The city of Bowie owes its existence to the railway. In 1853, Colonel William Duckett Bowie obtained a charter from the Maryland legislature to construct a rail line into Southern Maryland. In 1869, the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Company began the construction of a railroad from Baltimore to Southern Maryland, terminating in Pope’s Creek. The area had already been dotted with small farms and large tobacco plantations in an economy based on agriculture and slavery. In 1870, Ben Plumb, a land speculator and developer, sold building lots around the railroad junction and named the settlement Huntington City. By 1872, the line was completed, together with a “spur” to Washington, D.C. and the entire line through Southern Maryland was completed in 1873.
Huntington City was renamed in honor of the son of William Duckett Bowie and his business partner, Oden Bowie,who was President of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad at the time, and previously Governor of Maryland. The town was subsequently rechartered as Bowie in 1880. In the early days the land was subdivided by developers into more than 500 residential building lots, to create a large town site at a junction of the Baltimore and Potomac’s main line to southern Maryland, and the branch line to Washington, D.C.
By 1902, the Baltimore & Potomac was purchased by the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad. A second railroad entered the community when the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railway electric trolley line commenced service in 1908. The large interurban cars brought rapid transit to the area, with trains running hourly. Bowie area stations included High Bridge, Hillmeade, and the Race Track.
The convergence of the two rail systems induced the Southern Maryland Agricultural Society to build the Bowie Race Track in 1914. The track enabled the Belair Stud to become one of Maryland’s premier areas for thoroughbreds. Also in 1914, a teacher-training college, or normal school as it was referred to then, was built for African-Americans, just outside the town. This now has become Bowie State University. The town of Bowie was incorporated in 1916.
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