Historical Role in our Nation's Defense
—Indian Head Rail Trail —
The Naval Base, known as The Naval Proving Ground, was established in the town of Indian Head in 1890. Its main purpose was to test guns, powder fuses and other naval ordnances as well as producing smokeless powder. The Naval Proving Ground played an essential role in producing supplies for naval ships during World War I.
Reliable Transportation Needs
- Harsh Winters limited the use of the Potomac River to transport raw material and finished products to and from the Naval Base in Indian Head. To further complicate the issue, land routes (gravel roads) were often slow or completely unusable due to seasonal wet conditions and frequent flooding. So the development of a railroad was needed to meet the supply demands brought on by an escalating European conflict.
In 1918, congress appropriated a sum of $800,000 for this project. Brothers, Fred and Marshall Bailey were awarded a bid to build the fourteen and one-half mile railroad, connecting Indian Head to the existing Pennsylvania railroad junction in White Plains. The contractor, using thirty local men, completed construction in just six months. In May 1919, the railway was officially open for business and proved to play a vital role in the development and operations of the Navy Base.
Our Naval Base has made significant contributions to historical conflicts, including two World Wars, The Korean and Viet Nam conflicts. Now known as the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the name has changed reflecting diversification into the fields of chemistry, engineering and production management. NSWC continues today developing, testing and manufacturing the newest generations of explosives and propellants for use in the 21stcentury U.S. Weapons systems and aboard the most advance Navy ship and aircraft.
Indian Head's Naval Base not only played an important role in our Nation's military history, but also in Charles County's overall economy. The base has been the area's largest employer for most of the past century. During the onset of World War l, in an effort to get employees to work more quickly, a footbridge was constructed across Mattawoman Creek to connect the communities of Marbury and Pisgah to the base. Remnant pilings can still be seen today.
Just prior to World War II, as roads were paved and transportation routes improved, this railroad became obsolete and sat unused for decades. In 2006, the U.S. Navy - through the Department of the Interiors Federal Lands to Parks Program - generously donated this abandoned RR corridor to Charles County. This property was dedicated for the public's perpetual recreational use and enjoyment. The Indian Head Rail Trail represents Southern Marylands first successful rails-to-trails conversion project.
Where Uncle Sam tests his big guns - 1919
Early employment recruitment poster
Railroad once provided USN with reliable transportation
Powder Factory railroad repairs
1918 railroad construction operation
USN Mark II Railway Gun open breech inspection