Steam into History, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we operate a steam train that chronicles the role York County, PA., played in Civil War history and to promote the area as a tourist destination.
Four months had passed since the Battle of Gettysburg, the so-called high-water mark of the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg.
His remarks were a work in progress on Nov. 18, 1863, as he boarded his five-car train (draped in red, white and blue bunting) in Washington, D.C., for the four-hour ride to Gettysburg.
It’s easy to imagine Lincoln pondering his speech as his train rumbled north on the Northern Central Railway into York County, stopping at Hanover Junction for the changeover to the Hanover Branch Railroad and continuing on to Gettysburg.
Some say that Lincoln worked on the speech on the train, doffing his black silk top hat and using it as an improvised desk on which to write. Or maybe he wrote on the back of an envelope. There is some sentiment that he simply shared anecdotes and relaxed with his companions, who included Secretary of State William H. Seward.
What is certain is that what would become known as Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” is today considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. Lincoln’s journey to Gettysburg is one of the many exciting and intriguing York County connections to the Civil War that Steam into History will bring to life.
This history is enhanced through the voice of a narrator or the use of re-enactors, on the train or along the route: perhaps Lincoln as a passenger; soldiers vying for control of bridges and tracks; 16-year-old telegrapher apprentice John Shearer relaying messages from the Gettysburg battlefield to Washington. Special events will occur on the week-ends.
Today, the rolling countryside along the old Northern Central route is relatively undeveloped – consistent with how the area would have appeared in the 1860s.
The area’s unspoiled beauty belies the hub of purposeful activity that was Hanover Junction during the Civil War. The station saw as many as 30 train stops daily, as the Northern Central carried troops and supplies heading to Washington for service in the Army of the Potomac. After the Battle of Gettysburg, wounded soldiers were transported to hospitals in York and Baltimore.
Seventeen months after the “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln was slain. The Northern Central carried Lincoln’s funeral train through New Freedom and Hanover Junction, stopping in the city of York to take on water for the train’s boiler.
Steam into History passengers learn about the railway’s role in the growth of small towns along the route and its major contributions to the economic development of York County.
Steam Into History opened June of 2013. We are currently completing our first year of operations and giving people the opportunity to relive Civil War railroad history.