WHILE the period between 1825 and 1830 was peculiarly important in movements which laid the groundwork for preparations for railway construction, it can scarcely be said that any railway intended for miscellaneous traffic was completed and in successful operation in the United States before 1830. That is, therefore, the year from which the growth of the American railway system is generally dated, and about that time, or a few years later, real or imaginary difficulties were sufficiently overcome to render railway projects of one kind or another a subject of serious consideration in nearly all the localities in which the growth of traffic, population, wealth, and intelligence, and the absence of adequate water routes gave to such schemes a rational hope of success.

The canal, stage-coach, turnpike, and steamboat were each and all well advanced in their essential features when the railway first appeared. It came is the rival and adjunct of facilities gradually developed up from low to high points by the slow but steady progress of centuries, and it came to stay, because all these antecedent appliances failed to satisfy the public requirements. Before the railway there was a long series of preparations. Turnpike, canal, and stage-coach companies had familiarized investors with the corporate combinations necessary to ensure railway success. Many advances had been made in mechanical progress, and notably in the improvement of the steam engine, which had been successfully applied to various purposes, and especially to transportation in steamboats and steamers. Carriages, coaches, and wagons had also been greatly improved, and turnpikes promoted the use of superior vehicles.

By 1830 many of the preliminary obstacles had been cleared, away, and a number of the conditions necessary to secure success had gradually been established. In addition to the corporate training furnished by various companies, the state of New York had set an example, in her zealous support of the Erie Canal, which other commonwealths were disposed to follow. The United States government had built the national road, and advanced some money to canal schemes. Thus several possible methods of obtaining the means necessary to construct important lines had been suggested, and there was a fair prospect that promising routes might be supported either by private capital, or city or state subscriptions.

The fact was also clearly recognized that neither steamboats, turnpikes, nor canals would fully provide for all the transportation requirements of the country. There were thriving inland districts which could not be advantageously reached by any description of natural or artificial water courses.


The success which had finally attended steamboat operations, and the large number of districts in which steamboats had been introduced in the United States before active efforts to promote important railway construction were commenced, must have afforded considerable incidental aid, in various ways, to some of the early railway operations. At all events, it helped to train men in the operation of steam engines, to increase the amount of available mechanical knowledge relating to the application of steam to transportation either on water or on land, and to give to some of the ramifications of early American railway affairs the benefit of better training at the outset than would otherwise have been available. Such good fortune certainly awaited the early New Jersey railroads, which called into their service members of the Stevens family, who had been experimenting with or operating successfully steamboats for more than a score of years, and who were enabled, by this experience, to materially increase the practical value of their labors in the new field of effort in which they won new honors.

The progress of American steamboating from 1807 to 1830 is indicated by official statements, which show that the reported number and tonnage of steamers of all classes constructed was as follows:—

From 1807 to 1820, inclusive 128 built, adding up to 25,797.77 tons
From 1821 to 1830, inclusive 385 built, adding up to 65,211.60 tons

Up to and including 1820 there had been built on the western rivers 71 steamers, measuring 14,207.53 tons; 52 steamers, measuring 10,564.43 tons, had been built on the Atlantic coast, exclusive of New England; 4 steamers, measuring 921.84 tons, including one steamer of 298.57 tons, built on lake Champlain, had been built on the lakes; and one of 218.84 tons had been built at Mobile. Up to and including 1830 there had been built on the western rivers 296 steamers, measuring 51,506.65 tons; 183 steamers, measuring 33,667.88 tons, had been built on the Atlantic coast, exclusive of New England, and 11 steamers, measuring 2,208.64 tons, had been built on the northern lakes.

After 1830 progress in the construction of steamboats on the western rivers, principally at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville, continued to be rapid, but the business was subjected to considerable fluctuations, growing out of variations in the demand for new transportation facilities or other causes.

The number of steamers built in New England from 1817 to 1830 inclusive, was 18, of an average tonnage of about 112.

Before 1830 lines of steamboats had commenced running in New England which connected ports of Maine and Boston.

