The B&A Trail...Then and Now
The walking, jogging, biking, roller-blading, and sometimes even cross-country skiing B & A Trail has become a bustling snapshot of life in Anne Arundel county.
In 1969 the Annapolis and Baltimore Short Line Railroad abandoned the tracks that joined Baltimore and Washington DC to Annapolis. Passenger service had ended in 1950 and freight service continued until the old Severn River rail trestle was condemned in 1968. The rail had been taking coal to the Naval Academy’s power plant until that year.
The rich background of this path goes back to the ‘Old Line’, Annapolis-Elk Ridge Railroad that started passenger and freight service in 1840. The Maryland General Assembly had granted a charter in 1837 to construct the railroad. The company built bridges and trestles starting from the Savage Mill area to a two-story station just north of the State House in Annapolis.
The railroad was the lifeline for farmers in Anne Arundel County and the primary source for workers and goods so necessary for the bustling capitol city.
In 1861, the Civil War brought an entire new set of challenges for the rail. There were recorded incidents of sabotage, mostly by rail employees, to prevent northern troops from getting south. The railline maintained neutrality and kept the rail in good repair. Transporting prisoners of war to the empty Naval Academy and the Parole area of Annapolis for the prisoner exchange was an important charge of the line.
In 1888, the Annapolis and Baltimore Short Line Railroad coupled along the same path and, with many immigrant stonemasons, rebuilt and upgraded the line to Annapolis. The route was electrified in 1908 and the companies united in 1910 with the service being designated as the Annapolis Division of the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad.
Rejuvenated rail service with fancy passenger cars was transporting over a million travelers a year, between Fort Meade and Annapolis, with a high of eight million in 1917. But this was shortlived. Competition was born with increasing automobiles after WWI. The Great Depression dealt a blow to the profitability for the owners.Then WWII brought diminished passenger travel, with the service ending in 1950.
With the historical line being deserted in 1969 and rapidly deteriorating, concerned communities sought solutions. In the mid-1970’s, civic organizations and private citizens joined ranks and lobbied county officials to refigure the space as a trail stretching from south of Dorsey Road to just past the Route 50 underpass near Manresa.
The Anne Arundel County Parks and Recreation went forward with a plan in 1980 and purchased this extraordinary corridor for an amazing $80,000.
The restoration of the B & A Trail began in 1985 with a final price tag of over nine million dollars. The fourteen miles of a paved, ten-foot wide path with five additional bridges and repaired original rail trestles and buildings opened in 1990. This newly born ‘town square’ became the place to meet and greet neighbors and friends. Park Rangers ride bicycles up and down the path to ensure a safe and secure place to enjoy beautiful flowers and the quiet outdoors.
In 2000, a ten-mile extension looped around BWI Airport, making this county gem not just bigger, but better for thousands more Marylanders.
The B & A Trail has been recognized nationally as a model for other communities. From Annapolis through Arnold, Severna Park, Pasadena, Glen Burnie and Linthicum and back, it’s a local treasure and a local source of pride.