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The Hanover Branch Railroad – part 4

Please click anywhere on the map for a much more readable, larger view. The red circles were waystations along the Hanover Branch Railroad; the red line to the right is the section of the railroad that was abandoned to the elements decades ago.

Previous posts:
The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 1 of a series
The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 2
The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 3

The approximate route of the historic Hanover Branch Railroad can be seen in the above map. The base map, courtesy of, shows the modern railroad tracks leading from Hanover, Pennsylvania, through Smith’s Station to Porters Sideling, where they turn to the south. The existing track bed from Hanover is essentially the same as that of the old HBRR, and Elijah V. White and his raiders would have traveled this route. Undoubtedly some of his roughly 230 men would have followed the tracks themselves from Hanover while their ambulance, forge wagon, ammunition wagon, and a small train of empty supply wagons presumably used local roads that roughly parallel the tracks.
In the next few installments in this series (leading up to the skirmish and sacking of Hanover Junction), we will retrace some of the old HBRR line. Reader Bob Resig has sent in some photos taken a few years ago of some of the embankments of the old HBRR, as well as some piers from the old bridges that White burned (which were rebuilt in the months after the June 27, 1863, cavalry raid.

The Hanover Branch Railroad’s trackage from Valley Junction to Hanover Junction was abandoned in the 20th Century, long after the line’s usefulness (and corresponding profitability) had ebbed. The rails were taken up and the bridges dismantled, except for the piers, some of which still stand. In 1863, they would have supported wooden bridges that “Lige” White and his Virginians and Marylanders would have gleefully soaked in coal oil and then torched, sending thick clouds of oily smoke into the sky over southern York County.
The old trackbed would have made a great bike trail, as the old Northern Central Railway now does. However, that foresight was not present when the railroad was abandoned, and recreational long-distance biking was certainly not on the horizon at that point. In many places where the HBRR crossed over flat ground, the embankment was very shallow and has long been eroded or plowed over. And, because this is all private property, one cannot today walk the old line from Valley Junction to Hanover Junction without breaking the law unless you have permission from the landowners.
Bob Rebert, one of the landowners near Jefferson Station, has been fighting to preserve his individual rights to combat possible government action to use the old HBRR embankment on his farm (see part 1 of this series for photos, and see Jim McClure’s blog entry on Rebert’s battles).
Another York County Bob, Bob Resig, has been trying to document the old HBRR line before time and the elements render it indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain, especially those old bridge piers that mark where White’s “Comanches” (as they later became known) sent flames, sparks, and smoke into the sky one long ago gorgeous Saturday early afternoon. He has suggested the Civil War Preservation Trust try to purchase the old right of way to prevent further deterioration, but they have bigger fish to fry. The Lancaster York Heritage Commission, the Borough of Jefferson, and others have expressed some interest in supporting a project to somehow restore the old line and interpret it for generations to come, but, again, there are no concrete plans to do anything, and certainly no funding.

It’s for the kids of York County that we should all try to save what we can of our heritage. This budding Civil War buff stands on the side of what used to be the Hanover Branch Railroad’s right of way at Hanover Junction, with the South Branch of the Codorus Creek and the modern rail trail in the background.
Perhaps this historic HBRR rail line could be developed (all it takes is money, an energetic and persuasive leader, and a vision / plan, but most of those are hard to come by!) as the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Walking Trail, because Honest Abe would have viewed the countryside from his window as his train passed through en route to delivering the Gettysburg Address, and again when he departed.
Along the line are historic farms, a neat old mill at Cold Spring, and some terrific rural countryside that so far has been relatively free from the urban development sprawl that marks so much of southern York County.
What do you think? Should this abandoned part of York County’s Civil War heritage (and its cultural and industrial history as well) be allowed to further decline, or should the embankment that carried Abe Lincoln to immortality at Gettysburg be allowed to be used for business or commercial purposes? Or, should the necessary monies and media attention be focused elsewhere to save some other part of York County’s history?
What is your opinion? Stand up and be counted!

In the next post, we will retrace the old line through Bob’s 2005 photos.