In the 1840's, the United States looked to British imports for its high-tech transportation needs. From a handful of imported locomotives, American firms quickly adopted the designs to the uniquely different requirements of the roads in the states. Mass production of rail was another problem. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was built from Baltimore to Cumberland, Maryland, using imported rail, because the material could not be obtained locally. A little-known operation in the backwoods of Allegany County, Maryland, was to change that, and break the monopoly the British had on rail production. The integrated manufacturing center at Mount Savage, with its associated transportation infrastructure, represented the very cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution in America, and rivaled the best in the world.
Mt. Savage is located in Allegany County, Maryland, some ten miles from Cumberland. Stand in downtown Mt. Savage today, and it is hard to appreciate that 150 years ago, this was the functional equivalent of Silicon Valley. The key recognizable feature today in Mt. Savage is the brickyard, the third component of a once-thriving, vertically integrated manufacturing center. Mt. Savage, for all its remoteness, was the site of collocated deposits of coal, iron ore, and fireclay. With the proper clay, bricks can be built to line the furnaces. Coal can be coked into an excellent fuel, mostly pure carbon with few impurities to interfere with the iron production. Limestone was also readily available in the vicinity, to provide a flux to remove impurities from the molten iron. The juxtaposition of all of these elements ensured an early success for the entrepreneurs who could bring the pieces together with adequate financing, and a ready work force.
Of primary importance to any manufacturing of the time was a ready source of raw materials. This, as we shall see, was not a problem at Mt. Savage. The second issue of importance is an adequate transportation infrastructure. The late recognition of this problem forced the demise of the earlier Georges Creek Coal & Iron Company. Learning from this, the Mt. Savage company built their rail line to connect with the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. In the twenty years before the civil war, the railroads provided the necessary impetus for the development of heavy industrial manufacturing in America, both as a ready customer, and as a transportation resource for raw materials and finished goods.
As in other locations, the earliest shortline railroads in Allegany County were constructed by the coal and iron mining companies. They were necessary to build, because the companies required a way to move products to market from the extraction or production site. Transportation involved the B&O railhead or the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal terminus at Cumberland. The earliest railroads were the Mt. Savage Rail Road, built by the Mt. Savage Coal & Iron Co. in 1845, the Eckhart, built in 1846 by the Maryland Mining Company, and the Georges Creek, built in 1853 by the Georges Creek Coal & Iron Co. These would all be eventually absorbed into the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad, and from there into the Western Maryland Railway, Chessie, then CSXT.