Building America's First Railroad

Building America's First Railroad (HM5MA)

Location: Catonsville, MD 21228 Baltimore County
Country: United States of America

N 39° 14.688', W 76° 45.112'

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"There was a man killed yesterday by a fall from the centre of the 1st arch [of the Thomas Viaduct]... What a sympathy there is between these rough men. It was affecting to see his fellow laborers dressed in their best, going in a body to escort him a part of the way upon his long journey." - Benjamin Latrobe, Jr., October 14, 1834.

Barney Dougherty was one of many laborers to die during the arduous process of building the Baltimore & Ohio, America's first railroad. Building the railroad proved rigorous and dangerous.

Living in improvised camps near the tracks, the laborers worked from sunrise to sunset for a meager $8 to $15 a month in unsanitary conditions. The construction gangs, who were Irish and German immigrants, free blacks, and native-born Americans, sometimes faces corrupt contractors and ethnic rivalries.

For the B&O's engineers, railroad building was an experiment of trial and error. Due to differences in terrain, the B&O altered the existing British design to create a distinctively American railroad.

In the late 1820's, laborers laid parallel rose of granite blocks four and one-half feet apart between Relay and Ellicott Mills. The blocks provided the base upon which iron strap rail was fastened. This "stone railroad" proved too cumbersome and costly to build. Ultimately, wooden stringers and ties, ancestors of the modern railroad track, became the preferred track structure.

Some granite stringers that remain from the 1800's have been used to build bredges and retaining walls along this trail. On the wall before you, look for the impression of iron rails that have worn into the rectangular blocks by years of grining rail traffic.

Text with main center drawing: An illustration showing the stringers at Buzzard's Rock.

Text with middle right drawing: Illustration of railroad workers.
HM NumberHM5MA
Placed ByMaryland Department of Natural Resources, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at 8:47pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 348822 N 4345405
Decimal Degrees39.24480000, -76.75186667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 14.688', W 76° 45.112'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 14' 41.28" N, 76° 45' 6.72" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)410, 443, 202, 301
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 6314-6344 Grist Mill Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park, Catonsville MD 21228, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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