Few things evoke transience -- arrival and departure -- like a train hammering down the tracks. Although the station at Huntington Railroad Museum hasn't operated since 1989, MARC and Amtrak trains still roar by, and with a little imagination you can envision a scene of bustling passengers and hoisted freight. This former junction of the main line to southern Maryland and the spur to Washington now links the community of Bowie to its past. (Quick history tip: Bowie was first called Huntington City, but citizens now refer to the original part of town -- where the museum is -- as Old Bowie.) The buildings that make up the museum -- the freight building, the switching tower and the passenger waiting shed -- are now as much a depot of history, as they are relics of the locomotive industry itself.
This bedroom community, now the fifth largest city in the state, was once a one-industry town, reliant on the railroads for its livelihood. In 1872, Oden Bowie, former Maryland governor, started the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Co. to transport tobacco from southern Maryland to Baltimore and other lucrative northern markets. For more than a century the railroad offered residents quick access to the U.S. capital, Baltimore and Upper Marlboro.
Guided tours begin in the passenger waiting room with its potbelly stove, and move through the ticket master's office into the freight room, which contains railroad artifacts: steam gauges, lanterns and signals. Next door, on the first floor of the switch tower, photographs of Bowie's first churches, houses, stores and class photos from early white and African American schools line the walls. A small, changing exhibit space explores new angles of local history. Upstairs, you can see where the station master sat, in front of a large window overlooking the train tracks. A telegraph key and sounder, a switch machine and a mechanism for "hooping up" instructions to passing engineers, give you a closer look at railroad operation.
Bowie purchased the buildings in 1991 and moved them about 50 feet from their original location to a new foundation. Clapboard siding has been uncovered and painted gray with dark red trim to match an earlier color scheme. (A fire destroyed most of the district in 1910; the depot structures were rebuilt in the early 20th century.) The museum hosts several festivals a year and an arts and antiques expo. It is open the fourth Sunday of every month from April through October and also opens for group tours of 10 or more by appointment. And while you're in Old Bowie, save some time to rummage through the numerous antiques stores nearby.
-- Margaret Hutton