**ATTENTION**This is an ongoing project. I continue to add photographs and historic items of interest as I come across them. If anyone has old photos, interesting facts, or stories relating to the Thomas Viaduct, the Viaduct Hotel, or the surrounding area of Relay I would be very interested in them. My e-mail address is neutronfan@yahoo.com. Thanks.


June 20, 2014

Thomas Viaduct History & Historic Photographs

The Thomas Viaduct - Elkridge end of the bridge 1970.
        Courtesy, The Library of Congress by William Edmund Barrett.

 The Thomas Viaduct is a stone masonry railroad bridge that spans the Patapsco River and the Patapsco Valley gorge between the towns of Relay and Elkridge, Maryland and is the first multispan masonry bridge constructed in the United States to be built on a curve. It is the world's second oldest railroad bridge still in use (the oldest is the Carrollton Viaduct  located a few miles north) and is the world's largest multiple arched stone railroad bridge built on a curve.

 The Thomas Viaduct utilizes Roman-style stone arches using locally mined granite. The bridge is made up of 8 spans totaling 612 feet in length and is approximately 26 feet wide and 59 feet high from water level to the base of the track rails. It is built on a 4 degree curve which is achieved by building the piers in a wedge-shaped manner. 
The Thomas Viaduct was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe II, then B&O's assistant engineer and who later became their chief engineer. Many at the time doubted whether Latrobe's design could even support itself much less the 6-7 ton locomotives being used at the time so they nicknamed the bridge "Latrobe's Folly". 

 Benjamin Latrobe reportedly suffered from insomnia and nervous disorders as he designed and oversaw construction of the bridge including shortness of breath, fainting and indigestion. Conventional treatments of the day included bleeding, cupping, purging, and drinking turpentine!  Morphine and laudanum were commonly used for insomnia. 

 This is a lithograph from 1835 by Thomas Campbell.  It was done the
     same year that the Thomas Viaduct construction was completed so this
         gives you a snapshot of how the area looked when the bridge was opened.
       The Builders Monument can be seen at right on the Relay end and the 2-
         flight staircase is barely visible on the left at the Elkridge end of the bridge.
Courtesy, Maryland Historical Society.

  Construction began on July 4th, 1833 and the bridge was officially completed on July 4th, 1835 at a cost of approximately $200,000. Over 600 stone masons and free black men worked on the bridge and set up a camp on the Patapsco flats just downstream from the bridge site. Locally mined granite from Ellicott's Mills was shipped via the Old Main Line on railroad cars and delivered right to the construction site. 

The bridge was named after Philip E. Thomas who was the first president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). A 15 foot tall obelisk stands today on the Relay end of the bridge, designating government and railroad officials connected to the project.

  Today the bridge carries 200 ton diesel locomotives and heavy freight traffic on a daily basis. The Thomas Viaduct has been in service, without interruption, since the day that it was opened in 1835.  It survived the great flood of 1868 as well as Hurricane Agnes in 1972, two floods that wiped out the Patapsco Valley and destroyed nearly everything in their path.

 The Thomas Viaduct was designated a National Historic Landmark on January 28, 1964, and administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The bridge has also been named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Oil painting by John H.B. Latrobe of the Thomas Viaduct circa 1850-1860.
Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society #1945-105-4.

**I'd like to point out an interesting fact about
the historic paintings, lithographs & photos**

You may notice that the very early pictures of the viaduct tend to make the 
bridge appear taller and a bit more graceful in it's overall appearance than it does today.  It took me much longer than it should have to figure out why.  The Patapsco River gorge has silted up significantly over the past almost 2 centuries. The soil all around the  the bridge piers is a spongy coarse sand in consistency.  I counted the number of granite blocks above ground level on several different bridge piers and found that they are buried anywhere from 3-4 feet to as much as over 8+ feet deep in silt compared with photos of the same piers 130 years ago.

  This is nothing new though.  Elkridge Landing  (now the town of Elkridge)  was just a thousand yards downstream from the Thomas Viaduct.  Two hundred and fifty years ago Elkridge Landing was a busy colonial river port rivaling old Annapolis. The river there was as wide as 500 feet across and 20 feet deep. English ships sailed up the Patapsco river from Baltimore to pick up "hogsheads" of tobacco that were locally grown at the time. The river began to silt up due to ships dropping their ballast in the river before picking up cargo, mining and agriculture upriver, and occasional floods (known as "freshets") which finally made it impossible to navigate and the port ceased to exist. 

