Thursday, August 4, 2011

The P W & B's Stanton Station

There are three main railroad lines that, historically, have serviced Mill Creek Hundred (or at least, close to it). All three are still in service today, although in different forms. The Wilmington & Western (now a tourist line) and the Baltimore & Ohio (currently the CSX freight line) are the relative newcomers to the area, having been built in the 1870's and 1880s. Decades before that, though, some of the first tracks in the state were laid just south of MCH (and technically, through a small part of it). This track, constructed in 1836-37, is now the Amtrak line that winds south from Claymont, through Wilmington, past Newport, Stanton, and Newark, and on through to Maryland. Thanks to a wonderful picture forwarded to me by local resident Ken Copeland, we have, to the best of my knowledge, the first glimpse of one of the local stations serving that line in the 1800's. I had known where the station was, but I had never seen a picture of it before.

To give just a quick backstory, the railroad that ran just south of White Clay Creek was known during the 19th Century as the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (PW&B). It was formed in the early 1830's, originally consisting of four companies with connecting lines reaching from Philadelphia to Baltimore. The Delaware portion of the line was called the Wilmington and Susquehanna, but by early 1838 the separate companies had merged to form the PW&B. It's first president, Matthew Newkirk, was also the owner of the Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Hotel. He may even have bought the resort with the hope that his railroad would increase business, although it didn't really seem to.

Until the early 1880's, the PW&B would be the only artery through Delaware, carrying traffic for larger companies like the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). The stretch of track was important, of course, because it formed an important chunk of the Washington-New York corridor. In 1880, a battle broke out between the two for control of the PW&B, with the PRR eventually prevailing. The B&O's failure to purchase the PW&B forced them to build their own line through the region. This track did run through MCH, and is now owned by CSX.

After being purchased by the PRR, the PW&B continued to operate under it's own name until 1902, when it merged with the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad and was renamed the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Railroad (PB&W). So yes, quite confusingly for us now, the PW&B became the PB&W. (Sadly, at no point did it become the PB&J.) The PB&W continued to operate as a separate entity even after its parent company, the Pennsylvania RR, merged with the New York Central in 1968 to form the Penn Central. In 1976, six years after filing for bankruptcy, the PB&W's track between Philadelphia and Washington was sold to the recently-formed Amtrak.



Heading back to 19th Century Stanton now, the PW&B did have a station located here to serve the village -- the only station between Newark and Newport. It sat on the south side of the track along Stanton-Christiana Road, across from where Shone's Lumber is now. If you look closely at the pictures above, you can see the brick building behind it that still stands today as apartments. The bridge in the picture is what was known as the Stanton Underpass (although local residents may not recognize it without three feet of water covering it).

I've not found a record stating exactly when the station was built, but I do have one clue that puts its construction fairly early. The 1856 "Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad Guide" mentions the Stanton station, but does not have an illustration of it. It does, however, contain an illustration of the next station north, in Newport. If you compare the two stations, they seem almost identical except for the cupola topping the Stanton station. This, however, may have been a later addition. Since the Stanton station in the picture was almost certainly in place by 1856, it's not much of a stretch to think it may have been built along with the railroad in 1836.



I've not yet been able to determine when the station was torn down, or when passenger service to Stanton was discontinued. If anyone has any information regarding this, feel free to speak up.* One other interesting note from the 1856 guide appears in the same sentence that mentions the station. It states that, "A short distance from the Stanton Station, the railroad crosses White Clay Creek by a covered truss bridge, 240 feet long." I hadn't realized that there were such things as railroad covered bridges, but it turns out that they were not too uncommon. And it appears that one sat over White Clay Creek, just south of Stanton, presumably in about the same place that the Amtrak line now traverses the creek. That's a bridge I'd love to see a photograph of.