The first steamer was introduced on lake Ontario in 1816; a steamer was launched on lake Erie in 1818, which traded as far westward as Mackinaw, Michigan, but was wrecked before the close of the year; several other lake steamers were built and operated before 1820; and during the third decade eight additional lake steamers were constructed.

Steamboats were introduced on several of the eastern rivers and especially on the Delaware soon after the successful operation of the Clermont on the North river in 1807.

In 1820 the steamers in service along the Atlantic coast were distributed as follows:—

AT NEW YORK.—The Connecticut and Fulton on Long Island sound, between New York and New London and New Haven, changing in 1822 to Providence. The Richmond, Chancellor Livingston, Paragon, and Car of Neptune on the Hudson, from New York to Albany, and the Fire Fly to Newburgh. The Olive Branch, New York to New Brunswick. The Swift, from New York to Elizabeth. The Franklin, from New York to Shrewsbury. The Atlanta, from New York to Elizabethtown Point. The Bellona, from New Brunswick to Staten Island, and the Nautilus, from New York to Staten Island.

AT PHILADELPHIA.—The Pennsylvania and Ætna were running from Philadelphia to Bordentown. The Philadelphia, from Philadelphia to Trenton. The William Penn and Bristol, from Philadelphia to Bristol. The Superior and Vesta, from Philadelphia to Wilmington, and the Baltimore and Delaware, from Philadelphia to New Castle.

AT BALTIMORE.—The United States and Philadelphia were running from Baltimore to French Town. The Virginia and Norfolk to Norfolk; the New Jersey to Elkton; the Maryland to Easton; and the Eagle and Surprise were on no regular routes.

AT WASHINGTON.—The steamer Washington ran to Fredericksburg, and the new steamer Potomac, built at Norfolk, was put upon the route between these two ports.

AT NORFOLK.—The steamers Roanoke and Richmond ran between that port and Richmond. The Powhatan, Petersburg, and Sea Horse were also on routes from that port.

AT SAVANNAH.—The steamer Enterprise, 152.10 tons' burden, was running to Charleston and river ports in that vicinity.

On the Atlantic coast the notable event had also occurred, in 1819, of fitting out the steamer Savannah, which had crossed the ocean, partly by the help of her sails, sailing from Savannah to Liverpool in twenty-five days, during eighteen of which her engine was worked. She was the first steamer to cross the Atlantic. A steamer was built, and operated for three years, to ply between New York, Charleston, Havana, and New Orleans, which made her first trip in 1820, and which was successful in regard to safety and speed, but unprofitable financially.

The number and tonnage of new steamboats or steamers constructed on the Atlantic coast, in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore districts, from 1821 to 1830 inclusive, was as follows:—

On western rivers steamboat construction previous to 1830 had been more rapid than in any other section. The progress was specially rapid from 1817 to 1830. It is stated that from 1817 to 1827 there were built at Cincinnati 52 steamers, measuring 9,306.61 tons. From about 1814 to about 1824 there were built at Pittsburgh 30 steamers, measuring 5,698.78 tons. From 1815 to 1825 there were built at Louisville 35 steamers, measuring 6,032.26 tons. From 1825 to 1830 the official records of construction of steamers on the western rivers in the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville districts show the following aggregates:—

These western river steamers were then running principally on the Ohio and Mississippi, but they were also traversing to some extent various tributaries of the Mississippi. It is stated that the Virginia, a stern-wheel boat, arrived at Fort Snelling, near the Falls of St. Anthony, in 1813. In 1817 a steamboat touched at St. Louis, and proceeded up the Missouri to explore that river. In the natural order of advancement, after steamboating was fully established on the Ohio and Mississippi, steamboats were rapidly introduced on all the navigable tributaries of those rivers, and, generally speaking, on them, as on all other navigable waters of the United States, the steamboat was introduced and operated extensively before railways were constructed in contiguous inland districts, the steamboat being very frequently the pioneer or predecessor of the locomotive.

But much as steamboats had done up to 1830, and a few years later, they were not meeting all requirements. The time had evidently come when it was not merely desirable to increase the number of steamboats on the Atlantic coast, the lakes, and western rivers; to utilize the canals then in existence, and to increase their number; but also to construct railways.


