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Maps of the Railroads

Overview maps from the Pacific Railroad Survey Reports

These maps are some of the most important maps of the West in the 1850's and 1860's as they show the current state of topographical knowledge. Many editions of the maps were printed to accompany the different editions of the Pacific Railroad Survey Reports. These states show the rapid growth in topographical information from government exploration and mapping. The dates of the maps shown are 1855, 1857, 1858, 1861, and 1867. The notes field in the metadata for each map details the new geographic information contained within.

Proposed Railways

Numerous maps showed proposed railway routes to connect the East and the West displaying what appear to be cohesive transportation networks long before they existed on the ground. These maps extend over the entire United States allowing one to compare the dense network of rail lines in the East with the openness and inaccessibility of the West.

1864: The American Continent

R. Rosa and Charles Lubrecht's map of the United States in 1864 shows numerous proposed railway lines. Colored in bright blue, a circular rail system includes the "Proposed Central Pacific Rail Road" starting in St. Joseph, Missouri that follows the Platte River, connects to the "Proposed Central Pacific R.R." near Great Salt Lake City, crosses the Sierras at Truckee Pass, connects to a railroad line heading south from Sacramento traversing California south to Ft. Yuma before it connects to the "Proposed Southern Pacific R.R.", which skirts the border with Mexico before turning north in Texas to end at Fort Smith in Arkansas. Also shown is a proposed railroad from St. Joseph, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. While most of the states are in their recognizable configurations, Dakota is still one large region and Wyoming is 36 years away from being a state.

1867: Colton's Map of the States and Territories

The Colton map of 1867 details the growth of the railroad network by 1867 noting in the title the overland routes and projected railroad lines. It is interesting to note that the routes of the explorers and surveyors are clearly delineated belying the appearance that the nation has been settled from coast to coast. The Central Pacific Railroad has been completed to Truckee Pass. The north/south California railroad has been completed from San Francisco to around present day Salinas. The Union Pacific line has been completed nearly to Cheyenne Pass in present day Wyoming. Information from the Pacific Railroad Surveys has clearly been added to the map including the notes on topography, land cover, and even the spot where Captain Gunnison was killed in Utah.

1869: Map of the Union Pacific Railroad Surveys

This highly detailed map shows the proposed line of the railroad from the Missouri River to Humboldt Wells from surveys done from 1864 to 1868. The spot at which the tracks would connect, at Promontory Summit, had yet to be decided. The map includes a "Profile of Grades" over which the track would be laid. The highest point was at Sherman with an elevation of 8,235 feet to the east of Laramie. Promontory Mountain is shown with a height of 4,901 feet. The line covers 1,259 miles from beginning to end.

The Completed Railroad

On May 10, 1869 the transcontinental railroad was complete. It took mapmakers no time to publish maps showing the completed route. The next decade showed rapid growth in the number of stations and towns along the railroad as well as the completion of other lines to the north and the south of the main route.

1869: Cabinet Map of the Western States

Rufus Blanchard's map was heavily derived from the U.S. General Land Office Map of the United States, 1868 (see below). The railroad is complete and the lines shows the stops along the way. There are numerous rail lines under development and proposed including lines from Cheyenne to Denver turning to the east to cross Kansas, a line from Gravelly Ford, Nevada south to Colville, Nevada, and numerous routes in California connecting Stockton, San Jose, and Fort Yuma bypassing the coast including Los Angeles and San Diego.

An inset world map in the bottom left hand corner showing the United States in the center with the railroad prominently featured connecting the east coast to San Francisco. Lines across the oceans connection the United States to the world from San Francisco to Shanghai and Hong Kong and from New York and Boston to Hamburg, Germany.

1871: The American Union Railroad Map of the United States

Haasis and Lubrect's railroad map of the American Union celebrates the completion of the transcontinental railroad in spectacular fashion. Across the top is a view "From the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean" showing the sights along the way from the ships in San Francisco harbor to high mountain peaks, from farmland to bustling Manhattan and New York City. The cartouche illustrates the excitement inherent with this mode of travel with passengers eagerly boarding the train, boys hailing the arrival of the locomotive, and a worker readying goods for transport. All of this is in contrast to old mode of conveyance, the horse and buggy, seen in the background as if receding into the past.

1877: New Transcontinental Map of the Pacific Railroad

Henry T. Williams' map was printed 8 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The original railroad names hundreds of stops along the tracks noting major and minor stations by font size. Branches off the main trunk line are shown from Cheyenne to Denver, from Palisade to Eureka (Nevada), and throughout California north to Redding, Oroville, Calistoga, and Clovendale, and south to Soledad, Fremonts Pass, and finally to Los Angeles, San Pedro, and Anaheim. Other railroads in use include the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Denver and Rio Grande, and the Kansas Pacific. The Northern Pacific has yet to be built although a proposed route is shown. It was completed in 1883. Stage routes connect to the railroad across the west allowing for movement of goods and people throughout the entire region.

Accompanying the map was the booklet, The Pacific Tourist: Williams' illustrated trans-continental guide of travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean...a complete traveler's guide of the Union and Central Pacific railroads. The booklet has been scanned and is available here.

1879: New Map of the American Overland Route

A mere 10 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad promotional materials were being published to increase ridership and encourage tourism. The map shows the railroad and branches in black with the stops as points. The map extols the wonders and safety of travel around its borders. One may "Avoid the Sickness, Dangers and Delays of the Panama Route!" Round trip excursion tickets for $38 from Omaha to Denver, Colorado Springs, or Pueblo guarantee to "afford the finest view to be had of the Great Snowy Range." Excursion tickets from Omaha also take passengers to one of the great sights of the west, Yosemite Valley by way of Merced, Mariposa, Clark's and Big Tree Grove - no saddle riding necessary.

The Public Surveys and the Railroads

The Land Ordinance of 1785 first defined how the west would be subdivided starting in Ohio. The system subdivided the land into thirty six square mile blocks, which would be subdivided into smaller units. A section was a one-mile square enclosing 640 acres. This system was used to subdivide the west. It was combined with numerous Acts that allowed settlers free access to the land wit the condition that the land be settled and worked for a specific number of years. Millions of people moved and set up homesteads from the 1850's until 1988. The railroads made it easier to move west. The railroads themselves were granted public lands to allow them right of way and a way to raise money by selling off part of these lands.

The maps included below show the extent of the Public Land Surveys from 1866 to 1875. Each one details the rapid growth of the grid that defined the Survey as well as plotting the progress of the railroad. The final map in the set shows the land west of Ohio laid out in neat squares with the grid laid out along either side of the completed transcontinental railroad.