Hagerstown & Frederick Railway Company

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The Hagerstown & Frederick Railway, a suburban trolley system was developed by George William Smith and initially called the Frederick & Middletown Railway. Construction began early in 1896, almost simultaneously with the development of Braddock Heights Park, the mountaintop resort that was intended to provide patronage for the line. Service between Frederick and Braddock Heights commenced on August 22, 1896. The line was complete to Middletown by October.

Two years later an extension was built to Myersville, nominally called the Myersville & Catoctin Railway, but leased to the F&M and operated as an integral part of the F&M. In 1904 the Hagerstown Railway built a connecting link from Boonsboro to Myersville, and through service between Frederick and Hagerstown became possible, making the still separate lines an interurban.

The Jefferson branch was added in 1906, running down the east side of Jefferson Boulevard. This extension served the H&F investors, who were largely the same as the Braddock Heights investors, by opening up more mountaintop resort land for development.

Emory Coblentz, a Middletown lawyer and stockholder in the F&M, took over the management of the F&M in 1908. He bought the Washington, Frederick & Gettysburg Railroad, which despite its name only ran from Frederick to Thurmont, and incorporated it into the F&M in 1909, renaming the F&M as the Frederick Railroad. During the next two years the network in Frederick was expanded and its facilities improved, with lines on Fifth Street, South Street and Market Street. In 1911, the Hagerstown Railway and the Frederick Railway were merged, becoming the Hagerstown & Frederick Railway.

By the 1920s the H&F faced competition from two sources: the automobile and the Blue Ridge Transportation Company, a bus company owned by Potomac Edison. A gradual decline set in starting with the closure of the Washington Street line in Hagerstown and the end of Electric Park, both in 1927. In 1929 the loop line on Mulberry Street closed, and in the same year the Braddock Hotel burned and was not replaced.

The Great Depression made things worse. The Chambersburg, Greencastle and Waynesboro was shut down in 1932, and the Shady Grove line followed suit. Emory Coblentz was caught in the financial collapse of his bank, and was indicted (and later acquitted) on fraud charges. Having resigned from Potomac Edison and lost everything, he died in 1941, effectively destitute.

The reconstruction of US Route 40 to better suit the automobile took another toll. The new US 40 alignment between Myersville and Hagerstown crossed the H&F right-of-way at several points. Rather than build level crossings, the line was abandoned, in 1938. Streetcar service in Frederick had already been terminated in 1937, and in Hagerstown in 1939.

Passenger decline during the 1930s left the H&F's business dependent on freight service, primarily around between Frederick and Thurmont. The network in Frederick was kept busy switching freight between industrial sidings and connections between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) and Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) lines. Passenger service to Jefferson halted in 1940, and tracks were removed in 1943, although the line along Jefferson Boulevard to Dean's was kept in operation to cater to the resort trade in Braddock Heights at the Vindobona Hotel. The Middletown-Myersville section was closed and the track lifted in 1945.

The Hagerstown-Williamsport line was closed in 1947, the last service in Washington County. Later that year, service was discontinued on the Middletown and Braddock Heights lines. Most freight on the Thurmont branch was gone, with only service to Fort Detrick a significant contributor. Many utilities, including Potomac Edison, were ordered by the Securities and Exchange Commission to leave non-utility-related businesses, such as transportation. With that incentive, the last H&F trolley ran on February 20, 1954.

Freight carried on, but the electric lines were removed on the Thurmont line in 1955 and diesel equipment was substituted. Nevertheless in 1958 the track between Thurmont and Fort Detrick was taken up. Potomac Edison stopped all service on April 26, 1961.

In the company’s heyday, and in common with many more urban trolley systems, the H&F owned and operated two amusement parks, both as business ventures in their own right, and as traffic generators for the trolley business. In pre-air conditioning days, mountaintop parks like Braddock Heights Park were popular summer getaways where city dwellers could entertain themselves and breathe cool mountain air. Electric Park in Funkstown had to rely on Antietam Creek for coolness, but served much the same function.

We are currently offering the following pieces from the Hagerstown & Frederick Railway Company:

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