Purchase of train station is a dream realized Historical group hopes to restore building 'to its passenger days'

November 24, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

When Western Maryland Railway Historical Society signed a contract to buy the Union Bridge train station a few weeks ago, it was a dream come true for the 1,100-member organization.

"We had been wanting that building for some time," said T. Robert Shives, a member of the society's board of directors.

Shives said the society has been talking with the owner, Maryland Midland Railway Co., for several years. Maryland Midland used the station as its headquarters until about three years ago, when it moved into a new building across the street.

The society's goal is to "return the station to its passenger days" when it had separate waiting rooms for men and women with a fireplace in each, Shives said.

The train station would become part of its railroad museum, which is housed in an adjoining two-story brick structure.

The society also has a caboose and other train cars it plans to display.

The 96-year-old train station will need renovation, but not nearly as much as a two-story brick building that Western Maryland Railway -- Maryland Midland's predecessor -- gave the society three decades ago.

L The building served as the railway's administrative offices.

That building was in "bad shape" when the railway gave it to the society in 1967, Shives said.

The structure was built at the same time as the train station.

"Pigeons were living upstairs," he said. "The tile roof had gaping holes. The upstairs floor had to be replaced. It was the biggest project we had ever undertaken. It probably cost somewhere around $20,000."

Western Maryland Railway gave the building to the society "with strings attached," Shives said. "They kept the land and put in a clause that if they [or their successors] didn't like the way the building was kept, they could take it back at any time."

What makes the $65,000 installment purchase of the train station from Maryland Midland so special for the society is that it includes the property on which the station and the office building sit.

"We will own it from now on," said Shives. "It cleans that up."

Shives expects the society to conclude the purchase in the next three months. "We're waiting mostly on a survey" of the site, he said.

Exterior needs work

The station exterior "needs a considerable amount of work," Shives said.

The fireplaces are still in the train station, but haven't been used in years. The rooms were heated by circular radiators with marble slabs on top. One of the slabs is missing.

"We'd love to have that slab back," Shives said.

The purchase of the train station solves the society's need for space. In addition to the museum, which is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays and takes up the first floor of the office building, a research library is upstairs. A recently refinished basement will house a train layout.

But the society had no place to put the 218 boxes of Western Maryland Railway records dating from the early 1940s that the society received in May. The society has been keeping its "windfall" gift in storage in Westminster, but will be able to take it to the Union Bridge train station and inventory it, Shives said. Maryland Midland "has already let us bring stuff in," he said.

The society, which has members in the 48 contiguous states and some foreign countries, meets once a month in Union Bridge for dinner and "railroad entertainment -- usually slides or a new railroad video," Shives said. "About 35 to 50 people attend."

Joined society 20 years ago

Like Shives, who is a retired metallurgist, most members are "not railroad people." Shives joined the society more than 20 years ago when he dropped by the museum and got into a conversation with two members.

"I had such a good time, I joined on the spot," said Shives, who was wearing a Western Maryland Railway hat, sweat shirt and jacket while showing off the station the other day. "I've only missed two meetings since."

Members who staff the museum Sundays don't give tours, but "when people come through the museum, they invariably get into a conversation," Shives said. "More often than not, they want to tell you something" about their experience with trains and railroads.

Pub Date: 11/24/98

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