Brunswick, MD - Gateway to the Blue Ridge
Circus train

The Potomac River looking west from the bridge at Brunswick. The gap it's flowing through is the gap at South Mountain, site of many Civil War battles, and in the background is the Blue Ridge.

C&O Canal Route

The C&O Canal, conceived by George Washington among others, solved a vital problem for the early development of the nation. The Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains to the West were a formidable barrier in their time to westward expansion. The initial settlement by hunters and trappers couldn't be supplanted by farmers and industry without a means of getting produced goods back to the markets along the  Eastern Seabord.

Eastern Seabord to Ohio Country
Just across the Blue Ridge was the first bonanza, the massive, fertile, Shenandoah valley, hundreds of miles long, watered by the Shenandoah River. Much further west across the many ridge lines of the Appalachian Mountain chain lay the Ohio Country. At Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia, the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers joined, and pushed through a series of gaps to the east, through the ridge lines. The Potomac, now a wide waterway flowed down to Washington, DC, where it became deep enough to support sea going vessels and major seaports at Georgetown and Alexandria were built there.

The Gaps at Brunswick
In this satellite image, you can see clearly the Shanandoah and Potomac Rivers coming together at Harpers Ferry, and the ridge lines the Potomac flows past, through gaps it created over millions of years. To the right is the gap at Catoctin Mountain; to the immediate left is the gap at South Mountain followed by the gap in the Blue Ridge at Harpers Ferry.

C&O Canal in the 1800's
The C&O Canal was our first great national program of infrastructure. Built over several decades (1828-1850), it became operational in  1850 and was in continuous use until a great Potomac River flood in 1924 forced it's closure. Here's a scene from the 1800's.

B & O Canal Aqueduct

The canal was an engineering marvel, consisting of 74 locks to lift the traffic over 600 feet over the course of the journey; 7 dams for water diversion, 11 aqueducts (like the one pictured here), 150 culverts, and a 27 foot wide tunnel of over 3000 feet in length through a mountain near Paw Paw, WV, all constructed by hand. There was a serious campaign to nominate the Paw Paw tunnel as a wonder of the world at the time.

C&O Canal and bikepath at Great Falls
Today, the canal is preserved as a national historical park, and it's waterway and locks and aqueducts are being slowly restored. The old towpath is now a hiking trail and bike path.

Brunswick railyard
In 1828, the year construction on the canal began, construction also commenced on the B&O Railroad which took the same route. This led to some fierce competition for land use rights, especially in some of the narrow sections where tall bluffs towered above the river nearly to the waters edge. These disputes were worked out, and eventually, the railroad played a pivotal role in the canal's demise. Pictured you see one of the principal reasons for the growth of Brunswick. Here, the bluffs were set back from the river creating flats that extended for over six miles, an ideal location for what eventually became the largest railyard in the U.S. This picture shows the Roundhouse in the foreground which has since been dismanted.

9th Ave ca 1910
The huge expansion of the railroad, and the yards at Brunswick made it a natural place for a community to grow. Brunswick is also a significant north/south transit point providing a natural location for a Potomac bridge. As a workplace and transportation hub, Brunswick attracted a population of over 5000 people by the late 1800's. This housing was built largely for the railroad work force

9th Ave in Dec 2006
Those homes built around the turn of the last century have stood the test of time, and a rapid decline of the railroad. Ninth Ave has been paved, but the homes and the church built 100 years ago serve a new generation of residents. Brunswick is a commuter town now, or 'bedroom community' providing a skilled workforce for the rapidly developing Washington Greater Metropolitan region.

Circus train

Though the yard is much less used, Brunswick  continues to be a transportation hub and trains pass through at the rate of several an hour.

The train station

The commuter train station. There are 6 trains a day to Washington, and several hundred commuters ride from Brunswick each morning. It takes one hour and twenty five minutes to reach Union Station in Washington, DC, three blocks from the Capitol. In good conditions, the car ride could take the same, but, good conditions are rare.

Train approaching

A MARC commuter train approaches the station.

Coming home from work

With 6 return trips in the evening to select from, there are several hundred commuters who use the Brunswick passenger terminal.

Building a train

A freight train waits on the parallel while the  commuter train empties its load.

Sun sets on the Blue Ridge west of Brunswick railyard

Railroad town as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge

Beans in the Belfry

This church is now the local coffee shop, Beans in the Belfry. They serve gourmet coffees and breakfast baked goods and panini sandwiches in an atmosphere that maybe could be described as yard sale chic - you'd have to see it.  They're also a wifi hotspot, and, they have folk, country, and jazz groups performing there often in the evenings and on weekends.

Performers at Beans in the Belfry

Yard sale chic

Gourmet coffee and pastries

Moose Lodge

Patsy Kline came from Winchester, VA, about 40 miles away, and used to perform at the Moose Lodge. It is said she adopted the stage name of Patsy Kline during this period, and that it was here that she was 'discovered'.

(details of these claims are now being researched for a book - evidence has been turned up of her Brunswick appearances)

Railroad museum

The Brunswick Visitor Center and Railroad Museum has a good exhibit of the canal and railroad history, and features a huge model train layout, on the third floor, of the rail system between Baltimore and Brunswick.

Potomac River at Brunswick

The Potomac River at Brunswick.

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