The first railroad maps printed in the United States?

Board of Directors of Internal Improvements of the State of Massachusetts, Report… on the Practicability and Expediency of a Rail-Road from Boston to the Hudson River, and from Boston to Providence…. Boston, 1829 (but the maps and profiles 1827-1828).
Sewn pamphlet; 76, 119 plus six engraved, folding maps and profiles. Housed in a custom clamshell case.

A compilation of seminal reports advocating and describing the earliest general-purpose rail lines in New England. Particularly interesting for the inclusion of a two-part map of the proposed line from Boston to Albany, which according to Modelski is the first rail map printed in the United States.

Revolutions in transportation were probably greatest drivers of economic growth in the early years of the Republic. The introduction of canals in the 1790s and railroads in the 1820s sharply reduced the unit costs for transporting goods and increased the overall volume that could be carried, and for the first time connected coastal entrepot to many areas of the interior.

The railroad craze came relatively early to Massachusetts, beginning with the Granite Railway Company, established in 1826 with the limited purpose of shipping granite from Quincy quarries to the Neponset River (which granite was used to build the Bunker Hill monument and other landmarks). By the mid-late 1820s a number of lines had been proposed—including ones from Boston to Albany and Boston to Providence–with the hope that the State legislature would step in and fund the projects for the greater good. A number of reports and surveys were authorized, including those compiled in the present volume.

Ultimately the state declined to fund the projects directly. It instead chartered a number of private corporations to build the rail roads, including the Boston and Providence (1831), Boston and Worcester (1831) and Western (1833), the last to run from Worcester to the state line en route to Albany. These entities received state aid in the form of credit and, in the case of the Western Railroad, the state’s subscription to a stock offering. By 1840 these and other lines had opened, and there were over 280 miles of rail line in operation in the state.

The Report
The document has three distinct but complementary sections. The Report… on the Practicability and Expediency of a Rail-Road advocates heavily for construction of a horse-drawn rail line between Boston and Albany as well as Boston and Providence. Among other things it describes the proposed routes, proposed construction methods and sources of materials (particularly iron for rails and granite for the foundation), and alternative approaches for handling elevation changes. It provides a preliminary construction budget (optimistically allowing a mere 10 percent for contingencies!) and an estimate of operating costs, in light of which it argues that the rail way will turn a profit for its operators and be far more cost effective for customers than canal transport. Finally, with an eye toward policymakers, it argues strongly for the economic benefits to be gained from the introduction of the lines.

“… this great work may be accomplished at the expense of the state… with the prospect of affording in the income which will be derived from it, a full reimbursement of the cost, and a permanent source of revenue. But it is not chiefly as a measure of finance, that it recommends itself… but for the substantial benefits which it offers to the public, in a facility of intercourse, a channel of extended business, and a bond of union, between distant portions of the state.” (p. 43)

The main report is followed by three engineers’ reports commissioned by the Board, one by James Baldwin describing surveys for the Boston-Albany route, another by James Hayward doing the same for the Boston-Providence route, and a brief report by Solomon Willard assessing the costs of obtaining stone for the project.

The maps
The volume includes three engraved maps, all among the earliest railroad maps printed in the United States. The first two form a single, very long strip map by James Baldwin titled Plan of a Survey for a Rail-Road (1827-28) from Boston to Albany (Baldwin was the son of Loammi Baldwin, who 25 years earlier was the lead engineer on the Middlesex Canal.) The third is James Hayward’s Plan of a Survey for a Proposed Boston and Providence Rail-Way (1828). Each details a number of alternative routes for the proposed railways, the locations of crossroads, and important landmarks such as nearby quarries capable of supplying stone for construction.

Though the compilation here offered was issued in 1829, the Hayward map was first issued the previous year in a Report… in Relation to the Examination of Sundry Routes for a Railway from Boston to Providence. Modelski cites it as the earliest railroad map held by the Library of Congress, from which it is often extrapolated that this is the earliest American railroad map. In fact, it is of course preceded (marginally) by the two-part Baldwin map also bound into this volume, dated 1827-28 but not listed by Modelski. Both may be preceded by Map of the Country around Quincy Railway, engraved by James Eddy and issued by the Pendletons some time in or after 1826 (This last may be viewed on p. 70 of Joseph Garver’s Surveying the Shore).

Modelski, Railroad Maps, #348 (Boston-Providence map).   Some background from Walling and Gray, Official Topographical Atlas of the State of Massachusetts, p. 14.


Text untrimmed and about very good, with some foxing and a couple of stains to first few leaves and dog-earring to corners. Maps and profiles with some occasional offset and toning, but quite good for their type. Inscription on title.