Cumberland Times-News

Local News

October 7, 2013

Looking Back: The day Paw Paw almost blew up

It was a pleasant day in late April 1904 in Paw Paw, W.Va., when all of the bells and steam whistles in town began sounding.

“Look out! Look out! It’s going off!” was the cry carried throughout the town.

For three days, the residents had been watching cans of black powder carried into a shaft cut into the mountain next to the town. The final count was that 325 cans of powder weighing 8,125 pounds had been placed in the mountain and then the shaft was closed.

“As the number of cans disappearing in the mountainside increased, the alarm of the people grew, and some in terror left the town, while those remaining filled their ears with cotton and waited for — they knew not what,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

They had good reason to fear. When a similar cut had been made through Sideling Hill, 1,400 cans of powder had been used. The resulting explosion threw rocks as heavy as half a ton hundreds of yards from the explosion site. Telegraph poles along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had been sheared off near the ground by flying debris.

The Fuller Syndicate, a group of wealthy men who were invested in railroads, had acquired the Western Maryland Railway and West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway in 1902. The following year an extension of the Western Maryland Railway was started to take the railroad into Western Maryland in direct competition with the B&O Railroad.

“Until the advent of the Wabash it was supposed there was no feasible route through the narrow gaps in the mountains between Cumberland and Hancock, forty miles, save those followed by the Chesapeake and Ohio canal and the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. It was this belief that has kept life in the old waterway, life sustained by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad company to bar out any possible rival,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

The 6-mile extension line began in Big Pool and moved west toward Cumberland. “Though the route lay entirely in the Potomac River Valley, the going was far from easy, since the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the National Turnpike had already been built on the best routes. Thus, Western Maryland needed twenty-three bridges to cross the Potomac River, five streams, the C&O Canal, the B&O Railroad and three county roads,” Roger Cook and Karl Zimmerman wrote in “The Western Maryland Railway.”

A tunnel through the mountain was one of the needed improvements that Western Maryland needed to make to connect the Western Maryland railroad at Cherry Run with the West Virginia Central railroad at Cumberland. The plan was to connect these railroads with the Wabash Railroad in the Midwest and turn the Wabash into a transcontinental system.

A few minutes after the whistles and bells sounded in Paw Paw, someone pushed an electric button to trigger the explosion.

“There was a deep, rumbling report, the whole earth seemed to rock as though shaken by an earthquake and tons of rock plunged forward and toppled over into the canal and river,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

The feared destruction of the town didn’t happen. In fact, no loose rock flew more than 100 feet away from the mountain, but 20,000 cubic yards of rock was torn away from the mountain. The explosion was deemed a great success. It had accomplished what was needed with no unnecessary destruction.

The extension from Big Pool to Cumberland was proving to be very costly because of the number of bridges and tunnels that needed to be built along it. The Western Maryland had 2,629 men, 300 animals, nine locomotives and nine steam shovels building the extension. The average cost per mile was $100,000 (about $4 million today). The extension was completed in 1906 and opened March 15. However, the railroad never became part of a transcontinental Wabash system. The Western Maryland Railway continued to service Allegany County until the Chessie System absorbed it in the mid-1970s.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Easter experience Easter experience

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Game on: City interested in baseball study

    After it looked like the objection of a couple of constituents to a study on the feasibility of bringing a minor league baseball team to the area may have torpedoed the thought, county commissioners and some city officials sounded ready to sing a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Thursday.

    April 18, 2014

  • DEREK SHEELY Charges against helmet maker stand in case of Frostburg player’s death

    A Montgomery County judge this week declined to dismiss charges against a helmet manufacturer in a case brought by the parents of a Frostburg State University football player who died of head injuries in August 2011 following four straight days of heavy contact drills in practice.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • GAYLE MANCHIN W.Va. BOE president speaks on issues at WVSDB

    West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin responded to issues at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind during an interview with the Times-News Wednesday morning.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • REGINALD REDMAN Moorefield man jailed on felony drug count

    A Moorefield man was arrested on various charges Thursday, including a felony drug offense for possession of amphetamines, according to the Keyser Police Department.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Blossoming optimism Blossoming optimism

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds Cemetery group’s efforts revive Oak Hill grounds

    After you drive Alexander and Furnace streets then navigate a couple of switchbacks on Cemetery Road, you’d figure there would be no more uphill.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Proposed county budget holds most agencies flat

    After taking into account an income tax shortfall, Allegany County Finance Director Jason Bennett said he’ll propose a budget that holds most outside agencies to flat funding and funds the Board of Education at what county officials say are maintenence of effort levels for 2015.

    April 17, 2014

  • RYAN WOLF Wolf named 2014-15 Garrett Teacher of the Year

    Southern Garrett High School teacher Ryan Wolf has been named the 2014-15 Garrett County Teacher of the Year.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock Rep. Delaney discusses congressional gridlock

    While giving a civics lesson at Frostburg State University on Thursday, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, congressman from Maryland’s sixth district, told students that the polarization in Congress is due primarily to redistricting and a poorly designed Congressional schedule.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Must Read
News related video
Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military