Old Manassas Gap Railroad Bed
Historical Dates: 1853-1857
Threat Level: High
Location: See maps below
The bed stretches through the Lincoln Loop, and crosses Sands Road near the Lincoln Oak. Parts of the Loudoun branch of the Manassas Gap Railroad survive here. In March 1853, construction began, the route extended 27 miles, from Centreville to Purcellville. The Civil War intervened and work was discontinued in 1857. The historical marker is 100 feet north of the site.
The Railroad Bed
Sections of the existing railroad bed remains intact through private property from Sands Road and points East toward Mt. Gilead. Some of the historically significant and impressive stretches are in threatened areas in and around what is known as “Irishman's Field”. Already, a 200 acre development at the former Frazer Farm (now known as Fawn Meadow) and the Southern Collector Road in Purcellville are infringing upon portions of the remaining railroad beds. A historical marker on Sands Road is a lonely reminder of this area’s former history, placed, incongruously, in the backyard of a new home, some 100 feet north of the actual location of the site.
The Unfinished Loudoun Branch was a planned extension of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Chartered in 1850, the railroad was planned to link merchants of, urban markets and the port of Alexandria with the farmers of Loudoun Valley which was the breadbasket of Loudoun County.
Route: The planned section of the Manassas Gap railroad, which was never completed, began at a point near Centerville, in Fairfax County, where the existing Manassas Gap Railroad connected with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The Loudoun Branch was to continue in a northwest direction, cutting through the Mount Gilead of Catoctin Mountain to reach the heart of Loudoun Valley. Following the curves of this landscape, gently winding its way through the fields of Western Loudoun, it entered Lincoln on a path to Purcellville. The Loudoun Branch was expected to eventually extend to Harpers Ferry to intersect with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
References and Links
In the vicinity of 18022 Sands Rd, Purcellville, VA 20132. Look for the Historic marker. An entrance to the RR bed is a few yards south, at the tree line on the upper edge of the property. It is on private property.
A short video showing the Manassas Gap Railroad's abandoned tunnel on the Loudoun Branch.
National Register of Historic Places, Manassas Gap Railroad Independent Line, Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia, OMB. No. 1024-0018.
Taylor, Frannie. (17 October 2014).
Scheel, Eugene M. (3 October 2014).
Construction: A small surveying team completed their work by 1853. The company reported that "a very considerable force" was digging the trail for the Loudoun Branch in May 1855. Railroad crews cut through soil and rock from hills and slopes. They moved this material, using it as fill in some places, leveling the grade of the intended path. Culverts built of stone, allowed stream and creek water to flow unobstructed under the railroad line. The railroad company began digging a tunnel under Mt. Gilead to bring the tracks west into the valley. This work was never completed, Portions of this tunnel can still be seen on private property near Lime Kiln Road.
Labor Force: For two years, recently arrived Irish immigrants lived and labored in camps alongside of the grade. Oral tradition attests to their skill and hard work. An old Loudoun County saying, "With an Irishman and a mule there is nothing that can't be built," originates from this mid-century presence in our community. Tom Taylor (1911- 2001), a Lincoln resident, also preserved a part of their story. He was a boy when his father, Henry B. Taylor (1873 - 1968), said to him "Irishmen and mules can do anything."
The “Irishman’s Field”:
Legend has it that "Irishman's Field” is located off Sands Road on what used to be Frazer Farm. It is believed to be the location of one of the encampments of the Irish immigrant laborers who worked on the Manassas Gap Railroad bed near Lincoln, VA. Most of the field is now part of a new development of residential homes. It is all but forgotten today. There is no written document evidencing the existence of this camp, only the remaining culverts and portions of the railroad bed that are nearby. The Independent line of the Manassas Gap Railroad, from Manassas to Purcellville, was never completed and went bankrupt in 1855 due to a suffering economy and then the outbreak of the Civil War.
Demise: The Independent line of the Manassas Gap Railroad, from Manassas to Purcellville, was never completed and went bankrupt in 1855 due to a suffering economy. Work stopped in May 1857.
Present Day: Surviving sections of the unfinished Loudoun Branch are presently hidden by undergrowth and trees, much of it on private farms and portions of it where new developments and roads are being built. As recently as 2001, the rail line between Lincoln and Purcellville was still being used as a clear and graded walking path.