in 1842, Winchester was linked by rail to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York
Source: University of North Carolina, United States, exhibiting the railroad & canals (by Thomas G. Bradford, c.1842)
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal reached Harpers Ferry in 1833. The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad crossed into Virginia at Harpers Ferry in 1836.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had considered building south down the Chesapeake Valley rather than west across the Allegheny Mountains. It chose to go west, but supported construction of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad to generate more traffic from the Shenandoah Valley. Trains began running between Winchester and Harpers Ferry in 1836.
Winchester was the first city in Virginia to get a rail connection to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Shipment of agricultural products from the Shenandoah Valley to Harpers Ferry and points north began 26 years before Alexandria was connected by rail to Baltimore.
After the Civil War, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad financed construction of the Winchester and Strasburg Railroad, extending its connection "up" the Shenandoah Valley. After linking to the old Manassas Gap Railroad in Strasburg, the B&O continued building towards a planned junction with the former Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. The Valley Railroad, built under B&) control, reached Staunton in 1874.
In 1899, the B&O took direct control by purchasing the Winchester and Potomac Railroad.1
the first railroad into the Shenandoah Valley relied upon the Potomac River water gap at Harpers Ferry to cross the Blue Ridge
Source: Library of Congress, A map of the internal improvements of Virginia (Claudius Crozet, 1848)
The Shenandoah Pulp Mill and other mills on Virginius Island generated industrial traffic for the Winchester and Potomac. The northern depot was located on Virginius Island for the first decade, until space became available in Harpers Ferry.2
Alexandria merchants were not happy to see the business diverted away from the canal to Baltimore. Virginia officials did not want to assist growth of a port in Maryland, so the charter of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad prohibited any extension further south.
In the Civil War, the Winchester and Potomac Railroad played a unique role for supplying locomotives to Virginia/Confederate forces. In May, 1861, Col. Thomas Jackson (not yet known as "Stonewall") required the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to schedule its train traffic in the middle of the day, supposedly to avoid disturbing the Virginia troops that were near Harpers Ferry.
According to ocal lore, one day Jackson stopped all traffic and seized locomotives and rail cars. Some were transported south across the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. At Winchester, they were hauled by oxen and mules along the Valley Turnpike to Strasburg, where the equipment was loaded on the track of the Manassas Gap Railroad.3
The Baltimore and Ohio acquired the Winchester and Potomac Railroad in 1902. The track of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad became part of the CSX, after the merger between the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Baltimore and Ohio railroads.
the Winchester and Potomac Railroad was constructed as a feeder line to the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad
Source: Library of Congress, Map showing the West Virginia Midland Railway and its connections. (G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co., 1883)