Railroad History

Red Brick Monument

As you drive through Clayton’s historic downtown, the red brick Clayton Station stands out as a lovingly restored monument to our town’s railroad history. For more than a century and a half, the clickety-clack of rail cars passing over the crossing has been a part of the fabric of this community. 

The building is signed with the logo of the late Pennsylvania Railroad. Its history, though, is a complicated series of mergers and acquisitions.

Delaware's First Railroad

In 1832, Delaware’s first railroad went into operation and in 1852 the Delaware Railroad Company was organized. Construction of a north-south line that connected the agricultural communities of Kent and Sussex Counties with markets in Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore commenced.

From Smyrna Station to Clayton
In the Fall of 1855, the line passed through Clayton – then known as Smyrna Station. On January 1, 1857, the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore (PW&B) Railroad began operations on this line.

In 1860, the town’s name was changed to Clayton in honor of John M. Clayton, a former United States Secretary of State from Delaware and strong advocate for the railroad. 

The town and its shops served as a regional hub for the Delaware Railroad, the Maryland & Delaware Railroad, the Spur Line to Smyrna, and the Smyrna and Delaware Bay Railroad. A line extended east to the Delaware Bay at Bombay Hook. Another line extended southwest through the Maryland towns of Goldsboro, Greensboro, Ridgely, Queen Anne, and Easton. 

From 1885 through 1920, Clayton was Division Headquarters for the PW&B. A bitter rivalry between the owners of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad eventually led to PRR control of the PW&B.

End of an Era
Declining passenger traffic and the effects of regulation caused the bankruptcy of several northeastern lines in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. The PRR, once the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, was not immune and filed for bankruptcy in 1970.

The Smyrna-Clayton Sun Times regularly provides a look back into history that reveals stories from Clayton’s bustling railroad days. The Delaware Archives and the Duck Creek Historical Society, likewise, retain collections of photographs from this era.

In 1976, the federal government formed Conrail from the remains of several northeastern freight lines including the Delmarva section of Pennsy. In 1998, Norfolk Southern purchased the line and continues to serve the peninsula with shipments of coal, agricultural, and chemical commodities.

In 2009 passenger service by Amtrak to and from the Delaware State Fair is being re-established.