The Williamsport Memorial Library was built with the assistance of the WPA in 1936-1937. The library is a memorial to the fourteen Williamsport High School students who lost their lives in 1935, when the bus they were riding in was hit by a train.
At 11:26 p.m. April 11, 1935, the Baltimore and Ohio express train carrying passengers from St. Louis to Washington bore down on a road crossing at Rockville. At that same time a Williamsport High School bus loaded with 27 students returning from a chemistry fair slowed at the dim crossing, but then rattled across the tracks, directly into the path of the train. Fourteen students died in what is believed to be the worst school-bus tragedy in Maryland history.
The federal Interstate Commerce Commission investigated and blamed both the bus driver and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. The driver should have stopped at the crossing; that was Washington County school policy. And the crossing by law should have had a watchman until midnight and a safety gate. But the watchman's shift had ended at 10 p.m., an hour and a half before the wreck, and the crossing had no gate.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke out the next day, pledging up to $200 million for eliminating dangerous railroad crossings throughout the United States, including the fatal one at Rockville in Montgomery County. The railroad assigned a watchman around-the-clock to the Rockville crossing. Workers promptly built a four-lane bridge (now called Veirs Mill Road, Route 586) over the tracks, and the deadly crossing at Baltimore Road was eliminated.
Six of the 14 students were seniors; the high school's graduating class shrank suddenly from 33 to 27. The uncle of one of the dead students told a reporter from The Sun: "Even the World War didn't do this to us. Only five from Williamsport were killed then."
The town's Memorial Library stands as the only physical reminder of the tragedy. Built in the two years after the wreck, it is a handsome brick building with four white columns, situated prominently on Williamsport's main street. Just inside the entrance, on the wall to the left, is a bronze plaque recounting the tragedy. It concludes: "To the memory of these students this library is dedicated." It then lists the names of the 14 who died too young on a bus trip.
The Williamsport Memorial Library under construction. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives
Photo: WPA Photo
Provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives
Photo: WPA Photo