The Granite Railway
On October 7, 1826, the Granite Railway opened in Massachusetts. Built to carry granite for the Bunker Hill Monument, it’s been called the first chartered and commercial railroad in the United States.
The Bunker Hill Monument was one of the first built in the United States. It was the idea of William Ticknor, who called together a group to discuss the memorial, which included Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Daniel Webster, Professor George Ticknor, Doctor John C. Warren, William Sullivan, and George Blake. They held their first public meeting for the monument on May 10, 1823, after which those who supported the idea pledged $5 and the Bunker Hill Monument Association was established.
In 1825, this group purchased about 15 acres on Breed’s Hill (the site where most of the fighting occurred) and issued a call for design suggestions. About 50 were submitted to the committee, which included Webster and Gilbert Stuart. In the end, the obelisk designed by Solomon Willard was selected. The cornerstone for the monument was laid on June 17, 1825. The Marquis de Lafayette led the ceremony and Webster delivered a speech. Over 100,000 people attended the ceremony, including 190 veterans who had fought in the battle.
Granite from a Quarry in Quincy, Massachusetts was selected for the monument. Progress on the monument was slow at first, because it took a while to get the granite there. Then on March 4, 1826, the Granite Railway received a charter and immediately began construction. Railway pioneer Gridley Bryant designed and built the three-mile railway that ran from the quarries to the Neponset River. Though steam locomotives were in use in Europe, the railway used horses pulling wagons along the tracks. Bryant developed several rail innovations during this project, including railway switches (frogs), the turntable, and double-truck railroad cars. However, he didn’t patent these because he thought it was better for everyone to be able to take advantage of his idea to improve rail transportation.
The railway officially opened on October 7, 1826. Four years later, the Incline was added to the railway. This 315-foot section carried the granite from the Pine Ledge Quarry to the railway at a lower elevation. When the railway was in operation, spectators from Boston frequently came out to watch it in action. Among these visitors was Daniel Webster.
It took 17 years to complete the 221-foot monument in Charlestown. The monument was dedicated on June 17, 1843. President John Tyler and his cabinet attended the celebration, along with a crowd of about 100,000 people. Webster was once again chosen to speak.
The railway continued to carry granite and began carrying passengers. It was later absorbed by other railways and its rails upgraded for steam locomotives. The railway continued to carry passengers until 1940 and freight until 1972. The Incline was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and the railway designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1976.
View some photos of the railway here.
Find lots more about Bunker Hill and the monument on the NPS website.
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