B & O Railroad History
Incorporated in 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the first commercial railroad in the United States.
The first thirteen miles of the B&O Railroad ran from Baltimore’s Mount Clare Station through the Patapsco River Valley to Ellicott’s Mills. The routes chosen for railroads often followed the course of rivers, providing a scenic and delightful view for passengers. However, scenery had nothing to do with the choice of routes. River valleys cut through mountains and provided railroads easy grades. The more level the railroad grade, the lower fuel consumption and the faster the trip, which helped the railroad to show a higher profit.
On July 4, 1828, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, dug the first spade of dirt to start construction of the B&O railroad.
In the summer of 1830, the Tom Thumb was on a trail run when it was challenged to a race by a horse-drawn passenger car. The Tom Thumb held the lead until the band which drove the pulley that drove the blower snapped from the drum, causing the steam engine to lose power and the horse won the race. Soon afterwards, however, the Iron Horse was pulling the train to Ellicott’s Mills on a regular schedule.
The B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station
The Ellicott City station is the oldest surviving railroad station in America and the site of the original terminus of the first 13 miles of commercial track ever constructed in America. Completed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in 1830, the station was designed and constructed as a freight depot and a section of the building served as a locomotive maintenance and storage facility. In 1857, the building was modified for passenger service with the installation of waiting rooms and ticket office. A turntable was added in 1863 and a freight house in 1885. In the mid-to late 20th century, the fortunes of the station mirrored those of the B&O Railroad as many Americans turned to the automobile and airplane for trade and travel. Passenger service at the station ceased on December 31, 1949 and freight service continued until 1972. Today the line is active with CSX freight trains.
The station has undergone two major restorations. The first occurred in the 1970s and resulted in the conversion of the site to a museum. The second occurred in 1999 and restored the building to its 1857 appearance. Today the site tells the story of transportation and travel in early America through the seasonal exhibits and living history programs Roads to Rails; Civil War: the Maryland Story; and the Holiday Festival of Trains. Contact the museum for current programs, exhibits, and additional information.
Location: Corner of Main Street and Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City, Howard County
Hours of operation: Wednesday-Sunday 11 am-4 pm
The Thomas Viaduct
The Thomas Viaduct, a multiple-arch stone bridge, curves across the Patapsco River in a graceful four degree arc. It is the oldest major railroad viaduct in North America and the first built on a curved alignment. Started on July 4, 1832, it was dedicated July 4, 1835. Nicknamed “Latrobe’s Folly,” it was expected to dramatically collapse in a cloud of dust as the first train rolled across. Architect Benjamin H. Latrobe planned for the 612 foot, eight-arched bridge to stand through time like the pyramids of Egypt. Today, in testimony to his genius, all the interlocked granite blocks remain in place and the bridge, stands majestically as a National Historic Landmark, a Maryland and National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and a potential World Heritage Railway Site.