A little more than a century ago, New Oxford achieved a figurative feather in its cap, its own railroad depot not far from the town square.
In current time, the railroad’s impact on the nation may be easy to forget, but through the 19th and halfway into the 20th centuries, a welter of railroad companies cast a steel net of rails across the continent, lacing together the separate states and territories into a single country as surely as any number of treaties.
The primacy of travel by train has faded into the stuff of nostalgia, but the romance of it is still going strong.
“This Western Maryland passenger station was first built in 1892,” said Elaine Gerwig Wannop, widow of Stanley Wannop Jr., a major powerhouse behind the borough taking possession of the New Oxford train station itself and the land upon which it sits.
Stan and Elaine had only lived in the borough for a couple of months when they discovered the ownership anomaly.
“As travel by rail declined, Western Maryland RR made the decision to discontinue the passenger line that ran through New Oxford,” Elaine Wannop said during her keynote address at the recent formal ribbon-cutting. “They sold the station, just the station, to the New Oxford Borough in the 1960s for a dollar … fast forward to 2006. (Stan) decided to join the Conewago Valley Model RR Club. In the many hours of conversation with Jim Dysart, Fred Gable and a few other regulars, Stan was made aware of the fact that, while the building belonged to the borough, the land still belonged to CSX.”
That would never do, Wannop said.
Though not a native of the area, Stan entered headlong into serving his new home. He served on New Oxford Borough Council, the New Oxford Municipal Authority, was a founding member of the New Oxford Area Historical Society, and a former New Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce Person of The Year.
“This building and its contents are so significant to the borough that this gem could not be lost,” Elaine told the crowd. “By 2007, Stan was on borough council, and he began to develop the idea of obtaining the land from CSX. He finally brought it to the table in either 2012 or 2013.
Eventually, the railroad agreed to sell the piece of land for $40,000, she said.
The next hurdle? The borough could not justify spending taxpayer money on such a project.
Enter the New Oxford Area Historical Society, which immediately formed a train station committee, led by area resident Anita Kennedy-Muccino.
With the help of a grant negotiated by Stan Wannop with Adams County and contributions of citizens and local business, the committee raised the money in a year.
The deed to the property was transferred to the borough last summer.
Stan Wallop died on Dec. 5, 2018, after a long illness.
“I’m so grateful that Stan was still here to see that come to fruition,” Elaine said. “He loved this beautiful, unique place, enough to even ride his lawn mower over here every other week or so with his oxygen tank strapped to his back to mow the back forty while he was still able. I know he is here today in spirit.”
Elaine Wannop paid tribute to the efforts of several others in obtaining and maintaining the old station: Fred Gable, “who makes sure that the station is in tip top shape. He is the guardian of this property; painting, mending, planting, mowing, and whatever else needs to be done around here.” Gable “shares his love and knowledge of this place with many groups and individuals that come through here for tours ... and Jim Dysart, gone a couple years now, yet another man who was devoted to keeping history alive here.”
Area resident and amateur historian Mike Schen said the railroad first came to New Oxford from Hanover in 1858. From then to 1892, the town only had open platforms for loading and unloading passengers and freight. The addition of an actual station building was a sign that the town was making its mark on the world.
New Oxford Mayor James Eisenhart said the borough has some real assets, one being the town’s square, and the station is another.
He also said New Oxford has an interesting distinction, it is sort of the opposite of a bedroom community.
“We are a small town. Our population at night is about 1,600. During the day, that goes up to about 6,000 because of all the industrial jobs we have. That’s pretty remarkable,” he said.
Schen said the idea would be to have the station used as a local venue for celebrations and other happy events. The crowd present at the ribbon-cutting seemed to be trying out that idea, with party food, ice-cream, and a local brass band playing late-19th century music.
Present at the event were members of the New Oxford Area Historical Society (NOAHS), the New Oxford Borough Council, Adams County Commissioner Jim Martin, and the Conewago Valley Model Railroad Club.
At the end of her keynote address, Elaine Wannop said, “We celebrate a community that came together to protect and preserve an important piece of their history making it available to future generations.”