There was a small steamboat that was able to navigate up the Patapsco river as far as the Thomas Viaduct which stopped at a wharf just below the bridge. The 1868 flood wiped-out the wharf and filled in the steam boat channel with silt.
 Today, much of the river in the Elkridge/Relay area is little more than a shallow creek  that couldn't accommodate anything larger than a row boat. Also worth noting is that much less water flows down the Patapsco River today due to Liberty Reservoir and its 160 foot high dam that was completed in 1954.  

So if the Thomas Viaduct looks a little on the short and stubby side to you today, it actually is.

                           **Click On Any Photograph To Enlarge It**

       A wide-angle view of the outer curve side of the bridge showing all 8 
       spans. Photograph circa 1975. Courtesy of the History Room of the 
Baltimore County Public Library Catonsville Branch.

                A 1970's aerial view of the outer curve of the Thomas Viaduct from a 
              Library of Congress photograph. Floods tend to shift the course of the
              river at the bridge. The Patapsco river tends to flow under the 3rd, 4th
              &/or 5th spans of the bridge today (counting from left to right).
                The dark line that looks like a dried up stream bed running diagonally
              from the left bottom corner just below the tree tops in the foreground
              looks to be the remnants of the mill race for the old Hockley Grist Mill
              that ran from a small mill dam (just out of view upstream to the left)
              and then under the first bridge span on the right. The mill was just
              on the other side of the bridge. It burned down in 1883.

  The Thomas Viaduct in 1972. Tropical Storm Agnes had
   flooded the Patapsco River Valley in June of 1972 and did
          massive damage. Notice how clear the area around the bridge
is from the flood. Photo by blog follower Walt Hiteshew.
  Thanks for sharing Walt.

Oil painting by John H.B. Latrobe of the Thomas Viaduct circa 1850-1860.
Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society #1945-105-4.

 The Thomas Viaduct 1861 from the bluff where a Union artillery
 battery was placed. Notice the man standing at bottom left. Union
Fort Dix was located behind the photographer. Courtesy of the
Howard County Historical Society.

   Thomas Viaduct in 1880. This picture was taken from a
   hilltop where a Union Army artillery battery was placed
   during the Civil War to protect the bridge. The Hockley
    grist mill with a connecting ramp at the tracks is at right
    in the foreground. It burned down in 1883. The Viaduct
     Hotel with the obelisk in front of it can be seen at the far

end of the bridge. Photo credit Patapsco Valley State
 Park, courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library 
Legacy Web project.

 A close-up of the Hockley Grist Mill taken from the Thomas Viaduct.
The bridge railing is at bottom right. Notice the viaduct stairs in front
of the railing at bottom right. Levering Avenue today runs under where
the grain chutes from the tracks are. Photo donated by John McGrain,
courtesy of Brennan Harrington.   

  This one was taken from the same hilltop, circa 1890's - early1900's.
      Photo is from an e-book of The Modern Railroad by Edward Hungerford.

A whimsical  painting of the Thomas Viaduct with the
Viaduct Hotel train station in the background.
Oil on canvas by Stephens Berge ca. 1934-35. In 1930, Stephens 
    and his twin Henry, graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art, one
as a painter and the other a sculptor. Both worked full time at their
   professions. Their father, Edward Berge, was a well-known sculptor.
The Berge brothers were good friends with Dolly Davis as well the
   Bahrs. Stevens died in his late seventies ca.1986. A memorial show
 for his work was held at the McDonogh School Galleries. Florence
  and Leonard Bahr bought this painting then, and presented it to the
Elkridge Heritage Society - Sept. 12, 1989.

Thomas Viaduct with a passenger train after a snow storm in 1880.
   Courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library Legacy Web project.

A watercolor done by Baltimore artist Hugh Newell in 1885. Mr.
   Newell was living in Baltimore at the time of this painting and was
teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Blog follower 
T. Sean Daugherty owns this painting and was kind enough 
share it.   


      Photo showing the original pedestrian bridge over the river. Each span
    of the Thomas Viaduct is about 58 feet long so the little bridge is over
   120 feet long with the ramps leading up to it. The split rail fence in the
    foreground shows the human scale. If you click on the photo to enlarge
     it you can see the telegraph poles running across the top that are visible
in Civil War photos of the Thomas Viaduct. The 1872 photo below
     shows only pieces of the stone pilings from the foot bridge. Photograph
donated to the blog by John McGrain. Photo circa.1860's before the
 great flood of 1868.
Thomas Viaduct - Relay end of the bridge in 1872. The rebuilt
   Hockley Mill can be seen at center left. There was a huge flood
  in 1868 that wiped-out the entire Patapsco River valley. Notice
  how the vegetation is practically non-existent in the river gorge
       4 years later. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can clearly
     see the remnants of pilings from what was a foot bridge attached
      to the viaduct's piers on the first 3 spans. There is also a roof and
           wall of a building visible under the first span. Photo B&O Railroad

  Photo taken from the same vantage point in 2014. Photo by
Jeff L. March 22, 2014.

