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Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was one of the oldest railroads in the United States and the first common carrier railroad. At first this railroad was located entirely in the state of Maryland with an original line from the port of Baltimore, Maryland, west to Sandy Hook. At this point to continue westward, it had to cross into Virginia (now West Virginia) over the Potomac River, adjacent to the fork of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. From there it passed through Virginia from Harpers Ferry to a point just west of the junction of Patterson Creek and the North Branch Potomac River where it crossed back into Maryland to reach Cumberland, Maryland. From there it was extended to the Ohio River at Wheeling and a few years later also to Parkersburg, West Virginia.

It is now part of the CSX network, and includes the oldest operational railroad bridge in the world. The B&O also included the Leiper Railroad, the first permanent railroad in the U.S. In later years, B&O advertising carried the motto: "Linking 13 Great States with the Nation." Part of the B&O Railroad's immortality has come from being one of the four featured railroads on the U.S. version of the board game Monopoly, but it is the only railroad on the board which did not serve Atlantic City, New Jersey, directly.

When CSX Corp. established the B&O Railroad Museum as a separate entity from the corporation, some of the former B&O Mount Clare Shops in Baltimore, including the Mt. Clare roundhouse, were donated to the Museum while the rest of the property was sold. The B&O warehouse at the Camden Yards rail junction in Baltimore now dominates the view over the right-field wall at the Baltimore Orioles' current home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.


Two men — Philip E. Thomas and George Brown — were the pioneers of the railroad. They spent the year 1826 investigating railway enterprises in England, which were at that time being tested in a comprehensive fashion as commercial ventures. Their investigation completed, they held an organizational meeting on February 12, 1827, including about twenty-five citizens, most of whom were Baltimore merchants or bankers. Maryland state laws relating to the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road#1826 Chapter 123, passed February 28, 1827, and the Commonwealth of Virginia on March 8, 1827, chartered the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Company, with the task of building a railroad from the port of Baltimore, Maryland west to a suitable point on the Ohio River. The railroad, formally incorporated April 24, was intended to provide not only an alternative to, but also a faster route for Midwestern goods to reach the East Coast than the seven-year-old, hugely successful, but slow Erie Canal across upstate New York. Thomas was elected as the first president and Brown the treasurer. The capital of the proposed company was fixed at five million dollars.

Early Construction

Construction began on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll of Carrollton did the groundbreaking, and the first section, from Baltimore west to Ellicott's Mills (now known as Ellicott City), opened on May 24, 1830. It was decided to follow the Patapsco River to a point near Parr's Ridge (now known as Mount Airy) where the railroad would cross the fall line and descend into the valley of the Monocacy and Potomac Rivers. Further extensions opened to Frederick (including the short Frederick Branch) December 1, 1831, Point of Rocks April 2, 1832, Sandy Hook December 1, 1834 (the connection to the Winchester and Potomac Railroad at Harpers Ferry opening in 1837), Martinsburg May 1842, Hancock June 1842, Cumberland November 5, 1842, Piedmont July 21, 1851, Fairmont June 22, 1852, and its terminus at Wheeling, West Virginia (then part of Virginia) on January 1, 1853. The narrow strip of available land along the Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Harpers Ferry caused a legal battle between the B&O and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal as both sought to exclude the other from its use. A later compromise allowed the two companies to share the right of way.

The state of Maryland granted the B&O a charter to build a line from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., in 1831, and the Washington Branch was opened in 1835. This line joined to the original mainline at Relay, Maryland, crossing the Patapsco on the Thomas Viaduct, which remains one of the B&O's signature structures. This line was partially funded by the state, and was operated separately until the 1870s, with the state taking a 25% cut of gross passenger receipts. This line was built in stone, much like the original mainline; by this time, however, strap rail was no longer used for new construction. Most of the stone bridges on the Old Main Line did not last long, being washed out by the periodic flooding of the Patapsco River and replaced at first by Bollman Truss Bridges. The Annapolis and Elk Ridge Railroad to Annapolis connected to this line at Annapolis Junction, Maryland, in 1840. As an unwritten condition for the charter, it was understood that the state would not charter any competing line between Baltimore and Washington.

First telegraph line

In 1843, Congress appropriated $30,000 for construction of an experimental telegraph line between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore along the B&O's right-of-way. The B&O approved the project with the agreement that the railroad would have free use of the line upon its completion. An impressive demonstration occurred on May 1, 1844, when news of the Whig Party's nomination of Henry Clay for U.S. President was telegraphed from the party's convention in Baltimore to the Capitol Building in Washington. On May 24, 1844, the line was officially opened as Samuel F. B. Morse sent his famous words "What hath God wrought" from the B&O's Mount Clare station to the Capitol Building along the wire.

