Homepage People Places Plays Site Map
The expansion of the railroads was crucial to the growth of the theatrical industry. Only the railroad was capable of conveying scenery and actors. But development of the railroad was not even. Not until 1860 were the links complete along the Atlantic and southern coasts from Bangor, Maine to New Orleans "In the West, prior to 1850, there were, broadly speaking, no railroads." By 1894 there were 175,441 miles of track in operation. (By contrast, in 1880, just before these letters begin, there were 93,295 miles.) "The English compartment coach was quickly superseded by the so-called American car, with central aisle and undivided space...The Pullman [sleeping] Car Co was organized in 1867, the same year the first hotel or buffet car was built and the first Pullman dinner car was run in 1868. [100 Years of American Commerce, 1895]
Railroads and Money in the 19th century
of Railroads and Maps, Library of Congress, US http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/rrhtml/rrintro.html
Northern Pacific Railroad Company--Maps.
Rio Grande and Pecos Railway Chicago July 1886 I am sorry we go over the Rio Grande -- it is an awfully fright road -- narrow gauge and such high Mountains to climb over!"
Pacific Railroad Company--Maps.
Guidebook to the Pacific Railroad, 1879 http://americahurrah.com/PRR/Introduction.htm Omaha to San Francisco
Grand Central Depot at 42nd Street New York EJ Phillips was forever getting on or off of trains
1886 1888 1890 1896 Touring stage companies Train wrecks
JH Stoddart writes in his memoirs Recollections of a Player about touring with the Union Square company "We always had our own private car, and the humblest person employed was treated, as far as the comforts of travel were concerned, in the same manner as were the principals. The journey across the continent thus became a thing to be desired rather than an experience to be avoided. During the journey we would pass the time in telling stories, in singing songs, playing cards etc."
These letters give a vivid sense of the travel involved, and how California may have seemed more distant and foreign than Europe. I long to retrace EJP's travels on Amtrak - I've done the Los Angeles to San Francisco route (partly by bus) in 2001, and look forward to a Chicago to San Francisco (or vice versa) trek via Denver and Salt Lake City. I just hope that Amtrak survives long enough to do this.
July 25th 11 AM 
My dear Son,
In a few minutes will leave for Depot. Train leaves at 12:30 No letters this morning from anyone, so I shall not hear from any of you until I reach San Fran'co. Hope dear you will think of absent Mama sometimes. She will think of her dear children always. God bless and watch over you. With love and Kisses I will close this but will write you again on the journey Mother
back of letter]
A nice blunder for the Telegraph folks to make. I wrote New York plain enough for a baby to read. Have not yet, but will speak to the operator about it.
West of the Rockies
My dear Son,
Came through Grand Canyon and Royal Gorge by daylight. Over Marshall Pass by Starlight - and over the Mountain Peaks we could look down on the Stars in the distant firmament. It was a lovely sight.
We had two engines pulling us up the Mountain, and as they turned the curves we could see them puffing out flame and sparks and lighting up the way before them. It was better than fireworks at Coney Island.
We have the same sleeping car conductor we had on our last journey. It is pleasant so far away to meet someone who has met us before.
Do not get dinner until one - have only had a cup of coffee and a cracker. This is a bad road for home comforts. I am bearing the journey first rate though. There are so many of us that we filled one of their narrow gauge cars & 5 of us had to take seats in another car. Mr. [AM} Palmer, [Walden] Ramsey, Maud [Harrison], Marie [Greenwald] and self - compose the 5.
We are to reach Salt Lake in the afternoon. Guess I shall post this at the driving station at 1. Not so many stations to post letters at on this road as on the Union Pacific, and I miss Morse who used to find out about the mails for me. I hope we shall reach [San Francisco] tomorrow sometime - will if cars make connection at Ogden on Central Pacific. Love and Kisses from your loving Mother
All safe, delightful trip. Will write from Salt Lake. This goes by train we came on. Love & Kisses Mama
These short notes, apparently mailed separately, written in a very shaky hand, in pencil. Train rides were not very smooth.
Stopping to let the [iron] horse drink.
