THE number of miles of railroad built in the United States from 1840 to 1850 was 5,045.77, the new mileage of each year being as follows: 1840, 490.51; 1841, 605.88; 1842, 504.68; 1843, 287.81; 1844, 179.96; 1845, 276.91; 1846, 332.77; 1847, 262.51; 1848, 1,056.46; 1849, 1,048.28.

The total number of miles built in each of the geographical groups was as follows:—

I. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, 1,899.10.

II. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and District of Columbia, 1,805.57.

III. Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, 1,218.37.

IV. Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota, 97.

V. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Indian Territory, 25.73.

The names of the lines by or to which these additions of mileage were made, and the years in which they were completed, are shown in the following table:—(Large File)


The historic events which happened during the fifth decade include the annexation of Texas, the Mexican war, the acquisition of California, and the definite settlement of the northwestern boundary line, which separates British Columbia from Washington Territory. The large extension of the "area of freedom" on the Pacific coast, and the great rush of emigration to that region after the discovery of gold placers and mines, by water and overland routes, expanded national ideas in regard to probable transportation wants to such an extent that before the close of the decade the agitation of projects for constructing a railway to the Pacific coast was commenced, and Congress had made an appropriation of $50,000 to defray the expenses of surveys of routes, from the valley of the Mississippi to the Pacific ocean, of roads and railways. Progressive men no longer asked whether the Alleghenies could be crossed by the locomotive, for that problem was being rapidly solved, but whether practical rail routes could ever be found which would lead through the Rocky mountains and other towering ranges which separated the Pacific from the central portions of the country.


The most remarkable and permanently useful development of the fifth decade, and early years of the sixth decade, resulted from the persistency with which projects for securing railway connections between leading Atlantic seaboard cities and water systems west of the Appalachian chain were being pushed forward. This was the great work of the era. It was first accomplished at the extreme points, in or about 1850, Boston, on the north, securing continuous rail connection with the lakes through the Massachusetts lines, subsequently known as the Boston and Albany, and the links of short railways running parallel with the Erie Canal, which were formally united in 1853 under the title of the New York Central; and Georgia, on the south, through the Western and Atlantic, built by that state, and extending from Atlanta to Chattanooga, securing a rail connection between that city, which was reached by the head waters of the Tennessee, one of the most important of the tributaries of the Mississippi, and roads leading from Atlanta to Georgia seaports. While these achievements were progressing the New York and Erie was rapidly wending its way westward to furnish a rail connection between the city of New York and lake Erie, at Dunkirk; the Pennsylvania Railroad was crossing the Alleghenies, with Pittsburgh, the head waters of the Ohio, as its objective point, and the Baltimore and Ohio was advancing toward Wheeling, a point on the Ohio river, located a short distance below Pittsburgh. The main lines of these three railways were each completed at an early period of the sixth decade, the New York and Erie being opened to Dunkirk on April 22d, 1851; the Western division of the Pennsylvania, which extended from the western end of the Portage Railroad, being opened on September 10th, 1852, and the Baltimore and Ohio being opened to Wheeling on January 1st, 1853. In addition to these movements, the Hudson River Railroad was opened between New York city and East Albany on October 3d, 1851, thus furnishing a rail connection between New York city and the New York Central.

Thus four great east and west railway trunk lines, connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, were completed at an early period of the sixth decade. On the south, Georgia had secured a similar connection, and South Carolina, although baffled in her first plan for reaching Cincinnati and Louisville, was endeavoring to accomplish the same end by other methods for the benefit of Charleston. At intervening points strenuous efforts were made to pierce the Appalachian chain by routes intended to promote the commercial interests of Norfolk and other cities of Virginia. Mobile was also preparing to extend a railway northward towards the mouth of the Ohio, through the Mobile and Ohio. In the extreme north, Boston was not only promoting the construction of rival routes through Vermont, but the Atlantic and St. Lawrence, leading westward from Portland, through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, was opened from Portland to Island Point, Vermont, on January 20th, 1853, and in August of that year it was leased for 999 years to the Grand Trunk, of Canada, and thus made the eastern link of a fifth trunk-railway connection between Western and Northern Atlantic states.