Conflicts in the early years

Operation of the railroad was hampered by its partial government ownership. Of the thirty members on its board of directors, twelve were elected by shareholders while the other eighteen were appointed either by Maryland or the Baltimore City Council. These had conflicting interests, the directors appointed by the state and city desired low fares and all construction funded from corporate revenues while the directors elected by shareholders desired greater profits and dividends. These conflicts became more intense in the 1850s after the completion of the C&O Canal, which brought additional competition to the B&O for transport services. In 1858, after being nominated by large shareholder and director Johns Hopkins, John W. Garrett became president of the B&O, a position he would hold until his death in 1884. In the first year of his presidency, corporate operating costs were reduced from 65% of revenues to 46%, and the railroad began distributing profits to its shareholders.

Abolitionists stopped a train during John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (later part of West Virginia). Garrett telegraphed the Secretary of War, and a B&O train carried federal troops led by Robert E. Lee to capture the abolitionists and John Brown.

Civil War Period

At the outset of the Civil War, the B&O possessed 236 locomotives, 128 passenger coaches, 3,451 rail cars and 513 miles of rail road, all in southern states and south of the Mason-Dixon line. Although many Marylanders had Southern sympathies, Garrett and Hopkins supported the Union. The B&O was instrumental in supporting the Federal government during the Civil War, as it was the main rail connection between Washington, D.C., and the northern states. As a result, 143 raids and battles during the war involved the B&O Railroad, many resulting in substantial loss.


The opening move of the Civil War as a massive series of raids conducted by Stonewall Jackson. By the end of 1861, 23 B&O railroad bridges had been burned, 102 miles of telegraph line were cut down, 36.5 miles of track was torn up or destroyed, 42 locomotives were burned, 14 locomotives were captured and 386 rail cars stolen and destroyed. Through these actions operations on B&O Railroad were completely shut down for ten months. It wasn't until the end of March, 1862 that service on the B&O Railroad was restored, and even then train movements were sporadic, and subject to frequent stoppages, derailments, capture and attack. Prominent raids on the B&O railroad during this period were:

B&O Locomotives Captured During the May/June 1861 Raids
Engine Name Eng. No. Type
? No. 17 Norris 4-2-0
? No. 34 Mason 4-4-0
? No. 187 Camelback 0-8-0
Lady Davis (CSA name) No. 188 Tyson 4-4-0 "Dutch Wagon"
? No. 193 Camelback 0-8-0
? No. 198 Hayes Camelback 0-8-0
? No. 199 Camelback 0-8-0
? No. 201 ?


The second half of the Civil War was characterized by near continuous raiding, which severely hampered the Union defense of Washington, D.C.. Incompetent Union forces and leaders often failed to properly secure the region, despite the vital importance of the rail company to the Union cause. This military strategy, or lack of it, allowed Confederate commanders to contribute significantly to the length of the war, by conducting free ranging military operations against the region and railroad.

The B&O and Garrett are particularly remembered for their part in the Battle of Monocacy. Agents of the railroad began reporting Confederate troop movements eleven days prior to the battle, and Garrett had their intelligence passed to authorities in the War Department and to Major General Lew Wallace, who commanded the department that would be responsible for defense of the area. As preparations for the battle progressed, the B&O provided transport for federal troops and munitions, and on two occasions Garrett was contacted directly by President Abraham Lincoln for further information. Though Union forces lost this battle, the delay allowed Ulysses S. Grant to successfully repel the Confederate attack on Washington at the Battle of Fort Stevens two days later. After the battle, Lincoln paid tribute to Garrett as:

The Confederate leaders who led these operations and specifically targeted the railroad included:

Bases of operation involved in raiding the B&O Railroad

Westward by merger

A steel and stone bridge was built across the Ohio River between Bellaire and Wheeling in 1871, connecting the B&O to the Central Ohio Railroad, which the B&O had leased starting in 1866. This provided a direct rail connection to Columbus, Ohio, and the lease marked the beginning of a series of expansions to the west and north.

Other railroads included in the B&O were:

(This list omits certain short lines.)

The Chicago and Alton Railroad was purchased by the B&O in 1931 and renamed the Alton Railroad. It was always operated separately and was eventually bought by the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad after receivership in 1942.

As a result of poor national economic conditions in the mid-1870s following the Panic of 1873, the B&O attempted to reduce its worker's wages. After a second reduction in wages was announced in the same year, workers began the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The strike spread to Cumberland, and when the governor of Maryland on July 20 attempted to put down the strike by sending the state militia from Baltimore, riots broke out resulting in 11 deaths, the burning of parts of Camden station, and damage to several engines and cars. The next day workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, staged a sympathy strike that was also met with an assault by the state militia; Pittsburgh then erupted into widespread rioting. The strike ended after federal troops and state militias restored order.

