Railroads in Antebellum Augusta and Franklin Counties

Students will read newspaper articles about trains and railroads to examine the effect that this new mode of transportation had on life in two late antebellum counties.
Instructional Objectives
Materials, Equipment, and Student Background Required
Historical Background
Follow-up, Extension, and Assessment

Instructional Objectives

National History Standards

Virginia Standards of Learning

  • C/T8.4 The student will use search strategies to retrieve electronic information.
  • 11.8 Students will summarize causes and effects of the Industrial Revolution, with emphasis on . . .new inventions and industrial production methods.
  • 11.17 Students will develop skills in historical analysis, including the ability to analyze documents, records, and data, formulate historical questions and defend findings based on inquiry and interpretation, and communicate findings orally, in brief analytical essays, and in a comprehensive paper.

National Council for the Social Studies

  • II. Time, Continuity, and Change
    • d. The learner will identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others. . .
  • VIII. Science, Technology, and Society
    • a. The learner will identify and describe examples in which science and technology have changed the lives of people, such as in . . . transportation.

    Materials, Equipment, and Student Background Required

    This lesson is designed for the traditional classroom, although teachers may choose to have students use the Newspaper Transcriptions Browser or the Newspaper Abstract Search Page to find articles about trains on their own.

    Print and copy the following in advance.

    Worksheet One: a) The Staunton Spectator, January 11, 1859. "For the Spectator." An open letter to the President of the Central Virginia Railroad complaining of the company's favoritism to the eastern part of the sta te, and b) the Staunton Vindicator, May 11, 1860. "First of the Season." A report on strawberries available in town as early as May, now that Richmond is only eight hours away by train.

    Worksheet Two: a) The Franklin Valley Spirit, July 6, 1859. "A Pic Nic." Describes an outdoor event of the Chambersburg Female Seminary hosted by the Franklin Railroad. b) Franklin Valley Spirit, December 7, 1859. "On a Strike." Brief notice of a work stoppage by railroad employees protesting wage cuts of 10 cents a day.

    Worksheet Three: The Franklin Repository and Transcript, December 21, 1859. Describes the fatal accident of a railroad employee.

    Historical Background

    Improvements in transportation were significant factors behind America's First Industrial Revolution. By the late 1850s, rail lines had joined Augusta and Franklin Counties with east coast urban areas. The coming of the trains stimulated manufacturing and farming in these counties, but it also brought changes to the patterns of daily life. In this exercise, students will read about strawberries in May, a school rail outing, and a fatal train accident.

    Along with economic stimulation, the railroads also introduced an element of uncertainty to Franklin and Augusta Counties. Railroads that bypassed their communities or had schedules that favored other areas could wreak serious economic harm. To illustrate this point, this lesson will have students read a complaint about the Central Virginia Railroad's favoritism towards the eastern part of the state.

    Divide students into three groups. Give the first group Worksheet One, the second group Worksheet Two, and the third group Worksheet Three. Further divide each group into teams of 2-4 students.

    Direct students to work with their teams to read their articles and answer the questions on their worksheets.

    When they have finished the task to your satisfaction, reassemble the whole class and ask a person from each group to summarize the article that he or she read. Then make a list on the board of all the different ways that railroads affected people's lives in these communities (more types of food available, new forms of recreation, competition with other regions for service, labor unrest, dangerous accidents.)

    Draw from students' U.S. History textbooks to add to this list of effects. For example, Bailey and Kennedy's The American Pageant discusses how railroads, canals, and steamboats brought about the "transportation revolution" that took place between 1800 and 1860. This "revolution" fostered regional economic specialization (cotton in the deep South, grain and livestock in the West, and machinery and textiles in the Northeast) and brought mass-produced products such as shoes, cloth, and candles to the once self-sufficient household.

    Students may find it interesting to compare the effects of antebellum railroads with the effects of our current dominant mode of transportation: cars and trucks. Like railroads, our automobile culture has created opportunities for both recreation and danger . Refrigerated trucks and our interstate highway system makes fresh vegetables available throughout the country all year. Areas still compete for highway construction, but today, energies are often expended trying to prevent construction as well as encourage it. Although trains certainly generated great amounts of air pollution, cars and trucks have been held responsible for serious global environmental damage.

    Follow-up, Extension, and Assessment

    Use the Newspaper Abstract Search Page and Newspaper Transcriptions Browser to find the names of men who actively promoted railroad construction to their communities. Look up information on these men in the public records to find out if they had a particular stake in the construction of these additional rail links. Consider factors such as property ownership, occupation, and/or type of business involved in. Show your findings in a brief essay or a chart.

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This material was developed by Alice Carter for the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education