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The 19th century saw the growth of the Northern Central Railroad, a vital link between Washington, D.C., Harrisburg, upstate New York and Lake Ontario. Its passage through York County brought prosperity to the area's farmers, merchants and manufacturers and spurred the growth of communities like Glen Rock, Hanover Junction and the town of Railroad. The railroad was also a prime target for the Confederate Army prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, as Rebel troops cut telegraph wires and destroyed bridges in their efforts to isolate Washington from the rest of the Union.
President Lincoln traveled via the Northern Central to the Gettysburg battlefield, his train stopping in Hanover Junction on November 18 and 19, 1863. The station was restored to its 1863 Civil War appearance in 2001 and a Civil War museum is open to the public.
The historic railroad stations in New Freedom and Hanover Junction today serve as reminders of our past. They are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New Freedom Station was restored to its 1935 appearance in 2003 and a railroad museum is open to the public. Both stations offer space for tenants. New Freedom is the highest point on the trail. It is downhill to both Maryland and York from here.
Approximately 5.5 miles south of the Colonial Courthouse is the Howard Tunnel. It is the oldest continuously operational railroad tunnel in the world. The brick lined, 370 foot tunnel originally opened for traffic in 1838. The tunnel was rehabilitated in 2003.
Following the declared bankruptcy of the Penn Central Railroad in 1970 and the major destruction of the rail line in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes, the County of York purchased the rail corridor in 1990 through a special agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Construction of the trail was completed in August 1999.