In addition to the construction of a considerable number of useful local lines, the construction of many of the links subsequently used in some of the numerous routes that connect the seaboard with the Mississippi valley, and the commencement or extension of lines intended to improve the railway approaches to the anthracite coal regions, two other movements of general significance were progressing, one of which was the improvement of the rail connections on the great north and south through-route adjacent to the Atlantic coast, and the other the commencement of the construction of railways in various portions of the Mississippi valley, which were intended to assist its inhabitants in their strenuous efforts to reach desirable markets for their surplus products, either by extensions to lakes, rivers, or canals, or to some of the railway lines then rapidly advancing westward.

The direction and some of the characteristics of railway progress have at nearly all times, and especially during the fifth decade, been affected by the complex political system of the United States, with its division of authority between the central or Federal government and the various commonwealths. As all the early charters were granted by some one or more of the state legislatures, it was natural that the effect of any particular line proposed on the prosperity of the state it was intended to traverse should be seriously considered in connection with the question whether the charter applied for should be granted or refused. The transportation systems of all the original colonies had been based on the idea of promoting, as far as possible, trade from their interior counties to their seaboard cities, and discouraging movements from the interior to adjacent states, except so far as they were imperatively demanded by local interests. This style of procedure was adhered to while the basis of the existing railway system was being established with a tenacity which has left a deep impress on its fundamental features, and it was only through many struggles and gradual changes that serious innovations finally occurred. It necessarily happened that a leading object of the through railways authorized in each Atlantic seaboard state was to increase the commerce of its seaboard city, and even short incursions of lines intended to promote the prosperity of rival cities, such as the crossing of north-western Pennsylvania by the Lake Shore, of northeastern Pennsylvania by the Erie, or of south-western Pennsylvania by the Baltimore and Ohio, usually encountered bitter opposition. The process of breaking down state barriers made comparatively little headway during the fifth decade, and most of the commonwealths acted on the charters proposed very much as if they were entirely independent of each other in the fullest sense, and as if questions relating to the grant of the right of way to railways intended to facilitate intercourse with the leading cities of other states should be decided in the spirit that would presumably animate the legislative bodies of distinct kingdoms.


more miles were constructed during the fifth decade than in any other section. This is the only decade in which such a geographical distribution of new mileage has occurred. In the previous decade the New England states built only a little more than one-fourth as many miles as the states in group II, and in the decade extending from 1850 to 1859, inclusive, they constructed less than one-sixth as many miles as the states in group II, only a little more than one-fourth as many miles as the states in group III, and only a little more than one-third as many miles as the states in group IV. A considerable number of the citizens of New England, however, have been exceptionally active in promoting the construction of railways in other states and territories ever since their own early lines were completed.

Among the reasons for the exceptional activity in New England during the fourth decade, the most prominent are probably to be found in her superior financial condition and the good fortune which had attended the important railway enterprises commenced within her boundaries during the third decade. The panic of 1837 and the collapse of state credit about 1842, put back railway progress at least ten years in many sections of the country. The western, southwestern, and some of the Southern and Middle states (especially Pennsylvania) suffered very severely in credit and capacity to prosecute great undertakings. New England, on the contrary, recuperated very rapidly. Her own citizens had furnished the principal part of the capital used in her early railways. They owned these lines, and on account of this ownership had exercised over them a jealous supervision, and ensured profitable results whenever they were possible. Aid granted by states had represented comparatively small sums; no state bonds had been dishonored by a failure to provide promptly for interest obligations; and the fact that no internal improvements of considerable magnitude had been undertaken by these states left the field clear for the corporate efforts of comparatively small companies, a large proportion of which have since enjoyed a career of almost uninterrupted prosperity. New England then, as at the present day, contained a remarkably large number of independent companies, each operating a relatively small amount of mileage. Of seventy New England companies reported in 1850 only three had lines more than one hundred miles in length. They were the Rutland and Burlington, 119.54 miles, and Vermont Central (with branch), 120 miles, of Vermont; and the Western, of Massachusetts, 117.81 miles. The average length of each of the New England roads, in 1850, was less than 36 miles, and the average cost, per mile, was about $38,800.

