Historical Perspective

Father Cuddy’s Bridge

Photo | Jack Toomey Karen Lottes, program coordinator for the City of Gaithersburg, displays the old B&O stop sign that was in use on the day of Father Cuddy’s death.

Photo | Jack Toomey
Karen Lottes, program coordinator for the City of Gaithersburg, displays the old B&O stop sign that was in use on the day of Father Cuddy’s death.

By Jack Toomey

Ninety years ago, Frederick Road was the main route between Washington and Frederick and points west. The road was dotted with large, imposing homes of the wealthy, general stores, filling stations and farms. Just north of St. Martin’s Church, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crossed the road.

In 2018, downtown Gaithersburg has turned into a maze of fast food restaurants, office buildings, convenience stores and apartments. Midway in the commercial district a bridge spans the CSX railroad tracks. With autos zipping back and forth on the way to work and errands, most drivers don’t notice the signs on each end of the bridge. These are signs that give this bridge a name.

John Stanislaus Cuddy was born in Baltimore in 1873. He was educated at Baltimore’s Loyola College and then was accepted into the St. Charles Seminary. After his ordination to the Catholic priesthood, his assignments included parishes in Frostburg and Taneytown, St. Mary’s in Barnesville, St. Rose’s Mission at Cloppers, and as chaplain during World War I at the Edgewood Arsenal and Camp Jackson, South Carolina.

Photo | Courtesy of Gaithersburg Museum William Harding was the crossing guard at the Frederick Road grade crossing the night that Father Cuddy died.

Photo | Courtesy of Gaithersburg Museum
William Harding was the crossing guard at the Frederick Road grade crossing the night that Father Cuddy died.

In 1920 Father Cuddy was transferred to St. Martin’s Church in Gaithersburg at the corner of Summit Avenue and Frederick Road. That year he arranged for two army mess halls to be brought from Virginia, and the first worship services were held in these buildings. A church and convent were planned at the site and were eventually built.

Father Cuddy also was instrumental in the building of the first Catholic school in Montgomery County. In the fall of 1925, a two-story, fireproof structure with six classrooms was opened at the corner of Summit Avenue and Frederick Road. It was said at the time that it was the finest school building outside of Baltimore.

As was the custom of the time, Father Cuddy lived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Shwartz, who were parishioners. He was widely loved by townspeople, and one later remarked that Father Cuddy would never inquire about a man’s religion when someone was in need.

On the evening of Dec. 7, 1928, Father Cuddy had just returned from his priestly duty of visiting the sick. He stopped briefly at the drugstore, spoke with Police Officer Dosh, and then approached the railroad tracks on what is now Route 355. At that time the road crossed the railroad tracks at a place known as Owens Crossing. The crossing was considered to be so dangerous that a guard was stationed there who was equipped with a hand-held stop sign and a whistle. As Father Cuddy’s car approached the crossing, a Baltimore and Ohio freight train was traveling through Gaithersburg. The watchman heard the approach of the train and stepped into the road and began blowing his whistle. For reasons that have never been determined, Father Cuddy kept driving past the watchman and into the path of the train. Father Cuddy’s car was struck and the debris was carried down the track. Officer Dosh and the watchman ran to the car but found that Father Cuddy was dead.

Some residents expressed the opinion that Father Cuddy had suffered a heart attack and was unconscious at the time of the accident, but the police pointed out skid marks that they believed were caused by his car. Mrs. Schwartz, who lived just up the street, came to the scene and collapsed in a state of nervous exhaustion and was treated by a doctor. An inquest was held the next day and it was determined that the accident that claimed the life of Father Cuddy was unavoidable.

As a result of this accident, a small wooden bridge was erected over the railroad and opened for traffic in 1930. When Route 355 was widened in 1988, the City of Gaithersburg suggested to the state that the new bridge over the railroad be named after the eminent priest.

Today as we travel over this bridge few of us notice the signs that designate the bridge as “Father John. S. Cuddy Bridge,” in honor of this humble man who served Montgomery County in the early part of the twentieth century.

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