 The Thomas Viaduct at the Relay end of the bridge 1886. Notice
     the people having a picnic next to a lone tree in the foreground and
     several men fishing on the far shore. There is also a person looking
        down from the bridge walkway. The walkway was installed sometime
        after the 1868 flood destroyed the small foot/cart bridge shown in the
     above drawing. Notice also that there still are no shrubs and only a
       single tree present around the bridge 18 years after the flood. Photo
          courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library Legacy Web project. 
 The same angle of the bridge today. The scrubby little trees that grow
all around the bridge block most of the views that were available 125
      years ago. Notice that the river has shifted it's course over the years and
    no longer flows under the same spans as it did in the previous picture. 
Photograph by Jeff L. April 2011.

  Thomas Viaduct at the Elkridge end of the bridge 1886. Again, the flood 
   damage from almost 20 years prior is obvious. Courtesy of the Baltimore 
County Public Library Legacy Web project. 

   Thomas Viaduct bridge piers 1886. A small mill dam can be seen just
upstream in the distance. Courtesy of the Baltimore County Public 
Library Legacy Web project.

   The Thomas Viaduct - Relay end of the Bridge ca.1886-1897. There 
   are 2 people visible and also what looks like a horse drawn buggy or
wagon. This is from a glass plate negative and was obtained as a 
  reverse image (or "mirror image"). I flipped the image over which is 
    why the numbers are backwards. This photo is from the Smithsonian
   Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Dr. G. Howard White, Jr.

  A closer photo of the people in the foreground. The Thomas
      Viaduct abutment at the Relay end can be seen just above the
   roof of the building at left in the background. Photo also from
 the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens,
 Dr. G. Howard White, Jr. Collection.

Two horse and buggies ford the Patapsco river downstream
          of the Thomas Viaduct circa 1900. Photo Patapsco Valley State  
    Park, courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library Legacy
Web project.

The Elkridge end of the Thomas Viaduct in 1911. Notice the small
  footbridge crossing the mill race that runs under the bridge. There 
is still a remnant of that race running under the bridge today. This
photo had to have been taken from the small landing half way up
    the stairs on this end. Photograph from a glass negative, Baltimore 
City Life Museum Collection, courtesy of the Maryland Historical 
Society MC6551.

        The Thomas Viaduct Builders Monument and a passenger train crossing
      the bridge in the early 1900's. This picture was taken from the Viaduct 
           Hotel's English Garden which was located directly in front of the hotel-end
            of the building. There is a person standing on the monument just to the left
        of the obelisk. A streetlamp is also visible just to the right of the obelisk.
    Courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library Legacy Web project.

  The same vantage point today. Photo taken in April, 2011. I have to
    confess that I took liberties with this photograph and removed a huge
  power line tower that was behind & to the right of the obelisk. It was
   a major distraction and ruined the photograph. The cloudy sky made
it easy to erase w/o being noticeable. The below photograph is the
 actual view today.

As it looks today with that obnoxious tower.

        Elkridge end of the bridge circa 1900. There are 3 women in long period 
 dresses on the end of the train car.  The small white sign up ahead 
     reads "B&O Royal Blue Trains". There are 6 guys to the right near the
RR Crossing sign post. One of them is waving his straw hat at the 
  ladies on the end of the train as it goes over the bridge and the one 
   closest on the right has a large camera tripod set up. There is also a 
 train heading south over the bridge. Click on the photo to enlarge it. 
Courtesy B&O Railroad Museum.
The same site in March 2014.  The camera man in the previous 
   photograph was set up where the bridge piling is on the right. The 
    line of scrubby trees behind that piling is where the fence was and
     also where the guys are waving at the train next to the RR Crossing
 sign. The tree line and bridge piling block the view of the Thomas 
        Viaduct which was clearly visible in the 1900 photo. The far road that 
           crosses the tracks in the previous photo is mostly still there behind the 
            right piling and it runs down to Levering Avenue. The other road crossing 
     in that photo came down a hill that is out of the picture at far left. It 
     is still there but is little more than a wide trail going up the hill now. 
Photo by Jeff L.

