Monday, June 27, 2016

The first mealing station - the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Relay House in Relay, Md., built by the B & O Railroad, was the first “mealing station" for passengers to enjoy reliably good meals, and not miss the train, because the conductor ate "in full view of all."

Food for railroad and "stage line" passengers was viewed "as rather gruesome jokes."  It might be too hot to eat or not ready until it was almost time to leave. The newly created mealing station contained a "lunch counter" for light food and a restaurant where, cleverly, the conductor would be seated within view of the passengers so they could comfortably eat without fearing the train would leave without them.

An incredible engineering marvel, the Thomas Viaduct HERE crossed the river between Relay and Elkridge, thus creating a direct rail line between Washington City (D.C.) and Baltimore in 1835.  Relay had been named because it was half way between Baltimore and Ellicott's mills (now Ellicott City, the terminus of the first commercial railroad line in the US in 1830) at a time when the early trains were literally horse powered, and horses were changed-out at the relay station.

From the source: Baltimore and Ohio Magazine.  Nov. 1921 -

"A few years later [Latrobe’s Thomas Viaduct was built in 1835] the Baltimore and Ohio decided to build a hotel or “mealing station” on this site [Relay, MD]. While there were rooms where an ill or very tired passenger might rest for a day or so, there were no accommodations for permanent guests and the railroad's sole desire was to increase the comfort of its passengers. Up to that time passengers on both steam and stage lines were inclined to look upon mealing stations as rather gruesome jokes. The food was usually so hot, or else delayed so long, that the time allowed for the stop had almost expired before the hungry travelers could commence eating.

In order to remedy these conditions, the Baltimore and Ohio determined to establish its own mealing stations, and to see that its patrons got plenty of good food and had a comfortable period of time in which to eat. To keep the passengers from being made uneasy by the fear that their train would leave without them, the conductor was served at a table in full view of all the others in the room, and did not rise from his place until it was almost time for the train to leave.

For the convenience of those who only desired light refreshment, a lunch counter was established in the large waiting room. The hotel was surrounded by beautiful grounds, where those who so wished could wander among the flowers and shrubbery. This building is said to have been the first in the United States to be erected by a railroad for the comfort and convenience of its patrons.

Mr. Sharp, at that time the head of the hotel service, would often say that he was not at all dissatisfied if the hotel did not make a profit—that the good will and advertisement secured by our road was a sufficient return on the investment. The officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad thought then, as they do now, that the public appreciates good service, and that if everything possible is done for the comfort and convenience of travelers, they will use our road again, and induce their friends to use it.

The small station on the site of the present freight house was used until about 1860, when a much larger one was built on the opposite side of the track, just west of where the switch tower recently stood. This station was used during the Civil War and until October 1873, when the Viaduct Hotel was opened.  The Viaduct Hotel [1873-1950] was famous, and I have often heard people say that they would not think of passing Relay without entering the hotel to drink a cup of coffee."

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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