480 4/10 miles from San F'co
Thursday July 29th 1886
My dear Son,
Wrote you on the road yesterday, and posted the letter at 10:30 last night in the Ogden [Utah] station, where we had just arrived from Salt Lake. You were in your little bed I suppose, as it was 11:30 with you. That 11:30 was about the time we left Ogden or 12:30 with you.
This I shall post in Humboldt where we stop for supper. It is about 6 here, 7 with you. We do not get to San F'co until tomorrow - we are six if not eight hours behind time. Car shaking so you must excuse writing.
Our trip has been a long one, and seems longer than when we started from NY. It is a great switch taking us by Denver & Rio Grande road - had we come by Union Pacific we should now be in San F'co. Love and Kisses from your loving Mother
Was she right about the time zones then? Four standard US time zones were demarcated by the railroads in November 1883.
San Francisco, July 31, 1886 We should have been here yesterday morning & did not get here until nearly seven. The train ahead of us, which was the regular train, our being an extra, had the two engines thrown for the track yesterday morning Blue Ridge Mountains. [in the West?] We passed the wreck about 2 PM. No cars were upset but the two Engines were turned right over. They said no one was hurt - but I think the Engineer and his companion must have received injuries - but were not killed.
It is very strange in these accidents how very reticent the RR officials are. The Engineer of the 1st Engine was in a house near the accident, and we could not find anyone who could tell us anything about him. New Engines had been procured and the train had gone on before we arrived, so that nothing remained but the two overturned Engines and the "wrecking Derrick train".
Sept 21 1886
My dear Son,
Sorry you did not get the job, but if you have to work without profit, you may as well do without the work. I guess Middletown is already overdone. There were quite enough there in the business before you went, and now two more shops added to the list. Someone must take a back seat, and we being the weakest no doubt will have to be the one. I am sorry it is so, but it cannot be helped.
On Saturday morning we had a very narrow escape from an accident, about two miles from the scene of our accident three years ago. Then five people were injured and one car wrecked. This time no one was injured except one man who nervously jumped from the “Observation car” amongst the rocks, but two cars were wrecked.
At 6 AM we stopped to breakfast. It was very cold – an observation car was put on at the back of the train on which a great many passengers and nearly all our company took seats to view the “Black Canyon” – it was so cold that I would not go, but returned to our sleepers, in which remained Mr. and Mrs. [Eugene and Annie Russell] Presbrey, the latter still in bed, also Mr. [AM] Palmer, Miss [May] Robson, Mr. Davidge and Mr. Stoddart.
About one hour passed when suddenly our car began to shake and bob around like a street car off the track jumping over the stones – the porter said “Something wrong”, ran out and Mr. Presbrey looked through the window and said the observation car is off the track.
By this time the train had stopped and he went to see what damage had been done. In a moment he returned to say no one was hurt, but two cars between ours and the observation car were total wrecks. Fortunately no one was in them or they certainly would have received great injuries. It made us all very nervous for the rest of the trip.
The experience of those on the observation car was dreadful. They all say they thought their time had come. Mr. LeMoyne said he had served through the war but he never felt so near death before. The Earl of Kinston was in the observation car. He took out his watch and timed it from the moment the cars jumped the track until the engine stopped – 3 minutes. We were going very fast around a curve.
I suppose, as in the case three years ago, that some little stone rolled under the wheels of the back cars & detailed them. Well we got through the rest of the journey but three hours behind time. Imaging our beginning S[aints] & S[inners] at 9 o’clock . Yesterday, about four miles from the city, an open switch sent us into the caboose of a freight train – did some damage to that, but none to our train. It is all about sheer carelessness and ought to be looked into by authorities.
