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Sat Oct 7, 2023, 08:51 AM Oct 2023

On This Day: First chartered railway in the U.S. begins operations - Oct. 7, 1826

(edited from Wikipedia)
Granite Railway

In 1826, the Granite Railway in Massachusetts was incorporated by Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Gridley Bryant. Construction began on April 1, and operations began on October 7. It later became a branch of the Old Colony and Newport Railway, which was later absorbed into the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. This is often called the first commercial railroad in the U.S., as it was the first to evolve into a common carrier without an intervening closure.

The Granite Railway was one of the first railroads in the United States, built to carry granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, to a dock on the Neponset River in Milton. From there boats carried the heavy stone to Charlestown for construction of the Bunker Hill Monument. The last active quarry closed in 1963; in 1985, the Metropolitan District Commission purchased 22 acres (8.9 ha), including Granite Railway Quarry, as the Quincy Quarries Reservation.


In 1825, after an exhaustive search throughout New England, Solomon Willard selected the Quincy site as the source of stone for the proposed Bunker Hill Monument. After many delays and much obstruction, the railway itself was granted a charter on March 4, 1826, with right of eminent domain to establish its right-of-way. Businessman and state legislator Thomas Handasyd Perkins organized the financing of the new Granite Railway Company, owning a majority of its shares, and he was designated its president. The railroad was designed and built by railway pioneer Gridley Bryant and began operations on October 7, 1826. Bryant used developments that had already been in use on the railroads in England, but he modified his design to allow for heavier, more concentrated loads and a three-foot frost line.

The railway ran three miles (4.8 km) from quarries to the Neponset River. Its wagons had wheels 6 ft (1.83 m) in diameter and were pulled by horses, although steam locomotives had been in operation in England for 13 years. The wooden rails were plated with iron and were laid 5 ft (1,524 mm) apart, on stone crossties spaced at 8-foot intervals. By 1837 these wooden rails had been replaced by granite rails, once again capped with iron.

In 1830, a new section of the railway called the Incline was added to haul granite from the Pine Ledge Quarry to the railway level 84 ft (26 m) below. Wagons moved up and down the 315-foot (96 m) long incline in an endless conveyor belt. The incline continued in operation until the 1940s.

[Important inventions]

The railway introduced several important inventions, including railway switches or frogs, the turntable, and double-truck railroad cars. Gridley Bryant never patented his inventions, believing they should be for the benefit of all.


The novelty of the new railroad attracted tourists who journeyed out from Boston to witness the revolutionary technology in person. Notable visitors such as statesman Daniel Webster and English actress Fanny Kemble were early witnesses to the new railway. Miss Kemble described her 1833 visit in her journal.

[Further history]

The Granite Railway was the site of one of the first fatal railway accidents in the United States, on July 25, 1832, when the wagon containing Thomas B. Achuas of Cuba derailed as he and three other tourists were taking a tour. The accident occurred while the wagon—empty of stone but now carrying the four passengers—was ascending the Incline on its return trip and a cable broke. The occupants of the car were thrown over a cliff, approximately 35 ft (11 m). Achuas was killed and the three other passengers were badly injured.

In 1871, the Old Colony and Newport Railway took over the original right-of-way of the Granite Railway, replacing its track with contemporary construction, and steam trains then took granite from the quarries directly to Boston without need of barges from the Neponset River. This portion of the Old Colony Railroad through Quincy and Milton was later absorbed into the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. During the early twentieth century, metal channels were laid over the old granite rails on the Incline and motor trucks were hauled up and down on a cable. Passenger service on the Granite Branch (West Quincy Branch) ended on September 30, 1940; freight service was abandoned in stages from 1941 to 1973. Most of the right of way of the railway was eventually incorporated into much of the Southeast Expressway in Milton and Quincy.

Oldest railroads in North America

This is a list of the earliest railroads in North America, including various railroad-like precursors to the general modern form of a company or government agency operating locomotive-drawn trains on metal tracks.

Railroad-like entities (1700s–1810s)

1720: A railroad was reportedly used in the construction of the French fortress in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, Canada.

1764: Between 1762 and 1764, at the close of the French and Indian War, a gravity railroad (mechanized tramway) was built by British military engineers up the steep riverside terrain near the Niagara River waterfall's escarpment at the Niagara Portage, which the local Senecas called Crawl on All Fours, in Lewiston, New York.

1799–1805: Boston developers began to reduce the height of Mount Vernon before building streets and homes. Silas Whitney constructed a gravity railroad to move excavated material down the hill to fill marshy areas to create new land from the Back Bay.

1810: The animal-powered Leiper Railroad followed after the preceding successful experiment – designed and built by merchant Thomas Leiper, the railway connects Crum Creek to Ridley Creek, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

1811: George Magers designed and built a one-mile (1.6 km) wooden gravity railroad between a gunpowder mill and its powder storage bunker at Falling's Creek, Virginia.

1815: New Jersey granted a charter on February 6, 1815, for a company to "erect a rail-road from the river Delaware near Trenton, to the river Raritan, at or near New Brunswick"—that is, to connect the water ports so boats could ferry riders the last distance connecting Philadelphia & Trenton to (19th-century) New York City and Brooklyn & Queens on Long Island via New York Harbor, as proposed by inventor and railway builder John Stevens (1749–1838).

1816: A railroad was reportedly used at Kiskiminetas Creek, Pennsylvania.

1818: An iron-smelting furnace at Bear Creek, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, reportedly had a wooden railroad in operation.

Early railroad companies (1820s–1830s)

1826: The Granite Railway in Massachusetts.

1831: The Mount Carbon Railroad was completed in 1831 running from Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania through Pottsville where it split into two branches, one going to what is now Seltzer and the other to the current Wadesville. This was a coal-hauling railroad, 6.26 miles (10.07 km) in length.

1831: The Mine Hill and Schuylkill Haven Railroad completed the first part of its railroad from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania to Minersville with a branch line up the West Branch of the Schuylkill River, a distance of 13.5 miles (21.7 km).

1831: The Room Run Railroad was completed along the path of an unsuccessful gravity road, running a distance 5.26 miles (8.47 km) from Nesquehoning to the Lehigh Canal loading docks at Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.

1831: The Chesterfield Railroad (sometimes called the Manchester Railroad) began operations by September 1831 in Chesterfield County, Virginia.



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