The exceptionally long lines represented, in the case of the Western, the efforts subsequently combined under the corporate name of the Boston and Albany to extend a railway from the first to the second of those cities, for the purpose of making a combination with the chain of railways from Albany to the lakes, now part of the New York Central system. The operations of the Western were exceptionally successful. The road paid good dividends, and at the same time rendered great service to Boston and Massachusetts by diminishing the cost of transportation on staple-food products forwarded from the west, and in developing local industries. The entire line formed by the junction of the two systems mentioned above in Massachusetts and New York was one of the first, if not the first, to form a direct through-rail connection between the lakes or water systems west of the Appalachian chain and an Atlantic seaboard city, and it was expected that this achievement would render immense service to Boston, in the way of advancing her relative rank as an American commercial emporium. New York, however, did much to thwart this tendency, by greatly restricting the utility of the railways which paralleled the Erie Canal as freight carriers, inasmuch as all freight carried over their lines was obliged to pay the tolls charged on the canals until an act repealing this tax was passed in December, 1851; by reducing the tolls on the Erie Canal; and by hastening the completion of the Erie Railroad in southern New York, which was built with the expectation that it would become a successful rival of the more northern trunk line, and thus render greater service to the city of New York, in a commercial sense, than Boston could possibly derive from the Western and its advantageous connections.

Fully conscious of this danger, Boston enterprise and Boston capital looked in another direction for the accomplishment of the objects that were not likely to be fully served by the Western Railroad, and, therefore, aided the construction of the lengthy lines in Vermont for the purpose of making a connection through them with the water systems leading from the west. Several Massachusetts lines were used as links in this system, one of the most important being the Boston and Lowell. Before the end of the fourth decade Boston had three railways radiating in three directions, which were the pioneers of the Massachusetts system. At the end of the fifth decade she had seven lines, extending to or towards the adjacent states. Other New England railways which had more than useful local significance, aimed at establishing connections between Boston and Maine on the north or north-east, and between Boston and New York on the south-west, and the Atlantic and St. Lawrence, of Maine, which by extensions through adjacent states became an eastern link of the Grand Trunk (of Canada) leading to Portland.


presented a singular contrast with those of New England, in the matter of diversity of ownership. Of the entire mileage of 1,403.10, which had cost $65,456,123, or an average of about $46,650 per mile, more than half the mileage and nearly two-thirds the cost were represented by two lines. What is now the New York Central (with branches) was 447 miles in length and had cost $20,023,863. The New York and Erie, then not completed (with branch), was 337 miles in length and had cost $20,066,208. The New York Central of that day did not include the Hudson River or the New York and Harlem (with branches); which were subsequently united with the New York Central system. The Hudson River in 1850 had a mileage of 74.71, which had cost $6,666,681; and the New York and Harlem had a mileage of 80.17, which had cost $4,666,372. These lines were subsequently embraced within the New York Central, and if the cost be added to the New York Central figures given above, and the cost of the New York and Erie, the aggregate will be $51,423,124, leaving a total of only $14,032,999 for all the other railways in operation in the state of New York in 1850. Several of these lines, however, were built for the purpose of diverting through western trade from various other points on the lakes than Buffalo, and New York was in a fair way (as subsequent developments have shown) to be as successful in maintaining through western trade connections during a railway era, as she had been during an era of canals.

