Updated May 2000
The Old Main Line
We are going to travel west from Relay towards
the other junction at Point of Rocks. All
of these sites require driving.
The rest of the Old Main Line is generally accessible at various points
throughout Patapsco State Park. A set of ADC maps (you will want Howard,
Carroll, and Balto. counties) will make for an interesting trip in a car
from point to point.
Steve Okonski's Area Photo Site
now has an excellent photo tour of this area.
Train watching on the Old Main Line is pretty pointless. There is traffic,
but not enough be worth waiting for.
At Ilchester the track comes out of a tunnel right onto a truss and then
plate bridge past a box plant. This is also the site of the ex-Patterson
Viaduct (washed away in the flood of 1868). I would avoid this area except
on weekends, due to truck traffic; you can reach it from MD 144 on River Road, or from
MD 103 on Ilchester Road. Legal parking is very difficult. At
one end of the bridge you can see the foundation of the former Ilchester
station. Supposedly you can head along the track toward Ellicott City and
find traces of the WW II era coal and water station, but all I ever found was
a circular concrete foundation.
In recent years a pedestrian deck has been provided on the railroad bridge.
I question whether it is legal to use this, but is used a lot. The reason for
all the truck traffic is the recycling facility which takes up the old factory
buildings; if you like old industrial things, there is stuff to look at here,
although (as usual) the trespassing issue arises.
It is possible to get down to the remains of the Patterson Viaduct, although it
is perhaps best attempted in the winter. If you are following Ilchester Road from the plant, under
the current railroad bridge, and along the river, on the left you will see an
area where the shoulder of the road is unusually wide. This is where the track crossed the road in the previous century.
Hop over the guardrail (this is legal, it's a state park) and follow the point of "land" that
juts out toward the river. The last little narrow piece will suddenly stop, and you will
apparently be standing on an old bridge abutment, directly facing another abutment on the
other side of the river. This dates back to about 1869, when the washed out viaduct
was replaced with a Bollman truss. But the spot on which you stand isn't what it appears to be.
Go back towards the road until you find a way down. You will see that the "abutment" you were standing on was actually one arch
of the original bridge itself.
One can approach this area from the other direction by starting at
Avalon and heading upriver on the park trails, down below the railroad.
At the dam, there is a path up to the railroad grade at the point at which
the original grade peels away from the current track. This curls around
the hill and stops abruptly at the point where the Patterson viaduct used
to be. Directly across the river are the remains. If you keep your eyes
open, you might see, in the middle of the path early on, one of the original
granite blocks used for the first rail. It is a flat rock about 1 by 3
feet, almost flush with the ground, with a shallow slot and a hole or two
bored at one edge-- that's where the strap rail was attached.
was the original terminus of the B&O, and the depot (the oldest in
the world, Mt. Clare, being an imposter) has been turned into a small
with a layout, a caboose, and some interesting archaeological stuff about
the building itself. The stone arches carrying the railroad across Tiber Creek
immediately adjoining the station are original; the flour mill on the north bank is the
direct descendant of the original Ellicott mills, and produces excellent cornmeal and
pancake mix (in the guise of Washington Flour).
Ellicott City itself is crammed full of shops including some
rather eccentric junk/antique enterprises.
At Daniels the railroad has been rerouted twice, and the remains of the
first two grades are easily accessible. Go north to the end of US 29 and
turn right; then turn left at Daniels Road. This wanders down to the river
where there is parking. The road continues, passing a dam and a stone church,
and disappearing under the railroad into a motley mess of factory ruins,
renovated factory ruins, piles of mulch... Harwood provides a much more
extensive description of what can be seen here, but basically one can climb
up to the church and (with the help of binoculars) view the factory ruins
and, in the winter, the abandoned church across the river. Just
below the dam are piers from a previous RR bridge, and above the dam
around the bend are the much shorter remnants of its companion. Both are
part of an early realignment. The path along the river follows the earliest
grade and crosses several 150 year old bridges; there are also occaisional
stone "rails" to be seen, as at Ilchester. It used to be possible to approach
from the other side of the river from two directions, but the easier of the two now affords no parking
due to erosion. The other way is to follow the abandoned road along the North side of the river
until it disappears, at which point the path will continue under the
existing railroad bridge. You can see at this point some of the grading and an abutment for the siding into the factory. Continuing
past the abandoned church you will come upon the "lower" Elysville bridge remains. (It is possible to ford the river here in the summer.)
a bit further on the path forks, with part leading up to the old bridge abutment, and the other
curving off to the right into the woods. This path here follows
Elysville Cutoff between the two old bridges. Eventually the path curves back up to the tracks.
Some of this can be
explored in a couple of hours, but it would take the better part of a day
to see everything that Harwood lists. Prepare for some muddy spots.
In the Hollofield area of the park there is an extremely steep trail to
Union Dam. The path deposits you right at the mouth of a tunnel.
The road which once crossed the river at this point was washed out years ago (probably Agnes again). On the North
side of the river there is a large state-owned complex which is the remains of the old Henryton
Center, first a tuberculosis sanitorium, and then later, in the '60s, a
centered for the adult retarded. It closed in 1985, but it is posted and the police keep an
active interest in it. The reason for this is that there is a residential
treatment area for adolescent criminals and drug users quite close by. I would quite frankly recommend avoiding this area.
The B&O station in Sykesville
is worth a trip; it can be reached easily by following old route 32 through town. It has been renovated
and turned into a pleasant restaurant. This is the prototype for LifeLike's
"Baldwin" or "Mainline" station.
For some reason an odd little collection of old rolling stock has settled in around the
Southern States beside the station. At my last visit (Feb. 2000) the Conrail
caboose that has sat their for some years had been joined, on a different track,
by an old B&O wooden caboose and a C&O painted diner, the latter appearing to hold
some sort of model railroad layout.
If you continue through town, heading north, you will at one point see a
RR bridge way overhead. This once carried a spur to the mental hospital, but I
believe the track has been abandoned for years.
Harwood describes a lot of little sights around Mt. Airy (including the planes)
which I have never attempted. The only two that are easy are the bridge
on the (now abandoned) eastern half of the old Mt. Airy branch,
which can be seen on Twin Arch Road, and the station itself. The station has been cleaned up
considerably, and is interesting in that, like Ellicott City,
it represents the railroad before it had anything resembling archetectural pretensions.