1852: Winter so cold the railroad ran tracks across a frozen Susquehanna

View of the railroad track on the ice across the Susquehanna, at Havre De Grace, Maryland.

The winter of 1852 was long and cold. So cold that it froze the Susquehanna from bank to bank in Maryland, preventing all ferry service.

This presented a problem for the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad Company. They had no bridge across the Susquehanna and used ferries to transport passengers and freight across the river.

“Map of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, & Baltimore Railroad showing its connections” published in the 1850s.

Railroad officials overcame this perplexing situation by laying tracks across the ice, ranging in thickness from 2 to 3 feet. Workers completed the track on January 15, 1852. For the next 41 days, 10,000 tons distributed across 1,378 cars loaded with mail, baggage, and merchandise made the trip across the frozen river from Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Perryville, Maryland. That is approximately 7.25 tons per car.

Historical records indicate that horses and sleighs transferred passengers on other occasions.

Close-up of the Adams Express Company lithograph.

The Adams Express Company prided itself on the fact that this was all done “without the slightest injury to any person or property.”

According to the lithograph, the track continued in use until February 24, 1852, “with the exception of one or two days during which it was removed a short distance upstream to secure a more solid foundation.”

Another close-up of the Adams Express Company lithograph.

This lithograph was created by Thomas S. Sinclair of Philadelphia, after the drawing by F. F. Schell. It features a view of the railroad track across the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace in Maryland.

Another close-up of the Adams Express Company lithograph.

The following close-up of the Adams Express Company lithograph highlights the inclined trestles used to access the frozen river.

Another close-up of the Adams Express Company lithograph. This one highlights the inclined trestles used to access the frozen river.

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3 thoughts on “1852: Winter so cold the railroad ran tracks across a frozen Susquehanna

  1. Excellent post! I cover this in detail in my book This Trying Hour: The Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad in the Civil War. Well done. Thanks for posting this!

  2. This lithograph is included in my touring exhibit, “Drawing on the Susquehanna – Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce,” which will go on exhibit at the Demuth Museum in August. The exhibit features engravings, lithographs, etchings, aquatints, drawings, paintings, transferware ceramics, maps and books from 1600 through the 20th century as well as a selection of early Susquehannock artifacts.

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