January 2, 2020

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If you’ve ever journeyed the Cross Island Trail on Kent Island, then you’ve experienced a part of its industrious railroad history. A two mile section of the east-west trail traverses the very rail bed and trestle bridge that once existed here. The length in reference runs from Love Point Park in Stevensville and continues east to Macum Creek in Chester where Piney Creek Road and Chester Station Lane intersect. This is also where the Chester Railroad Station was located. Somewhere between here and Whites Heritage Lane, the trail and old railroad part ways both continuing east. The railroad ran south of and parallel to present day Route 50, all the way to the Kent Narrows where it crossed a railroad bridge and continued. 

1909 Map Showing Railroad
1909 Map Showing Railroad on Kent Island

Pilings can still be seen in the waters of Piney Creek south of Route 50, just west of Exit 41. You can also spot pilings at the end of Medic Drive in the Watermen’s Boat Basin. This is where the railroad bridge spanned the Kent Narrows and a special bridge it was. It was mounted on a turntable and had to be turned by hand. Joe Bryan was the operator who kept it in an open position for boat traffic. When access to the island was required, Joe would be contacted and he would come open it for rail traffic.

Side note: south of these pilings at the end of the parallel-running Wharf Drive, still within the Basin, lies the pilings that carried the Route 18 vehicle bridge across the Kent Narrows. If you stand at the bathrooms of the Big Owl Tiki Bar and look west, back at Kent Island, you will notice you are standing right in the middle of the road where the bridge connected. Turn around and look east and you can see where the road ran and still does.

One significant stand out on this span of Cross Island Trail is the bridge at Cox Creek. The lower framing of the structure, as well as the pilings, were part of the original Baltimore & Eastern Railroad trestle bridge. The exact date of the framework is unknown, but a bridge is shown at this location on a map from 1899 which would also put it within the timeframe of the Kent Island rail line construction. It is unlikely that much of the existing structure would date to 1899 as timbers in the water tend to have a limited functional life. However, it is possible that the bridge was rebuilt in increments over the years with little change in design or appearance. An interesting note from a 1995 feasibility study states that portions of the bridge show evidence of fire damage, but no other information of a fire can be found.

  • Cross Island Trail
  • B&E Bridge Trail
  • B&E Bridge North
  • B&E Bridge Structure
  • B&E Bridge Rot

Heading back to Love Point Park, the trail and railroad also part ways here. The railroad continued north paralleling present day Love Point Road (Route 18) and terminating at the end of Pier Avenue on the Chester River. Here, it transferred passengers and freight to and from one of the ferries that arrived from Light Street in Baltimore. Passengers from all over would spend many a magical night at Hotel Love Point and other area attractions. Check out an upcoming memoir on Love Point for more information.

Love Point Railroad
Railroad Bed at Love Point

So that’s where the rails ran. Now how about a little history of the railroad itself?

The first rails in Queen Anne’s County were laid in the 19th Century making the train the principal form of land transportation during this time. The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company was incorporated in 1894 and in 1898 they completed a 60 mile rail line between Queenstown, MD and Lewes, DE. Steamboats, also owned by the rail companies, provided additional transportation connecting at both extremities of the line. Many people used this combination of steamboats and trains to reach ocean resorts.

Train Crossing Kent Narrows
Kent Narrows Railroad Bridge (picture taken from boat)

The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company began a four year rail line addition completed in 1902, extending the line from Queenstown to Love Point on Kent Island. This new rail line combination was called the Queen Anne’s Railway and included stations at Stevensville, Chester, Grasonville, Queenstown (with a spur track making a connection to Centreville), Bloomingdale, Wye Mills, and Willoughby in Queen Anne’s County alone. This marked the first rail service on Kent Island. 

Kent Narrows Watermen's Basin
Kent Narrows Watermen’s Basin

The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company, as well as many others in the area, would eventually come to be owned by the behemoth Pennsylvania Railroad. Throughout the 1930s, the Pennsylvania Railroad discontinued a number of its Eastern Shore lines and contemplated ending the Love Point line in January 1938. When word got out about the possible rail closing, local residents made a trip to Baltimore for a public hearing to speak out against it, arguing the proceeding would have a major effect on them and their businesses. They also criticized the Pennsylvania Railroad for poor service and scant schedules. The effort made no difference though and on March 30, 1938, passenger rail service to Love Point came to an end. 

