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National Archives and Records Administration
Overview of Available Transcontinental Railroad Records
Guide to Railroad Records at the National Archives
Transcontinental Railroad Documents
in the National Archives,
from the Office of the Secretary of Interior, Lands and Railroads Division:
Agency History Note: From 1849, when the Department of the Interior was established, the Secretary of the Interior had general supervisory control over the administration of the public domain. The General Land Office was the operational bureau in charge, its work being the survey, disposal (by sale, grant, or reservation for public purposes), and, to some extent, the protection of the public domain. The handling of communications between the Secretary and the General Land Office was assigned to particular clerks in the Office of the Secretary, and included the review, drafting, and filing of this correspondence. This work was continued and formalized by the Lands and Railroad Division, which was established within the Office of the Secretary in approximately 1870.
The work conducted mainly concerned surveys, boundary delimitations, and the establishment and discontinuance of land offices; the administration of the Homestead Act and other laws relating to land sales, including private land claims, disputed entries, and townsites; land grants to States; withdrawal of land from entry and the establishment of reserves, including Indian reservations; and investigation of depredations on the public domain, especially the removal of timber. Much of the work related to appeals to the Secretary from decisions of the Commissioner of the General Land Office.
A Pacific Wagon Road Office operated in the Office of the Secretary until wagon road work was discontinued at the beginning of the Civil War. In 1865 an Engineer Office was established to resume work on the Government wagon roads and to handle matters concerning the Pacific railroad, land-grant railroads, the Washington Aqueduct and some other public works in the District of Columbia, and the Capitol Extension. In 1867 the Washington Aqueduct and other public works were transferred to the War Department, and work on the Capitol was entrusted to an Architect of the Capitol. In the same year the Engineer Office was replaced by the Pacific Railroad Division. About 1870 this Division was merged into the Lands and Railroads Division, which took over the work concerning the aiding of construction of railroads by Federal land grants and the construction of wagon roads. The records of the Pacific Wagon Road Office, Engineer Office, and Pacific Railroad Division were for the most part maintained separately from those of the Lands and Railroads Division. ... The Lands and Railroads Division was abolished as part of the reorganization of 1907 and most of its functions including railroad rights-of-way, were transferred to the General Land Office and the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation Service).
PRESS COPIES OF LETTERS SENT CONCERNING RAILROADS AND WAGON ROADS, 1872 - 1872.
These letters continue the previously separatly-maintained press copies of letters sent concerning Pacific railroads, land-grant railroads, and wagon roads. Beginning in 1873, letters sent concerning railroads and wagon roads were included in the general series of press copies maintained by the Lands and Railroads Division. For handwritten copies of these letters, see the third volume of NWCTC-48-599. 2 bound volumes.
OF LETTERS RECEIVED CONCERNING PACIFIC RAILROADS, 1867 - 1873.
The register of letters includes letters received by the Pacific Railroad Division as well as the Lands and Railroads Division. Some letters concerning land-grant railroads, wagon roads, and other subjects are also registered. Most entries give date of letter, date of receipt, name and address of writer, subject of letter, and indication of action. The letters registered here are usually among those in the RAILROAD PACKAGES, 1849-1901.
Related Records: For the letters registered in this series, see NWCTC-48-598. For a register of earlier letters received relating to Pacific railroads, see NWCTC-48-595. 1 bound volume.
PACKAGES, 1849 - 1901.
Chiefly letters received from the President, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, special commissioners, Army officers, Members of Congress, other Federal officials, Governors of the States, officials and Government directors of railroad companies, attorneys, and others relating to land-grant and Pacific railroads. Also included are reports, copies of letters sent, opinions, decisions, certificates, minutes, affidavits, petitions, assignments, mortgages, briefs, memorandums, maps, appointments, oaths of office, estimates, inventories, and vouchers. The records relate to surveys, routes and rights-of-way (packages 183 through 188), land, land grants (packages 100 through 108), appointments of commissioners and Government railroad directors, finances, Pacific railroads in general (packages 179 through 181), and many other subjects. The highest numbered packages consist chiefly of annual reports of the railroad companies to the Secretary of the Interior and reports of commissioners on the completion of sections of lines. Related Records: For registers of the letters filed in this series see NWCTC-48-595, NWCTC-48-596, and NWCTC-48-597. Linear Measure 18 ft.
of Railroads cited in the series RAILROAD PACKAGES, 1849 - 1901.
