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Pacific Railroad Surveys

The Pacific Railroad Surveys were authorized by Congress in 1852 in order to have systematic studies done to decide on the route of a transcontinental railroad. The surveys were carried out by the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. Three routes were surveyed over the next few years known as the northern, central, southern routes. The central route was finally chosen in 1861 by Abraham Lincoln. It was later modified mostly to allow for increased revenue along the rail line.

Map of Routes for a Pacific Railroad

This map was published in 1855 to show the existing and proposed routes of the western railroads. Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren notes on the map the is "is a hurried compilation of all the authentic surveys and is designed to exhibit the relations of the different routes to each other." The rail lines start at the Mississippi River with train lines departing from Chicago, south of Vincennes, Cairo, Memphis, Helena, Gaines, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans. The mountains of the west are shown almost as brush strokes implying their reach but in no way showing the extent of their range. Rivers play an important role on the map with many of the routes following their paths.

Reports of Explorations and Surveys...for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean

This report includes maps of the surveys as well as drawings along the proposed routes.

The Northern Route

The northern route was surveyed in 1853-4 by Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory. This route was "near the 47th and 49th parallels" and covered the Rocky Mountains to Puget Sound. The work was mostly carried out by Captain George B. McClellan, who would later serve in the Civil War and for a short time as general-in-chief for the Union Army. The map indicates river network, mountains, routes of expeditions, land cover, forts, and proposed routes. This route was later resurveyed as this survey was considered "dubious" given Stevens' role as Governor of the territory.

The Central Route

The Central Route, near the 38th and 39th parallels, was surveyed by Captain John Gunnison until he was killed by Indians in Utah near Sevier Lake and is noted on the map. Lieutenant E.G Beckwith continued the work. Derek Hayes notes, "Ironically, despite the fact that it was the central route over which the first rail link would be built, Beckwith's survey was largely ignored because he was unable to calculate cost estimates."

The central route covers eight sheets, which highlight the topography along the proposed route in detail with the surrounding areas lightly mapped. River networks, mountain heights, and forts are shown. Trails include the route of the Emigrant Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and Spanish trails. Tribal lands are noted along the different routes.

The Southern Route

The southern route was surveyed by topographical engineers Amiel Weeks Whipple and Joseph Christmas Ives on a route near the 35th parallel. This route started south of Albuquerque in Isleta (New Mexico), crossed the Indian lands of the Zuni, Navajos (near Fort Defiance), Moquis, Cosninas, Tontos, Yampais, Mojaves, and Pahutahs. The trail stopped at Tehachapi Pass in California where it would meet up with the "practicable rail road line to San Francisco." This survey was later redone to include the land from the Gadsden Purchase with a route along the Gila River.