New lines in Maryland

In 1866 the B&O began constructing the Metropolitan Branch west out of Washington, and was completed in 1873 after years of erratic effort. Before this line was laid, rail traffic west of Washington had to travel first to Relay or Baltimore before joining the main line. The line cut a more or less straight line from Washington to Point of Rocks, Maryland, with many grades and large bridges. Upon the opening of this line, through passenger traffic was rerouted through Washington, and the old main line from Point of Rocks to Relay was reduced to secondary status as far as passenger service was concerned. Rebuilding in the early 1900s and double tracking in 1928 increased capacity; the "branches" became the de facto mainline, though the Old Main Line was retained as relief route.

Meanwhile the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) outmaneuvered the B&O to acquire the B&O's northern connection, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad in the early 1880s, cutting off the B&O's access to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York. The state of Maryland had stayed true to its implicit promise not to grant competing charters for the Baltimore/Washington line, but when a charter was granted in 1860 to build a line from Baltimore to Pope's Creek in southern Maryland, lawyers for the Pennsylvania RR picked up on a clause in the unfulfilled charter allowing branches up to twenty miles long, from any point and in any direction. The projected route, passing through what is now Bowie, Maryland, could have a "branch" constructed that would allow service into Washington. The Pennsylvania picked up the charter through the agency of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad and in 1872 service between Baltimore and Washington began. At the same time the PRR outmaneuvered the B&O and took control of the Long Bridge, B&O's connections to southern lines.

In response, the B&O chartered the Philadelphia Branch in Maryland and the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad in Delaware and Pennsylvania and built a parallel route, finished in 1886. The Baltimore Belt Line, opened in 1895, connected the main line to the Philadelphia Branch without the need for a car ferry across the Patapsco River, but the cost of constructing the Howard Street Tunnel drove the B&O to bankruptcy in 1896. Two other lines were built in attempts to reconnect to the south. The Alexandria Branch was built in 1874, starting from Hyattsville, Maryland, and ending at a ferry operation at Shepherd's Landing. The Ferry operation continued until 1901 when the trackage rights agreement concluded as part of the construction of Washington Union Station saw the south end of the branch realigned to link to the PRR trackage in Anacostia, across the Anacostia River, into the Capitol Hill Tunnel, through Southwest Washington, D.C. to Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia. The Alexandria Branch trackage to Shepherd's Landing was heavily used during World War II when traffic congestion on the Long Bridge caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a bridge along the original plan of the B&O: Alexandria to Shepherd's Landing, Washington. Trains of empty freight cars were routed north and south over the structure, which was demolished after the end of World War II.

Before either connection was made, however, another branch was built around the west side of Washington. During the 1880s the B&O had organised a group of bankrupt railroads in Virginia into the Virginia Midland Railroad. The VM track rack from Alexandria, Virginia, to Danville, Virginia. The line projected west across the Potomac River was intended to cross the Potomac just north of the D.C. line, to continue southwest to a connection with the B&O-controlled Virginia Midland (VM) in Fairfax, Virginia (now Fairfax Station, Virginia, to distinguish it from what was Fairfax Court House, Virginia, and is now the City of Fairfax, Virginia), and if possible to a connection with the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad in Quantico, Virginia. The branch was started in 1892 and reached Chevy Chase, Maryland, the same year. Financial problems in both the VM and B&O forced a halt to construction and led to the B&O's loss of control of the VM. Following bankruptcy, and control by the Pennsylvania Railroad, by the time the line was completed in 1910 there was no longer any point to the river crossing. Thus, the renamed Georgetown Branch came to serve a wide range of customers in Maryland and in Georgetown, such as the Potomac Electric Power Company, the Washington Milling Company, and the U.S. Government. The line cut directly across the various creeks, and as a result required a short tunnel (Dalecarlia Tunnel) and what was said to be the longest wood trestle on the railroad over Rock Creek. The line was almost completely abandoned in 1986 by CSX and is presently used in part as the right-of-way for the Capital Crescent Trail.

After a flood damaged the C&O Canal in 1877, the B&O acquired a majority interest in the canal mainly to keep its property and right of way from potential use by the Western Maryland Railroad. The canal was operated by the B&O until 1924 when it was damaged in another flood. The canal's property was later transferred to the U.S. government in 1938 in consideration for obtaining a loan from the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

The 20th century

Following its emergence from bankruptcy, control of the B&O was acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1901. A rising young PRR Vice President, Leonor F. Loree, was appointed President. Loree shared the Pennsy management's belief in infrastructure and the B&O at that time needed some of that. New classes of engines were built to haul longer, heavier trains faster. The Old Main Line was reworked, sections of the original right-of-way cut off by the straightening of curves and replacement of old, weight-restricted bridges with newer, heavier bridges. Most of Loree's work on the B&O physical plant remains evident today. Many iron and steel bridges on the railroad were replaced with stone (Pennsy preferred stone to the preference of the Reading and Lackawanna Railroad for concrete).