One of the most notable features of the railway development of the fifth decade is the extraordinary extent to which construction progressed, during that period, on the various lines subsequently designated as the Vanderbilt system, not only in New York, but in other states.


at the end of 1850, the 205.93 miles in operation, which had cost $9,348,495, or an average of about $45,370 per mile, consisted, in addition to the Camden and Amboy (with branches) of 92.37 miles, and the New Jersey, with a mileage of 33.80, which had been operated very successfully, in a financial sense, of 9.50 miles of the Central of New Jersey, then a very promising project; links or connections of the New York and Erie in the northern part of the state, and the Morris and Essex, with a mileage of 34.02. The Central of New Jersey and Morris and Essex were presumably located with the view of finally making such connections as were subsequently formed with lines leading to the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania.


at the end of 1850, had made less relative progress in railway development during the preceding ten years than any other state, if due allowance is made for the fact that her mileage had exceeded that of any other commonwealth in 1839. In only two directions was there any movement of considerable significance whatever. They were the Philadelphia and Reading, which had completed its main line to the Schuylkill anthracite coal regions, and had a reported mileage of 95, and the Pennsylvania Railroad, then being rapidly pushed forward as a continuous railway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Aside from these two roads, of which the former was well advanced during the fourth decade, and the latter the only important line originated during the fifth decade, railway progress was almost suspended in the entire state, and there were few visible indications of the tremendous forward leaps that were to be made in the next decade. It would be difficult to explain fully why Pennsylvania had apparently become a Rip Van Winkle, but some of the reasons were probably furnished by the collapse of state credit, the failure of the United States Bank, chartered by the state, the disastrous financial result of the operation of a number of the state works of internal improvement, and the lack of good fortune, which had cast a blight upon some of the enterprises undertaken by private companies. The Philadelphia and Trenton, 28.20 miles in length, which had been adopted as part of the system of the United Companies of New Jersey, furnished then the most hopeful indication, and almost the only one in the entire commonwealth, that railways could be made profitable enterprises from the commencement of their existence, and this line has, perhaps, up to the present time, continuously yielded a better return on the original investment than any other line in the United States.

All the railways in Pennsylvania, at the end of 1850, according to the census returns of 1860, had an aggregate length of 822.34 miles, and had cost $41,683,054, an average of a little more than $50,700 per mile. Aside from the short coal roads leading from the anthracite regions to adjacent water channels, and the roads already named, there were scarcely any railways in Pennsylvania except those which had been constructed previous to 1840, and a very few short lines. These exceptions include the state railways, the Cumberland Valley, the Franklin, extending from Chambersburg to Hagerstown, Maryland, the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore (of which only 19 miles were located within the state), the Tioga (with branch), extending northward to southern New York, the Wrightsville, York and Gettysburg, and portions of the New York and Erie which crossed the boundary line into northern Pennsylvania at places where it was impossible to secure a desirable adjacent route in southern New York.


The hopes and reliance of the state, for extensive thoroughfares within her own boundaries, with a probability of securing desirable connections in western states, so far as they were then typified by actual developments, were fixed solely upon the Pennsylvania Railroad. The views prevailing a short time later in regard to this enterprise, are shown by the following extract from Andrews' Report on Colonial and Lake Trade, dated August 19th, 1852, and published as a United States government document: "The object of the Pennsylvania Railroad is to provide a better avenue for the trade between Philadelphia and the interior—one more in harmony with the works in progress and operation in other states than the main line constructed by the commonwealth. The latter is not only poorly adapted to its object, but is closed a considerable portion of the year by frost. The mercantile classes of Philadelphia have long felt the necessity of a work better adapted to their wants, and fitted to become a great route of travel as well as commerce, from the intimate relation that one bears to the other. It is by this interest that the above work was proposed, and by which the means have been furnished for its construction.

The conviction of which we have spoken has been instrumental in procuring the money for this project as fast as it could be economically expended. The work has been pushed forward with extraordinary energy from its commencement. Already a great portion of the line has been brought into operation, and the whole will soon be completed.