Partial List of Railroads and Package Numbers:
Central Pacific: 33 - 46, 310, 336 - 337 ...
Union Pacific: 238 - 268, 304, 317 - 320, 342 - 346, 348
Western Pacific: 285 - 298, 304, 322, 348
SENT CONCERNING PACIFIC RAILROADS, 1862 - 1872.
Handwritten copies of letters sent by the Engineer Office (with a few earlier letters), the Pacific Railroad Division, and the Lands and Railroads Division to the President, Members of Congress, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of War, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, special commissioners, other Federal officials, State and Territorial officials, officials and Government directors of railroad companies, and others. They relate to determination of routes of Pacific railroads and branches, inspection and acceptance of construction, land grants, issuance of bonds to companies, and other subjects.
During 1872 letters relating to land-grant railroads and to wagon roads, previously copied in separate series, were copied in this series. Related Records: For the letters received that prompted these responses, see NWCTC-48-598. 3 bound volumes.
Packages, 1849 - 1901.
Chiefly letters received from the President, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, special commissioners, Army officers, Members of Congress, other Federal officials, Governors of the States, officials and Government directors of railroad companies, attorneys, and others relating to land-grant and Pacific railroads. Also included are reports, copies of letters sent, opinions, decisions, certificates, minutes affidavits, petitions, assignments, mortgages, briefs, memorandums, maps, appointments, oaths of office, estimates, inventories, and vouchers. The records relate to surveys, routes and rights-of-way, land, appointments of commissioners and Government railroad directors, finances, and many other subjects. Most of the records are dated 1862-81. A list of packages is available.
Package, 05/04/1869 - 05/04/1869.
from the Commissioners of the Pacific Railroad Commission, January 14,
5/14/1869 - 5/17/1869.
Package, 1862 - 1888.
Union Pacific Railroad, 1862-63. Executive order setting gauge of track
on Pacific railroad.
Package, 1864 - 1864.
from Union Pacific Railroad to Secretary of the Interior signifying Union
Pacific's acceptance to the Pacific Railroad Act of 1863.
order appointing directors of the Union Pacific Railroad, 07/19/1864.
order appointing commissioners to examine the road to be constructed by
the Union Pacific Railroad., 7/27/1864.
order appointing directors of the Union Pacific Railroad., 10/07/1864.
from Thomas Durant, President of the Union Pacific Railroad, to Abraham
Lincoln asking for approval of permanent location for the first 100 miles
of Union Pacific track., 11/03/1864.
Package, 1863 - 1878.
report of Central Pacific Railroad to stockholders, 7/13/1869.
Report of Central Pacific Railroad to the Secretary of Interior., 12/27/1869.
of the Engineer's Office to the President and Directors, Central Pacific
Package, 1869 - 1870.
report of the Union Pacific Railroad sent to Secretary of Interior, 9/30/1869
of Operations of the Chief Engineer, Union Pacific Railroad, for the fiscal
year ending July 1, 1869. [10/01/1869]
Railway Expeditions and Survey, 1858 - 1858.
During the period of 1830-1858, the Interior Department, through various agencies in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior including the Pacific Railway Survey, Patents and Miscellaneous Division, Division of Lands and Railroads, Commissioner of Railroads, and the Reclamation Service, undertook the exploration and survey of various routes for the proposed Pacific railroad. These artworks were intended to illustrate the terrain and environs explored by the Pacific Railway Expedition and Survey, 1858, in their report to the Secretary of the Interior. The prints include views of mountain ranges, valleys, passes, and canyons along the 41st parallel between Utah and California. Engravings, Drawings-Pen and Ink.
on Pacific Railroads (1865-1911).
On July 1, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill authorizing the construction of a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and California. Construction was to be aided by land grants and Government loans. During the 1850's the Army Topological Engineers had explored various routes for such a railroad and from as early as 1855 select House committees had been responsible for legislation regarding the construction of a transcontinental railroad. On March 2, 1865, the standing Committee on Pacific Railroads was established and assigned jurisdiction over subjects relating "to the railroads and telegraph lines between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast." By 1911, the committee had become largely inactive, and it was terminated.