   Thomas Viaduct -  Elkridge end of the bridge looking towards Relay
      and the Viaduct Hotel circa 1925. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical 

 The same vantage point today. Photo by Jeff L. 03/26/16

And in color.

Thomas Viaduct with a steam engine pulling passenger cars 1925.
Photo courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

      Thomas Viaduct, Relay end of the bridge Circa 1920's. Photo
     taken from the Viaduct Hotel's passenger platform. Wooden 
         platforms are on both sides of the tracks running all the way up
       to the bridge. The entrance on the right to the bridge walkway
          at the Builders Monument is visible with a streetlight and a sign.
            Photo from a paper by J.E. Revelle titled "The Thomas Viaduct At
Relay, Maryland" April 30,1925.

The same site as it appears today. Photo taken March 2014 by Jeff L.

Fishermen at the Thomas Viaduct in 1935. Notice there are 3 people
on the bridge walkway. Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine, Copyright 
Jennifer B. Bodine, Courtesy of AAubreyBodine.com.

 Children fishing upstream of the viaduct in 1935. 
Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine, Copyright Jennifer
B. Bodine, Courtesy of AAubreyBodine.com

Looking upriver from the Thomas Viaduct walkway ca. 1920's-30's.
   Notice the small mill dam in the distance. Photo by J. Frank Andrews,
courtesy Ruth Andrews Sherwood.

     The Thomas Viaduct in 1936 - photo taken from the staircase on the
        Elkridge end of the bridge. Notice the Viaduct Hotel & Train Station in 
          the background at center-right. Courtesy of Historic American Buildings
Survey. Photo by E.H. Pickering.
  The same angle today. The bridge looks like it is being
   swallowed-up by a jungle. I hope that they can at least 
raise the funds needed to clear the trees and shrubs 
 from around the bridge. Photo by Jeff L., July 2012. 

   Thomas Viaduct outside curve with locomotive crossing over
     towards Elkridge pre 1948. The Viaduct Hotel can be seen at
            center in the background. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, 
         you will see 3 people on the bridge walkway in front of  the train.
 Photograph from the Library Of Congress, courtesy of 
the Smithsonian Institution.

B&O's streamlined "Royal Blue" passenger train in 1937 crossing the 
 bridge from the Elkridge side toward Relay in a publicity photo. Image
from Wikipedia.

  2 streamlined steam locomotives being photographed on the bridge in 1939.
  One of the photographers is visible at the right of the photo with a camera on
   a tripod. The railroad frequently used the Thomas Viaduct to "pose" their new
   locomotives on for promotional photo shoots. The" Royal Blue" is on the right
and the British train the "Coronation Scot" is on the left. Photo B&O Public 
Relations Dept.

The same 2 trains photographed head-on in 1939. Photo from Life 
Magazine historical archives.

Capitol Limited posing on the bridge before entering Relay
circa 1950's. Photo B&O Railroad Museum.

B&O's Royal Blue crossing over the Thomas Viaduct
in 1952. Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine, Copyright
 Jennifer B. Bodine, Courtesy of AAubreyBodine.com.

B&O's Columbian crossing the viaduct into Relay, 1949.
Image from Wikipedia.

  Locomotive pulling Royal Blue passenger cars May 1972. Photo
taken by blog follower Walt Hiteshew. Thanks for sharing Walt.
Too bad they don't do excursions like that anymore. Wish I had
been there!
A closer view near the Relay end of the bridge. Photo by Walt
Hiteshew May 1972.

CSX 3122 crossing the Thomas Viaduct into Relay. Photo by
Jeff L. March 22, 2014.

     The next 2 color photographs were donated by Jim Kleeman. A widow that used to work for him gave him several slides taken by her late husband Jack Shields. Jack used to go out with a few buddies and photograph trains in the Baltimore area. Thanks for sharing these great photos Jim.

B.&O.'s Royal Blue 56 passes over the Thomas Viaduct circa 1950. 
Photograph by Jack Shields, courtesy of the Jim Kleeman 

         Another B.&O. Royal Blue passes over the bridge in front of the closed
 Viaduct Hotel circa 1950. Notice how well manicured the property
 is across the tracks where the 2 lamp posts are. The 2 bushes on
         this side near the builders monument are neatly trimmed as well. Even 
       10-12 years after the hotel and station closed down the B&O Railroad 
        still cared enough to keep it looking nice for the train travelling public.
           Photograph by Jack Shields, courtesy of the Jim Kleeman 



  1. Love seeing these photos. Reminds me of the good old days. When I was a kid in the 70's me and my friend used to try to find old civil war relics. We used to climb the viaduct monument. It is a shame that vandals spray painted it. Thank you.

