The Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road: Dreams of Linking North and South

The Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road: Dreams of Linking North and South

The Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road: Dreams of Linking North and South

The Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road: Dreams of Linking North and South

Synopsis

Among the grand antebellum plans to build railroads to interconnect the vast American republic, perhaps none was more ambitious than the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston. The route was intended to link the cotton-producing South and the grain and livestock growers of the Old Northwest with traders and markets in the East, creating economic opportunities along its 700-mile length. But then came the Panic of 1837, and the project came to a halt. H. Roger Grant tells the incredible story of this singular example of "railroad fever" and the remarkable visionaries whose hopes for connecting North and South would require more than half a century--and one Civil War--to reach fruition.

Excerpt

Professional historians and interested amateurs have long explored a variety of railroad topics, including the organization and construction of the earliest American lines. This interest in the Demonstration Period of steam railways, which spanned the 1830s and 1840s, may be attributed to that human desire to know about the beginnings of things. This is more than an idle curiosity, being a valuable way to learn how remote events shaped later cultural, economic, political, and physical environments. the antebellum era was an exciting and expansive time in the nation’s history, including the transport sector, when the agrarian republic was evolving into an industrialized nation. It would be railroads, rather than canals, roads, and waterways, that created a remarkable revolution in domestic transportation.

Although aspects of the proposed link between Charleston and Cincinnati have been discussed in scholarly monographs, doctoral dissertations, and masters’ theses, no book-length study consolidates the pertinent primary and secondary sources. This ambitious – perhaps too ambitious – Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Rail Road (LC&C) of the late 1830s and early 1840s deserves attention. After all, this projected railroad was one of the first seriously attempted trans-Appalachian interregional projects. It held a close connection to what was briefly the longest railroad in the world under a single management, the 136-mile trans-state South-Carolina Canal & Rail-Road. Opened in 1833, this pioneer carrier demonstrated the practicability of an infant railroad technology. If the LC&C had begun operations as planned, it would have been both America’s longest railway and its largest single private corporation. Even though only about 10 percent of the hoped-for LC&C was completed by the mid-nineteenth century, a direct route between the southern Atlantic Ocean coast and the mid–Ohio River valley was eventually established under a single management, attesting to the soundness of that audacious initial proposal.

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