1950s Kent Narrows
Early 1950s Post Card Showing Railroad Bridge with Drawbridge

Although the passenger rail service ceased, a tri-weekly freight service continued. In 1950, most of the freight traffic consisted of construction material for the Bay Bridge that was currently being built. However, the end was near and in 1954 the Kent Island line was knocked out of commission when Hurricane Hazel ripped through. Two years later, the railroad received permission to completely abandon its rails. 1956 marked the end of an era. The remainder of the rail line east was abandoned a short time after.

1931 Kent Narrows
1931 Kent Narrows Wooden Drawbridge

Only one rail line remains active in Queen Anne’s County today; it is the freight line operated by the Maryland and Delaware Railroad running from Massey in Kent County to Carville near the intersection of Routes 301 and 305. Although we don’t have a railroad running across the island anymore, you can still relive some of that nostalgia by exploring Kent Island’s scenic Cross Island Trail.

Something I found quite interesting in my research was how complex and ever changing the railroad business was. The local trains were operated over the years by many different companies all being, at one time or another, subsidiaries of the massive Pennsylvania Railroad. I’ve mentioned how large and powerful the Pennsylvania Railroad was, and for good reason. In 1882, the Pennsylvania Railroad was the largest revenue grossing railroad, transportation enterprise, and corporation in the world with a  budget second only to the US government. Corporate re-structuring often led to name changes, acquisitions, merging, etc. A brief bulleted timeline to these complicated company dealings and other significant dates is listed below:

  • 1846 – The Pennsylvania Railroad aka the “Pennsy” is established.
  • 1848 – The Wicomico & Pocomoke Railroad is incorporated.
  • 1876 – The Baltimore and Eastern Shore Railroad Company (B&ES) is chartered.
  • 1882 – The Pennsylvania Railroad becomes king of all railroad companies.
  • 1886 – The B&ES is reauthorized and incorporated.
  • 1890 – The B&ES purchased the Wicomico & Pocomoke Railroad.
  • 1894 – The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company is established and constructs a 60 mile railroad between Queenstown, MD and Lewes, DE.
  • 1894 – The BE&S was sold at foreclosure, and reorganized and incorporated as the Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic Railway Company (BC&A). The Maryland Steamboat Company, the Eastern Shore Steamboat Company and the Choptank Steamboat Company were also acquired. 
  • 1901 – The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company began operating a summer-only Cape May Express between Queenstown and Lewes connecting a steam ferry across the Delaware Bay to Cape May, NJ.
  • 1902 – The Pennsylvania Railroad basically purchases the BC&A by becoming its majority shareholder. 
  • 1902 – The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company completes a 13 mile extension from Queenstown to Love Point on Kent Island.
  • 1905 – A Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiary, the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia Railway Company (MD&V), acquires The Queen Anne’s Railroad Company.
  • 1928 – The MD&V and the nearby BC&A merge into the Baltimore and Eastern Railroad.
  • 1928 – The BC&A is foreclosed and sold to a representative of the Pennsylvania Railroad then reorganized as the Baltimore and Eastern Railroad.
  • 1938 – Passenger rail service ceases on Kent Island leaving only a freight line schedule.
  • 1947 – The last ferry departs from Love Point.
  • 1951 – The present day Kent Narrows draw bridge is built just north of the wooden railroad bridge. 
  • 1952 – The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is completed and opened for service.
  • 1954 – Hurricane Hazel knocks out the rail line on Kent Island.
  • 1956 – The Kent Island rail line is completely abandoned.
  • 1957 – The Kent Narrows railroad bridge was dismantled and removed.

About the Author

J. Coursey Willis

J. Coursey Willis, born Joshua Bryan Willis, is a lifelong resident of Kent Island with a family heritage on Maryland’s Eastern Shore tracing back to the 1600s. With a love for various creative canvases and a fear of the bland, Willis proudly lives a hectic lifestyle. Nostalgia and passion are conveyed through his work. Although most recognized for his music, he is carving out a name as a local historian and author that takes pride in the heritage of his hometown.

  • Great little article Josh. To add to the burning of the Cox Creek RR bridge; I have fond memories of playing down there as a kid and the bridge was there and completely charred. If you got your face close enough to the wood, you could still smell the “burnt wood” smell. My father, Harry Jack Davidson, explains that in his younger days (60’s-ish) some vandals set the bridge on fire. I can still see it clearly in my mind.

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