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CHAPTER XVII

FIRST MEETING OF THE BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD COMPANY

 

The first meeting for the purpose of forming a railroad company in the United States, to connect the waters of the East with the waters of the West, was held in the city of Baltimore, on the 12th day of February, 1827. The practicability of the project was left to a committee who soon after reported at the second meeting, on the 19th, and a resolution was passed to obtain a charter from the Legislature. The charter was obtained, and on April 24, 1827, the company was organized, and the first board of directors elected.

The construction of the road was commenced by laying a corner-stone, July 4, 1828, attended by one of the most magnificent processions of the military and civil associations, trades, and professions, ever witnessed on any occasion in the United States. The author was in Baltimore at that time, and participated as one in the vast crowd assembled to take part in the imposing ceremonies of that eventful day. Never in his life (and he has been present on many demonstrations on other occasions) has he witnessed a more magnificent display than divas made on that day.

The venerable Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, then over ninety years of age, the only survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was present on the occasion and laid the corner-stone of this stupendous fabric, with appropriate ceremonies. It is related that, on this occasion, after the imposing ceremonies were over, the venerable patriot made use of the expression to one of his friends present: "I consider this among the most important acts of my life, second only to my signing the Declaration of Independence, if even it be second to that" and to the end of his life he continued a firm friend of the work.

The construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was commenced in 1828, and completed in 1852. On January 12, 1853, in honor of the completion of the road, a magnificent banquet took place in Wheeling, its western terminus. At that time it was the longest railroad in the world. At this banquet Mr. Swann, the president of the company, in his address, made this beautiful allusion to the venerable and patriotic Carroll: "There are those present who witnessed the enthusiasm which attended the laying of the first stone, by the illustrious Charles Carroll, of Carrollton. He then produced the trowel which had been used by Mr. Carroll, and was still preserved by the company, with this memorandum on it: "This trowel was used by Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, to lay the first stone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, July 4, 1828." This interesting relic was received by the assembled company with rapturous applause. Mr. John B. Morris, who delivered the address for the president and directors, took occasion to remark of Mr. Carroll, in connection with the interesting event: " In the full possession of all his mental powers, with his feelings and affections still buoyant and warm, he now declares that the proudest act of his life, and the most important in its consequences to his country, was the signature of the Declaration of Independence; the next, the laying of the corner-stone of the work which is to perpetuate the union of the American States, and to make the East and the West as one household in the facilities of intercourse and the feelings of mutual affection." Benjamin H. Latrobe, Esq., then followed in a few brief remarks, in reply to the beautiful and flattering allusion made to his services by the president of the road. Mr. Latrobe was the chief engineer of the long work just completed, and to his great energy and ability, as well as to his indomitable perseverance in overcoming all obstacles, the success of this stupendous undertaking is largely to be attributed. To the kindness of Mr. Latrobe, also, is the author indebted for much of the valuable information contained in these pages, and also for the pen-and-ink drawing of the Peter Cooper engine, of which we will speak in its proper place, and the sketch and experiments of Mr. Thomas's sailing-car and several other machines that succeeded it.

As soon as the corner-stone of the road was laid, preparations were made to push the work through with as much energy and expedition as could be exercised in the manner of construction for a railroad deemed absolutely necessary at that early day. The amount of expense involved in the prosecution of this work, when compared with the construction of railroads at the present day, only fills our minds with the more wonder and admiration at the boldness displayed by the projectors of such a stupendous undertaking as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. We will briefly describe the mode of construction of this early road, as it will no doubt prove interesting to our readers who are only conversant with the present method of building railroads. The method of construction was reported to the author by a gentleman now living in Baltimore, who was engaged in one of the branches of the enterprise at the time, thus:

"After the ground was brought to a level for the track, two square holes were dug, four feet apart, twenty inches wide, two feet long, and two feet deep. In these holes broken stones were put, sufficient to fill to the surface. They were then securely rammed down. Each particle of stone was tested and passed through an iron ring, to insure its proper dimensions. On this point great care was taken that every stone should be of the uniform size required. After the foundation is made, a trench six inches deep, and filled with stone, broken and tested with the ring as at first, is extended across the track from one of the filled-up holes to another opposite, upon which a sleeper made of cedar, seven feet long, is laid. By this process the foundation of the rail is protected from the effects of dampness or frosts, and firmness and stability are imparted to it. These cedar crosspieces were laid with great accuracy and care; a split-level was used to adjust them properly. In each end of these cedar crosspieces, immediately above the stone foundation, notches were cut and carefully leveled; into these notches were laid wooden rails or string-pieces, and securely kept in their places by wedges. These string-pieces were of yellow pine, from twelve to twenty-four feet long and six inches square, and slightly leveled on the top of the upper side, for the flange of the wheels, which at that time was on the outside. On these string-pieces iron rails were placed and securely nailed down with wrought-iron nails, four inches long. The earth between these cedar sleepers was carefully removed, so as not to come in contact with the bottom of the string-pieces, and thus the decay, which otherwise might take place, was prevented. Fret, with all these difficulties to contend with, our pioneers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad persevered until they brought their work to a successful termination. After several miles of this description of road had been made, long granite slabs were substituted for the cedar crosspieces and the yellow-pine stringers. Beyond Vinegar Hill, these huge blocks of this solid material could be seen deposited along the track, and gangs of workmen engaged in the various operations of dressing, drilling, laying, and affixing the iron.

"When the track was finished to Vinegar Hill, a distance of about seven miles, cars were put upon it for the accommodation of the officers, and to gratify the curious by a ride."


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