The day was May 10, 1869. The place was Promontory, Utah. Two trains had arrived at this town. A major triumph had occurred. For the first time in the history of North American railroading, a rail line from Sacramento, California and a rail line from Omaha, Nebraska and Midwest had come together. The Central Pacific Railroad had met with the Union Pacific Railroad. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed. Passengers were able to travel by train from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. As they were driving in each spike, the very last one was made of gold making one of the greatest feats in transportation history. A nation was united, and it was all made possible by the railroad. Although it was not a railroad that went coast to coast, it allowed travel from the Atlantic Coast Line to the Pacific Coast Line. (A continuous rail line that allowed coast to coast travel was built through Denver allowing continuous passenger travel.)
Friday, May 10, 2019 is the 150th anniversary of this moment. However, this feat that was accomplished in Utah… began in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.
The first stretch of track in Baltimore, Maryland, and it continued to what is now Ellicott City, Maryland. From there, it continued west and crossed the Potomac River at what is now Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia making this the first time the railroad was ever out of the state of Maryland. It continued west to Chicago, Illinois. Throughout the years other railroads were established and went westward. Among these railroads was the Union Pacific which began in Omaha, Nebraska, and it began to move west through the Rocky Mountains… making its way to Promontory, Utah. Through these years, railroads were built along the Pacific Coast. The Central Pacific then built a line going east from Sacramento through the Cascade Mountains and across the deserts in Nevada… and they arrived in Promontory.
Today, you can visit the site of the birthplace of American railroading in Baltimore, Maryland at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum which has the oldest collection of rolling stock in the nation (http://www.borail.org/). While you are there, you can take a ride on the first mile and a half of track laid in the United States. One block north on Lemmon Street, you can visit the Irish Railroad Workers Museum (http://www.irishshrine.org/) where the builders of the first railroad once lived. You can visit the oldest surviving train station in the United States in Ellicott City, Maryland built at the end of the first stretch of railroad. It has been preserved and is home to the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum (https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Baltimore-Ohio-Station-at-Ellicott-City).
You can go west and visit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa (http://www.uprrmuseum.org/). Here you will see the history of the Union Pacific Railroad, the second oldest still operating railroad in the nation. (The Strasburg Railroad is the oldest in the nation, but the Union Pacific covers far much more territory. The Strasburg was established and remains a short line railroad.) Housed in the historic Carnegie Library, the museum has an extensive collection of artifacts, and it has a detailed history of the constructing of the Transcontinental Railroad. While in Council Bluffs you can see the Golden Spike Monument located at 9th Avenue and South 21st Street. You can visit Kenefick Park in Omaha, Nebraska (https://www.lauritzengardens.org/about/kenefick_park/index.asp) where two of the greatest locomotives of the Union Pacific, Centennial Number 6900, a diesel locomotive, and Big Boy Number 4023, the largest steam locomotive in the world, rest overlooking the Missouri River Valley.
You can follow along the Transcontinental Route of which most remains active today, and you can hike along the areas where the tracks were taken up and see the old tunnels and snow sheds. While traveling along this route you will pass by the largest railroad yard in the world in North Platte, Nebraska where you can watch the yard operations from a tower that overlooks the yard.
You can visit the California State Railroad Museum (https://www.californiarailroad.museum/) which is located at Sacramento, California. It was in Sacramento where the Transcontinental Railroad was built going east.
Most important of all, you can visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah (https://www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm) to see the site where America was united with one golden spike. You can stand on the spot where the final spike was driven and get a glimpse of what it was like with the two locomotives facing each other.
As you remember that moment of in Promontory, Utah with the unity of the Pacific Coast and the Atlantic Coast and the Midwest, take the time to remember where this moment began… in a city called Baltimore.
If you want a detailed story of the Transcontinental Railroad, you can go to the Kalmbach Hobby Store and order Journey to Promontory that details the process of building the railroad and The Golden Spike Route Today that follows the route of the railroad. Both DVD’s and other books are available at https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/.
3 thoughts on “Before Promontory, It Began in Baltimore”
Reblogged this on John Cowgill's Literature Site.
Thanks for including the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in this compelling article, john.
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You are very welcome.