In H. S. Tanner's American Traveler or Guide Through the United States, published in Philadelphia in 1836, the favorite routes of travel of that era are described at length, and the following list of railways then completed, or in course of construction, is given under the heads of the different states, viz.:

ALABAMA.—A railroad is now in progress from Decatur, in Morgan county, to a point 10 miles below Tuscumbia, on the Tennessee. Length, 62 miles.

DELAWARE.—The New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad extends from New Castle to Frenchtown. Length, 16 and 19/100 miles. A railroad to extend from Wilmington to Downingtown, in Pennsylvania, is proposed.

GEORGIA.—Alatamaha and Brunswick Railroad, 12 miles in length.

KENTUCKY.—Lexington and Ohio Railroad, commences at Lexington, passes through Frankfort, and thence to shipping point, near Louisville. Length, 85 miles.

LOUISIANA.—The New Orleans and Pontchartrain Railroad, 5 miles long.

MARYLAND.—Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, extends from Baltimore to Point of Rocks, on the Potomac, 67-five-eighths miles from Baltimore. This road is to be continued to the Ohio river. A road of a single track extends from the main line to Frederick, 3½ miles. Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, commenced in 1830, is to extend to York, Pennsylvania. Length, when completed, 76 miles. Another railroad is projected, to extend from Baltimore to the Susquehanna at Port Deposit, and thence to unite with the Oxford Railroad, of Pennsylvania, which intersects the Columbia Railroad about 40 miles from Philadelphia. Baltimore and Washington Railroad. Length, 37¾ miles. This work is now completed.

MASSACHUSETTS.—Worcester Railroad, 43 miles in length. It is proposed to continue this road to the Connecticut, and to construct a branch to Milberry. Boston and Providence Railroad. Length, 43 miles. Boston and Lowell Railroad, length 25 miles, now in progress. Quincy Railroad, used for transporting granite from the quarry in Quincy to Neponset river. Length, 3 miles; branches, 1 mile.

MISSISSIPPI.—St. Francisville and Woodville Railroad, 26 miles in length. Vicksburg and Clinton Railroad, length 37 miles (proposed).

NEW JERSEY.—Camden and Amboy Railroad, commences at Camden, opposite Philadelphia, and terminates at South Amboy. Length, 61 miles. Paterson and Hudson River Railroad, from Jersey City, opposite New York, to Paterson, on the Passaic. Length, 16 30/100 miles. It is proposed to extend this road to the Morris Canal. New Jersey Railroad, commences on the last-mentioned railroad, about 2 miles from Jersey City, and terminates at New Brunswick. Length, 28 miles.

NEW YORK.—Mohawk and Hudson River Railroad, from Albany to Schenectady, 16 miles. Schenectady and Saratoga Railroad, from Schenectady to Saratoga Springs, 20 miles. Catskill and Canajoharie Railroad, from Catskill to Canajoharie (now in progress), 70 miles. Ithaca and Owego Railroad, 29 miles. Harlem Railroad, on Manhattan Island. Rochester Railroad (now in progress), from Rochester to a point below the Falls of Genesee, Schenectady and Utica Railroad (now in progress). Length, 80 miles. Bath Railroad, from Bath to Crooked Lake, 5 miles. Rochester and Batavia Railroad (now in progress), 28 miles. Troy and Ballston Railroad (now in progress), 22 miles. Several other roads are proposed in different parts of the state.

NORTH CAROLINA.—Railroads are projected to extend from Fayetteville to Cape Fear river; from Wilmington, through Fayetteville and Salisbury, to Beattysford, on the Catawba, a distance of 250 miles; and several others.

