The itinerary along
the first transcontinental railroad line between New York and
San Francisco was done by following closely the route used hundred
and thirty years earlier by the Jarret & Palmer Special. Thanks
to historic maps and timetables, it was possible to find former
railroad lines and to count more than five hundred stops. Through
twelve states and three thousand three hundred miles, it is today
possible to provide an inventory of American railroad stations
concentration on this precise route during my fellowship allowed
me to create a framed report on the American railroad heritage.
Through these discoveries, it was possible to get step by step account
of American architecture. This route shows an incredible variety
of railroad stations of all periods and styles, from impressive
terminals of megalopolises to simple depots in the smaller towns.
the main stages of the fellowship along this historic railroad were
naturally made by using the train as means of transportation. Half
of the route was done along the original railroad line in the East
side between New York and Chicago and on the West side between Ogden
and Sacramento. The original railroad line in the center of the
country having been abandoned, the car was necessary.
stops allowed me to reform a survey of these railroad heritages
as they stand today.
There is probably no more a dramatic
symbol of the Industrial revolution in the United States than
the railroad network and its emblematic railroad stations. These
buildings are the symbol of the economic power of a country which
knew how to unify and develop the territory thanks to the railroad
and the transportation of passengers and goods.
Deep in the History
To understand the importance of
the railroad network and their symbols, it is important to understand
its development. From its infancy, the railroad network became
a major factor in the planning of the territory. It allowed the
country to change from an agrarian economy with a reduced sphere
of influence to an industrial economy based on the masse transport.
As in Europe, the development was
made by lines of short distances. The American adventure begins
on May 24th, 1830 with the inauguration of the Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad. The line is only thirteen miles but it is already active
with goods and passenger trains. For two decades, the construction
of a canal remained less expensive than a railroad line but the
speed was very limited. On the Erie Canal, the route was made
at the speed of four miles an hour one way and was halved the
other way direction. At the same time, the common speed of a locomotive
was around ten to twenty miles an hour. In the 1840's, "railroad
fever" seizes the country. Numerous projects appear on the
East coast and everybody wanted to be part of it.
On the West coast, pushed by the
Gold Rush, the first railroad line appears only in 1856 with the
Sacramento Valley railroad. The project was confided to a young
promising engineer, Theodore Judah. The line was established between
Sacramento and Folsom for a distance of twenty two miles.
From the 1850's, longer lines were
built between main cities of the East coast such as Pittsburgh
and Philadelphia. After some years, territories East of Mississippi
was connected from Bangor to Savannah and from Chicago to New
Orleans. The canal system was declining as a result of the push
for the railroad network which reaches more than 29,000 miles
in 1859. The American Civil War was going to bring to light this
means of transportation which was found to be an asset for the
military and the industrial power.
Between 1870 and 1890, all efforts
were concentrated on the planning of the territory. In 1869, the
first transcontinental line was finished and connected the railroad
network of the East coast and the West, going from Omaha to Sacramento.
It opened the way to numerous lines which grew across the country.
In 1890, the United States possessed more than 93,200 miles of
railroads which added up to almost one third of the world's network.
The United States had a golden age
during the 1920's and 1930's where monumental railroad stations,
gigantic viaducts and railroad networks grew rapidly before they
declined with the emergence of new transport.
of the American railroad Network in 1918
of the American railroad Network in 2006 Source : National Railroad
transcontinental, from the origins to the Railroad Act
In 1832, four years
after the opening of the first American railroad line, a publisher
in Michigan dreamt of a railroad line from New York to the Oregon
situated between the 41st and 42nd parallels of Mississippi to the
Rocky Mountain. Sweet madness, when we know that at this time, the
United States counted for only 228 miles of tracks. A century later,
this road would be used by the companies Union Pacific and Oregon
In 1840, Asa Whitney
(1797-1872), a New York merchant who had made a fortune in Chinese
Trade proposed a coherent project with a line towards the Pacific.
He was confident that this corridor was going to allow the trades
between Asia and Europe bring the United States into the center
of the attention. He makes it according to his own words, his crusade:
"If they [the Congress] will allow me to be their instrument
to accomplish this great work, it is enough; I ask no more.”
In January, 1848, he presents to the congress a report allowing
him to make the construction of a railroad between Lake Michigan
and Pacific Ocean possible*. In the same year, the United States,
after their victory on Mexico, annex California, Arizona, Nevada,
Utah, a part of Colorado, of the Wyoming and New Mexico made the
project of Asa Whitney possible.
