The Mount Washington Cog Railway is one of the most iconic structures in New Hampshire. It holds the distinction of being the world’s first mountain-climbing Cog Railway as it opened in 1868.
The man behind the railway was Slyvester Marsh who grew up in Campton, New Hampshire. Marsh was an avid hiker and he came up with the idea for a transporation system up Mount Washington while hiking it in 1852. Marsh sought permission to build a railway up the mountain and the public all called him crazy. For those unaware, Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the Northeastern United States as it rises a whopping 6,288 feet. One state legislator is believed to have said that Marsh may as well build a “Railway to the Moon.” Ultimately, Marsh received a charter for the project.
Construction of the railway was delayed until 1866, due to the American Civil War. Following the war, Marsh sought funding for his project while he began prototyping different solutions. After he secured the appropriate amount of funds, Marsh established the Mount Washington Railway Company and began construction in 1866. The route Marsh choose for the railway closely followed the first path to the summit of Mount Washington which was cleared and graded by Ethan Allen Crawford in 1819.
The Mount Washington Cog Railway officially opened for paying passengers on August 14, 1868. For the first few months of operation, the steam engine locomotives nearly reached the summit. Additions to get the Cog all the way to summit were completed in July of 1869. The Cog railway received worldwide attention in 1869 when President Ulysses S. Grant took the trip to the top of the mountain. Grant travelled to New England during that summer to get away from the heat in D.C. He was thrilled to check out the railway which was considered a modern marvel of the time. From the summit of Mount Washington, Grant said “Man looks so small against the universe.”
Sylvester Marsh and the Mount Washignton Railway Company continued operating the railway until Marsh’s death in 1884. Following his death, the Cog railway operation was transferred to the Conocrd and Montreal Railroad Compayn and then the Boston and Main Railroad Company (B&M). Over the years, the Cog Railway has changed hands several times and countless improvements have been made to the railway and locomotives.
Riding the Cog is something every New Hampshire local and visitor should do! After over 150 years of operation, millions have used the Cog to reach the summit.