We had a fine house last night. I enclose some of the notices from the morning papers. I received a big reception. I have not been out today. It is very warm and I am tired. Play S[aints] & S[inners] this Eve., then I do not play until that on Sat and Sat. Evening. Open with Our Society in NY on the 11th. D.[eo] V.[olente] No more to-day but love and Kisses from your Loving Mother
My dear Brother [Albert]
Monday's & Tuesday's papers mention a narrow escape from a dreadful accident, which the Mad.[ison] Sq Co met with. The train on which they were going from Salt Lake City to Denver while in the Black Canyon jumped the track. No one was hurt, but a man who jumped from the platform. There was a panic for a few moments. I have not heard from Mama in regard to it. It will not be long now before we see Mama, a little over a week. But of course you know all that. Lots of love from your loving Sister [Hattie]
1888 EJP to Albert, New York Jan. 1, 1888 But better late than have a freight train run into you as now seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
Buffalo, Sept. 29, 1890 We were 9 hours late owning to a terrible smash up of two freight trains early this Morning as we were coming through Canada. One train waited at a place called Bismarck from about 4 AM until 1 PM. The accident occurred about 3 miles ahead of us and it took all that time to clear away the debris so that trains could use the tracks. We saw the remains of the locomotives and the heavy iron wheels were bent as one might bend a knitting needle. We were told that a conductor of one of the trains was killed, and again we heard that no one was hurt. I hope the latter was true.
San Francisco, Aug. 10, 1888 Telegraphed you last Evening announcing our arrival at 6:30 PM. We were almost six hours late, as a freight train had been wrecked eight miles ahead of us. Our journey but for the sudden demise of Mr. Davidge [in Wyoming] was a pleasant one.
Sat August 4th/88
My dear Son
We have a car to ourselves and I have a section to myself. All are not so favored. Our people are Mr. and Mrs. [Frederic] Robinson, Mr. & Mrs. [Eugene] Presbrey, Misses [May] Brookyn, [Virginia] Buchanan, [Kate] Moloney, [Clara] Lipman & self. Mr. & Mrs. [Louis] Massen are in San F'co waiting for us. Messrs [William] Davidge, [JH] Stoddart, [Alessandro] Salvini, [EM] Holland, [Walden] Ramsey, [Harry] Holliday, [Herbert] Millward, Wm Palmer, [AC] Hillsdorf, [Clarence] Handyside and another gentleman whose name I have not learned at Stockton.
We do not reach Chicago before 7:45 Sunday AM and leave at noon for San F'co. At the rate we are going, I do not think we shall reach our destination before next Friday. This is decidedly a slow train for a through one. Love and Kisses my dearest Son from his loving Mother
1:25 PM Nevada
3 PM with you
My dear Son
Pretty warm day in this Alkali Desert, but not as hot as I have sometimes experienced it. Last night I slept splendidly. Did not know when we arrived or left Ogden [Utah]. We have the same sleeping car through from Chicago to Oakland Cal. Then we leave it to go in a ferry boat across the bay to San F'co.
We breakfasted at Wells, Nevada. We are to lunch in a little while, and take supper at Humbolt [did they stop for meals or eat in a dining car?] When I reach the hotel in San F'co will telegraph, so this will be old news when you get it. Love and Kisses and best wishes for your good health from Mama
next: Denver 1888
[postmarked "Omaha" 1890 -- Betty Nick's handwriting]
19th of June
My dear Son.
We are now West of Laramie [Wyoming]. Passed Cheyenne this Morning at 6:30, but I was asleep and didn't know we were there. We are due at Green River this Evening at 6:40, at 8:30 due at Granger [Wyoming] where we branch off to the Northwest. We are due in Portland [Oregon] at 6:40 on Saturday Morning, where we remain all day and perhaps night.
The ride from Portland to Tacoma will take about 12 hours, then to Seattle 2 1/2 hours. When we return to Portland, we play five nights and two matinees. I therefore imagine we shall be two nights on the road between Portland & San F'co.
This is the most pleasant trip I have taken over the plains, I suppose because it is a month earlier. The plains are green, even the sage brush is green and looks very pretty. We are now passing through a considerable amount of Alkali, but it is not so dry as I have before seen it, and therefore does not create the dreadful dust I have experienced in my former journeys.
We are a very agreeable crowd -- no complaints & no bickerings. Mr. [HC] Jarrett has done everything to make us comfortable and is a pleasant travelling companion. We have a dining car with us through to Portland, and get our meals at 75 cents which is very convenient and reasonable. With love and Kisses to my dear children, Albert & Neppie from their loving Mother
envelope postmarked "Nampa Idaho" Jun 21 1890.]
Friday AM June 20th
My dear Son
We are on the Northwestern road going up to Portland. Slept under blankets last night and plaid shawl around my shoulders. We are going through Alkali plains and sage brush (as on the U[nion] Pacific Road).
