Codorus Tow Path Railroad to Chickies

Seal of the Codorus Navigation Company (Impression in Collections of York County Heritage Trust, colorized by S. H. Smith, 2015)

Seal of the Codorus Navigation Company (Impression in Collections of York County Heritage Trust, colorized by S. H. Smith, 2015)

In 1825 a charter was granted to the Codorus Navigation Company to construct an 11-mile canal utilizing the Codorus Creek in York County, Pennsylvania. The canal opened in 1833. It was situated on the east side of the creek and through a number of locks and dams, canal boats could navigate the 120-foot elevation difference between the City of York and the Susquehanna River. The canal boats were pulled by a horse or mule along a tow path; reputedly at about two miles per hour.

The first railroad from the City of York to reach the Susquehanna River was completed in 1840. Significantly faster transportation of goods, between York and Wrightsville, via the railroad, spelled the demise of the Codorus Navigation Company in a few years. During the next fifty years, occasionally the idea was floated to construction a railroad on the former canal tow path. Although no railroad was ever built over this route, one plan had significant backing by both Baltimore and local businessmen; it was nearly built. Quoting from pages 615-616 of George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, Pennsylvania; Volume I:

The Baltimore and Harrisburg Railroad (Eastern Extension of the Western Maryland Railroad System) was built in 1892, and put into operation in the following year. This road extends from Porter’s to York, a distance of fifteen miles. It was originally intended to continue the road along the Codorus Creek to its mouth at the Susquehanna and cross that river, joining the Reading Railroad near Marietta, thus forming a direct line from the coal fields of West Virginia to New York City.

The company which managed the construction of the road, [The Baltimore & Harrisburg Railway Company, Eastern Extension,] was chartered by the state of Pennsylvania in 1888. The names in this charter were William H. Lanius, A. B. Farquhar, W. Latimer Small, Grier Hersh, John C. Schmidt, D. K. Trimmer, and George S. Schmidt. The company was organized by the election of Captain W. H. Lanius, president; D. K. Trimmer, secretary, and Samuel Small, treasurer.

The proposed extension of the Western Maryland Railway was to follow the route of the former canal tow path to the Susquehanna River, then follow the York County shore down river by Accomac. In doing so, the Western Maryland Railway extension would pass under Black Bridge, which carries the Northern Central Railway over the Codorus Creek three miles north of York and the new bridge for the Western Maryland Railway to cross the Susquehanna River would be at an elevation high enough to pass over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks at Chickies in Lancaster County; whereupon the Western Maryland would connect with the Reading Railroad system already at that location.

The section of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park in Springettsbury Township, opened earlier in 2015, exists where the Western Maryland Railway extension would have passed. In fact, the trail passes under Black Bridge, about where the rails would have passed under Black Bridge; as seen in this eastward view.

Eastward View of the Hertiage Rail Trail County Park, as it passes under Black Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)

Eastward View of the Hertiage Rail Trail County Park, as it passes under Black Bridge (S. H. Smith, 2015)

Various trade journal and newspaper articles cover bits and pieces about the Western Maryland Railway extension. The September 3, 1892 issue of RAILWAY WORLD includes one of the longer articles; quoting from page 856:

The Philadelphia Times says: Some time ago The Times announced that a connection between the Reading and Western Maryland systems would be effected at Chickies, a small village situated about eighty miles west of Philadelphia along the main freight line of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which is also the terminus of the Reading and Marietta Railroad.

Little attention was given the matter at the time, because the scheme is an old one and has appeared at intervals for the last ten years. But there is more truth than fiction in the rumor now going the rounds, and within the next twelve or eighteen months the connection referred to will undoubtedly be made, preliminary arrangements to that effect now being in progress.

The Baltimore and Harrisburg Railroad, which extends from Porter’s to York, and which is a branch of the Western Maryland, is nearly completed, and is now within three and one-half miles of the latter city. A large force of workmen is employed in grading the road-bed, and considerable work has already been done at various points between York and Thomasville.

This road, according to the plans now under consideration, is to be extended to a point opposite Chickies, thence across the Susquehanna River at that point, and connect with the Reading and Marietta, which is a part of the Reading system.

The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, contains an 1895 Rail Road Map of Pennsylvania, published by the Department of Internal Affairs of Pennsylvania. I’ve used a section of that map to annotate the Western Maryland Railway proposed extension to Chickies. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.

Western Maryland Railway Proposed Extension to Chickies annotated on an 1895 Rail Road Map of Pennsylvania (Annotated 2015 by S. H. Smith, Base Map from The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

Western Maryland Railway Proposed Extension to Chickies annotated on an 1895 Rail Road Map of Pennsylvania (Annotated 2015 by S. H. Smith, Base Map from The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

The bungalow of my Grandfather Luther Smith was just upriver from Accomac. Oldtimers in the area talked about how this railroad, if it came through, would have affected the area. There were debates concerning the best route to Chickies, the canal tow path route or through the York Valley, paralleling the railroad to Wrightsville, and then heading up river to Chickies Point.

All railroads in red on the map are part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system. The canal tow path route showed the Western Maryland was creating a truly independent link to the northeast, by not just following the Pennsylvania Railroad through the York Valley. Having a truly independent second rail freight service heading north and east out of York was likely why so many prominent York businessmen were behind the Western Maryland Railway extension to access the Reading system at Chickies. Competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad system would keep down northeast freight shipping costs out of York.

The article in the September 3, 1892 issue of RAILWAY WORLD concludes by noting:

The work is to be done by the Western Maryland company, between which and the Reading a traffic agreement has been made. An official of the latter company was recently in York, this state, trying to sell bonds for the extension, and said at the time there was no doubt but that the new line would be constructed.

Why The Western Maryland Extension Was Not Constructed

Bad timing; work on the extension was slated to commence in 1894. The stock market crash on June 27, 1893, began, up to that point, the greatest depression in the United States history. By the end of 1893, 600 banks had closed, 74 railroads has gone out of business and more than 15,000 commercial businesses had collapsed. When financial conditions again became favorable to consider constructing the Western Maryland Extension, the Pennsylvania Railroad dropped their freight charges just enough; such that the extension no longer made financial sense.

Related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America.” Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.

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