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Baltimore and Ohio Transportation Museum
The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Transportation Museum encompasses what remains of the oldest and most fully integrated railroad manufacturing complex in the United States, if not the world, established in Baltimore in 1829. Known historically as the B&O Mount Clare Station and Railroad Shops, it is recognized as the birthplace of American railroading. It was the site of numerous innovations in railroading technology, including the development of the American steam locomotive by pioneers such as Ross Winans and Phineas Davis, and the production of the first iron railroad bridges using groundbreaking designs by Wendel Bollman. At its height, the B&O shops produced everything from steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars, bridges, as well as hardware and building components for use throughout the system. It was also the site of the first long-distance passenger and freight railroad service in the world; the initial run along the original thirteen-mile line from here to Ellicott’s Mills’ Station occurred on May 22, 1830. The railroad’s name was derived from the fact that it was built to provide a vital transportation link between the City of Baltimore and the Ohio River in order to facilitate the growing trade in the west.
The Mount Clare Shops were built in 1829–1830 as a carriage repair shed and stable (the first cars were pulled by horses). A forge and a machine shop were added to the works in 1833 and by 1834 the first steam-powered locomotives were under production. In 1850, an ironworks was established as well. The complex continued to expand in the decades after the Civil War and well into the twentieth century to include a foundry, blacksmith shop, office building, and additional shops and support facilities. At the height of its production in the 1920s, the Mount Clare Shops stretched the equivalent of ten city blocks, turning out an average of eighteen new or rebuilt locomotives per week, and utilizing a workforce of about 3,000. The last steam locomotive was manufactured at the Mount Claire Shops in 1948. A fire destroyed the locomotive erecting shops and many more structures were demolished in 1974, leaving the current three-structure museum complex.
Opening on July 4, 1953, the B&O Railroad Museum comprises one of the most significant collections of historic railroad equipment and artifacts in the world, including the largest collection of nineteenth-century locomotives and rolling stock. The three extant structures comprising the current B&O complex include the Mount Clare Station, the passenger car shop, and the print shop annex. The oldest of the three extant structures is Mount Clare Station, built in 1851. The handsome brick, polygonal-shaped, Georgian structure was used for ticket sales and was built on the site of the original 1830 station. The historic Mount Clare Station now serves as the entrance to the museum.
Also extant is the unique twenty-two-sided polygonal brick car shop or roundhouse, added to the complex in 1884 to service railroad cars and engines. Designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin, it was the largest circular building in the world at the time of its completion, measuring 240 feet in diameter. It is of fireproof brick and iron construction, with brick walls supported by steel columns that tie into radial iron trusses, and it is surmounted by a round lantern-like clerestory and domed cupola. Its innovative structural system provided strength for the massively scaled and well-lit open space, which raises 123 feet in height to stunning effect. Its spacious interior and round configuration, which deviated from the traditional rectangular shop, provided twenty-two bays that enabled cars to be left in position until completed. The original wood turntable located to the center of the roundhouse that was used to facilitate movement of the cars for repair is among the highlights of the museum. The car shop, including the turntable, is now used to display historic locomotives.
The print shop, also designed by Baldwin, was erected in 1891. The Queen Anne structure is distinguished by its decorative brickwork and its square corner tower with a pyramidal roof broken by gable peaks and bracketed cornice. It housed the printing department, reflecting the B&O’s innovative approach to publicity and advertising, and also included a circulating library for B&O employees. The print shop now houses small exhibits.
Baldwin was one of Baltimore’s most distinguished architects of the post–Civil War era. He is perhaps best remembered as principal architect for the B&O Railroad, and for the design of numerous railroad stations and other structures. Baldwin, however, was extremely versatile and quite prolific, designing residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and ecclesiastical buildings throughout the city and beyond. Baldwin trained to be an architect through an apprenticeship with the firm of Niernsee and Neilson, later partnering with fellow apprentice Bruce Price, between 1867 and 1873. Baldwin was designated the architect for the B&O in 1872, taking over that position from his mentor, John Rudolph Niernsee. Baldwin’s relationship with the B&O spanned twenty-five years. He formed a partnership with Josias Pennington in 1883 that lasted until his death in 1916.
The B&O Railroad Museum at Mount Clare Station remains open to the public, displaying a comprehensive array of buildings, equipment, artifacts, and information relating to American railroad history and its cultural and economic impact.
Dilts, James D. The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1828-1853. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.
Hayward, Mary Ellen, and Frank R. Shivers, Jr., eds. The Architecture of Baltimore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Mendinghall, Joseph S., “The Baltimore and Ohio Transportation Museum,” Baltimore City, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1982. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Historic American Engineering Record, “Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Mount Clare Shops,” Baltimore City, Maryland. Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1976. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HAER No. MD-6A).
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