilica.  (The school is not open to the public.)  You can walk over to the Stone House where Elizabeth Ann Seton lived.  Next to the Stone House is the garden.  It has a statue of her with two girls.  As you exit the garden, you will see three bells.  Two of the bells are school bells.  The one bell is from the ‘Dinky’.

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Now you are saying, “Wow.  It is the bell from the ‘Dinky’.  What in the world is the ‘Dinky’?”

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The ‘Dinky’ was a steam locomotive on the Emmitsburg Railroad.  It was a short line railroad that ran from Emmitsburg to a junction with the Western Maryland Railway in the town of Rocky Ridge.  (That line is now owned by the Maryland Midland Railroad.)  The Emmitsburg Railroad brought students to and from the school as well as freight to and from the town of Emmitsburg.  Although many of the town residents opposed the railroad, it was well welcomed by the school enabling students from the surrounding towns to attend the school.  The railroad began service in November of 1875, but service ceased in May of 1940.  Today, very little of the old track bed remains.  The Dinky was scrapped, but the bell was saved, and it is on display in the garden at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is a place that celebrates the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  A visit to this shrine takes you deeper into her life and her accomplishments.  Be advised that although this is a Catholic site, you do not have to be a religious person to appreciate this place.  They welcome all visitors.  It is free to visit, but they gladly accept donations.  There is a cost for guided tours.  It is open daily.  The museum, gift shop and basilica on Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 6:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00pm to 6:00pm.  The grounds, including the garden where the Dinky Bell is located, are open from sunrise to sunset.  Parking is available on site, and most of the grounds are handicap accessible.  (The Stone House and Cemetery may not be accessible.)  It is located at 339 South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg, Maryland and is easily accessible from U.S. Route 15 and Maryland Route 140.  You can get more information about the shrine and about events and tours at https://setonshrine.org.

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So, if you are driving around northern Maryland, and you see signs for the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, do not think of it as a place that just memorializes a great woman but also memorializes a locomotive that was part of the Emmitsburg Railroad.

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The New River Gorge in West Virginia

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The United States of America is a country that has many natural wonders.  The state of West Virginia is a state that is mostly mountainous with very few cities.  It has the largest wilderness area in the eastern part of the nation, and it is the home to the New River Gorge.  At the bottom of this gorge is, of course, the New River which begins in Virginia and flows through West Virginia.  It is where you will find some of the best whitewater rafting in the country.  The New River Gorge is a very big gorge that was impossible to cross.  The New River Gorge Bridge was an engineering marvel that allowed automobiles to go across without having to drive down and back up.  If you are ever in West Virginia, the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge are two places that you must see.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  I have seen many photos of the New River Gorge and I still have the West Virginia quarter that has the bridge on it.  The New River Gorge would be great to see, but it is just a natural wonder.  It has nothing to do with railroads.  Therefore, I am not going to gorge myself about this place.”

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The New River Gorge is a National Park run by the National Park Service.  U.S. Route 19 runs across the New River Gorge Bridge.  On the north side of the bridge is one of the Visitor Centers for the park, and it is here where you can get an overlook of the bridge.

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From this point, you look down into the gorge.  Did you know that you can go into the gorge… and look up?  You begin your descent down into the gorge winding your way down.  You go under the bridge to look up to see the massive structure.  You get to the bottom, and the first thing you come to is… a railroad crossing.  The tracks are original to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but CSX continues to run on the tracks today.  You cross the New River, and you see a railroad line on the other side.  The railroad has been a major part of the New River Gorge and continues to follow the New River on the south side of the gorge towards the town of Hinton with the tracks coming together on the east side south of Caperton) and northward to Charleston (with the tracks coming together at Hawks Nest State Park).  After you cross the river, you go under the tracks, and you head back up to the top of the rim.

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The New River Gorge is a spectacular site to see, and it is more spectacular to see when a train is passing through the gorge.

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The New River Gorge is a National Park located in southern West Virginia.  You can go inside the Visitor Center and see how the railroad was a big part of the lumber industry in the gorge as well as the spawning of certain towns.  There is no fee to the visitor center or to drive into the gorge but be advised that the roads are very windy and may not be suitable for larger vehicles particularly buses and recreational vehicles.

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The next time you see photos of the New River Gorge, think of it as a natural wonder, and a place where you can go to the bottom… and watch trains go by.

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The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, Essex, Connecticut

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The state of Connecticut is the third smallest state and the southernmost state of the New England states.  Despite its size, the state has many quaint little towns.  Among them is the town of Essex.  Located on the west shore of the Connecticut River about six miles inland from Long Island Sound, it was attacked by British forces April 8, 1814.  Today, you can visit some of the historic buildings to include the Griswold Inn where you can spend a night or take in a meal, or you can drop by the Connecticut River Museum.  Essex is a town that is truly a treasure to visit if you are a history buff or one who enjoys the water, and it is also a great town… if you are a railfan.

