Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Infernal" Improvements

Among the many projects Thomas Emory participated in during his life none was perhaps more frustrating than his failed attempt to build a railroad on his beloved Eastern Shore. During the first half of the nineteenth century, internal improvements--the construction of railways, canals, and national road systems for instance--was a hot topic in both state and national politics, heated by the national visions of the Jacksonian Democrats (usually more liberal and friend to "the common man") and the Whigs (rather conservative and friend to banks and big business).  Emory was an ardent Whig and despised Jackson as an American Judas having betrayed the Constitution to the untrained, non-elite. Fittingly, Emory was also a disciple of Henry Clay's "American System" which called for federal and state spending on a system of railways, canals, and roads to facilitate the movement of information and commerce. In 1838, Emory was commissioned by the State of Maryland to travel to Europe in order to raise $8 million to fund the State's ambitious building projects. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad were already in operation and when Emory returned unsuccessfully from Europe he took over as the President of the Board of Directors of the Eastern Shore Railroad Company. 
A portion of what the Poplar Grove team has come across relates to the Eastern Shore railroad, including what appears to be a hand-drawn map of the proposed route; although the resident mice thought it quite tasty. When the team was at Poplar Grove last week during the media bonanza, we took one last sweep through the house and discovered a few items we missed initially, including a large Tilghman family bible from the eighteenth century and a small book on railroads. 
Sitting on top of a stack of relatively recent 20th century do-it-yourself guides and popular novels sat a small brown book entitled "Mitchell's Compendium to Canals and Railroads" emblazoned in gold on the cover. The official title is Mitchell's Compendium on the Internal Improvements of the United States: Comprising General Notices of the Most Important Canals and Railroads throughout the Several States and Territories of the Union: Together with a brief notice of works of internal improvements in Canada and Nova Scotia (Philadelphia: Mitchell and Hinman, 1835). It is, essentially, a snapshot of the national transportation picture during Andrew Jackson's second administration. 
While copies of the book exist elsewhere, the one we found in Poplar Grove is unlike any other. After opening to the title page, I called Adam over to take a look and we immediately recognized the signature in light pencil at the top of the page: it was none other than James Kearney, the chief engineer of the Eastern Shore Railroad. (See image.) It is unclear when or how the Emory's came into possession of Kearney's personal copy. 
Nevertheless, after thumbing through the well kept 84 page book, we opened it to the back cover and unfolded the pullout map Mitchell included. Included in the map were highlighted railways, canals, and roads throughout the United States and into its western territories. The Eastern Shore of Maryland looked conspicuously bare, until I leaned in closer and saw that someone, in all likelihood Kearney, drew in light pencil a straight line from Elkton, through Millington, and down to Princess Anne, where the line then split: the western-most line running towards the Bay and the eastern branch down the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Kearney, however, made his addition to Mitchell's Compendium in vain. Thomas Emory died in 1842, roughly two years after the State of Maryland cut the railroad's public funding. The railroad was not built until after the Civil War.


Anonymous said...

Would love to see a pic of that penciled-over map. By the way, kudos on the blog.

carolyn said...

I am a direct Tilghman descendant and am interested in the finding of the large Tilghman Bible from the 18th Century. Can I get some information from someone about it and where is it now ?

I am also related to the Hemsleys and Ringgolds.


Carolyn Dunn

Anonymous said...

The Proposed route of the Eastern Shore Railroad is more than a sketch, it's online at the Library of Congress and when downloaded and printed is approximately Six feet long. The taxpayers paid for the survey conducted by Kearney and W.H. Emory during a respite in their careers and not so shockingly the route passes through the lands of some of the wealthiest families from Elkton to Crisfield. It's difficult to see how the Federal Government could have justified such an expense, but it's not the only local project W.H. Hemsley and his brotherinlaw Bache managed to influence, they also succeeded in having Kent Island established as one of the three original baselines of the Coastal and Geodetic Surveys. Nothing like working close to home.