Monday, February 9, 2009

A (minor) Mystery Unveiled

A good friend, Nick Hollick from Baltimore, had been telling me for some time that his father had passed along an interesting B&O Railroad document that he’d like me to take a look at. After some months of prodding, Nick showed up last December with the subject matter in hand. A beautiful 19th century document indeed enhanced with the bold signature of B&O Railroad President John Work Garrett.
Upon reading it, however, the content presented an interesting (yet minor, in that the answer was relatively easy to find) mystery to me. An “Agreement…” of sorts dated June 16, 1875 between the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore and the B&O Railroad essentially laying out the terms of sale for Baltimore City’s interest and ownership of the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad Company to the B&O. The B&O agreed to pay the City $1 million over the course of 25 years, not an insignificant sum in 1875!
We all know that the public private partnership that began in establishing the B&O was forged upon significant investment in the venture by both the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. But, how did the City acquire a significant interest in a railroad way out in the western hills of Pennsylvania? I had to answer this for myself and all of you…let alone for Mr. Hollick who witnessed the stymied look on my face that day.
I discovered that the story goes back to the mid-1840’s when the business community of Pittsburgh expressed a desire to connect with the B&O Railroad being unsatisfied with Pennsylvania’s system of canals and inclined planes for shipping goods East. The Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad (P&CRR), conceived to run into Cumberland, Maryland had been chartered by Pennsylvania in 1837 but never built. To complicate matters the State legislature passed an act to charter the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) west to Pittsburgh as well as giving permission to the B&O to construct a line there. Even though construction began on that line and it was completed from Pittsburgh to Connellsville, Garrett’s attempt to extend the line to Cumberland was interrupted by both the Civil War and the PRR. By 1862, even though the B&O had acquired significant stock holdings in the P&CRR and Garrett was willing to loan the company $1 million to complete the line to Cumberland, Tom Scott the Vice President of the PRR craftily maneuvered the legislature into passing laws to tie up Garrett’s hands effectively preventing the extension of the line and connection to the B&O for the time being. This legislation allowed the P&CRR to be taken over by a new company under the control of the PRR.
Following the war Garrett and his Baltimore allies repeated sued the Pennsylvania Legislature over Tom Scott’s actions and in 1868 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the laws unconstitutional thus returning control of the P&CRR to the B&O. Once returned Garrett approached the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore as well as a few Pittsburgh bankers to secure the capital necessary to complete the line from Pittsburgh all the way to Cumberland Maryland where it could finally connect to the B&O. The company minute books show that the line was competed with great efficiency and that Benjamin Latrobe helped drive the “golden spike” of the completed railroad near Fort Hill Pennsylvania on April 10, 1871. The long awaited battle was done and B&O service began into the heart of the PRR’s long held monopoly on Pittsburgh.
The only detail left was Garrett’s promise to re-pay the City of Baltimore and other investors for its financial interests in the P&CRR. And thus we have the terms of the repayment detailed in this historic document and the end of the stymied look on my face.
Our sincere appreciation goes to Nick Hollick for donating this important and historic document to the Hays T. Watkins Research Library and Archives.