Sunday, November 25, 2007

Railroad Woes

1864 map.

1897 map.

On January 1, 1873, the Popes Creek Branch of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad opened for regular service between Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County to Popes Creek, Maryland. Take a look at the 1864 map of the region, drafted by the United States Army. The railroad, of course, isn't there, but Port Tobacco is. Now look at the 1897 map: not only does it depict the railroad, but it shows the railroad passing through the relatively new town of La Plata and bypassing Port Tobacco. La Plata does not appear on the 1864 map.

This is not an unusual story. Hollywood westerns often portray parties feuding over the location of prospective railroads, each side recognizing the economic benefits of being a station and the potential economic catastrophe of being bypassed in favor of a neighboring settlement. Such stories are true, and they are no less true for Eastern localities than those on the plains and deserts of the West. Port Tobacco was not on the line and La Plata was: the outcome seemed certain, but it is a testament to the resolve of Port Tobaccoans and the home field advantage of hosting the county seat that it took more than 20 years for La Plata to prevail.

By the way: April and I have been busy editing some works for publication, one that I am revising with some other colleagues on the responses of New York State farmers to the rapid growth of the cheese factory system, the other an edited volume that April has spearheaded on the archaeology of institutions (schools, asylums, prisons). Sorry: neither is likely to appear on the shelves of your local bookseller.

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