Lexington and Ohio Railroad

Historical Marker #69 in Frankfort remembers the Lexington and Ohio Railroad, which was the first railroad in Kentucky.

The Lexington and Ohio (L&O) Railroad received a charter from the Kentucky legislature in 1830. The intent of those associated with this business venture was to create a commercial line running west from Lexington to the Ohio River. From that point, goods could then be sent via the river system to New Orleans and markets around the world.

The track's construction began in Lexington, and limited operations began on the route as early as 1832. Construction to Frankfort, however, was not completed until two years later. Unlike later tracks that used elevated steel rails, the L&O used limestone blocks. Attached to the blocks were special flat iron straps that were imported from England. Horse power first pulled the cars, but a steam engine was constructed in Lexington in 1833. The engine, however, proved unsuccessful and prompted two engines to be imported from the East Coast.

In 1835, the engine "Daniel Boone" made the almost twenty-nine mile trip from Lexington to Frankfort in two hours and twenty-nine minutes. It traveled between twelve and fifteen miles per hour. Its arrival in the Capital City was celebrated with cannon fire and huge ball at the Weisiger House hotel.

The strap iron rails on the L&O soon began wearing out and caused several accidents. Later, the limestone sills and strap iron rails were replaced with wooden ties and conventional "T" rails. In 1842, the state purchased the financially strapped L&O. The track's route of travel was slightly altered in 1848, and to accommodate the new path, a tunnel was constructed at Frankfort the following year.

An extension of the track that went to Louisville was completed in 1851, when the railroad bridge over the Kentucky River was constructed. Eventually, when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was completed in 1859, a rail link from the Bluegrass Region to southern markets created new opportunities for Kentucky farmers. However, the Civil War brought raids by both sides that destroyed much of what had taken so long to build.