Saturday, July 13, 2019

Happy 150th Birthday to the Mount Washington Cog Railway!

Cog Railway 2009

In the 1850s Sylvester Marsh almost died while hiking on Mount Washington.  While musing about a better way to reach the summit of the North East’s highest mountain, he thought about building a railroad.  Marsh designed a unique kind of cog railroad called the “Marsh Rack System”, the first mountain-climbing cog train in the world.  His plan was ridiculed in the state house and in newspapers, but he persevered.

Sylvester Marsh finally received a charter in 1858 to build a railroad which opened on 3 July 1869. It has brought a new kind of tourist to the summit of Mount Washington for the last 150 years.  Thousands of people ride the cog railroad every year, and it is estimated that over 5 million have ridden “The Cog” in the past 150 years of its existence.  One of the first passengers was President Ulysses S. Grant. 

The ownership of the railway has changed hands from Marsh to the Boston and Maine Railroad, to Henry Teague, to Dartmouth College and then back again to the Teague family until 1983.  Now it is operated by the Presby family. 

You can hike Mount Washington, or you can drive up the auto road, take the snow coach or snow cat in the winter, or take the cog railway.  At the summit there are many great views of four states and Canada, and even the Atlantic Ocean and Boston on clear days. There are several races including a bike race to the summit, an auto race, and a motorcycle race to the top.   The top of the mountain has an observation deck, the weather observatory, and the granite Tip Top House museum built in 1915.

About 150 people have died attempting to climb Mount Washington since 1849.  You can read all about these tragedies in Nicholas Howe’s book Not Without Peril, published in 2000 and republished in 2009.  Our beloved “Cog” remains a favorite, safe, and fun way to reach the 6,288 foot summit, with only two accidents in it’s entire 150 year run.  I'll bet your relatives, family members, and ancestors have visited Mount Washington, too.

1955 Mount Washington, with the railway visible.
Photo by Jack Wilkinson, my Dad

This image was digitized from a slide purchased at the
Cog Railway giftshop in 1969 by Don Wilkinson, my grandfather

For the truly curious:

The Mount Washington Cog Railway  

Mount Washington Observatory 

Mount Washington Observatory Webcams:


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Happy 150th Birthday to the Mount Washington Cog Railway!", Nutfield Genealogy, posted July 13, 2019, ( accessed [acess date]).

1 comment:

  1. Have you read The White Mountain by Dan Szczesny? It tells the stories of people who have interacted with Mount Washington over the years in a very engaging way.