Saturday, September 6, 2014

I've Been Riding on the Railroad (Baltimore to Ellicott City)

Did you know that Baltimore and Howard County had an important role in the birth of American railroads?

The last surviving Bollman Truss Bridge is near us at Savage Mill

The first regularly scheduled passenger rail service in the US began on May 22, 1830 when a horse-drawn Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) train was pulled 13 miles from Baltimore's Mount Clare Station to Ellicott Mills (Ellicott City today) in northeastern Howard County.

Today, both sites are the locations of railroad museums commemorating their roles in establishing the American railroad industry.

The Museum in Ellicott City, MD

The small museum in Ellicott City has a few examples of train cars, historical exhibits and a scale model showing how trains entered Ellicott City.

The Roundhouse at the B&O Museum in Baltmore

The B&O Museum in Baltimore has one of the most important collections of railroad equipment, inheriting most of the historic rolling stock preserved by the B&O Railroad.

A timeline of local events associated with railroad history:

  • February 28, 1827: Baltimore charters the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad as part of the lucrative competition for moving freight in early America. The B&O was the first common carrier (i.e., serving the general public) railroad in the US.
  • May 22, 1830: The first regularly-scheduled passenger rail service begins between Baltimore's Mount Clare Station and Ellicott City, MD (then called Ellicott Mills). B&O was also the first railroad to publish timetables.
  • August 28, 1830: A passing horse-drawn car challenges the "Tom Thumb" locomotive to race along the track between Mount Clare and Ellicott Mills. The locomotive was leading easily until it slipped a belt.

The Thomas Viaduct in Elkridge, MD still carries MARC commuter trains
daily on the Camden Line

  • July 4, 1835: The 8-span Roman arch Thomas Viaduct spanning the Patapsco River in Elkridge was completed as the longest bridge (612 feet) in the US to that time, despite predictions that it would collapse from its own weight. 
    • It is one of the oldest railroad bridges still in use today and was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe II, son of the architect of the US Capitol. 
    • During the Civil War General Benjamin Butler stationed Union troops in Elkridge to guard the Thomas Viaduct on the only railroad line into Washington DC.

Another view of the Thomas Viaduct

  • May 24, 1844: Samuel Morse sends the first telegraph message over a commercial line from the Supreme Court Chambers in Washington DC to Mount Clare Station in Baltimore, "What hath God wrought?"
  • 1850: The revolutionary Bollman Truss bridge was invented as the first successful all-metal design used by railroads. The last surviving bridge was built in 1869 and was moved to its present location spanning the Little Patuxent River next to Savage Mill in 1887, where it carries the Savage Mill Trail today across its 160-foot span.

The 1850 Bollman Truss design was revolutionary

The Bollman Truss Bridge lit up at Christmas next to Savage Mill

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