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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Quincy Granite Railway America’s First Commercial Railroad

When architect Solomon Willard arrived in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1825, and discovered a granite ledge in a wooded area, he knew he had found the perfect raw material for what would become his most famous building, and the first monumental obelisk erected in the United States — the Bunker Hill Monument. Willard envisioned a 221-foot tall obelisk with a 30 feet square base that would require some 6,700 tons of granite. Transporting the massive blocks of granite from the quarry to the site of construction presented a challenge.

Quincy was separated from Charlestown, where the monument would be erected, by 12 miles of swamp, forest, and farms. The granite needed to be delivered to Neponset River, four miles north, from where a barge would transport the stone through Boston Harbor to Charlestown. Willard wanted to move the stones to the Neponset River on sledges during winter, but Gridley Bryant, an engineer, suggested a more efficient method — a railroad.
With the support Boston businessman and state legislator Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Bryant ended up designing what would become the first, commercial railroad in the United states. Rather than steam locomotives, Bryant used horses to pull the railcars a distance of three miles from quarries to the Neponset River. A single horse could pull three cars loaded with 16 tons of rock over wooden rails plated with iron. Later, the wooden rails were replaced with granite rails. The iron plates were retained.

Although, Bryant benefitted from developments already in use on railroads in England, he did modify his design to allow for heavier, more concentrated loads and a three-foot frost line. The Granite Railway also introduced several important inventions, including railway switches or frogs, the turntable, and double-truck railroad cars. Gridley Bryant never patented his inventions, believing they should be for the benefit of all.

In 1830, after four years of operation, a new section of the railway called the Incline was added to serve a new mine, the Pine Ledge Quarry. The incline was 315 feet in length and rose to a level of 84 feet. At the top was the new mine while at the bottom was the railroad system. Wagons moved up and down the incline in an endless conveyor belt, delivering loads to the bot











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