You can credit the family that owned the Riversdale mansion for Riverdale Park’s historic train stop.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Calvert family owned a 729-acre plantation north of Bladensburg, where they grew tobacco and other crops. The property turned out to be well-situated when railroads developed.
In 1827, the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Co. was chartered with the goal of building rail lines that could get goods from the Midwest across the Allegheny Mountains to markets on the East Coast faster than ships using the Erie Canal.
One of the first connections the B&O wanted to make was between Baltimore and the thriving tobacco port of Bladensburg. That meant going through Riversdale.
So the Calverts made a deal, as described in a 2006 Washington Post article:
“They had a stop for the mansion,” said Douglas McElrath, curator of the Marylandia and rare books department at the University of Maryland library. “He was a planter owning thousands of acres, so he was using it to transport crops and materials.” The station was put in service in 1835, and the train has been stopping in Riverdale Park ever since.
Though the rail line was designed for shipping goods, it’s also run passenger trains from the beginning, with the first passenger service in Riverdale Park in August of 1835. By some accounts, that makes it one of the oldest U.S. passenger services still in operation.
(Coincidentally, the nearby College Park Airport is the oldest continuously operated airport in the world.)
When the Calvert family sold the mansion and 475 acres to New York real estate investors in 1887, the train station proved a key attraction in developing the town of Riverdale Park.
Today the Camden Line of the MARC commuter rail system stops at Riverdale station, on tracks owned and controlled by freight carrier CSX. From there, it’s about an hour ride to Baltimore or a 15-minute ride to Union Station in D.C.