Ulysses S. Grant loved railroads. They helped him win the Civil War, after all. (See ECW’s 2018 series on railroads for more on that.) During his post-presidency, he involved himself in a number of railroad projects (including one that brought him to my neck of the woods in northwest Pennsylvania). At the time his investment firm Grant and Ward failed in 1884, he had been working with the Mexican Ambassador on an ambitious railroad project for Mexico.
Nothing exemplifies Grant’s love of railroads better, though, than that Transcontinental Railroad, completed on this date 150 years ago under his watch. The site, now Golden Spike National Historical Site, is commemorating the event that opened the continent with a three-day celebration this weekend.
You can see the full schedule of weekend events here, many of which are already sold out. The site also has two reconstructed locomotives representing the original two trains who met from east and west, the Jupiter and No. 119.
According to the park’s website, the site–located in Bringham City, Utah–gets some 60,000 visitors a year. The park offers useful information for people planning a visit. There are some great FAQs about the park and its history, too, including the original of the misnomer “Promontory Point” (the park is actually located at Promontory Summit).
While Grant wasn’t at the actual spike ceremony, the completion of the railroad marks one of the most significant events of his presidency.
I have also long wondered whether, perhaps, the railroad might also represent one of the reasons why Reconstruction eventually failed: America’s attention was drawn inexorably toward the excitement of westward expansion rather than the gritty work necessary in postwar the South. The West looked like the future.