|The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B & O) was one of the oldest railroads in the United States and the first |
common carrier railroad with an original line from the port of Baltimore, Maryland west 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 Railroads immortality has come from being one of the 4 featured
railroads on the U.S. version of the board game Monopoly, but it is the only railroad on the board which did not
directly serve Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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. Chapter 123 of the 1826
Session Laws of Maryland, 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 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.
Construction began on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll of Carrollton did the ground breaking, 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 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 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.
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.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad took control of the B&O in 1963, and incorporated it, along with the
Western Maryland Railway, into the Chessie System in 1973.
In 1980, the Chessie System merged with the Seaboard System Railroad to create CSX.
In 1986, the B&O finally went out of corporate existence when it formally merged with the C&O,
which itself formally merged with CSX later that same year.
When CSX Corporation established the B&O Railroad Museum as a separate entity from the corporation, some
of the former B&O 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 Baltimore Oriole's Park at Camden Yards.