Commissioners' Reports (Central Pacific Railroad)
California State Railroad Museum Library Manuscript Collection #MS 10 has typecripts and copies of documents held by the National Archives, which are located at the Big Four Building in Sacramento [ID 1437] which the CSRM describes as follows (annotation omitted):
SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY COLECTION (1866-1874)
" During construction of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads and their early subsidiaries, the federal government appointed commissioners to inspect the work prior to the awarding of subsidies. Operating under the auspices of the Secretary of the Interior, the commissioners reported on the progress of construction, condition and valuation of the line and appurtenances, facilities, and equipment in use, and made recommendations for improvements, route changes, etc. The investigations of the Central and Southern Pacific and their subsidiaries were carried out in sections generally of forty mile increments. The collection consists of reports on the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific, California & Oregon, Oregon & California, Oregon Central, San Francisco & San Jose, and first Western Pacific Railroads. The reports were prepared and endorsed between 1866 and 1889, and are presented with endorsements and reports on the Union Pacific and Central Pacific of 1869 and 1874. There are typed copies and photocopies of original documents."
Digital copy available on the Internet.
> "There [is a] National Archives collection of valuation maps, from which one can study the entire US rail system as it existed in the 1915-1920 era, at a scale of 1"=100 ft. The sheets are 56" long. (One mile per sheet) Fascinating material for an intimate snapshot of the infrastucture as it existed at that time. If you go in person to College Park, MD, you can buy ten copies per day at about $14 each for full size, $6.00 each for half size. To buy by mail order, you have to go through a "private contractor," who will charge about four times that much." —Adrian Ettlinger, 12-21-2002. [From R&LHS Newsgroup]
> "I have noted with interest the discussion on the Interstate Commerce Commission railroad valuation maps in the custody of the National Archives at College Park. Yes, the maps are very brittle and get heavy use. But they are in more usuable condition than they used to be. Up until approximately 1997, the blueprints were folded into bundles and wrapped with twine. Since the move from Suitland to Archives II (College Park) in 1995, they have been flattened and placed in map drawers for easier access. For your information, the new telephone number for the Maps and Plans Group, Special Media Archives Services Division is 301-837-3200. The blueprint copies of the maps that the National Archives has is the ICC copy of the maps. The original black ink on white linen copies were originally given to the railroad and to the states. Some of the railroads and state archives still have their copies. As some of you may know, I am the contact person for reference on the ICC records in National Archives custody, particularly the textual records at the National Archives at College Park. For further information concerning the records, you may want to consult my guide entitled 'Records Relating to North American Railroads: Reference Information Paper #91' which is available on the R&LHS website. We have a few hard copies left, however I have been told that there will be a reprint done hopefully by next summer. ... my specialty here is transportation, and particularly railroad records. I provide reference service on the textual (paper) records. In the ICC records, the primary interest with railroad researchers is documentation concerning individual railroad depots - construction specifications, drawings and photographs. These are available in the ICC, Bureau of Valuation, Engineering Field Notes. I have almost finished with a comprehensive finding aid to these records which will make it a lot easier to do reference in these records. The interest is usually for historic preservation and sometimes modeling. An additional note for the valuation maps. You can order copies of the maps by mail from Maps and Plans, however they use a private vendor for mail orders, and the price goes up. In the research room, their staff will copy up to 10 maps a day at the rate of $2.70 per foot. The maps are usually four and half feet long. Again, their phone number is 301-837-3200. Please cite the name of the railroad, the valuation section number and if available the map number. If you do not have that information, you may want to consult with me as I have finding aids for the maps. ... It is easier to get in touch with me via email. —David Pfeiffer, Archivist, Civilian Records Textual Archives Services Division National Archives, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740 301-837-2052, 12-23-2002 & 12-24-2002. [From R&LHS Newsgroup]
Civilian Records (NWCTC), National Archives at College Park, 8601
Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001
PHONE: 301-713-7230 FAX: 301-713-6907