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Welcome to the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  Steam Train and Riverboat?  How is this possible?  How does the train suddenly become a boat?  Is this like a floating railroad?”

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The train does not float.  Here is what you will experience.

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You arrive at the Essex Steam Train depot.  You park and walk around looking at the vintage rolling stock.  There is also a model train display inside the old freight house that is open when the trains are running.  You go to the ticket office to buy your ticket, but you are overtaken by the steam locomotive chugging along.  “Toot toot!”  The whistle blows.  Then board the train and you take your seat.  The train pulls away from the station.  You look outside, and you come in site of the Connecticut River which the railroad parallels on most of the journey.  The train arrives in the town of Haddam which is the terminal for the train.

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Now you are saying, “Yeah!  Yeah!  Yeah!  I know.  You get off the train.  You walk around Haddam.  You get back on the train.  Then you go back to Essex.  It is the same old same old.  This is nothing new.  Every train I have been on does the exact same thing.”

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Please note why it is called the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.  You have just taken a ride on the train.  It is not time to take a ride on the riverboat.  You walk over to the riverboat.  You board the boat, and your cruise begins on the Connecticut River.  You go north and go under the East Haddam Bridge and see the town of East Haddam on your right.  Along the way you see homes built on the waterfront and eagle’s nests and, if you are fortunate enough, you may spot a few eagles.  You turn around and head south under the East Haddam Highway Bridge.  A few miles later you see medieval castle high on a hill.  This is Gillette Castle, the home of William Gillette who was a stage actor who was famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes.  It is now a state park.  Sadly, the riverboat does not stop here for tours, but you will get great views.  The boat returns to the dock.  You get off the boat, and you ride a shuttle to the town of East Haddam.  Here you can see the old opera house that still hosts shows, and you can visit the Gelston House where you can catch a meal with a great view of the river.  Once you tour the town you can river the shuttle back to Haddam and walk through the old Haddam depot that houses a gift shop.  You then walk back to the train and then head back to Essex.

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The Essex Steam Train runs along tracks owned by the Valley Railroad.  The tracks were originally owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

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The Essex Steam Train is located a 1 Railroad Avenue in Essex, Connecticut just west of Connecticut Route 9 about a few miles north of Interstate 95.  Parking is available on site.  Excursions options vary.  You can go to http://essexsteamtrain.com to learn about the different excursions and to purchase tickets.

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If you only want to ride the average train trip, the Essex Steam Train is not for you.  You want an train experience that is unlike any other, come ride the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum, Richmond, Virginia

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Is there anything worth seeing in Richmond, Virginia?  It is just the capital of the state of Virginia.  All that is there is the state government and nothing else.  It is just a place you pass through on Interstate 95.  No travel writers write about Richmond which usually means that it is not worth your time.  If this is what you think that the city of Richmond is, you should take a little time to think of this city other than the home of the state government.  Those who have been here know that it is a city with lots of history.  It was the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  The White House of the Confederacy where Jefferson Davis resided from is open for visitors as well as numerous other sites.

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As much as the city is a haven for American history, it is also a haven for railfans.  With railroads passing through the city and the famous ‘Triple Bridge’, the city has also preserved a few of its station stations to include the Main Street Station which is served by Amtrak plus the old Broad Street Station.  Then you have the old Hull Street Depot which rests across the James River from the downtown area.  What is special about the Hull Street Station?  It is the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Since the early days of the railroad Richmond was a hub being served by many railroads.  For this reason, the Confederates made this city their capital during the American Civil War.  Through the years, train stations were built.  The Southern Railway built the Mill Street station in downtown Richmond in 1900.  The station had a short life as it was demolished in 1914.  (Mill Street is now Canal Street.)  The Hull Street station was built a year later across the river.  The station was damaged by floods a few times (until the flood wall was built).  In February of 1957, the station saw the last passenger train leave.  The station was dormant for many years as ownership was transferred from the Southern Railway to the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who refurbished the building, and it became the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum in 2011.

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Today, the Richmond Railroad Museum has a few box cars, a baggage car, cabooses, a locomotive and a signal outside.  Inside you will see the old ticket office in its original setting.  The freight room has many artifacts on display to include old schedules, models of the other stations in Richmond, plus a speeder car.  There is also a HO model train display by the Old Dominion Chapter Model Railroad Club which depicts the railroads of Virginia.  If you need something to remember your visit, there is also a gift shop.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum is a National Historic Landmark.  It is located inside the old Hull Street Station at 102 Hull Street in Richmond, Virginia just across the James River from downtown Richmond.  It is open on Saturdays from 11:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  Admission is $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for seniors, $5.00 for children six to thirteen and free for children five and under.  Parking is available on site at the museum and on the street if the museum lot is full.  Go to http://richmondrailroadmuseum.org/ for directions, for events and to read more into the history of this station station.

