New life for old Aberdeen train station


March 07, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

Many of the great rail terminals from the halcyon days of passenger rail travel in the U.S. have been demolished, like New York City's fabled Pennsylvania Station, still considered nearly 50 years later by many as one of the great architectural crimes and preservation losses and the catalyst for the founding of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Other terminals across the nation, such as Detroit's Michigan Central Station or Buffalo Central Terminal, stand forlorn, waiting for better days and even better ideas to give them a second chance at quite possibly a non-rail life.

Many others, such as Chicago's Grand Central Station, Union Station in Portland, Maine, Boston's North Station or Atlanta's Terminal Station live on only as pictures in books, having been reduced to rubble years ago.

However, hopes are high for a hearty band of Harford County preservationists and fans of local history.

Members of the Historical Society of Harford County and the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum rallied to help preserve the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad station in Aberdeen, currently a battered but historic hulk that has suffered from years of neglect.

It is now on the verge of an extensive restoration and a new tomorrow.

Buoyed by efforts to restore old stations, such as the recent successful restoration of the B&O's Silver Spring station, the two organizations at long last are optimistic that eight years of work is about to come to fruition.

Monday evening, members will gather to complete plans for the station's move to a new site about 50 feet back from its present location, where it has stood since 1885 alongside the trackage of CSX's heavily trafficked Philadelphia-Washington main line. They will present their plans March 15 to Aberdeen city officials, who must approve the plans.

For Charlotte G. Cronin, founder of the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum and a lifelong Aberdeen resident whose family has lived in the area since the 1660s, the station is an old, revered friend.

"I live on Mount Royal Avenue, and I've looked at that station every day of my life," said Cronin, who is in her late 80s and is descended from a family of railroaders.

"My father was supervisor agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Maryland Division, and both my grandfather, who was a track foreman, and great-grandfather worked for the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, which was sold to the Pennsy in 1902," she said.

While the Pennsy's predecessor companies had been a presence in Harford County since the 1830s, nearly half a century would pass before the B&O built its famed Royal Blue Line route through the county in the 1880s, which included the Aberdeen station on West Bel Air Avenue.

The Queen Anne-style station, the last wooden station extant on the former B&O line between Philadelphia and Baltimore, was designed by architect Frank Furness and was a sister to the now-demolished one that stood in Cowenton.

For thousands of soldiers or on-leave servicemen heading off or arriving during World Wars I and II and the Korean War to Aberdeen Proving Ground, the station was a familiar point of arrival or departure.

Plenty of local residents used it to board trains for far-off destinations. Others stepped aboard race trains for a day at Laurel or Delaware Park.

Aberdeen native Mary-Lynne Livezey, who is secretary and a member of the board of the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum, used to board B&O trains at the station.

"Being born and bred in Aberdeen, I was introduced by my mother during the 1940s to the B&O, which we often rode to Baltimore for shopping expeditions to Hutzler's, Stewart's, among other stores," Livezey said.

When the B&O abandoned passenger service between Washington and New York in 1958, the site's use as a station came to an end, commencing its slide into dilapidation.

The ensuing years took their toll. Shingles fell from the roof, windows were broken and boarded up, paint peeled and floors fell away.

Its trackside eaves had been cut back over the years to accommodate the higher modern rail cars, which at times whacked them as they swayed by.

An adjoining free-standing freight house on the site was removed long ago.

CSX, successor company to the B&O, used the site to store supplies and deferred any maintenance. What was transpiring clearly was a case of demolition by neglect.

"One day, I looked at it and said, 'Oh, my God. This shouldn't be happening,' " Cronin recalled in a telephone interview the other day.

In 2003, the city of Aberdeen considered the old station a hazard and ordered the railroad to make the necessary repairs or tear it down within 90 days.

A "condemned" sign kept away vagrants and the curious.

The wrecker's ball was just one day away from demolishing the structure in June 2003 when an agreement was reached by the Historical Society of Harford County and CSX to spare the building.

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