In the 1850's, three
solutions joined the East coast to the West coast. The first, 13,350
miles long, bypasses Cape Horn by boat in five months. The second
solution, 5,250 miles long, mixes a boat trip to the Panama, the
crossing of the forest with a risk of catching malaria, and another
boat for thirty five days. The last leg, without comfort and regardless
of great dangers, crosses Overland between Saint Louis and San Francisco
for a distance of 2,800 miles in thirty days.
From the 1850's, what
started as a sweet dream becomes a national necessity to unify the
country. In March, 1853, Congress releases 150,000 dollars to allow
a study "to find the most practical and economic route from
the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean" but the debate sinks
on the choice of the road and the mode of financing. In 1854, the
senator Stephen A. Douglas, author of Kansas - Nebraska Act*, suggests
building three transcontinental railroad lines.
With the Civil War,
the Confederates did not contribute further to the debate, leaving
the field open to the Union to facilitate the line of the North.
The connection would allow a closer move to California, a loyal
state in the cause against slavery, to take advantage of the gold
and silver of the West and to provide along the way the troops more
inclined to conflicts with Indians. In 1862, Lincoln signs an act
in favour of the transcontinental railroad line, "An Act to
aid in the Construction of a Railroad and Telegraph Line from the
Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the Government
the Use of the same for Postal, Military and Other Purposes."
The Union Pacific
Railroad Company was built from the 100th meridian passing by Cozad,
Nebraska and close to Fort Kearney to the border of California.
Leaving Omaha, it borrows the "Iowa Branch", one of four
sections authorized by the congress to connect cities along the
Mississippi, before continuing towards California. On the West side,
the state of California had already charged the Central Pacific
Railroad Company to build a railroad between San Francisco and the
East border of California according to the same terms and conditions
granted to the Union Pacific. The first of the two companies who
could arrive at this border could continue in the direction of the
other one without a meeting point. Every forty-mile section of tracks,
each company received United States bonds amounted to $16,000 per
mile on the plains, $ 32,000 on the plateau between the Rockies
and the Sierras and $ 48,000 dollars in the mountain regions. They
received the right-of-way through the public domain and an outright
grant on half the land situated ten miles on both sides of the tracks.
The year of 1862, the country possessed 32,120 miles of tracks of
which the longest built by Illinois Central was 700 miles.
Map of the United States showing the principal connecting lines
of the Railroad across the Country, also the Proposed Railroad Routes
to the Pacific, from Warren's Geography, Philadelphia, H. Cowperthwait
& Co., 1859
and completion of the transcontinental linebetween
Omaha and Sacramento
The Civil War
was going to delay the extension of the railroad network to
the West that was planned by the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862.
From the end of the Civil War in 1865, the importance in the
construction of a transcontinental line in the unity of the
United States was even stronger at both an economic and political
In 1869, the
first transcontinental line between Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento,
California connected the East Coast and the West Coast of
the United States. This human and technical feat was made
possible thanks to the political will of the president Abraham
Lincoln and the perseverance of Theodore Judah, civil engineer
who drew the line. Two railroad companies, Union Pacific,
leaving Omaha and Central Pacific, leaving Sacramento, would
have been opposed. After several years, both companies met
on May 10th, 1869 at Promontory Summit in the state of Utah
during the Golden Spike Ceremony. The last golden spike engraves
the "May God continue the unity of our Country, as this
Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world". All
in all, 1777 miles of tracks will have been laid (690 miles
by the Central Pacific and 1,087 by Union Pacific).
|Photograph at the
time of the Golden Spike Ceremony
Theodore Dehone Judah
is considered as the "father" of the first transcontinental
railroad line. He became in 1852 the chief engineer of the
new Californian Company, Sacramento Valley Railroad. In January,
1857, he published a booklet, "A Practical Plan for Building
the Pacific Railroad", in whom he records his observations
for the construction of a transcontinental railroad line.
He describes a route leaving California towards Iowa by crossing
the Sierra Nevada, the desert of the Nevada until Salt Lake
City before continuing through the plains of Nebraska. In
1861, Theodore Judah founds the Pacific Railroad Company with
four merchants: Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland
Stanford and Charles Crocker, popularly named "The Big
Four". They convinced the government that a law on railroads
was necessary and at the end of 1862, the Pacific Railroad
Act was signed.
