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Ruts, Mud, Bumps and Bruises: Travel before the Railroad

Before most Americans traveled by rail they traveled by foot, horseback, or wagon.


Many attempts were made to improve the roads and internal travel in the region and the country; however, even with the completion of improved roads like the National Road and other turnpikes, traveling was an exhausting and time consuming experience. Travelers could expect a rough ride and it was not uncommon to see stagecoaches overturned, horses up to their haunches in mud, or fences torn down to allow traffic to circumvent bad sections of road. The rough ride and poor performance on the road earned these stagecoaches nicknames like shakeguts and turtlebacks. Conditions like these led many to applaud the railroad and happily transition to the smooth comfort provided by railroad passenger cars!

The B&O Museum in Baltimore and the B&O Museum: Ellicott City Station are located along one of the earliest turnpikes in Maryland known as the Baltimore & Frederick Turnpike, a feeder road to the National Road. The sites also link the first 13 miles of railroad track in the nation. Their collections and locations allow us to tell the story of early travel along these bumpy roads and the transition from road travel to railroad travel.

Before most Americans traveled by rail they traveled by foot, horseback, or wagon. These travelers moved around the country along rough roads that were nothing more than country paths by today’s standards. The roads were easily affected by local weather conditions and became heavily rutted and muddy bogs when it rained; dry, dusty, and rock hard during summer heat waves; and were practically impassable in severe wintry conditions.

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