Confluence & Oakland - the "Other" C&O
[By Tom Kraemer] . . .
The Confluence and Oakland Railway was a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio that once existed in Southwestern Pennsylvania and a bit in Western Maryland. Though it shared initials, it should not be confused with the "C&O" (Chesapeake & Ohio) that we're familiar with. This C&O (Confluence & Oakland) was one of several branch lines stemming from the B&O main line in that area. These lines, built in the late 1800's, prospered from the logging industry and functioned as common carriers for freight and passenger service as well.
But getting back to the C&O in particular, their 20-or-so mile line broke off the B&O main at Confluence, Pennsylvania, and headed directly south following the Youghiogheny River banks upstream to its terminus at a location called "Kendall" just a few miles south of Friendsville, Maryland. The line was completed and in operation by 1890.
Most historical accounts of this line describe its complete annihilation in the early 1940's as being drowned by the waters of the Youghiogheny River Lake (a result of the creation of the Yough Lake flood control dam just outside Confluence). These accounts are accurate...to a point. Sure, the lake sits on top of probably 90% of the old C&O, and has erased prominent landmarks such as the Buffalo Run bridge from view, but as the backwaters recede at the southern end of the lake, and the Yough takes the form as a swift-flowing river once again, traces of the old right-of-way can still be found.
PART ONE - CONFLUENCE
Confluence today is, of course, host to CSX's active mainline Keystone Subdivision (B&O's east/west mainline via Pittsburgh). Once home to a manned interlocking tower, station, water tower, small yard (all the usuals), Confluence, like most other locations these days, has been cleansed of such accessories save for an old maintenance-of-way building and a Jacksonville-controlled interlocking at nearby Draketown to the west. Confluence still marks the "junction'' of two single track sections of the main line that become the High Line and Low Grade Line as they take their respective routes uphill out of the Yough Valley and head east toward Rockwood and Cumberland. The lines reconnect as "double track" up at Brook, approximately seven miles to the east along the Casselman River.
A wide spot in the right-of-way about half way between Draketown and Confluence proper marks the location of the old wye and few yard tracks that made up what was known as "C&O Junction." It was there that the C&O broke away from the main line to continue to follow the Yough south toward Maryland. Through the years, and apparently as a result of a few ruthless floods of the Yough, the layout of Confluence has been drastically modified and built-up in an ongoing attempt to keep the water and community functioning as separate entities. Flood-control dikes and modification projects have erased any traces of the original C&O bridge over the Yough at that point. On the South bank of the river, however, grading suggests a junction (built at the introduction of the Western Maryland Railway to the scene) between the C&O and the WM main line. It would be interesting to know what arrangements were made between the B&O and Western Maryland in the later years, as it appears that the original C&O bridge could have been removed early on, leaving the WM in control of access to the C&O. It is possible that the B&O was allowed rights to use a section of the WM (from a junction/transfer off the Low Grade Line just above Confluence) to access the C&O and their other branch down to Unamis in the later years of operation.
The old WM through the area, at the present time, has been converted to a bike trail system linking Pittsburgh with Washington, DC. Arriving in Confluence on this trail from the West, a biker with a trained eye will notice at the above mentioned "junction" with the C&O, that the WM main line actually splits off to the right and crosses township road T880, then works its way uphill to swing across the Yough on the north side of Confluence. So basically, for about 3/4 mile, the bike trail follows the original right-of-way of the old Confluence and Oakland before crossing on its own bridge into town, and reconnecting with the Western Maryland main line.
As history suggests, evidence of the C&O is abruptly lost at the foot of the Yough Lake dam. From there on south for approximately 12 miles, the C&O rests at peace under the clear waters of Youghiogheny River Lake, joining in with others belonging to Club Atlantis.
PART TWO - FRIENDSVILLE, MD
An exit off I-68, Friendsville exists as a small, quiet town in the northwest corner of the Old Line State. Swift flowing streams compliment looming wooded mountains as far as scenery is concerned, yet rumbling above the valley it occupies exists Interstate 68. A look at Friendsville's architecture and relative age of buildings quickly identifies the town as having existed long before the interstate cut its way through. The layout of streets and properties easily suggest the presence of a railroad through angled buildings and lots. The depot was probably removed along with the tracks, yet old hotels and mills which still stand with doors and docks lined up to accommodate rail service are quite evident there.
The Youghiogheny, at that elevation, has returned to being the fast-flowing river that feeds the lake to its north. It is joined by Bear Creek, and forms two distinct channels just north of Friendsville as it works its way toward the peaceful waters ahead.
Heading north out of Friendsville, the C&O right of way surfaces as a slight elevation along the western edge of a nicely kept town park. It makes up a space between the park road and the outfield of a ball diamond... residents most likely not to notice the dark cinder ballast under their feet as they head for the bleachers to watch a community game. The line then tucks itself away into the woods north of the park as the road it parallels eventually splits off to access a few cabins further up the valley. About 300 feet from that point it enters the wooded area (almost a mile north of Friendsville), the C&O crossed both channels of the Yough on heavy wooden bridges #711 and #712.
