History, Evolution of Gburg Railroad Co. (9/15)

BY CYRIL ACKERMAN / September 2015

The history of the Gettysburg Railroad Co. that passed through Cumberland Township had a very short lived existence. It was organized in 1857 and dissolved in 1858, just a few years after the founding of Cumberland Township in 1849.

The Northern Central Railroad, which was the predecessor of the Pennsylvania Railroad, began in NW Baltimore in a town called Relay. As the line travelled NW into Pennsylvania, it connected to Hanover Branch Railroad at Hanover Junction on its way to York and Harrisburg crossing Susquehanna River at Columbia.

In 1835, Thaddeus Stevens secured public funds to build the railroad connecting the Northern Central RR with the B & O RR in the area of Martinsburg, Va. This is when the terrain was surveyed through what would become Cumberland Township with the intention to provide transportation needs for iron mines in the area. Grading for the railroad cuts through Cumberland Township were a direct result of this land survey and why they came into existence. The role they would play in the Battle of Gettysburg is well documented working both to the advantage and disadvantage of those that chose to occupy the unfinished work of running rail lines through the area.

In 1838, Pennsylvania elected a new governor and new legislators and as a result, Thaddeus Stevens’s railroad plans got scrapped because the rugged terrain going through Jack’s Mountain was very expensive to grade.

1850-51 the Gettysburg Railroad is granted a charter to complete the line from Hanover to Gettysburg. Original members of the charter included: Robert McCurdy, Josiah Benner and Henry Myers. The project becomes very burdensome (expensive) and they resign from the charter very quickly. Then in 1856, David McConaughy becomes President and David Wills becomes Treasurer (purchasing agent). 1856-58 the railroad purchases and is constructed with inferior materials (cast iron U rails and pine railroad ties not oak!) As a result in 1859 derailments are very common and the line becomes very unreliable to haul freight and passengers. Three 25 ton steam locomotives (water and wood fuel) were leased from the Northern Central RR to pull cars for the Hanover Branch RR to operate the Gettysburg Railroad Co. In the summer of 1862 the Gettysburg Railroad declares bankruptcy.

Enter Jubal Early in June of 1863, burning the Rock Creek Bridge and tearing up rails on the way to York. On July 9, Herman Haupt saw the railroad was constructed of inferior materials. He realized that this made the railroad more dangerous than the damage Jubal Early did destroying bridges and removing rails. Haupt did not have a military takeover of the railroad but, more important, preserved it as a privately owned railroad. This allowed him to rebuild the entire length by Aug. 1. (Note: This line never supplied the Union Army but was used for medical supplies and to transport wounded soldiers after the battle.) Initially Haupt used U Rail in reconstructing the line which allowed for 26 ton Camden Amboy locomotives to pull passenger cars on repaired line. By August 1863, passenger service was restored incorporating T-rails in tracks which allowed for 40 ton locomotives to move medical supplies and transport wounded soldiers.

On Nov 18, 1863, Lincoln begins train excursion from Washington DC to Gettysburg “to deliver a few appropriate remarks.” At Hanover Junction, there was a switch to the branch line to Gettysburg. “Captain” Adbiel W. Eichelberger of Hanover (now president of Hanover Branch Railroad that operated the Gettysburg Railroad Co) welcomes Lincoln at Hanover Junction. Eichelberger describes to Lincoln how Stuart’s cavalry burned bridges and how the station was raided and property destroyed prior to battle of Gettysburg. Six hours after leaving Washington DC, Lincoln gets first glimpse of Gettysburg.

As freight business drops off in 1877, the Gettysburg Railroad becomes the Susquehanna Gettysburg Potomac and operates until 1884 as Gettysburg becomes a tourist attraction. In 1884, the Reading Railroad runs a line from Harrisburg to Washington St, station in Gettysburg (old Tommy’s Pizza near the College). In 1886, the Reading Railroad take over the Susquehanna Gettysburg Potomac Railroad building an addition to existing station sturcture, upgrading the railroad and establishing a block station with an Operator. They continue the line through the railroad cut west to Orrtanna. In 1886 the Reading Railroad is sold off the Gettysburg Branch to the Western Maryland Railroad and the line is continued over Blue Ridge Summit and connects to Hagerstown. 1917, Western Maryland Railroad reorganizes into Western Maryland Railway and operates through WWII when eventually passenger service ends.

In 1954, Gettysburg Station closes and transfers to Gettysburg Travel Council on April 1, 1955. In 1970, CSX takes over the building and in 1998, it is transferred to the boro of Gettysburg. The rehabilitation of the station began and completed in 2004-2005.

Thanks to Bill Aldrich for sharing his expertise in researching information for this article.

Cyril Ackerman is current member on board of directors of Cumberland Township Historical Society.