Years ago I was exploring in southern York county, Pennsylvania, near the town of Glen Rock on the Northern Central (NCRR) branch of the PRR. I had been exposed to the area while riding over the railroad line on a railroad motorcar owned by a friend of mine, during an organized “motorcar meet”. This was probably 1992 or 93.
Just outside the town of Glen Rock, in an area probably best defined as Centerville, I noticed a curious little structure which resembled a very modest railroad station. It stood on a level area partway up a hillside, near a big tree. It was one room, board and batten sided, painted white, with overhanging eaves. And it just screamed “railroad!” at me.
As I recall, I examined the level area on the hillside, and how it was basically aimed at the level of the NCRR, and proclaimed “railroad!”. I must have headed upstream (SW) along Centerville Creek to see if I could find any further evidence. What I found was ‘Narrow Gauge Rd’ (actually, at that time I think the sign said Narrow Gage Rd, but regardless, it was attention-getting!). Hence began the saga of the Mystery Narrow Gauge Railroad of Glen Rock, York County.
Following Narrow Gauge Rd, I came to its intersection with SR 216. While I stood there pondering a curious embankment which continued along the creek through someone’s yard, the property owner noticed me and asked what I was doing. I explained my curiosity about the road name and the embankment. He said he had always figured there was some kind of something-or-other there at one time. I think he said he may even have found cinders or something similarly suggestive along the embankment in his yard…
In the intervening years I have considered the case of this mystery railroad several times (often in connection with the nearby Mystery Narrow Gauge of Parkton, Baltimore County, Maryland–more to come!). I’d never made much progress finding any info on it, however.
Today I set off with GPS and maps in hand, and our recent experiences hunting railroad grades, figuring this couldn’t be half as hard as tracking century-old logging railroads buried in Mountain Laurel. Well, yes and no!
What I Found
The day’s hunt actually began somewhat accidentally. I was headed for a tack shop (StableMart–nice people) on SR 851 just a hair north of the Maryland/Pennsylvania line. Approaching Hildebrand Rd, headed south, I noticed a peculiar curving embankment going through a farm field on the east of the road. Very odd!
Concluding my business at the shop, I returned to examine the embankment. It’s not much, just a smooth curve, built up about a foot or so above the field. No signs of cinders or ballast, just dirt. It comes out of the woods and curves towards the road and the summit of a hill. If it were railroad grade, it probably would have required a small cut to get through the crest of the hill. It has a crude farm road alongside it, but it sure looks like it was built up, not just that the road was built down.
With GPS tracking on, I conducted a discreet foray along the track and into the woods, finding that the embankment suddenly ended after a few hundred feet in the woods (later examination of maps shows this to be approximately the headwaters of Centerville Creek). Attempting to examine the terrain ahead, it wasn’t clear where it could have been going. Was I suckered? Maybe this was nothing, but it sure felt funny…
Returning to the car, I proceeded NW to Bonnair Rd and took it NE. At various points along the road it looked like a feasible railroad route. Regretfully most of it is in the yards of lovely country manors, the owners of which usually have little curiosity for history.
At the village of Bonnair [sic], an old farmyard on the north side of the road showed faint signs which could be grade. Turning north briefly on Sunny Slope Rd (?), I found signs of what might be grade near the creek. And in the yard of a rather nice home to the east of the road, I saw curious linear patterns. Approaching the homeowner cleaning their car (which maybe I should do sometime), I was pleased to find a warm reception to my crazy tale and ready permission to tramp around the yard.
After a few minutes in the yard and nearby woods, I concluded that there were definite possibilities, and not much more. But there does seem to be a fairly distinct hump through the yard, with fairly distinct trenches on either side. Once it enters the woods, it becomes more vague. Returning to the house, I told the resident about this, and she said they had always wondered why there was the hump in the yard and why water collected in long lines there. Hmmmm. Hopefully someday I will return to tell her much more about who, what, when, where and why!
Does This Tale Ever End?
I briefly explored south of Bonnair (road name forgotten), then headed NE along Bonnair Rd again. Not far east of the fair homeowner’s place, I found a large open field sloping down from the road on the north side. In one area, a hump clearly crosses the field in a straight line right in front of an old farmhouse and barn. Ok, I am not imagining this. That has got to be railroad grade. Despite a strong desire to track this grade with the GPS, the place didn’t look particularly welcoming.
Instead I continued NE to SR 3015, where I briefly headed NW to pick up Ridge Rd. A short distance SW on Ridge Rd, I again encountered Centerville Creek and what appears to be a fill. Closer examination showed a rather crude (as in possibly incomplete) fill on either side of the creek, as might be used for a bridge approach. The end towards SR 3015 looks pretty sweet, which the other end seems to have no clear goal. It is possible that road construction destroyed portions of it, or that it was never continued along the creek. Or flooding of the creek damaged it, as there is a large section of it which is washed away. Recall that this area was very hard hit by Hurricane Agnes in 1972…
With waning light, I took SR 3015 up to the southwest end of Narrow Gauge Rd. I stopped to look at the embankment in the yard encountered 15 years ago and had a conversation with a fellow who is apparently an employee of the aforementioned friendly homeowner, who obviously thought I was quite insane (railroads, satellite navigation, computers, huh?).
Finally I headed back for the NE end of Narrow Gauge Rd. I can’t quite reconcile what I find there with my memories. The little station under the trees very regretfully seems long gone (as I think I observed some years back). A number of new houses and possibly a new driveway have confused my recollection of the arrangement. There does seem to be a grade headed towards the NCRR across the road. There is a concrete pad which might have been the location of the “station” (a concrete floor hardly seems likely in a building of an 1870s railroad, but it could have been added later).
Ah, So It Does End!
I hope to return soon and continue exploration of this route. I’m convinced there was a narrow gauge railroad built here, although it seems unlikely it ever operated, at least for very far or very long. But it appears they had fairly lofty goals, and someone needs to record what they can of it before it is lost to urban sprawl.
If anyone in the areas of Glen Rock, Shrewsbury, Bonnair, Centerville, Fiscal, Rockville, Hildebrand, Krebs Valley, Rocky Ridge, Pierceville, Stiltz, Sticks, Glenville, Hokes, Intersection, Black Rock, or Lineboro Pennsylvania can shed any light on this mystery, I would sure like to hear from you!
I’ve been discussing the mystery with Pennsylvania historian Tom Taber, who worked with Ben Kline on the Pennsylvania Logging Railroad books. It seems likely that the mystery railroad was the Shrewsbury Railroad. If so, the route I found suggests that it was named more for the township of Shrewsbury than for the town of Shrewsbury. Curiously, I located information on an 1839 act to incorporate a “Shrewsbury Railroad”, although that seems far too early for the narrow gauge railroad craze, which was more like 1870-80.