Aberdeen's old depot forgotten no longer Restored station officially reopens HARFORD COUNTY

February 10, 1993|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

With little left but elbow room in the packed Aberdeen railroad depot, city residents, train buffs and state officials officially celebrated the reopening of Aberdeen's historic train station Sunday.

All but hidden behind Aberdeen's pedestrian and vehicle overpass at U.S. 40 and East Bel Air Avenue, the old station had been vandalized and burned. It seemed forgotten, even by conductors who knew it only as a blur they passed on their way to other stops.

With little left to work with but the old station's frame and its wide wooden benches, workers gave it a new roof, windows and ticket office. They spruced up the walls and floor, restored and reinstalled the benches at a cost of $400,000.

The work marked the first improvements in 30 years.

Aberdeen Mayor Ruth Elliott and Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer called the renovation the start of a new age of rail travel. Local historian Charlotte Cronin called it a rejuvenation of the city's legacy.

Maryland rail commuters, who take the MARC train from Aberdeen to points south, just called it good that they no longer have to wait in the rain to catch their trains. Commuters have had Penn Line rail service to Washington since May 1991 but essentially no shelter since the station opened in August 1992.

The city of Aberdeen and the Maryland Department of Transportation's Mass Transit Administration were hosts for the station's open house.

"What this building signifies, is track is back," Mr. Lighthizer told the gathering of 150 people. "Rail is coming back as a means of transportation."

He said improving commuter rail service is the state's long-term mass transit strategy. "Rebuilding stations like this is how we get there," he said.

The intersection of Philadelphia Road and Bel Air Avenue has been the site of a railroad station since 1835, when the tiny Port Deposit & Baltimore Railroad laid tracks through the popular crossroads.

Legend has it that an enterprising businessman from Aberdeen, Scotland, known only as "Mr. Winston," built his house next to the rails at the intersection and opened a ticket office there.

Whether he actually existed isn't certain, Mrs. Cronin said. "But he's credited with [naming the town], it makes a nice story, and it was a lovely house," she said.

The railroad went through several owners, but the rail station remained. The rail stop was heavily used and helped put Aberdeen on international maps, first as an agricultural center, then as a cog in the Army's materiel supply operations during the first and second world wars.

"Without the railroad in Aberdeen, history would read very differently," Mrs. Cronin said. As she described its importance to the group attending the open house, an Amtrak train passed the station with an impressive roar, as if on cue.

Mayor Elliott, who recalls taking the train from Aberdeen to Baltimore during World War II, called the station a "vital building block for future development in Aberdeen."

Jim Buckley, assistant general manager of transit operations for MTA, commended Mr. Lighthizer and Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann for supporting the station renovation when it seemed destined to fall under the state's budgetary knife.

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