He hopes to get people to stop at the Whistle Stop

Tourism: The 150-year-old Patapsco train station, which had seen better days, has been transformed into a collection of shops.

September 05, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, stagecoaches and lots of trains have crisscrossed the Carroll County crossroads of Patapsco, where a combination train station, post office and general store long known as the Whistle Stop has perched by the tracks since about 1850.

Among the visitors in its 150-plus years was a young Robert Pierson, who grew up across Route 140 in Finksburg.

"As a kid I came here and bought penny candy en route to my great-grandmother's house on the hill with my grandfather almost every day," said Pierson, 31, head of Robert Pierson Construction Inc. in Finksburg.

Although the Whistle Stop remained open since then, the years have not been kind, said Pierson, who became its 20th owner in November and closed it for restoration.

After seven months of work and $630,000 in renovations, the Whistle Stop Shops & Cafe will hold its grand reopening this weekend.

After layers of siding and concrete were removed, the heavy chestnut beams were exposed and the fieldstone walls repointed, he said.

Pierson fashioned a black iron gate and railings from rails, spikes and the window bars that used to protect the post office.

"We want to make it a destination where you can spend the day," he said. Offerings from its 27 artisans include Mexican pottery, Victorian teacups, jewelry, art and antiques. It also includes a flower shop, live music, coffeehouse and ice cream parlor.

Among the antiques for sale are a World War I wood-and-canvas stretcher, an oil lamp for the railroad and a collection of wooden shipping boxes that once held cranberries from Cape Cod, coffee from Chicago, the Encyclopedia Americana volumes 16-30, olive oil from Italy, and Domino sugar from Baltimore.

On Friday, Pierson was installing a 1950s jukebox in the ice cream parlor. This weekend will feature musicians playing jazz, ragtime, Dixieland, blues and country music. There will also be a demonstration of blacksmithing.

He hopes the horse-and-buggy rides he's offering to and from the nearby picnic grounds will be a big draw for visitors. Plans for later in the year include pumpkins, hayrides and Christmas trees.

Pierson also wants to get passenger trains to stop again at the Whistle Stop.

Two or three freight trains pass by every day on the tracks that run about 12 feet from the side porch, he said. He hopes to get tourist trains from Glyndon to stop en route to Western Maryland.

He got the idea after a tourist train from Washington stopped briefly on the tracks to take a look during the renovation.

Almost 100 years ago, in June 1905, one of the worst train accidents in the region occurred just down the tracks when a freight train and a passenger train collided near Tank Road to the south, killing at least 26 people and seriously injuring 10 others.

There was a stagecoach robbery right in front of the store, according to local lore, he said.

Excitement could return to the little intersection, Pierson said, pointing to a bridge over the North Branch of the Patapsco River beside the tracks. A film crew has scouted with an eye to "blow it up" as part of an action film with Samuel L. Jackson, he said.

In one of the old photographs mounted in the basement where Pierson has set up a museum, three kids leap into the water from an earlier railroad bridge. It hangs among other photographs and clippings from previous owners.

"There's a whole museum here of the village of Patapsco," said Pierson.

Pictured among former owners are his late grandfather Bob Barrick's aunt, Doris Barrick, who ran the Whistle Stop from 1939 to 1949, and LeRoy L. Conaway, a four-term Westminster mayor who died in March.

Behind that wall of memories are the old post office boxes that were in use until 1977, with many familiar county names.

Some of the same families showed up last weekend at an unofficial opening for the neighborhood, where people have watched the restoration with interest and enthusiasm.

"It is a Carroll County treasure," Pierson said. "The building was just let go. I'd say no repairs were done for about 30 years."

From weekly visits from when he was a baby until he was about 12, Pierson said, "in my mind's eye I remember it, but I'm trying to bring it back more the way it used to be long ago."

As soon as he can find some of those old-time jars, there will be candy again - a loss leader at a penny.

The Whistle Stop is at 2815 Patapsco Road, visible on the left at the intersection just over the bridge, 1.8 miles east along Sandymount Road off Route 140.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The Whistle Stop will be open Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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