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Odenton History: The Great Storm of 1873

Nearly 140 years ago, a heavy rain caused flash flooding and devastating landslides, destroying a railroad that went through Odenton.

In this article provided by the Odenton Heritage Society, we learn about a violent rain storm in the summer of 1873 that caused severe damage to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, now the Amtrak / MARC line. The newly constructed railroad had just opened the previous summer.

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The Great Storm of 1873

On August 13, 1873, a severe storm caused flash flooding and landslides that destroyed much of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad between Baltimore and Patuxent (Woodwardville). Embankments were washed away, bridges were lost, and mud covered the tracks in many places. The following description of the storm’s damage, and efforts to inspect and reopen the railroad, was written by E. L. DuBarry, superintendent of the B. & P.  It is quoted from William Bender Wilson, History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (1899), volume 1, pages 341-344.

“On the evening of this storm I was in Washington at my office, on Virginia Avenue near Sixth Street. I felt a little anxious about it, and just after dark Mr. Joseph Wood (now Vice president of the Pennsylvania Company), who was my Resident Engineer, came in the office. We talked a few minutes, and I suggested that we stop the passenger train that was about to leave “B” station, get on it, and see how the track stood it. We did so, and went to Baltimore that evening. Arriving at Lafayette Avenue about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., storm increased in violence after passing Odenton, and was very severe near Stony Run; we got through all right, but upon reaching Lafayette Avenue were advised that the slopes at Pennsylvania Avenue opening of tunnel were washed so badly that tracks were impassable, and train could not get through either on north or south track, or to platform at that station.”

DuBarry next described efforts to reopen the tracks in Baltimore, which were covered with mud, and his walking inspection of the line south of Baltimore in the middle of the night. We rejoin his commentary south of the Patapsco River bridge, which was almost under water when he reached it.

“We passed on, and from a mile south of Gravel Pit to Stony Run found embankments broken and track gone in gaps of 500 to 1500 feet… After a while came upon a flagman of New York express passenger train; he only knew that his engine was in a washout several miles south of him.  This was some comfort, but not much. I only knew where train was, and could get to it soon. We hurried on, and soon found train; engine was in a hole, but not badly; no cars off, or, if they were, only trucks [wheel assemblies] off rail; no one hurt. Conductor West had sent his passengers to farmhouses nearby to get something to eat. At once made arrangements to get passengers by teams [of horses] to Odenton, where I hoped they could get to Annapolis, and from there by steamboat to Baltimore, if the worst came to worst. After making these arrangements, pushed on, still meeting with damage done by storm. 

"After passing Severn, found the arch south of that gone. On reaching Odenton, tried to get information by wire, and to send messages to Baltimore via A. & E. R.R., but no [telegraph] wires up. At Odenton learned that the Big Patuxent Bridge was gone and banks on either side washed away.  At this point took hand-car, and soon got there, and was much relieved when I got in sight to see bridge was standing and a large force of men with trains on south side.  I knew there was trouble, but bridge was in place.  When I got up, saw embankments on either side were washed away for 50 or 100 feet, which doubtless saved the bridge, for it gave waterway.  Thomas Franklin, one of the Construction Engineers, hailed me as I came up, and asked me how line was north, adding it was O. K. south of him, but no [telegraph] wires working north.  That was a great relief. 

"I crossed over, and then got in communication with J. N. DuBarry of Baltimore, via Washington. Gave him full report, and soon had news that Mr. Wood, with a large force from Northern Central [Railroad], was pushing southward; that he had ordered contractor David Pullman, who as building Alexandria and Fredericksburg Railway from Alexandria to Long Bridge, to take all his men, teams [of horses], tools, etc. on to Baltimore and Potomac, and report to me. These forces, with others, soon came up, and we drove ahead rebuilding the line, and again opened up for business in 12 days’ time.”

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Editor's Note: This article was provided by the Odenton Heritage Society. For information on the society and membership, go to OdentonHeritage.org.

The Odenton Heritage Society Museum will hold an open house on Sunday from 1-4 p.m. It will be Family History Day, and area residents are encouraged to bring items to copy or donate. The museum is located at 1367 Odenton Rd.

Don Risher August 05, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Very enjoyable read! Thanks for that blast from the past! Don Risher

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