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