If the “Little Engine that Could” needed a track to run on, the Stewartstown Railroad would be a perfect fit for it, appropriately called the “Railroad that Refused to Die.” This tiny little railroad, located in Southern York County, has quite a lot of history.
The railroad began operation in 1885 carrying agricultural produce, and passengers 7.5 miles to the town of New Freedom, where the tracks connected with the North Central Railway, which connected to Baltimore, Maryland. Local farmers helped the railroad to thrive, so much so it received the nickname the “farmer’s railroad.” During the Great Depression, this loyal group of shippers helped the railroad to survive. It didn’t hurt that most of those shipping owned some stake in the railroad also.In 1939 the railroad made a large financial decision that helped them to succeed once again. They had changed the locomotives from stream-powered to gas-powered. This proved to be a wise decision as the railroad continued running up until 1972, while most others in the country went to the wayside. In 1972 shortly after the Pennsylvania Railroad merged with the Penn Central Railroad, Hurricane Agnes tore through the countryside. The Stewartstown Railroad and Station House survived destruction, though the rail tracks owned by Penn Central Railroad didn’t fair as well. Penn Central was already in a financial decline and they refused to fix the tracks, bringing the Stewartstown Railroad to a halt. The Railroad remained abandoned until 1988 when Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation restored the rail line. The railroad’s return would be short lived, however, shortly afterward their largest customer folded and the railroad closed again. In 1992 the County of York fought for the rail line previously owned by Penn Central Railroad. Eventually the County got its way; the Railroad terminated its lease on the lines thus starting the Rail Trail, connecting York with Baltimore on a hiking and biking trail.
In 1997 the railroad and station were put on the National Register of Historic Places. Shortly thereafter the railroad started carrying tourists on round trips to New Freedom. That ended in April 2004 after the train derailed. The railroad has been practically forgotten and abandoned since then. The station house is still standing, though it is beginning to deteriorate. The interior of the station looks the same as it did on its opening on December 28, 1914. A short walk from the station is the engine house. What distinguishes this one from most is that it was used for its intended purpose up until the railroad stopped operations. The Stewartstown Railroad has the distinction of quite possibly being the only railroad in the state that has maintained its right of way through its entire existence.
Though the railroad sits abandoned today, there are a few historical groups hoping to revive this piece of history. I think they can, I think they can, I think they can.
Learn more about saving the railroad here!