B and O Station

America’s First Major Railroad Station

Baltimore_and_Ohio_HeraldOn January 7, 1830, America’s first major railroad station was opened in Baltimore as the eastern terminus of the recently formed Baltimore and Ohio (B & O) Railroad. The B&O connected the Baltimore seaport and points in the mid-Atlantic with the Midwest. “There was something so striking in the inauguration of this gigantic enterprise that the main incidents were deeply impressed upon the popular mind, and the whole story has since crystallized into local legends…”

American County Histories provide vivid portraits of people, places and events, putting a state’s local history into current context with the examination of demographic, social, economic, and cultural transformations. They are among the most comprehensive sources of local and regional history available. Their emphasis on ordinary people and the commonplace event make them important in the study of American history and culture.



…North Carolina to Georgia and to the Gulf and the Mississippi. The trans-Potomac connections of the Baltimore and Ohio traverse Virginia, branching at Lynchburg to the southwest, and also to the south via Danville. The Atlantic sea- board, by means of the Bay Line steamers and the Sea- board and Roanoke Railroad, are brought into the closest commercial relations with Baltimore. When to this magnificent system of continental communications is added the Northern and Eastern system, it may be said of Baltimore that there is hardly a hamlet in the Union that may not feel the impulse of her energy and enterprise.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—No adequate sketch of the growth of Baltimore City could be given that did not embody some account of the great railroad which has probably contributed more to its commercial prosperity than all other agencies combined. Happily, the origin and early history of this splendid public improvement are not involved in obscurity. There are men still living whose recollection goes back to the first organization of the company, and who were identified with the movements by which its corporate franchises were secured and its credit established. All of the original projectors and corporators have passed away, but some of their younger associates still remain. Were there no other sources of information, an accurate history of the road from the day the “first stone” was laid by Charles Carroll of Carrollton (July 4, 1828) down to a very recent period might be compiled from the public laws, the reports of committees of the two ‘houses of the General Assembly, and the decisions of the courts. There was something so striking in the inauguration of this gigantic enterprise that the main incidents were deeply impressed upon the popular mind, and the whole story has since crystallized into local legends which are part of the lore of every Baltimore schoolboy.

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As the first railroad ever projected for general traffic between widely- separated sections of the country, the history of the Baltimore and Ohio during the first ten years of its progress towards the mountains is singularly interesting. The builders were compelled not only to grapple with the unsolved problems of railroad construction, but to devise all the mechanical appliances by which transportation was to be effected. The colossal monument which they have left of their far- reaching commercial sagacity is colored with the romance of invention, and in the experiments conducted by the ingenious mechanics whose names are associated with the early history of the company is to be found the germ of almost everything that is now regarded as useful and effective in the moving of railway trains. It is also a remarkable fact that the familiar phrases by which railroad operations are now described were, used in the reports, addresses, and resolutions in which the founders of the Baltimore and Ohio, first disclosed their contemplated enterprise to the public; while the original act of incorporation, as drawn by the late Hon. John V.L. McMahon, one of Maryland’s most distinguished lawyers and- orators, has served as a model for nearly all the railroad charters that have been granted in the United States.

Railway route between Baltimore & St. Louis

Railway route between Baltimore & St. Louis

During the first quarter of the present century the trade of the West was as much a matter of concern to the enterprising merchants of Baltimore as it is to- day. The State of New York had laid the foundation for the commercial supremacy of her chief city by digging a canal from the lakes to the Hudson River, while Pennsylvania was engaged in an extensive scheme of public improvements which were intended to unite the Susquehanna and the Delaware Rivers with the Ohio River and the lakes. At that time the only means of bringing the West into easy communication with the sea- board that seemed practicable was the linking together of navigable rivers by canals. Notwithstanding the tremendous cost and the extraordinary obstacles to be overcome, Maryland embarked in the colossal undertaking. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was chartered by the Legislature in the year 1825, and a subscription of $500,000 to the capital authorized by the act of incorporation paved the way for further investments and loans until the State had completely prostrated its own credit. The franchises, money, and credit granted to the canal not only exhausted the resources that ought to have been expended upon the railway in order to secure its speedy completion, but placed obstacles in its path which greatly retarded its progress. At one time the opposition of the canal company seemed more formidable than the mountains which loomed up beyond the point where the right of way was disputed…

Source: American County Histories, Mid-Atlantic: Maryland, History of Baltimore City and County, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men. J. Thomas Scharf, A.M. Louis H. Everts, 1881.

Top Image: Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Mount Clare Station, 500 block West Pratt Street, Baltimore, Independent City, MD

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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