Elkton, MD to New Castle, DE

The New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad

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Despite being abandoned long-ago, some clearings still exist, such as this one, that mark the former right-of-way of the NC&F. Photo by Frank Warnock, January 2003.

This short line was chartered in 1828 and opened in 1831, making it one of the earliest railroads in the US. It was built as the New Castle-Frenchtown Railroad, and was a non-successful effort to compete with a nearby canal that was being built between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay, both popular with commercial marine traffic. Ultimately, this line and the canal were defeated by other railroad lines in the area.

Originally, the right-of-way was built upon an existing turnpike, opened in 1815 by the New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike Company, that connected the Delaware River (near Elkton, MD) and Chesapeake Bay (at New Castle, DE). The building of the nearby Chesapeake and Delaware Canal prompted the state government, no doubt lobbied by towns and merchants along the way could not access the canal, to change the turnpike over to a railroad. Thus the railroad was born under the auspices of New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike and Railroad Company. The railroad was powered by horses for the first year of its existence before ultimately switching over to steam locomotives. In 1839, the railroad line was purchased by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad.

The western half of the line was abandoned in 1859; the eastern part of the line was absorbed into the Pennsylvania Railroad and is in use today by the Norfolk Southern. The map above shows the line in its entirety.

if you zoom into battery park left to where the strand connects whith battery park a ticket booth with about 2 meters of track is visible

christopher palmer
aston, PA
4/28/2012

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The PRR T & H Society Philadelphia Chapter did a really nice piece on this line. The shortened industrial track into downtown Elkton is all that is left on the western end of the line. There was a wye and a few hundred feet of track. Originally, the line continued through Elkton, crossed the Big Elk but stopped short of what is now RT 40.

John Manley
High Springs, FL
9/29/2012

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One of the unique things about the NC&F railroad is the fact that the original railroad "ties" were not ties at all. They were individual stone blocks approx. 12" x 12" x 18" long and they were individually placed to set the gauge of the track. The rails were laid across the top of each stone and anchored to the stone with steel pins or small spikes. There are also samples of the blocks scattered about old New Castle.

Bruce Thorngate
Landenberg, PA
3/27/2013

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Yeah the origional stones used to hold the track in place didn't last long. I 1838 the stones were all pulled up and replaced with wood ties. the stones were all used in building foundations of buildings through out NC county. The old court house additions in New Castle has stones from the trackage in it's foundations and a wall etc...

The first locomotive came from England in the 1830's and took 4 years to get to run. It came in parts and a small one stall Brick Engine House was built in Battery Park at that time to work on it. They hired Baldwin from Philly to put it together, he copied all the parts and made drawings and built a better version later in Philadelphia. Later a company called New castle manufacturing started making locomotives in about 1839 in New Castle. It was located just behind where Brocis and Ellioson Lumber was. Many pre Civil War Loco's were built there. One built in 1848 can be found in the B&O railroad museum, it's called Mennmom. All the steel was made at Tasker Steel across from Ellioson Lumber. The New Castle Secondary had a three track siding called Tasker from about 1922 to about 1983.

They had quit a few tracks in the now Battery Park area. They had a Engine house in about the middle of the park with a turntable in front of it and a large round station at the end of Delaware street on the water. The railroad failed in the 1857 Economic Crash and later lightning burned down the big station there in about 1859. It had a big round three story roof with a cupalo on top that is now on the Arsonal Building. There was a railroad called Delaware Railroad that operated from New Castle to wilmington during the Civil War that hulled mainly fish and coal. there was a large coal dock in the middle of the park out into the Delaware River with tracks on it. You can still see pillings in low tide at times of that dock. The Wilmington and Northern took control of the battery Park yard in 1867. In about 1899 most tracks were gone on the waterfront area in New Castle. The station house in Battery park told to be the origional ticket house was actually from Washington Street and Route 9 rail crossing...It was a guard house for the flag man at that road crossing near Wilmington Fiber Company. There is a picture of it there in 1925...pennsy owned the line there and was the juction there for the New Castle secondary and the double track New Castle Industrial track to the Shell Pot branch and Wilmington West yard etc...Lots of trains went by there all day so they needed a flag man there for cars and horses etc...I think it;s a tall tale that the ticket office is the origional building....It is old ...probably from the Wilmington & Northern era of 1867 to 1898...the Reading did own this Guard house in 1898...I doubt it was 68 years old in 1898...I may be from the Civil war era though?....The 1925 picture shows it had a pot belly coal stove and a coal bunker in back of it and there was a outhouse behind a fence near there.....a old man was leaning in a chair on the shade side of picture...I figure he was born durng the Civil War...so if true the small building was already 30 years older than him at the time.

John
New Castle , DE
6/30/2015

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Recently came across this and decided to drive around bear to see if I could see anything left of it, and in Caravel Farms you can see plenty of remains. Including a trail where I believe that picture above was taken. At the bend on Del Laws Road by the football stadium there is somewhat of a clearing that goes into the woods which is where the line ran. I didn't notice if there was anything else noticeable as it crossed 72 as it was getting dark, but that will be for another day Interesting it crossed where the bear rail yard is.

Chris
Wilmington, DE
10/9/2015

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