New Castle-Frenchtown Railroad Ticket Office – New Castle, Delaware - Atlas Obscura

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New Castle-Frenchtown Railroad Ticket Office

New Castle, Delaware

Delaware's first railroad lasted only five years and spanned only 16 miles, but its ticket office has survived for two centuries. 

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As everyone from regional commuters to vacationers to Joe Biden knows, most travel through the major cities on the Eastern Seaboard involves a brief sojourn through the tiny state of Delaware. One of the earliest reminders of this journey is hidden nearly in plain sight in a park in New Castle, Delaware, one of America’s oldest cities. Here, a lone ticket booth hearkens back to the brief but vital history of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad.

In the early 1800s, the journey from Philadelphia to Baltimore would take several days, as the Delmarva peninsula prevented an easy sail. Instead, travelers had to navigate by boat from Philadelphia to New Castle, and again from Frenchtown (a ghost town now near Elkton, Maryland) to Baltimore. On the way, they would have to endure the hardest part of the journey—a crude and treacherous dirt road.

New Castle merchants, seeking to maintain their transportation primacy, formed a company to build a private turnpike, which was completed in 1818. Although now free of ruts, the turnpike hit a snag when one Delaware legislator threatened to impose a tax to support a public university. (Yes, Delaware’s history of charging a toll on travelers goes back centuries.) It was clear another form of transportation was needed. But what form would it take?

The company managing the turnpike was authorized by the governments of both Maryland and Delaware to convert the turnpike into a railroad. The New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike and Rail Road Company was born, and in February 1832, the new railroad line was completed. Stretching just 16 miles, the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad nevertheless was one of the most important railway connections in the country.

However, its heyday was brief. Around the same time the railroad was built, the finishing touches were made on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, just a few miles to the south. Although passengers would travel by both train and boat, the canal was greatly superior for freight. Just five years later, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad opened, promising a faster and more direct land route between the two cities, bypassing New Castle. The NC&F railroad was essentially finished.

By the end of the 1850s, the western half of the rail line was abandoned, but the eastern half remained in use. The former NC&F rail yard, located in New Castle, was eventually purchased by the Trustees of New Castle Common in 1939, and turned into a public park, known as Battery Park. Through it all, the 1832 ticket booth shockingly managed to survive. For most of the early 20th century, it was used as a flagman’s booth by the Pennsylvania Railroad, but in the early 1950s, it was restored and returned to Battery Park, where it has sat ever since. Although small, and out of the way, it is a memory of the brief time when New Castle was the heart of American transportation.

Know Before You Go

The ticket office is open to the public, however, a small fence prevents visitors from entering. Please respect the history of the booth and the visitors to Battery Park.

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