The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was completed from Baltimore to Wheeling in December 1852 and opened to the public the following year. Although revenues from hauling coal and other freight soon followed, the railroad was faced with competition from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and an uncertain future. One of the railroad executives, William Prescott Smith, decided to increase passenger traffic by promoting the tourism potential along the railroad line.
Smith pursued this goal by inviting many of the nation’s prominent artists, photographers, and writers to take an excursion train from Baltimore to Wheeling. The train would stop along the route wherever the passengers wanted, and the cars were luxuriously furnished with just about anything the group needed, including a photographic darkroom.
The train left Camden Station in Baltimore early on the morning of June 1, 1858, with about 50 passengers. They included artist and writer David Hunter Strother, artists Thomas Rossiter, Thomas Hicks, and Asher Durand, and New York Times editor Henry Jarvis Raymond.
After stopping several times in Maryland so the guests could take photographs, the train arrived at Harpers Ferry. The train then proceeded through Martinsburg to Berkeley Springs, where the passengers spent the night. Much of the area opened by the railroad was in what later became West Virginia. It was wild, beautiful, and unknown to most Americans. Many sites along the route were described by the excursionists, including Piedmont, Grafton, Altamont, Cranberry Summit, Cheat River, and Tygart’s Valley River.
The group reached Wheeling on June 4 and returned to Baltimore the following day. The excursionists recorded their impressions in numerous photographs and sketches, the best-known being David Hunter Strother’s ‘‘Artists’ Excursion over the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road,’’ published with an article of his in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in June 1859.
This Article was written by William D. Theriault
Last Revised on December 10, 2010
Davis, Julia. The Shenandoah. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1945.
Strother, David Hunter. Artists' Excursion Over the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road. Harper, (June 1859).