On track to save station

Riderwood: The historic train stop has new owners and supporters who are determined to preserve the link to the community's past.

July 23, 2002|By Brendan Kearney | Brendan Kearney,SUN STAFF

The former Riderwood station sits just north of Joppa Road, obscured from view by trees and houses that have grown up around it over the years, concealing a structure with more than a century of rich railroad and community history.

However, with the sale of the property in May, the first change in ownership in 40 years, and the decision last month by the Baltimore County Council to name the building a historic landmark, the station is back in the spotlight.

Other railroad stations in the county have been razed, such as the Ruxton station in 1961. Community leaders were determined not to let the same thing happen in Riderwood, where the station and the railroad played a key role in settling an area that was once mainly rural estates.

"We live in a world where everything is changing so rapidly, so it's good to have something that wouldn't change," said Joseph M. Coale, an amateur historian who has lived in Ruxton for five years. The station "gives us a sense of who we are, so that we all don't look like a Taco Bell or McDonald's. That's what's so valuable about the train station -- it shows there is a depth to our culture."

Coale, 58, along with fellow members of the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Improvement Association, organized the campaign to save the station. Through securing petitions to the county government and arranging a last-minute donation of $10,000 from the Maryland Historical Trust to ensure the sale of the property to an owner who would restore it, the group made certain the structure will remain standing.

"These things are worth fighting for," said Coale, who is director of public affairs for the state pension system, "because once they're gone, they're gone. I didn't want to lose this station on our watch like the last generation lost the Ruxton station."

The Riderwood station's story began in the 1870s, when a waiting shed and one-room station/general store were built. The station burned to the ground in 1902, and the current structure was built in 1905 by the Northern Central Railroad. The cost of the station and the property was $16,790.

The station was designed by Frank Furness, a Philadelphia architect who also designed the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania and several other railroad stations. It is the last Furness-inspired building standing in Maryland.

The late-Victorian building was built in the "arts and crafts" style characterized by a deep overhanging shingled roof, a large interior brick chimney, extensive use of carved wood and dormer windows, according to Janet Reynolds, a Riderwood resident and architect.

The station was built toward the end of the "golden era" of rail travel, which the introduction of the Model T helped bring to a close. Riders waiting at the station would see such famous trains as the Spirit of St. Louis and the Buffalo Day Express fly by on their way to places like St. Louis and Chicago, said Lutherville historian Robert L. Williams.

But the last train stopped there in 1959, when service on the Parkton Local, a two-car commuter train that shuttled passengers between Baltimore and Parkton, was discontinued due to lack of riders.

Margaret McGarity lived at the station from 1962 until this year. The widow of longtime Northern Central Railroad employee Edward McGarity remembers the engines that passed just feet from her home.

"In the evenings, the fast trains would come by," said McGarity, 78, who raised eight of her 11 children in the station. "Boy, it was one after another."

McGarity recalls waking up in the morning to find the clothes she had laid out for the next day covered in soot. She noted that two dogs and "at least four cats" were killed by passing trains and that vibrations periodically rattled the old house.

Today, the rail line is used almost exclusively by light rail trains traveling between Baltimore and Hunt Valley.

Not wishing to live alone in an old building without many modern amenities, McGarity put the house on the market in November. After offers from a Towson developer and others, the station was sold in May for $250,000 to a Baltimore family. The new owners are doing extensive interior renovations.

Despite the discomfort and hazards of living next to a railroad, McGarity said, she cherishes the memories of her family's 40-year tenure at the station. They were the building's first private owner-residents.

She remembers basketball games her sons played in the spacious living room -- the station's former waiting room -- in winter, wedding parties in the summer, and the way local freight engineers would "slow down and give Mac [her husband] a holler or two."

"It was quite a place," said McGarity. "I loved it."

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