This train station served York, Pennsylvania, for many years prior to the American Civil War. In 1863, a brand new, much larger brick depot replaced this building, with the Northern Central Railroad expending $5,000 in capital funds to construct the new stationhouse. Some historians have speculated that Confederate soldiers necessitated the new structure by burning the one shown above on Monday, June 29, 1863, during Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s occupation of York.
Contrarians cite contemporary newspaper accounts, as well as Confederate records, that the station was spared and the new brick building was part of an overall aggressive expansion of the NCR’s service between York and Baltimore. It is known that the railroad planned to add a second track between the cities, and construction was underway in Maryland. The NCR would order several new locomotives, as well as dozens of passenger cars and freight cars to facilitate the expansion, as well as building a supporting infrastructure.
Let’s again look at the 1863 Annual Report of the Northern Central Railway, where officials gave a line item accounting of the specific damages and losses incurred during the Confederate invasion of York County, Pa.
“The operations of this Road were suspended in June and July last, by the invasion of the State of Pennsylvania by the rebel army under General Lee, and the following statement is embodied in this report as a record.
Information was received from the War Department at Washington, on the 7th June, of the intended invasion of the State by the rebel army, and immediate preparations were made, by request of the military authorities, for the protection of the bridges and other property of this Company.
From this date the efforts of the Company officers were often given almost exclusively to the military preparations on the Road, and in preparing block houses, &c., for use of the military guarding the line.
On the 15th, the regular business of the Company was partially suspended, and all rolling stock not in constant use was moved northward.
16th; only local freight trains for the removal of private property that could be useful to the rebels and military trains were run from this date. On the 25th, orders were given for the stoppage of all shipments. On the 26th, telegraph communication on the Hanover Branch Railroad was interrupted. Orders were issued to have all Engines fired up, and all rolling stock ready to move on receipt of orders.
On the 27th, all trains were moved northward; accumulated stock at York moved to Columbia; and at 7 P.M. [the] telegraph operator at York, being advised of the approach of the rebels, moved his instruments. 28, 29, and 30 — rebel forces in York; all bridges between Hanover Junction and Goldsboro’, on the main line, twelve in number, and all on the Wrightsville Branch, nineteen in number, were destroyed, also all crippled cars at York.
On 5th July, rebel army having been defeated at Gettysburg, the reconstruction of the destroyed bridges was commenced.
On 15th, all bridges repaired, and business of the Road resumed.
The damage to this Company by this invasion was as follows:
Loss of trade during the stoppage: $109,000
Cost of building temporary structures and renewal of permanent bridges: $91,000
Cars destroyed at York: $12,000
Cars destroyed at Gettysburg: $5,000
Scale and other fixtures at York: $1,000
Labor and materials in block houses: $11,000
Iron-clad car No. 319: $800
Material and labor on same, sent to Baltimore & Ohio R.R.: $3,700
In the next section we find, “It has become an absolute necessity to extend the double track to York. Without it, it will be impossible to meet the growing trade of the Road, as even now it is almost impossible to move the large number of trains with the promptness and freedom from accident that is so absolutely necessary to secure a satisfactory working of the line.”
Despite the widespread damage to the infrastructure of the Northern Central, its officials were already looking ahead to building a larger and more efficient railroad.
Jubal Early damaged the railroad, but certainly only hampered its operations and did no lasting permanent damage. Less than a month after his raiders visited the county, operations were back to normal, and NCR receipts for the late summer through winter of 1863 were strong, fueling the aggressive expansion of 1864.
So, did the Rebels burn the York depot?
The NCR report does not specifically state that the reason for the new, larger, sturdier brick stationhouse was because of fire damage to the old building. There is no line item for the loss of the structure in the annual report, and the statement of the new station is included in a rather long section delineating capital projects in other towns for new freight houses and other buildings needed for the growing railroad.
Here is the specific language used by Mr. Cameron and his colleagues at the NCR: “During the past year a new Passenger House of brick has been built at York, at a cost of $5,000, and a new framed Freight House and Ice House at Sunbury. Two new framed Shops have been commenced at York — one a Car Shop and the other for the Maintenance of Way Department. A new Track Scale has also been built at York, to replace the one burned during the rebel invasion.”
Again there is no mention of any damage to railroad buildings or fixtures at York other than the track scale.
Also, accounts of the incoming trains of wounded that arrived in York in the weeks following the Battle of Gettysburg include statements that doctors examined the arriving patients at the depot, a presumption that the building was still intact, or at a minimum operational.
No other depots had been destroyed (Gettysburg, New Oxford, Hanover, Hanover Junction, Abbottstown, Smyser’s, Wrightsville, etc.) during the Confederate movements through those towns, but of course that does not automatically indicate that York’s depot was similarly spared.
What is certain is that the York station trailed only Baltimore’s Calvert Station in revenues from an NCR facility, with more than $21,000 in passenger receipts for ticket sales.
UPDATE!!!! Mystery solved!!Click here for the answer from a Baltimore newspaper.
For more posts on the Confederate damage to the Northern Central Railway, see these posts:
Destruction of Fishel’s Bridge
Rebels destroy the Codorus Bridge (Black Bridge)
Fire on the Conewago