As a memorial to those who constructed them, several cut-stone piers still split the flowing waters of both Yough channels. Though the wooden structures of both bridges have long since gone, the piers have existed for well over 100 years and show no sign of weakening.
Less than 30 yards from the piers of the northernmost bridge exists a well-designed cut-stone culvert over yet another water channel; this channel being diverted to turn the turbines of an old mill located off the right-of-way approximately 1500 feet further downstream. The channel is dry, and all that remains of the mill are the stone foundations and a few metal castings from the control system that once powered the mill.
The area along the right-of-way beyond the old mill is designated by the state as a "Wildlife Habitat Rehabilitation Area" and passes a clean pond with large birdhouses affixed to several of the trees. The actual right-of-way is clear and follows close to the riverbank for approximately two miles through this habitat, and is used by state personnel to access the land by vehicle. For the rest of us, access by foot is the preferred method (I suppose a mountain bike would do the trick as well).
As expected, there comes a point where the "access road" curves unnaturally and abruptly (for a railroad right-of-way) up and away from the water's edge. At this point, the existence of the cinder ballast underfoot is lost as well. It is the point of no return where the dam's backwaters have exceeded the elevation of the old C&O, and roadbed is left to continue underwater toward Confluence.
Access to this lower area can be gained by following Old Morgantown Road to its dead end at the western edge of the lake (across form Selbysport on the east side). Signs of state ownership and a gate mark the trail that will lead to the actual C&O right-of-way and bridge remains further to the south.
PART THREE - THE SOUTH END
At the river's edge on the south side of Friendsville exists what appears to be a stone driveway blocked by a metal gate. There is some sort of sign on this gate, however the paint on it is jumbled and unintelligible. I'm sure it indicates that it is the entrance to the old C&O right-of-way, but it might have said "NO TRESPASSING" - I couldn't be sure, so I proceeded.
Passing under the Interstate, as expected, the cinder ballast had been bulldozed during the construction of the twin highway bridges there, but quite soon after, the right-of-way picks back up as a clear, smooth trail following the east bank of the scenic river. The terrain is rugged. It is easy to assume that three miles of construction of this line through this area was enough to lead engineers to abandon their hopes of actually reaching Oakland, still at least 17 miles further upstream. The area becomes isolated rather quickly as well. It might be noted that Friendsville is the last cross access to the right of way; and the river does not cross paths with another road for at least eight more miles upstream, with parallel roads running on the rim of the valley at least two miles distant in either direction. The trail is smooth, but you might want to bring a friend along for this section!
The C&O was well graded, with evidence of concrete retaining walls in certain known slide areas. At times it occupies a narrow shelf between a cliff and the riverbank with water dripping from mossy layers of rock. By mainline standards, the grade is severe, appearing in places to approach at least 3%. Large trees and plenty of mountain laurel surround the trail as it winds its way through the narrow valley. Characteristics of the river are common for the area: large boulders, plenty of white water and calm, green pools (with probably a fish or two in them). Several times throughout its route, the right-of-way curves inward to "cut-off" a sharper bend in the river, yet it never strays more than a couple hundred feet from the bank.
Nearing the line's remote terminus of Kendall, a wide area could have certainly accommodated a wye track and a couple of sidings. A few old ties, joiner bars cast to hold together almost toy-like light rail sections and the odd spike here and there tell tales of the past physical plant.
A small, clear-flowing run marks the end of the line. It was apparent that no railroad bridge was ever constructed over it (or all traces were lost long ago). A wide area in the right of way, the token coal pile, and a cut-stone ash-pit exist to prove that the location was the terminus of a busy steam road. Evidence of logging roads, rough yet passable, joined together at the spot from areas above the run. Another logging road continued up to follow the river and appeared to almost be a natural continuation of the railroad, however the absence of the cinder ballast and unsteady gradient had the tracks ending certainly at the run.
Operationally, rough-cut lumber would have been dragged in from the surrounding hillsides to this terminal area, loaded onto the railway cars there, then taken on to Confluence to be switched or interchanged appropriately. Friendsville, historically reported to be a rough bar-lined town, most likely was a temporary home to lumberjacks working the area. It was named after a family of "Friends" who settled there - and apparently not after the demeanor of the folks who occupied its boundaries.
Though maps list the terminus of the C&O as "Kendall," suggesting maybe at least a town or depot, the spot most likely did not see many family dwellings in its history. It was a work location, possibly being referred to under pressure to the likes of, "We've gotta get these logs down to Kendall before nightfall or we'll be spending the night up here in the dark!"
All the more reason to get back to Friendsville and belly-up, for tomorrow it would be another full day of sawing and dragging in log country.
So there you have it...hopefully I've filled in some blank spots in the sparsely documented C&O files. The right-of-way, what's still intact, would make a great rail-trail. As it is, it still provides a nice walk along Yough Lake, and the "Upper" Youghiogheny River. If you're ever in the area...