Railroad disaster of 1855 claimed many victims

The Missouri State Capitol was moved from St. Charles to Jefferson City in 1826. It was important for the state legislature to be able to travel to and from the largest city in the state.

Prior to 1855, the fastest way to travel from St. Louis to Jefferson City was to take a boat up the Missouri River. This mode of transportation was not always feasible.Train_onlydesc

The river was not passable for much of the year. In the spring, flood conditions made it dangerous for boats to travel due to hidden snags. In the winter, the river usually froze solid in the era before the Army Corps of Engineers cut a deep, swift-moving passage in the center of the stream to enable river traffic to get through most of the year.

Prior to that, it was common for people to cross the river on the ice. In response to an 1893 bet that he couldn’t skate on the ice-covered river from Washington, Mo., to St. Louis in less than 12 hours, Washington Postmaster J.M. Owens made the 86-mile trip (river miles) on skates in eight hours and 30 minutes!

Obviously river travel was not a year-round option. The solution was to build a railroad from St. Louis to Jefferson City. The Pacific Railroad was completed to Pacific, Mo., in 1852, then on to Washington and Hermann. The remaining challenge was the completion of the railroad bridge over the Gasconade River.

The bridge was finally deemed ready and preparations were made for a maiden voyage. On Thursday, Nov. 1, 1855, a large delegation of St. Louis dignitaries and their invited guests gathered at the old Seventh Street Depot on the Pacific Railroad. They had convened to board a Pacific Railroad train for its maiden voyage to Jefferson City.

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