One of the reasons that there is a Thurmont was lost in 1967.
Thurmont was originally called Mechanicstown, but a movement in 1873 started to come up with a more progressive name for the growing town. Among the supporters of a name change was the Western Maryland Railroad.
“The railroad was all for the idea since it would relieve the shipping and passenger problems caused by a profusion of the ‘sound alike’ communities. There was Mechanicsburg and Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania and several Mechanicsvilles in Maryland as well as our town,” according to A Thurmont Scrapbook.
The Western Maryland Railroad had first reached Mechanicstown on January 9, 1871. The first stationmaster was Harry Shriner.
“Upon the event of the coming of the railroad to Mechanicstown, a group of civic-minded citizens arranged a reception and a banquet for the railroad officials and their guests. It was a big event, taking place in the Stocksdale Warehouse located beside the tracks at the end of Carroll Street,” George Wireman wrote in the Catoctin Enterprise in 1972.
The warehouse served as a temporary depot for the telegrapher and expressman until a permanent depot could be built on the site of the old cannery in Thurmont. The depot had two waiting rooms, an office for the stationmaster and telegrapher and sanitary facilities. The grounds outside were landscaped and there was a water tank at either end of the depot.
By 1890, six passenger, mail and express trains (three eastbound and three westbound) ran through Thurmont daily.
In 1914, Thurmont even had a milk service train running to Baltimore.
During 1923, a young man named S. Elmer Barnhart started working for the Western Maryland Railroad. He was a fresh graduate from the Dodge Institute of Telegraphy and State Agency in Valparaiso, Ind. He had been born in Greencastle, Pa., and served in France with Base Hospital 98 during World War I.
He began his career with the railroad at Edgemont but he soon moved to Rocky Ridge’s station.
“Part of his job involved relaying basketball results by Morse telegraphy from Mt. St. Mary’s College to the Associated Press,” George May wrote in the Frederick Post in 1967.
Barnhart took over operating the Thurmont station in September 1939.
“The peak of his career was in 1952 when he was freight, ticket and baggage agent and operator at Thurmont; agent for the Railway Express Agency; Mayor of Thurmont which included being superintendent of the Municipal Light Company and Chief of Police and an elder and financial secretary of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Thurmont,” May wrote.
As automobiles continued to can gain favor as a form of transportation for Americans, the Western Maryland Railroad stopped passenger service to Thurmont on March 1, 1957. Freight and mail service continued, though.
Occasionally, a few special trains would be scheduled to carry passengers on special excursions, usually to Pen-Mar Park.
“On Saturday, October 12, 1963, the local station resembled a scene from the pages of history when large crowds gathered to ride the special excursions to Pen Mar Park, located a short distance west of Blue Ridge Summit in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains,” Wireman wrote.
With little notice, the Western Maryland Railroad closed the Thurmont depot on January 13, 1967.
“The need for the station diminished during recent years because of more modern accounting practices in Hagerstown, which took over the work of the Thurmont Agency,” Wireman wrote.
Many people assume that the decision to close the depot came about because Barnhart retired on January 1, 1967, at age 65. He had spent 44 years with the railroad and 27 years in charge of the Thurmont train station.
“On April 4, 1967, the fate of the station was soon learned. A wrecking crew appeared on the scene and began demolishing this Heritage Landmark. Within the short period of three days, a stranger visiting the site would never have realized that a railroad station once stood on this very spot,” Wireman wrote.
While the trains still run through Thurmont, they no longer stop in the town.
Here are some more stories that involve the Western Maryland Railroad in Thurmont: