Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crossing Over

The 1931 steel railroad bridge and one remaining arch of the historic Oliver Viaduct

Crossing Over
Today as one drives into or out of Ellicott City on Main Street there is an historic intersection of roads and rails. Immediately west of the Ellicott City Station is a steel bridge and one granite stone arch that carries the B&O ‘s old main line over Frederick Road once a part of the National Road. A symbolic crossing where America’s first railroad met a major wagon route to America’s interior.
The B&O built three major stone viaducts between Mt. Clare in Baltimore and Ellicott City Station. The current steel bridge, erected in 1931, was a nod to an expanding town, a trolley system that once operated up Main Street and the dominance of the automobile. A stately triple arch viaduct, designed by Caspar Wever and constructed in 1829 once spanned the National Road here. It was named after Robert Oliver, one of Baltimore’s “merchant elite” and a founding director of the railroad and was built in 100 days at a cost of $21,830.00.
The dedication occurred on Saturday August 28, 1830 when Robert Oliver, along with a distinguished company of compatriots, the press and citizens listened to B&O President Philip E. Thomas say “The noble edifice of which we have just witnessed the completion, I have been instructed to designate by the name of a fellow-citizen…distinguished for his liberality, public spirit and generous support of the magnificent enterprise in which we have embarked. This structure will accordingly thereafter be distinguished by the name of the Oliver Viaduct.
One of the original three stone arches remains in place spanning the Tiber River just before it spills into the Patapsco. On the west side of the steel structure at the base of the stone wall is the original cornerstone dated “AD 1829.” Immediately above is the inscription “AL 5829” a traditional calendar date used by the Freemasons who believed that the world was created 4,000 years before the birth of Christ.
The next time you visit ponder this crossing for a moment. While wagons still plodded their way across a muddy arduous path below a new technology, literally, flew over.

Rare 19th century view of the Oliver Viaduct as originally constructed. The Fredericktown Turnpike or National Road passes through the two arches later replaced by the steel span.