* -- Over the weekend, the original submitter of the station picture, Ken Copeland, came through for us again. He sent me the newspaper clipping shown below, which gives us a good bit of further information about the station. For one thing, the station agent's name at the time was Clarence E. McVey, who lived in the station with his wife, Carrie. There is no date on the clipping, but McVey is shown as the station agent in both the 1920 and 1930 censuses. He held the position for at least 27 years, as his 1947 death certificate lists his home as Stanton, and his occupation as being an agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. This, of course, means that passenger service, and the station, were still in place at least as late as 1947.

One other detail we can make out from the side view of the station is that the cupola is no longer present. This re-enforces my supposition that it was a later addition to the building. It kind of reminds me of Old Town Hall in Wilmington, which had its simple, 18th Century cupola replaced with a larger, fancier one late in the 19th Century. Then, sometime in the 1910's if I recall, it was removed and the smaller one rebuilt. I still don't know when service to the station was halted, or exactly when the structure was removed, but we now know it was after 1947. Very likely, the station was razed when the two additional tracks were added to the original one (there are currently three sets of tracks present). The widening of the tracks would have meant the end of the building, if it was still standing by then.

14 comments:

  1. Good one Scott. I had read of the Stanton Station and had seen it on a map, but never knew where it sat. The covered bridge portion is really neat.

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  2. Added a new picture and some more information about the Stanton Station.

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  3. Really cool photo. McVey seemed to be a popular name in the area. I will be doing a post to show why I say that..

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  4. I read recently that Stanton was previously called "Cuckoldstown". No mention as to when it was changed but the reason should be fairly apparent!

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  5. Yes, that's true. Eventually they thought better of the name and named it after local resident Stephen Stanton. It was called Cuckoldstown as late as 1768.

    As I was writing this comment, I think I actually solved the mystery of the origin of the name. It'll have to wait a post or two. How's that for building suspense?

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    1. Do you have any info on the Phila W & BRR?

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    2. 1884 Also, any info on a fella named WJ Elison from that same year?

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  6. Having grown up in Stanton area, I find these articles really interesting. Stanton has some good history, but much of it has been forgotten. These pictures and articles really bring some of it back to life. Good job!

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  7. I have a page out of a journal from 1884 from the Phila&WBRR It appears to be purchases the railroad made. It's only one page and on the back It is purchases made by a WJ Elison. Does any of this info ring a bell?.....To anyone I would like to sell it but it may belong in a museum.

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    1. First of all, which I should have done originally, I inserted a link in the 2nd paragraph to the Wikipedia page on the PW&B RR. That should answer some basic questions, but more than I got into here.

      As for WJ Elison, I didn't know the name but I did some quick searching. I think this is probably Wilmer J Ellison (1851-1911). Looks like he was involved with transportation and money. Was treasurer of WSFS around 1900, and was involved with Elsmere & Wilmington Electric Railway, was director of NCC Mutual Inc Co, and more. If you Google "WJ Ellison" or "Wilmer j Ellison" (and maybe add "delaware"), you'll find a few mentions of him. At this point I don't know much more than that.

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  8. Regarding the P W & B's Stanton Station, does anyone know what the building that sat behind it was used for? I used to live there and had always heard the station workers used to live there. Any info on that building?

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    1. If you mean the long brick building, I'm fairly certain it was for the workers at the woolen mill that was down there. It would have been owned by the Kiamensi Woolen Company, and was a companion mill to the one closer to Marshallton on Kiamensi Road. I've never seen any pictures of the mill, and frustratingly I don't have much more info about it.

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  9. Hi Scott! Yes exactly the long brick building, currently now they are townhouses, but same structure. My husband's family still lives there. When I lived there, the 3rd floor was so strange, with two big rooms and a really small room with tiny window. I'm going to see if I can do some research on it at the state archives. Thank you for the information you provided.

    You might find this neat, the front brick wall has alot of carvings – need to go do a rubbing. There is another that dates from the 1930s, which I know it goes back much later. I love finding little pieces of history like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/redheartcult/4046318319/in/album-72157615857448907/

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    1. That's really cool, Leila! I had no idea there was anything like that there. I took a look at what you've got, and there are a few names I could try to look into when I get a chance. Thanks!

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