The transcontinental railroad
line was the last major construction made in American before
the introduction of good explosives, successful earthmoving
machinery and modern techniques of construction. The work
for the men was painful. In the East side, the workers of
the Union Pacific essentially consisted of the former soldiers
of the Civil War and Irish immigrants. The very hard work
contributed to conditions of a difficult life. The resistance
of the Indians in the invasion of their land also did not
helped. In the West, the Chinese immigrants since the gold
rush, played a decisive role in the construction of the railroad
line of Central Pacific. In the peak of the construction,
more than 10,000 Chinese workers worked on this colossal work.
was made possible due to large progress in railroad technology
which appeared from the 1850's: rail "T", airbrakes,
headlight reflectors to operate at night, coal replacing the
wood of combustion, drilling of tunnels, technology of bridges
of the transcontinental was to be a major technical achievement
operated by both private companies, Union Pacific and the
Central Pacific, through plains, plateaus and mountains. They
created innovative infrastructures: bridges, tunnels...
the maximum distance of railroads laid in one day was four
miles. The same year, Union Pacific managed to lay four and
a half miles. In answer to this exploit, Central Pacific lay
six; those to whom the Union Pacific responded by laying seven
miles and three quarters. The vice president of the Union
Pacific, Thomas Durant, then made a $ 10,000 bet with his
opponent. Central Pacific organized a plan. April 28th, 1869,
in a military way, teams began at six o'clock in the morning
to finish at seven o'clock in the evening. During the day,
they managed to place 25.800 ties, to lay 3.520 rails, to
hammer in 28,160 spikes, and to turn 14,080 bolts. In the
end, they laid more than 10 miles of tracks.
of the first American Transcontinental railroad from
Sacramento, California to Omaha, Nebraska in 1869
Central Pacific laid 690 miles of tracks starting in Sacramento,
- Sacramento, California
- Newcastle, California
- Truckee, California
- Reno, Nevada
- Wadsworth, Nevada
- Winnemucca, Nevada
- Battle Mountain, Nevada
- Elko, Nevada
- Humboldt-Wells, Nevada
- Promontory Summit, Utah
the route was extended to the Alameda Terminal in Alameda, California,
and shortly thereafter, to the Oakland Long Wharf in Oakland.
Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles of tracks starting in Omaha, Nebraska:
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Elkhorn, Nebraska
- Grand Island, Nebraska
- North Platte, Nebraska
- Ogallala, Nebraska
- Julesburg, Colorado Territory
- Sidney, Nebraska
- Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Laramie, Wyoming
- Green River, Wyoming
- Evanston, Wyoming
- Ogden, Utah
- Brigham City, Utah
- Corinne, Utah
- Promontory Summit, Utah
Jarret & Palmer Special
In 1876, Henry C.
Jarrett and Harry D. Palmer, two New Yorker impresarios, had the
incredible idea. After the last representation of the play Henry
V by Shakespeare played in New York, they wanted to play it by the
same actors - Lawrence Barrett, famous actor, and his two accomplices,
Patric Thorne and C.B. Bishop - four days later in San Francisco,
in the McCullough’s California Theater. At this time, the
railroad was the fastest form of transportation to cross the country,
but the regular trains took at least seven days. In connection with
the various railroad companies along the transcontinental line,
both protagonists charter a special train, the Jarrett & Palmer
Special, which has the objective to cross the United States in less
than twice the normal time or in 84 hours. In addition to this audacious
project for this time, the New York Herald newspaper and the Post
Office Department, join forces to deliver newspapers and mail along
the railroad to San Francisco and afterwards on the Pacific Coast.
The train consists
of three cars: the luxury Pullman Hotel Car Marlborough, a coach
car and a baggage car with scenery and costumes. Four companies
succeed to bring this special train to its terminus: Pennsylvania
Railroad between Jersey City and Pittsburgh, Chicago & North
Western Railroad between Pittsburgh and Grand Island, Union Pacific
Railroad between Grand Island and Ogden, and Central Pacific Railroad
between Ogden and Oakland. Priority all along the route, the great
majority of the itinerary is made on a unique track. The convoy
is acclaimed during the route. People wait for it along the tracks,
at the railroad station during the changes of the locomotives (20
all in all), during the provisioning in water and in coal, either
during the addition or the suppression of a locomotive or a car
to add supplementary power or on the contrary to have more brakes
(72 stops all in all). The D-day, having taken the ferry from New
York City, the departure is made in Jersey City on June 1st, 1876
at the 1:03 am. The arrival on June 4th to San Francisco, after
3,313 miles of tracks and the last one crossed in ferry at Oakland
Pier, ends after 83 hours, 53 minutes, 45 seconds according to the
official photography (84 hours and 17 minutes according to the other
sources). The thirteen passengers would have crossed the country
in forty miles per hour including all stops. This record will be
beaten only fifty years later.
Oakland Pier, California.
« Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway », between
Kansas City and Los Angeles.
« Northern Pacific Railway », between Chicago and Seattle.
« Southern Pacific Railroad » between La Nouvelle-Orléans
and Los Angeles.
« Great Northern Railroad » between Saint Paul, Minnesota