Travel in the 19th century

On the Rails

See also the article on Transportation, New York City.

If you want to travel by rail from Manhattan to St. Louis, from Chicago to Austen in the years before the Civil War, you will find not one or two but eleven possibilities. Chose the rail company you want to start with, which of four stations you prefer, and whether you want to set out at 6 a.m., 6 p.m., or sometime in between.

Of course you will be changing cars. In fact, you will have to get out of one train and onto another train in Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Or maybe, if you prefer, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Columbus and Cincinnati. Or Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Parkersburg, Marietta and Cincinnati. With all your luggage, in your heavy traveling costume. There is no restaurant car, so you’ll need to carry provisions, as well. And possibly a pillow or  cushion, because there was little thought about passenger comfort at this point.

If St. Louis is where you are headed, you’ll be stopping  in Cincinnati, where you can board the Ohio and Mississippi Rail Road (as they spell it) which will take you to there — and you won’t have to change trains again. In fact, in the year 1857, the railroads had not yet moved past that point. From there your choices were few.

You want to know what a saloon car was? Good question, but no obvious answers. I do know that there were no dining cars at this point, nor were there berths or friendly porters to make up the berth into a comfortable bed.

…and the Rivers

If St. Louis is not your destination, your friendly ticket agent can book for you a Missouri River Packet Steamer, or a Mississippi River Steamboat that will take you to Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez or New Orleans.

There are two questions on your mind, two crucial questions: how long will all this take, and how much will it cost? It’s all a gamble, and dangerous in a dozen different ways.

Drawing by John Russell

Before the invention of steamboats, keelboats were often used to travel down the Mississippi. In New Orleans they were usually broken up for firewood, because there was no good way to get it back where it came from.

Here’s one short article on transport before steam.

Here’s a really interesting article about the Army’s reconstruction of Lewis and Clark’s travel by keelboat by John Russell

Westward Ho: The Missouri River.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.