Review of the railroads and cities as they developed between 1840-1950

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Historical look at Railroads in the West


  • This is a review of the railroads and cities as they developed between 1840-1950

  • This project is part of the Fairfax Public County Schools (FPCS) middle school social study activity regarding integrated social studies/GIS lessons on industrialization in the United States


  • Develop a dataset and products to help middle school teachers and students in Fairfax County, Virginia learn about the expansion of the railroads in the West

  • Incorporate into the above dataset the growth of the population as the cities spread across the West


  • Use GIS to map out the railroads as they made their way across the West

  • Use GIS to map the cities as they developed during the same timeframe

  • Highlight the historical information associated with the expansion of the railroads and cities across the West

Principal Data Sources

  • Historical small scale railroad information by year

  • The digital railroad files from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)

  • The historical timeline information associated with this project came from different sources


Techniques Used

  • Railroad information

    • Extraction of datasets from Bureau of Transportation Statistics (by region)
    • Re-projected the data to USA Contiguous Albers Equal Area Conic
    • Modifying the datasets to coincide with the yearly historical information
    • Digitized shapefiles reflective of historic data for small areas of coverage
    • Digitized missing sections of railway
    • Append the regions into single railroad file
  • US Cities information

    • Extraction of cities designated by the Census Bureau from the Cities_dtl file (into small subset files)
    • Create fields to add the specific yearly population data to each city
    • Append the sets of city files together
  • Entire Project

    • Person Geodatabase
    • Generation of seven map products depicting the growth of railroads and cities

Analysis for 1840

  • Prior to 1840 most of the railroad building was being done in the East

  • Building of railroads started in Louisiana near New Orleans and Baton Rouge

  • Biggest obstacle for railroad expansion was the Mississippi River

  • Only 4 cities were reported by Census Bureau

Analysis for 1850

  • Between 1840-1850 development was still mostly in the East

  • The majority of the change on the map was the increase in the number of cities to 38. This growth displays why Railroads were needed

Analysis for 1860

  • Between 1830-1860 was enormous railway building as railroads began to replaced canals as the primary mode of transportation. This was the beginning for railway development west of the Mississippi River

  • 1853: U.S. Congress authorized Transcontinental Railroad Survey

  • 1855: First railroad bridge across the Mississippi River is complete between Rock Island IL and Davenport IA

  • 1857: U.S. Congress authorizes overland mail delivery service via Railroads

  • Railroad building continued on the East side of the map and started near San Francisco CA

  • Number is cities grew to 87

Analysis for 1870

  • 1862: The Pacific Railway Act was signed by President Abraham Lincoln which authorized construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads

  • 1869: The Transcontinental Railroad was completed as the golden stake was driven in at Promontory Summit UT on 10 May. This event made is possible to travel to the Pacific Ocean

  • Development of railways in the Mississippi and Missouri Valleys was notable during this time period

  • The expansion of cities was up to 137

Analysis for 1880

  • 1874: Southern Pacific tracks reach Bakersfield CA

  • 1876: First train service into Los Angeles from San Francisco

  • 1877: Southern Pacific crossed the Colorado River at Yuma, AZ

  • A southern transcontinental route was almost complete as well as building up railroads across Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and California.

  • Every state and territory had railway transportation, this had powerful influence upon immigration, agriculture and industrial growth throughout the country

  • The expansion of the cities was up to 218

Analysis for 1890

  • 1881: Southern tracks reach El Paso, TX

  • 1881: Southern Pacific meets the Texas and Pacific at Sierra Blanca completing the second Transcontinental Railroad

  • 1883: The Northern Pacific drove the last spike at Independence Creek MT

  • 1883: Southern Pacific completed it’s Transcontinental “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California

  • 1885: Southern Pacific is completed

  • There is much development of railroads on the east side of the map. Starting to work railways in the northern states and several more railroads extended to the Pacific Ocean

  • The expansion of cities was up to 285

Analysis for 1950

  • 1893: Great Northern is completed in Cascade Mountains of Washington state

  • 1919: Golden spike driven in Carrizo Gorge marking completion of the San Diego and Arizona Railroads

  • Railroads handle commercial passengers, freight business, U.S mail, and most of the commercial express traffic for the nation

  • The expansion of cities as reported by the Census Bureau is 427

Geodatabase used for this project

Future Work

  • Add the US Territory information as another layer associated with each of the years depicted. Will incorporate the timeframe for when the states joined the United States

  • Incorporate the city population totals into map to show the growth through time


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