by Mary Ellen Mitchell
Long before roads and cars cris-crossed the country, another transportation system made cross country travel a possibility-the railroads. Maryland was the state where the first railroad tracks were laid. The Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum celebrates the history of the railroads and the many lines that ran through Washington County and beyond.
Adults and children will enjoy all that the Roundhouse Museum has to offer. The friendly staff are knowledgeable and will spend time telling tales of the glory days of the roundhouse, if you visit on a quieter day. During special exhibitions, the traffic flow of visitors can get heavy, so plan to attend on a Friday or an event free weekend, so you can make a leisurely visit.
Five rail lines ran through Hagerstown earning it the name of "Hub City". An aerial view of the roundhouse quickly explains the center of activity at the rail yard. A roundhouse resembles a wheel with the spokes made out of railroad tracks. Trains would enter Hagerstown from one direction and be sent out in another direction. The Roundhouse was the center of activity from 1914 until 1999. Although the roundhouse itself no longer exists, the museum is located on the grounds of the site.
The Roundhouse Museum is also dedicated to preserving equipment, including locomotives, passenger, and freight cars. Several restored train cars can be seen as you pull into the parking lot. On a recent visit, I got to hear the story of a restoration project. The whole story needs to be heard first hand, but a dedicated group of former railroaders took a sad looking locomotive and restored it to its former glory. After the job was completed they got to take it our on a run, before the locomotive was purchased and taken to a museum in Canada.
Inside the museum, visitors will see photographs and memorabilia from Hagerstown's rich railroad history. Mannequins model vintage conductor uniforms and recall to mind a simpler time. Signal lights, bell and whistles comprised some of the communication system necessary to run the railroads are some of the many antiques on display.
For those that never experienced a trip to the dining car, there are displays of the china used to serve guests. This section is reminiscent of the China Room at the White and the viewer learns that dining on a train was an elegant experience!
Special event weekends abound and include a holiday favorite display called "The Trains of Christmas" during December and January. Heritage Days are in June, and train excursions are planned for the summers and into autumn. And for those who have more time, the museum boasts a library and research room.
The last stop before you leave the museum must be trip to the gift store. Hats, bandanas, tee shirts or jewelry make wonderful mementos or gifts. A collection of local railroads history books are available for purchase for those who wish to learn more.
The Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum is located at 300 South Burhans Boulevard. Hours of operation are Friday, Saturday and Sundays from 1 to 5pm and there is an entrance fee. For more information call 301-739-4665 or visit them on the web at www.roundhouse.org.