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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 16: Pen Mar Park

Pen Mar. What wonderful memories this tinkling two-syllable word must invoke among thousands of men and women, in their 40's and older, who were born and reared in this area.

Today, as their grandchildren gather for a Sunday visit, one might hear something like this; "I met your grandmother for the first time at Pen Mar Park." Then granddad smiles as he recalls in memory, the dance music, the walks to Glen Afton Springs, and how he enjoyed watching the lights of Hagerstown and Waynesboro on those delightful summer evenings, some 50 to 60 years ago.

From Thurmont, Pen Mar was only a half hour's ride by way of the Western Maryland Railroad. I can remember as if it were only yesterday, the charming and extensive outlook over western Pennsylvania, and from one elevated point, one could see land which comprised four states and 22 counties. I recall to mind, High Rock, a short distance away, with an elevation of 2000 feet above sea level. A path in the park, lined with trees, led one down the hillside to Glen Afton Springs, the clear, cool waters of which filled a large oval basin in a rustic pavilion, where it was pumped by engine to the Blue Mountain House, not far distant. A number of private cottages and bungalows in the vicinity were occupied by their owners during the summer months. Standing nearby was a beautiful little Episcopal church.

A stranger or even a local teenager who visits this site today, could never imagine that such a park as Pen Mar ever existed. Nor would they believe that on a single summer day, as high as 10,000 to 15,000 men, women and children could be found here. It would be hard for them to picture the huge dance pavilion, the large meeting hall, the giant roller coaster, the merry-go-rounds and the fun palace complete with a miniature railroad, plus many many other attractions that were near and dear to the hearts of adults as well as children.

Middle-aged folks today will tell you about the 10 and 12 car

trains that would arrive every hour on the hour at Pen Mar Park during a mid-summer day, to say nothing of the moonlight excursion trains in the evenings.

Pen Mar Park was owned and operated by the Western Maryland Railroad and had its beginning as far back as 1878. Within a few short years it soon became the "Coney Island" of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the children and remained one of the most famous resorts of its kind for half a century.

At one time the park area supported seven hotels, plus a number of boarding houses. Many families spent their entire vacation on the mountain top. The Western Maryland Railroad found that the excursion business it engendered was most profitable, and in 1898 twenty years after the park was established it carried 1,200,900 passengers and over half of these were excursionists to Pen Mar Park. Today, even the Western Maryland passenger service is but a memory.

Pen Mar Park was a favorite spot for numerous private picnics, Sunday School reunions, and even conventions of all kinds. The park became very famous for its fifty-cent dinners, spacious picnic areas and the miniature train, operated by William M. Fleight, a Western Maryland engineer.

The park started to decline in the early 1920's when it could no longer compete with the automobile, the bathing suit and a restless generation that seemed to like being on the move and wanting to try something new and different. in 1929 the Western Maryland Railroad announced that the park was no longer a paying proposition. A year later it was sub-leased to an independent firm who held it until 1942, when it finally closed. Shortly thereafter all of the buildings were torn down.

Today, the site of what was once Pen Mar Park is the most nostalgic point on the Western Maryland line, that is if your memory encompasses those glorious summer days. The park site is nothing but weeds and trees. Even the foundation of the big pavilions are gone, the paths have eroded and nothing is left of the long station platform except fond memories. At one time, efforts were being made to arrange for the State of Maryland to turn the 75 acres of land near the park site, into a state park. Thousands of names were attached to a petition seeking State aid, but at this writing nothing has materialized.

Chapter Index | Chapter 17: Thurmont Moravian Church

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