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The next time you are approaching Richmond, Virginia, do not think of it as another pass-through city.  Think of it as a great place to stop and see.  While here, made your way to the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Roads and Rails Museum, Frederick, Maryland

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Frederick, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., is the second largest city in the state.  It is a town rich in history that has many great treasures to include the Museum of Civil War Medicine, the home of Barbara Fritchie, a Unionist during the Civil War who was part of American folklore, the Carroll Creek Walk and Baker Park.  You also had the Battle of the Monocacy which took place on the south side of the town.  It is a major crossroads with the National Road (U.S. 40) and U.S. 15 as well as Interstate 70 with Interstate 270 and U.S. 340 branching south.  With all of this, it is easy for a place like the Roads and Rails Museum to be easily overlooked… but it should not be.

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From the outside, it is just an old brick building.  You enter the building, and you see a store that sells train stuff.  You say to yourself, “This cannot be it.”

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This is not it.  You pay the admission, and then… you have officially been transported into a whole new world.  You find yourself in the subway station, but you thought that this was just model trains.  Then you walk a little further.  A new world has just opened.  The trains are everywhere.  Trains are going through the farms, passing through the towns, passing through cities, going around the mountains, passing by waterfalls, passing through tunnels and over bridges.  You stop to watch the circus, but you must move on because the volcano is about to erupt.  All this is going on as you make your way though, and then… you find yourself back in the store again.  You look at the person at the register and ask, “Can I do this again?”

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The Roads and Rails Museum features a hobby shop and a model train display that is one of the largest in the United States.  They are located at 200 N. East Street in Frederick, Maryland.  It is just minutes from Interstate 70 and from U.S. Routes 15 and 40 and a short walk from the historic district and visitor center.  They are open Friday to Monday from 10:00am to 5:00pm (12:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday).  Admission is only $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.  (Three and under are free.)  Parking is behind the building and on the street.  You can get more information and learn more about the layout at http://www.roadsnrails.com.

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The next time you are approaching Frederick, follow the roads to the Roads and Rails Museum.  You will be glad that you stopped by.

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Thurmond, West Virginia

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Thurmond, West Virginia was once a thriving town in the south-central region of West Virginia.  Located in the New River Gorge next to the New River, Thurmond was a served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.  It played a major role in the coal mining industry.  Incorporated in 1900, the town was a town like any other town with a train depot, a post office and two hotels.  It was the home of a rail yard and rail shops.  For many years the town was only accessible by the train until 1921 when a connecting road was built.  In the 1930’s one of the hotels burned down.  The town was in its decline until the 1950’s when it officially became a ghost town.

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There is only one road that enters the town.  The road runs alongside of a rail line that you cross a few times.  You arrive at the New River, and you drive across a long one lane bridge (which is shared with the rail line) to enter the town.  You see the depot and what remains of the town.  You stand around and feel the ghosts of the trains and the people walking around.  You walk around, and you come upon the C&O Walk which details the history of this town.  You look around, and you see just old structures.

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Today, the facade of the main street remains, and there are only a handful of residents.  The yards and the shops are gone.  Only the main line and the depot remains.  The depot is now a visitor center for the New River Gorge New River National Park and it only open seasonally.  CSX continues to roll through the town.  Amtrak does have a stop here, but very few people use this stop.  (It is said to be the second least used stop on Amtrak.)

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The town of Thurmond is accessible by Amtrak and by Thurmond Road which is a short drive from U.S. 19 south of the famous New River Gorge Bridge.  The town is accessible twenty-four hours a day, but the only paved parking is at the depot / visitor center.  Most of the old town is mainly accessible by foot with very little handicap access.  The tracks are still active, and if you are fortunate enough, you may see a train roll by just like the good old days of Thurmond.

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Welcome to the town of Thurmond, West Virginia, a ghost town where the ghosts are alive with the heart of the railroad.

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The Freedom of the Train in America

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The Declaration of Independence was signed in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1776.  The United States of America was born.  People came from across the oceans to live in this new land.

Then the railroads came.  The people were able to go farther into this new land.  When the Golden Spike was driven in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, people were able to take the train from coast to coast.  What began in Baltimore, Maryland became the open door to the United States of America.

As the railroads was a source of freedom in America, it is not the case in some countries.  In nations run by dictators, the railroad is used to send people who were declared enemies of the government to concentration camps or slaughterhouses.  They were shoved into box cars until they were packed like sardines, and they traveled in these box cars even in harsh weather.  Most of these people did not survive.  To them, the railroad was a killing machine.

The next time you are standing at your favorite railroad watching site, think about the pride that the railroad brings to this nation.  Think about those men who signed a very important document that made this nation free, and think about the American railroad that brought the people to freedom.