“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Catonsville in Baltimore County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Building America's First Railroad

Building America's First Railroad Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By F. Robby, July 1, 2008
1. Building America's First Railroad Marker
Inscription.  "There was a man killed yesterday by a fall from the centre of the 1st arch [of the Thomas Viaduct]... What a sympathy there is between these rough men. It was affecting to see his fellow laborers dressed in their best, going in a body to escort him a part of the way upon his long journey." - Benjamin Latrobe, Jr., October 14, 1834.

Barney Dougherty was one of many laborers to die during the arduous process of building the Baltimore & Ohio, America's first railroad. Building the railroad proved rigorous and dangerous.

Living in improvised camps near the tracks, the laborers worked from sunrise to sunset for a meager $8 to $15 a month in unsanitary conditions. The construction gangs, who were Irish and German immigrants, free blacks, and native-born Americans, sometimes faces corrupt contractors and ethnic rivalries.

For the B&O's engineers, railroad building was an experiment of trial and error. Due to differences in terrain, the B&O altered the existing British design to create a distinctively American railroad.

In the late 1820's, laborers laid parallel rose of granite blocks four and one-half
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feet apart between Relay and Ellicott Mills. The blocks provided the base upon which iron strap rail was fastened. This "stone railroad" proved too cumbersome and costly to build. Ultimately, wooden stringers and ties, ancestors of the modern railroad track, became the preferred track structure.

Some granite stringers that remain from the 1800's have been used to build bredges and retaining walls along this trail. On the wall before you, look for the impression of iron rails that have worn into the rectangular blocks by years of grining rail traffic.

Text with main center drawing: An illustration showing the stringers at Buzzard's Rock.

Text with middle right drawing: Illustration of railroad workers.
Erected by Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsIndustry & CommerceRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical month for this entry is October 1859.
Location. 39° 14.688′ N, 76° 45.112′ W. Marker is near Catonsville, Maryland, in Baltimore County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1) and South Street. Marker is within the Patapsco Valley State Park - Orange Grove area, on the northern
Retaining Wall image. Click for full size.
Photographed By F. Robby, July 1, 2008
2. Retaining Wall
Retaining wall made up of granite blocks that used to hold the iron rails.
side of the Patapsco River (Grist Mill Trail), about 1/4 mile west of the Swinging Bridge. Entrance to PVSP is about 300 feet north of the US 1 - South Street intersection near Elkridge. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Catonsville MD 21228, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Patapsco Superlative: (approx. ¼ mile away); Besley Demonstration Campsite (approx. 0.3 miles away); Orange Grove: A Small Neighborly Community (approx. 0.3 miles away); Back to Nature in the Patapsco Valley (approx. 0.3 miles away); The River Makes Electricity (approx. half a mile away); The Changing River Valley (approx. ¾ mile away); Bringing Trade to Baltimore (approx. ¾ mile away); The Destructive Power of the Patapsco (approx. 0.8 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Catonsville.
Granite Blocks image. Click for full size.
Photographed By F. Robby, July 1, 2008
3. Granite Blocks
Middle block shows indentation made by grinding rail traffic before it became part of this retaining wall.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on July 6, 2008, by F. Robby of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,589 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on July 6, 2008, by F. Robby of Baltimore, Maryland.

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Apr. 23, 2024