  2. I can't tell you how handy this blog post has been to me in the past week. I live about a mile from the Thomas Viaduct. My family has grown up around it, I've known people to die on it, and I walk under it regularly on my walks. As a local history buff and a railroad lover, this is just my thing. In fact, I have the first photo hanging in my living room along with a few I have taken over the years.

    I have been attempting to recreate a few of these historic shots over the past few years. All of the distance shots elude me because of the trees. :(

    And in reference to the graffiti on the obelisk: I came across a CSX worker who was painting over the "art" (some graffiti is beautiful and has a place, but this crap does not, and this is not the place.) He was very nice and let us hang out up there for a few minutes to snap some photos.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the page. I too love to do "then & now" shots of the viaduct and am frustrated with the trees on the Elkridge side of the bridge. Hurricane Agnes scrubbed the entire area clean back in 1972 (see 4th photo from the top) but it has become an absolute mess now.

    I found multicolored spray paint 2 piers in from Levering Ave. The blue portion of it can bee seen at the pier base in my photograph 3 pictures back if you click on it to enlarge. I was young once & did some stupid things but it never would have crossed my mind to spray paint an historic bridge or its monument.

  4. I heard that there is a hiking trail to see the viaduct. Do you happen to know where this is or where I can go to see it from a good angle?

  5. There is an old access road that goes up the side of the hill on the Relay end of the bridge. This time of year it is easy to see as it looks like a terrace on the hill side. The entrance to it isn't obvious anymore but it starts about 30 feet from the base of the bridge. Once at the top just work your way left until you get to the end of the bridge at the tracks. Most photos of the viaduct are taken there.

    1. That would be my family's property! My name is Kate Bennett. My family bought the estate in 1861, was confiscated by the US Army in 1863-1865 then bought back sometime in 1865. My sister and I are the seventh generation to live in our family's home. We come from the line of Bennett, Berrett and Byrne! Thank you for sharing all of these amazing photographs!!

    2. Glad you enjoyed the photos. I wish I had more!

  6. It amazes me that no one ever mentions St. Denis which is the other side of the tracks from Relay. In St. Denis was the park entrance and also the hill that the hogsheads were rolled. St Denis has always been considered "the wrong side of the tracks". I grew up in St. Denis and the Viaduct was like a play ground for us. We played on it and around it. Everyday I heard the trains coming through only 1 block from the house...such a comforting sound. It passed under the Rolling Road Bridge which is also extremely old and maybe as old as the Viaduct. The hotel was on the side of Relay. I am guessing that the Suttons owned most of the ground on the St. Denis side and sold off parcels. There is a old stone home with a grave yard with the name Sutton on them and Sutton Ave., which ran into the park, was named after them. Agnes flooded out that whole area, changed the course of the river, took down damns and flooded out the entrance to the park. I had a wonderful childhood and into my teens there. If you have never hiked around there you should!

  7. The land where St. Denis is today was a Union army camp and drill grounds during the Civil War from what I have read. The bridge over the tracks on S. Rolling Rd. was built to replace the RR Crossing at S. Rolling Rd. and Railroad Avenue. School Kids from St. Denis had to cross the tracks there to get to school in Relay and it was very dangerous. The bridge was built sometime after 1930.

  8. This is one of the best historical sites I've ever run across. The then and now pictures are great. Thanks for posting all of this. It's now saved in my internet favorite's file.

    1. Thanks. I'm glad that you like the site. It is very narrow in scope so there aren't a lot of hits or comments.

  9. Do you know anyone that might be interested in buying my house just north of the St Thomas Viaduct? It's the first house on the right going northbound over the bridge. 1711 Sutton Ave, Relay Md. 7049067706

  10. Do you know anyone that might be interested in buying my house just north of the St Thomas Viaduct? It's the first house on the right going northbound over the bridge. 1711 Sutton Ave, Relay Md. 7049067706

    1. Sorry. I would have no idea. I don't live in the area.

  11. Great site. I loved looking through the pictures. My family had a home in St. Denis from 1910 until the neighborhood was razed in 1969 to make way for Route 195. Four generations of Wrightsons lived there during those years on the corner of what was Main and A Street.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the photos. 195, 895 & I-95 really chewed the whole area up. Fortunately there is still a good bit left.

  12. Great pics and blog. I moved to this area about 13 yrs ago and love learning the history.