Think we shall soon reach some Mountain scenery. I am told it rains five days a week in Seattle. We are due in Portland tomorrow 6:40 AM. Stay there until Sunday 11 AM when we start to Tacoma to arrive there in the Evening.
No one complains very much of fatigue. We have had no excessive heat or dust to contend with, and that accounts for our good feelings. Just commenced raining. First time I have seen rain so far West, but then I am a month earlier than heretofore. It will keep the dust down. I enclose a bit of Mountain flower for Neppie with my love and Kisses. Love and Kisses to you both from your loving Mother
Enclosed is a pressed small spray of flowers which could be sage -- still has a purplish cast to it.
next: Portland, Oregon
The Portland, June 21, 1890 Arrived this Morning three hours later than schedule time, but all the better for the delay gave me an opportunity to see some beautiful scenery, which we should have missed had we been on time. I do not feel anymore tired than after a trip to Phila or M'[iddle]town [NY].
next: Tacoma, San Francisco 1890
1896 previous Chicago 1896
crossing the desert
August 15th 1896
My dear children,
I shall send you a telegram as soon as I reach San F'co or where ever we are due at 9:20 tomorrow Morning. Our trip so far has been delightful. Some on board, who are making the trip for the first time think it very hot and dusty, but the veterans amongst us all agree that it is the cleanest trip they ever made at this Season. I feel better I think, than I did on Wednesday before leaving Chicago, for the heat there had wilted me until I looked like a crushed rose or any other beautiful flower you may think I most resemble.
I hope two photos reached you from me on Wednesday. I sat for those on a Thursday when I was feeling and looking my best. Then I went with Mrs. Graves (who went with me to the Photographers) to a restaurant kept by an old acquaintance of hers from Louisville, Ky -- a Mrs. Allen, and we had a lovely lunch, but the newly made hot biscuits were too great a temptation to me and consequently the next day I was sick. And I looked bad, and was very glad I had sat for my picture the day I felt and was looking so well.
Mr. [Wm Jason] Ferguson caught cold, has a sore throat this Morning. Jack [Dolman, aged 8] could not be more childish over it than he is. I think he will be all right by Morning, but it is worrying his wife. They are both very pleasant to me. We had a [card] game of euchre together last night, Mr. Hendricks making up the quartette.
Seems about a month since I heard from any of you, but the time will be short when we shall be returning. East of the Mississippi seems very near to you, compared with where we are now even.
The Empire Stock Co. are this week playing at the Baldwin, and John Drews Co are somewhere on the Coast. Chas Frohman's Co are well represented on the Pacific Coast, or will be when we get there. Love and Kisses to you all dear children individually and collectively. God bless is the earnest wish of your loving Mother
Men came on the train passing through Wyoming yesterday, to take Presidential vote. We have 13 cars. There were 52 votes for Bryan and 53 for McKinley. I voted for the man who is to be nominated. The above voted were by males.
next: San Francisco 1896
Ambrose, Stephen E., Nothing Like It in the World: The Men who built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Deverell, William, Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad 1850-1910, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Kessner, Thomas, "The Rottenness in New York" in Capital City: New York City and the Men Behind America's Rise to Economic Dominance, 1860- 1900, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003
Frank Leslie, California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877 http://members.door.net/nbclumber/Leslie/Summary.htm
AMERICAN RAILROAD, Harper's Monthly—ca. 1875 http://www.railroadextra.com/amerrr.Html
ENGLISH AND AMERICAN RAILWAYS, Harper's Monthly—ca. 1880
The comforts and discomforts of travel, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly—August, 1882 http://www.railroadextra.com/Page0003.Html
Railroad accidents http://www.railroadextra.com/accipage.Html
Transcontinental Railroad, American Memory, Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/S?ammem/gmd:@FILREQ(@field(SUBJ+@1(Rio+Grande+and+Pecos+Railway+))+@FIELD(COLLID+rrmap
Railroad Station Historical Society http://www.rrshs.org/RSHSindex/index.html
Pacific Historical Society http://www.uphs.org/
George M. Pullman, National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.si.edu/cexh/b&o/pullman.htm
Last updated Feb. 15, 2004
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum http://www.cprr.org/
Homepage People Places Plays Site Map