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway took financial control of the B&O in 1963. The B&O already had a controlling interest in the Western Maryland Railway. In 1973 the three railroads were brought together under one corporate identity, the Chessie System, although they continued to operate as separate railroads. The Western Maryland was merged into the B&O in 1976. In 1980, the Chessie System and Seaboard Coast Line Industries, a holding company that owned the Seaboard Coast Line, the Louisville & Nashville, the Clinchfield, and the Georgia Railroad, agreed to form CSX Corporation. SCL Industries was renamed the Seaboard System Railroad in 1983. SBD was renamed CSX in 1986. In April, 1987, the B&O finally went out of corporate existence when it formally merged with the C&O, which itself was then merged into CSX in August of the same year.

At the height of railroading's golden age, the B&O was one of several trunk lines uniting the northeast quadrant of the United States into an industrial zone. It marked the southern border and corresponded to the New York Central's marking of the northern border. The Pennsylvania Railroad controlled the center and smaller roads like the Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley, and the Erie survived largely through the Interstate Commerce Commission. The corners of this map are Baltimore in the southeast, Boston in the northeast, Chicago in the northwest, and St. Louis in the southwest.

Early engineering

When construction began on the B&O in the 1820s, railroad engineering was in its infancy. Unsure exactly which materials would suffice, the B&O erred on the side of sturdiness and built many of its early structures of granite. Even the track bed to which iron strap rail was affixed consisted of the stone.

Though the granite soon proved too unforgiving and expensive for track, most of the B&O's bridges have survived until the present, and many are still in active railroad use by CSX. Baltimore's Carrollton Viaduct, named in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (who laid the cornerstone), was the B&O's first bridge, and is the world's oldest railroad bridge still in use. The Thomas Viaduct in Relay, Maryland, was the longest bridge in the United States upon its completion in 1835, and remains in use as well. The B&O made extensive use of the Bollman iron truss bridge in the mid-1800s; its durability and ease of assembly aided faster railroad construction.

As the B&O built west from Baltimore in 1830, it followed the banks of the Patapsco River upstream to the water's source at Parrs Spring near present-day Mount Airy, Maryland. At the time little data about the operation of steam locomotives was available, and consequently the B&O was uncertain if metal wheels would grip the metal rails sufficiently to pull a train up to the top of Parrs Ridge. The railroad decided to construct two inclined planes on each side of the ridge along which teams of horses, and perhaps steam-powered winches, would assist pulling the trains uphill. The planes, about a mile long on each side of the ridge, quickly proved an operational bottleneck, and before the decade of the 1830s ended the B&O built a 5.5 mile long alternate route that became known as the Mount Airy Loop. The planes were quickly abandoned and forgotten, though some artifacts survive to the present.

See also Old Main Line Subdivision


Mount Airy The Mount Airy Branch is the surviving, in-use portion of the 1839-opened Mount Airy Loop. The Loop had been mainline track until superseded by the Mount Airy Cutoff and Tunnel in 1902.Frederick The Frederick Branch was built because the city of Frederick would not pay the B&O the cost of routing the railroad through the rougher terrain into downtown Frederick. The branch opened on December 1, 1831. The continuation of the main line from Frederick Junction opened April 2, 1832.Patuxent Branch The Patuxent Branch was constructed in the 1880s and split off from the Washington Branch at Savage, Maryland to serve a mill, a quarry, and other small industry. After 1925, the line was gradually cut back, and disconnected completely in 2005.Georgetown Branch Originally intended as an extension of the railroad to a crossing of the Potomac River near the Chain Bridge, the agreement between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the B&O resulting from the rerouting of track for the Washington Union Station project put an end to the crossing and the branch settled down to being just a country railroad until the Washington, D.C. suburbs grew around it (Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Bethesda).Washington County Branch The B&O had decided against a direct line to Hagerstown, though the city had petitioned the Directors. Several north-south routes like the Cumberland Valley built through Hagerstown and the construction of the Western Maryland Railway to that city persuaded the B&O management to build a branch. It was decided that the branch would leave the mainline at Weverton and wind its way through the hills of Western Maryland to Hagerstown. A station was constructed at the stub end of the line in downtown Hagerstown. Baltimore & New York Railroad Constructed from Cranford Junction on the Central Railroad of New Jersey, in Union County, New Jersey, New Jersey east to St. George, Staten Island, New York to give the B&O access to its own deepwater port and ferry terminal. See entry on Staten Island Railway. More history is at this page



See also

Named cars

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