The Stage is Set for the Bluegrass State’s First Railroad

January 27, 1830

The first railroad in Kentucky was chartered by the state’s legislature. This charter for the Lexington & Ohio Railroad (L&O) named Lexington citizens Elisha Winter and General Leslie Combs as the lead organizers for the new railroad. 

The overall aim of Winter, Combs, and other L&O proponents was to find an effective means for moving goods from Lexington and other inland communities within the state to the Ohio River and — beyond just that body of water — to New Orleans and other markets worldwide. Lexington and other regions in Kentucky were unable to directly access steamboats for handling goods, and such widely used surface-transportation options as stagecoaches did not provide the needed level of both speed and size.

The L&O was seen as the solution to those logistical challenges and, not long after the charter was granted, iron rails imported from Liverpool, England, were used to begin construction of the line in Lexington. Limited operations along the new railroad began as early as 1832. Horse-drawn cars would initially be used for the line, but steam locomotives were placed in service by 1833. (The above image depicts the first of those locomotives.)

Despite its pioneering role, the L&O remained in existence for only a few more years. The enterprise helped demonstrate early on the economic potential of that new transportation mode within Kentucky, however, and by 1860 there were approximately 596 miles (959.2 kilometers) of railroad tracks throughout the Bluegrass State.

For more information on the Lexington & Ohio Railroad, please check out http://lexhistory.org/wikilex/lexington-ohio-railroad and https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=84254

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