Western Maryland Railroad
The railroad arrived in Thurmont in January 1871. Before then, the town was isolated – Frederick was a day’s ride away on horse. Main Street was called the Baltimore-to-Hagerstown Road, and visitors, travelers, and salesmen did pass through regularly but there was nothing like the mobility, commerce, and news cycle we’re accustomed to today. Dry goods – candy, cloth, rope, candles – still shipped by wagons pulled by teams of horses along trails.
The railroad eventually ran three east and three west trains every day, including a mail delivery. Most of the trains carried cargo, but passenger trains became a daily feature, too. All of a sudden – overnight, literally – for a few cents a resident could be in Baltimore in an hour. A farmer could ship his crops to new markets. A local store owner could have inventory shipped to him from cities up and down the east coast. For a time at the end of the 1800s, Thurmont was a summer destination for city dwellers who took “getaway” trains to enjoy clean air, beautiful mountain scenery and swimming or fishing distractions, and small-town comforts.
New businesses started and existing businesses boomed – the Stocksdale warehouse and store sat adjacent to the tracks at Carroll Street and Boundary Avenue and became a part of the day for nearly every person in town for three generations [the building still stands today]. Tanneries could import raw materials from faraway states and likewise ship finished products back. The rail line from Thurmont to Catoctin Furnace soon followed and made it infinitely easier to ship pig iron to cities throughout the east. In addition, rail cars held tons more capacity than a wagon and moved 20 times faster, so costs to ship plunged while efficiency and scale leaped.
Thurmont’s population grew by 25% each of the two decades after the railroad arrived. Stores did better, lumber yards did better, more roads and houses were built, more wagons sold, more cigars sold, and more coffins sold. People told time using the train whistles. And, as we mentioned, mail became a daily event. Other changes in Thurmont’s history were significant, like electricity and water, but no other change in its 270 years transformed the town as a community more than the railroad.