Mark R. Edwards
B & O Transportation Museum & Mount Clare Station
901, Pratt St., W. & Poppleton St., Baltimore, Baltimore City
Located at Pratt and Poppleton Streets in Baltimore, the Baltimore & Ohio Transportation Museum occupies the site considered to be the oldest in the country established for railroad terminal purposes. The B & O Transportation Museum is presently composed of three buildings--The Mount Clare Station, the Museum Annex Building, and the Passenger Car Roundhouse. The Mount Clare Station, a two-story structure built c. 1830, is the smallest of the three buildings, and the oldest. It is built of red brick with white trim in a subdued Georgian style. In 1891 the current Museum Annex Building was constructed. Designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin, this 2-story brick building, though newer, conforms with the general character of the complex. The Passenger Car Roundhouse, by far the largest and most impressive building of the complex, was also designed by E. F. Baldwin. Begun in 1883, the Roundhouse was completed in one year. The building remains unique, consisting of 22 equal sides creating a nearly circular brick structure; 22 corresponding steel columns support the high roof and cupola. The roof section of this cupola is hung on an iron ring supported by iron struts which tie into the tops of the 22 steel columns. Inside this building are 22 tracks which effectively display a number of historic locomotives and cars. A wooden turntable located in the center of the building originally used to turn the locomotives and cars now functions in the placement of exhibits in the museum.
The three structures comprising the museum have many significant associations. In continuous use since its completion in 1830, the Mount Clare Station inaugurated regular passenger service in the United States on May 22, 1830. Through this station passed the nation's first telegraph message on May 24, 1844, its destination being a nearby station no longer in existence. The roundhouse, with its many unusual architectural features, now houses the bulk of the museum's historical collection, including locomotives and railroad cars. The annex contains some of the smaller exhibits. Recent research suggests that the two-story Mount Clare Station may not actually have been the oldest railroad station in the United States (The Ellicott City Railroad Station has that honor, dating to 1831). The weight of evidence now available suggests that the Mount Clare Station was not built until the company was sure its railroading venture was a success; also, that its probable c. 1830 date of construction had more to do with its consolidation and growth of the company operations than with the actual beginnings of rail service. However, the Mount Clare Station is still a significant symbol, standing on the oldest railroad terminal site in the country.