The Pennsylvania Railroad commences at Harrisburg, and extends to Pittsburgh, a distance of 250 miles. The general route of the road is favorable, with the exception of the mountain division. The summit is crossed at about 2,200 feet above tide-water, involving gradients of 95 feet to the mile, which are less than those resorted to on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and not much exceeding those profitably worked on the Western Railroad, of Massachusetts. The route is graded, and the structures are prepared for a double track, which will be laid as soon as possible after the first shall be opened. The cost of the road, for a single track, is estimated at $12,500,000, of which $9,750,000 have been already provided by stock subscriptions. The balance is to be raised by an issue of bonds. The road is to be a first-class work in every respect, and is constructed in a manner fitting the great avenue between Philadelphia and the Western states.

As a through route, both for trade and travel, there is hardly a work of the kind in the United States possessing greater advantages or a stronger position. Its western terminus, Pittsburgh, is already a city of nearly one hundred thousand inhabitants, and its population is rapidly increasing. That city is the seat of a large manufacturing interest, and the centre of a considerable trade, and a road connecting it with the commercial metropolis of the state cannot fail to command an immense and lucrative traffic.

The western connections which this road will make at Pittsburgh are of a most favorable character. It already has an outlet to lake Erie through the Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the Cleveland and Wellsville roads. The former of these is regarded as the appropriate extension of the Pennsylvania line to the central and western portions of Ohio. Through the Pittsburgh and Steubenville road (a work now in progress), a connection will be opened with the Steubenville and Indiana Railroad, which is in progress from Steubenville to Columbus.

These lines, in connection with the Pennsylvania road, will constitute one of the shortest practicable routes between Philadelphia and central Ohio.

The Pennsylvania road must also become a route for a considerable portion of the travel between the Western states and the more northern Atlantic cities. From New York it will constitute a Shorter line to central Ohio than any offered by her own works. It will, for such travel, take Philadelphia in its course—a matter of much importance to the business community.

The route occupied by the road is one of the best in the country for local traffic, possessing a fertile soil and vast mineral wealth in its coal and iron deposits. From each of these sources a large business may be anticipated. The whole road cannot fail, in time, to become the seat of a great manufacturing interest, for which the coal and iron upon the route will furnish abundant materials."


In 1850 the railways of Delaware consisted of the New Castle and Frenchtown, 16.19 miles in length, and 23 miles of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore. Their aggregate length was 39.19 miles, and the cost of construction was $2,281,690, an average of about $58,500 per mile.

The length of the railways in Maryland in 1850 was 253.40 miles; the cost of construction was $11,580,808, an average of about $45,770 per mile. The lines consisted chiefly of 56 miles of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore; 47.50 miles of what is now the Northern Central; 81 miles of the main line and branches of the Baltimore and Ohio, and 80 miles of its Washington branch. The only other roads in the state were short lines leading from the Cumberland coal regions, and the Annapolis and Elkridge, which had a mileage of 21.50. The Northern Central, however, had extensions in Pennsylvania, 22 miles in length, and the Baltimore and Ohio extensions in Virginia (or what is now West Virginia), 97 miles in length.


The aggregate length of the lines of the Baltimore and Ohio in 1850, including the Washington branch, and the extensions in Virginia, was 208 miles, which had cost $15,243,426. Construction on its western extension toward Wheeling, on the Ohio river, was then being rapidly advanced, however, and Andrews' Report, dated August 19th, 1852, said:—
"The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad extends from Baltimore to Wheeling, on the Ohio river, a distance of 379 miles. Its estimated cost is $17,893,166. It crosses the Allegheny mountains at an elevation of 2,620 feet above tide-water, and 2,028 feet above low-water in the Ohio river, at Wheeling. In ascending the mountains from the east, grades of 116 feet to the mile are encountered on one plane, and for about nine miles in an opposite direction. Grades of over 100 feet to the mile, for over ten miles, are met with on other portions of the line. These grades, which only a few years since were regarded as entirely beyond the ability of the locomotive engine to ascend, are now worked at nearly the ordinary speed of trains, and are found to offer no serious obstacle to a profitable traffic. Occurring near each other, they are arranged in the most convenient manner for their economical working, by assistant power. With the above exception, the grades on this road will not compare unfavorably with those on similar works. The road is now open to a point about 300 miles from Baltimore and will be completed on or before the 1st of January next. Whatever doubt may have existed among the engineering profession, or the public, as to the ability of the road, with such physical difficulties in the way, to carry on a profitable traffic, they have been removed by its successful operation. That grades of 116 feet to the mile, for many miles, had to be resorted to, is full proof of the obstacles to be encountered. Its success in the face of all these, of a faulty mode of construction in the outset, and of great financial embarrassment, reflects the very highest credit upon the company, and upon the people of Baltimore."


