A Brief History of Brunswick

On July 4th, 1828, the B&O Railroad was begun in Baltimore Maryland on the same day the first shovelful of dirt was turned for the C&O Canal in Georgetown, DC. The railroad and canal were soon in competition with each other and for the first 55 years, the canal had a much greater effect here in Brunswick (then known as “Berlin”) than the railroad did.

In 1883, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad decided to locate extensive freight yards and locomotive maintenance shops in Berlin, and trains running between all east and west points could conveniently be reclassified here.

Berlin was chosen by the B&O to solve one of their main operating problems. Since coal powered trains could only travel so far before needing rest and refueling stops, a new “yard” was created near the East End that could serve Philadelphia, Washington and the scattered Baltimore terminals, and provide locomotive servicing facilities for westbound trains. Several reasons were behind this choice of location: the terrain was ideal for the freight yard needs; riverside bottomland was cheap and available; and the B&O was exempt from paying property taxes in Maryland. The B&O bought land for the new yard from the locals who were more than happy to sell their “unusable” property, and the railroad soon owned most of the town. Brunswick was incorporated in 1890 and in May of that year the freight classification yard was opened.

The population at that time was about 200, but with the new yard, it began rapidly growing, and within 10 years nearly 2500 people called Brunswick home. The B&O donated land for parks and public buildings and in 1907 the YMCA was built. By 1910, the population was estimated at 5000 and homes, schools, churches, meeting halls and paved streets appeared almost at once. Brunswick was now competing with Frederick to be the largest town in the county. The town continued to grow and prosper until the mid 1950’s, when the railroad began changing from steam to diesel power. Diesel locomotives could travel farther between service stops, were more fuel efficient, and required far less maintenance, so the yard began shutting down its operations. As the steam locomotives departed forever, the railroad boom in Brunswick came to an end.

Today, Brunswick is the second largest city in Frederick County, boasting over 5000 residents, many of whom commute to the Northern Virginia and Washington DC corridors. They are, however, quite proud of their rich transportation heritage and strive to preserve it through the Brunswick Railroad Museum, annual festivals and in revitalization of the historic downtown area with the cooperative efforts of the Check Brunswick First group of merchants, the Brunswick Main Street program and the Economic Development Commission.

Before Brunswick …

  • Brunswick was known by various names over the years since the 1700’s… Eel Pot, Eel Town, Coxon’s Rest, German Crossing, Potomac Crossing, Hawkin’s Merry Peep O’Day, Berlin and Barry. The name ‘Brunswick’ was incorporated in 1890.
  • Reclassification Yard
  • The 7 mile long yards were the longest owned by a single company. Trains from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc. came in and the locomotives were detached. Cars were shoved over the westbound ‘hump’ and reclassified by destination to points such as Chicago, St. Louis or Cincinnati.

Standard Time

In the days before Standard Time, travel by train could be very difficult! Most communication relied on “sun time”, which meant setting clocks when the sun was overhead at noon, or they depended on a local jeweler or church sexton. As a result, the time in cities just a few miles apart could differ by several minutes. This resulted in nearly 100 “local” times that railroads were using across the United States to set their schedules! These local times were replaced on November 18, 1883 when “Standard Time” was introduced. Four time zones were created, each one hour apart, whose names are still used today: EASTERN, CENTRAL, MOUNTAIN and PACIFIC. This idea was sponsored and put into effect by the General Time Convention of Railway Managers. But it took an additional 35 years until Congress passed the Standard Time Act in March of 1918 that made this the official time for the country.

Caboose

 

The caboose was always the last car on the train, and had a variety of names. It was used mainly by brakemen, firemen and the conductor. Originally, red was the standard color for B&O cabooses, then it was later changed to blue. Cabooses held bunks, a small pot-bellied stove for heat (with a flat top for cooking), benches, a tank for drinking water, an ice box for ice and food, a coal box and extra food provisions.

Railroad Expressions …from the early days of railroading

WALK THE TRACKS — beat the trains… count the ties… hit the cinders or hit the cinder rail… pound the tracks… skips the cinders or ties… take to the cinders… travel on a tie pass & walk the ties.

TO BOARD A MOVING TRAIN — deck, flip, hop or jump a rattler… hook, hop, or grab a handful of box cars… jump, nail, hop or make on the fly… nail ’er on the fly

CAR PARTS — the belly, belly or guts of a drag… drag belly or guts… gunnels… guts…lower berth…rods & tickets

SPEED — ball the jack… beat ‘er on the back… carry the mail… drop ‘er down in the corner… fan… highball… hit the ball

GOING OFF DUTY — join the birds… pin for home… tie up & unload

REFRIGERATOR CARS — icers…freezers… ice wagons… reefers

INTERESTING FACTS:

  • Rugs and bedding were hung outside often and ‘beaten’ to free from dust and cinders that got into homes and businesses daily.
  • Before the streets in town were paved, the potholes were filled with cinders from the trains–free of charge.
  • Although there was significant passenger service, freight service was the real reason for the boom in railroading here in Brunswick.
  • Trains are given odd numbers when traveling NORTH & WEST and given even numbers when traveling EAST & SOUTH
  • The Baltimore & Ohio railroad hired surveyors from other parts of the country to lay out streets and blocks, in order to build housing facilities for the many RR workers & families.
  • Churches, stores, businesses were built by and prospered due to the railroad. Lines at the bank to cash weekly paychecks often stretched around the block on payday.
  • The local love of baseball in Brunswick directly resulted from the many teams that were formed from railroad crews. Team names were derived from the areas where men worked…such as the “Brunswick Shop” team.
  • Meals were prepared and served in accordance with the train schedules.
  • Most homes had cast-iron wood burning stoves and families raised their own poultry, made their own bread, butter and root beer.
  • Family laundry was done in wash tubs with scrub boards in the home, and the clean, wet laundry was hung outside only when trains WERE NOT passing through spewing cinders and ashes.

Thanks to Sue Mayne for compiling Brunswick’s History.