PENNSYLVANIA.—State Railroads.—Columbia Railroad, extends from Philadelphia to Columbia, on the Susquehanna. Length, 81 60/100 miles. Allegheny Portage Railroad, from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown, forms the connecting link between the Central and Western divisions of the Pennsylvania Canal. Length, 36 69/100 miles. Railroads constructed by joint stock companies:—
Mauch Chunk Railroad, from Mauch Chunk to the coal mines, 9 miles. Room Run Railroad, from Mauch Chunk to the coal mine on Room Run,5 26/100 miles. Mount Carbon Railroad, from Mount Carbon to Norwegian valley, 7 24/100 miles. Schuylkill Valley Railroad, from Port Carbon to Tuscarora, 10 miles; branches of the preceding, 15 miles. Schuylkill Railroad, 13 miles. Mill Creek Railroad, from Port Carbon to the mines near Mill Creek, Length, including branches, 7 miles. Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven Railroad, from Schuylkill Haven to the coal mines at Mine Hill. Length, including two branches, 20 miles. Pine Grove Railroad, 4 miles in length. Little Schuylkill Railroad, from Port Clinton to Tamaqua, 23 miles. Lackawaxen Railroad, from Honesdale to Carbondale, 16½ miles. West Chester Railroad, front the Columbia Railroad to West Chester, 9 miles. Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad, (about 7 miles of this road are completed; a new route to Norristown, leaving Germantown to the north-east has been adopted.) Lykens Valley Railroad, front Broad Mountain to Millersburg. Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, 26¼ miles in length. Central Railroad, from the vicinity of Pottsville to Sunbury, 44 54/100 miles; Danville branch, 7 miles long; whole length 51 54/100 miles. Oxford Railroad, now in progress, extends from the Columbia Railroad to the Maryland state line. Reading Railroad, to extend from Norristown to Port Clinton.

RHODE ISLAND.—Stonington railroad, now in progress, extends from Stonington, in Connecticut, to Providence, 46 miles in length. A company has been incorporated to construct a railroad from Providence to Norwich, in Connecticut.

SOUTH CAROLINA.—South Carolina Railroad, commences at Charleston, and terminates in the town of Hamburg, opposite Augusta; entire length, 135 75/100 miles. It is proposed to construct a branch to Orangeburg, and thence to Columbia, &c., and another to Barnwell Court House.

TENNESSEE.—A railroad from the town of Randolph, on the Mississippi, to Jackson, in Madison county, 65 miles, and one from Nashville to New Orleans, are proposed, and measures for insuring their early completion have been adopted.

VIRGINIA.—Manchester Railroad, extends from Manchester to the coal mines. Length, 13 miles. Winchester Railroad, extends front Harper's Ferry to Winchester. Length, 30 miles. Petersburg and Roanoke Railroad, extends from Petersburg, in Virginia, to Blakely, at the foot of the Roanoke Canal, in North Carolina. Length, 59 38/100 miles. A branch of this road leaves the main line about 10 miles from Blakely, which extends to the head of the rapids of Roanoke. Length, about 12 miles. Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad, commences at Portsmouth, opposite Norfolk, passes in it direct course, intersects the Petersburg road 6 miles from Blakely, and terminates in the Roanoke a short distance below the Petersburg branch. Length, 80 miles. Richmond and Petersburg Railroad (now in progress) Length, 21 50/100 miles. Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad (now in progress). Length, 64 miles. Belleplain Railroad, extends from Fredericksburg to Belleplain, situated on a branch of the Potomac (in progress). Length, 11 miles. Several other railroads are proposed.

The reported number of miles of railway constructed in the United States in the third decade was 2,264.67. Of this mileage, the amount completed in each of the years named was as follows: 1830, 39.80; 1831, 98.70; 1832, 191.30; 1833, 115.91; 1834, 213.92; 1835, 137.82; 1836, 280.08; 1837, 348.38; 1838, 452.88; 1839, 385.88; total, 2,264.67.

Of these railways, the mileage located in New England was 356.68; in Middle states, Delaware, Maryland, and a few Western and Northwestern states, 1,399.89; Southern states, 487.35; South-western states, 20.75. The following table shows the number of miles completed by each company in the years named:—

A few of the early companies are not included in this list. Some of the unimportant primitive lines have been abandoned; for the name of the original constructing company there has been substituted, in some instances, the name of the present operating company; and there are probably a few omissions or slight inaccuracies in dates, but with these exceptions the table is presumably substantially correct, as it is compiled from the data furnished to the United States Census Bureau in 1880 by the companies then operating the existing lines. Some of the early coal railroads of Pennsylvania are not included in the list.

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