Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles 9

 All aboard the Thaddeus Stevens Express

September 2021

By Ross Hetrick

The Thaddeus Stevens Society will hold a community picnic on Sunday, October 10, at 1 p.m. at the Hamiltonban park, 4020 Bullfrog Road, Fairfield, PA where there are signs detailing Steven's efforts to build a railroad and run an iron furnace. To bring this history to life, Society president Ross Hetrick will give a portrayal of Stevens. Free hot dogs, chips and sodas will be provided and side dishes are welcomed. We ask that participants be vaccinated. 

Stevens is generally known for his political career in which he was known as a foremost champion  of freedom and equality. But he was also a strong promoter of commerce and industry and remnants of those efforts can be found around Fairfield and are highlighted at the new community park, which includes a jungle gym shaped like a train.

When Thaddeus Stevens represented Adams county in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 1830s he was able to get the state to foot the bill to build a railroad from Gettysburg to western Maryland to link up with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had just started operating in 1830. If the railroad had been completed, it might have linked Adams county to the developing Ohio valley and Gettysburg would have seen a booming economy.

Instead, the railroad was relentlessly attacked for its expense and the fact that it took a zigzag course to get over the mountains, prompting critics to call it the "Tapeworm Railroad." The project was abandoned after Stevens lost political power as a result of the 1838 "Buckshot War," a bizarre event in Pennsylvania history where Democrats took over the state legislature by force. It wasn't until 50 years later that the railroad was completed by the Western Maryland Railroad. Massive stone viaducts built in the earlier effort can still be found in the Fairfield area on Mt. Hope Road and Iron Springs Road. 

The Maria iron furnace stack, a remnant of another Stevens venture, also still exists along Iron Springs Road though it is obscured by thick vegetation. Stevens and other investors started the iron mill in 1826 and operated it for 11 years before starting the Caledonia iron works near Chambersburg. Because the Maria furnace was along the route of the proposed Tapeworm railroad, Stevens was accused of feathering his own nest. But in actuality, the operation was shut down in 1837, long before the railroad would have been finished under the best of circumstances.

So come to the Hamiltonban community park on October 10 and learn about the history of Stevens and Fairfield and enjoy a hot dog and soda.

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website:

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