In these states comparatively little progress was made during the fifth decade. A diversity of opinion had sprung up in Virginia in regard to the best plans to be pursued in advancing westward, which retarded progress in either of the directions proposed. Virginia, like Pennsylvania, did a comparatively small amount of railway work during the fifth decade, and a remarkably large amount of it during the sixth decade. The two railways of South Carolina, in 1850, were the Greenville and Columbia, with branches, 47.00 miles in length, and the South Carolina, with branches, 242.00 miles in length. The Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston project having failed to accomplish the objects at which it aimed, by making the South Carolina Railroad the base of its operations, that road resumed its original name.


The early railroads of Georgia had been quite prosperous and successful. Much new construction was proposed and completed during the fifth decade, but at the end of 1850 the principal new achievement was the completion of the Western and Atlantic, 138 miles in length, to Chattanooga. The other railways of Georgia were the Central, 190.72 miles; Georgia, with branches, 213, and Macon and Western, 102.


The railways of the gulf states, at the end of 1850, consisted of 21 miles, the Tallahassee, in Florida; 132.50 miles in Alabama, consisting of Montgomery and West Point, with branch, 88.50 miles, and Tuscumbia and Decatur, 44 miles; 75 miles in Mississippi, consisting of Grand Gulf and Port Gibson, 8 miles, Raymond, 7 miles, and Western Mississippi, 75 miles; and 79.50 miles in Louisiana, consisting of Clinton and Port Hudson, 14 miles; Mexican Gulf, 27.00; Milnburg and Lake Pontchartrain, 4.50; New Orleans and Carrollton, with branches, 8.00, and West Feliciana, 26,


The interior Western states had commenced construction under conditions that were destined to revolutionize all preconceived ideas in regard to the financial methods that should be pursued, and the amount of new construction that could be built within a given area during a comparatively limited period. Most of these lines were intended to improve western methods for reaching markets, with comparatively little reference to the contemporaneous efforts of Atlantic seaboard cities to reach western centres of production. This double movement to and from many objective points is one of numerous causes of the extraordinary events that have characterized the rivalries of the northern trunk lines and their western connections.

As railway development was reported at the end of 1850, the lines in operation in the various states was as follows:—— Kentucky.—Lexington and Frankford, 29.18 miles; Louisville and Frankford, 49.03 miles; total, 78.21 miles. Ohio.—Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, 135.41 miles; Columbus and Xenia, 54.56; Little Miami, 83.40; Sandusky, Dayton and Cincinnati, with branch, 173.90; Sandusky, Mansfield and Newark, with branch, 116.00; 12 miles of the Michigan Southern; total, 575.27. Indiana.—Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, 28.00; Jeffersonville, 16.00; Knightstown and Shelbyville, 27.00; Louisville, New Albany and Chicago, 35.00; Madison and Indianapolis, with branches, 86.00; Rushville and Shelbyville, 20.00; Shelbyville Lateral, 16.00; total, 228 miles. Illinois.—Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, 13.00; Great Western, with branch, 55.00; total, 110.50 miles. Michigan.—Detroit and Milwaukee, 25; Michigan Central, 226; Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana, with branches, 103; total, 354 miles. Wisconsin.—Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien, with branches, 20.

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