Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 17: Railways and Canals

Chapter 17. Records of the Public Works Committees

Table of Contents

Records of the Committees Relating to Public Works (1815-1988) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committee records described in this chapter.

Committee on Railways and Canals (1869-1927)

History and Jurisdiction

17.8 On April 9, 1869, the name of the Committee on Roads and Canals (1831-69) was changed to the Committee on Railways and Canals. Its jurisdiction—over matters relating to roads and canals, and the improvement of navigation of rivers--remained the same. Over the years the committee's jurisdiction contracted significantly. Responsibility for the improvement of navigation of rivers was removed in 1880 and given to the Committee on Commerce, because most bills relating to that subject were already being sent to that committee. Also, the 1880 House rule stated that the Committee on Railways and Canals had jurisdiction over "railways and canals other than Pacific railroads'';1 beginning in the 1880's, however, jurisdiction on most matters relating to railroads was taken over by the Committee on Commerce, renamed in 1892 the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. In 1927 the Committee on Railways and Canals was dissolved and its jurisdiction added to that of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. No records exist for the last 18 years of the committee's existence.

Records of the Committee on Railways and Canals (1869-1927)

Record Type Volume Congresses (Dates)
Minute Books 11 vols. 44th-57th (1875-1903)
Docket Books 11 vols. 41st-44th (1869-77), 47th-48th (1881-85), 51st-56th (1889-1901)
Petitions and Memorials 15 in. 41st (1869-71), 43nd-52nd (1873-93), 54th-57th (1895-1903)
Committee Papers 6 in. 42nd-43nd (1871-75), 45th-50th (1877-89), 53nd-57th (1893-1903)
Bill Files   58th (1903-05), 60th (1907-09)
TOTAL: 2 ft. and 26 vols. (2 ft.)    

17.9 The earliest minute book covers the 44th through the 46th Congresses (1875-81). Minutes give the dates of committee meetings, list those present, tell which measures were discussed, and indicate what was decided. Entries for April-June 1880 are particularly complete. The minutes document committee interests, including a ship canal around Niagara Falls in the 41st, 51st, and 52d Congresses (1867-69, 1889-93); a toll free canal running from the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware Bay in the 46th, 47th, 50th, and 56th Congresses (1879-83, 1887-89, and 1899-1901); construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal in the 54th and 57th Congresses (1905-07, 1901-03); and railroad safety in the 51st Congress (1889-91).

17.10 The earliest docket book contains entries for the 41st and 42d Congresses (1869-73). Typically a docket entry will give the measure's date of introduction, the name of the Representative introducing it, its subject matter, and sometimes its disposition.

17.11 Most of the petitions and memorials referred to this committee concern proposals for Government assistance for the construction of canals and railways. Petitions and memorials on several subjects were presented to Congress over extended periods of time including requests concerning a canal from Rock Island on the Mississippi River to Hennepin on the Illinois River, 1874-1890 (43A-H16.1, 44A-H16.1, 45A-H21.1, 47A-H20.4, 48A-H26.2, 49A-H21.1, 51A-H20.1) and a toll free canal from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to the Delaware Bay, 1874-1900 (43A-H16.5, 46A-G22.5, 47A-H20.1, 56A-H25.1). Memorials concerning the introduction of uniform freight rates for railroads engaged in interstate commerce were received between 1879 and 1897 (45A-H21.3, 46A-H22.3, 47A-H20.3, 54A-H29.1).

17.12 Many other canal and railroad projects are the subject of extant petitions and memorials, with the greatest numbers relating to the construction of a double-track freight railway from "tide-water'' to the Missouri River, 1873-75 (43A-H16.2); the granting of right-of-way through Indian Territory for the Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas Railway, 1883-85 (48A-H26.3); and the protection of trainmen and other railroad employees who worked with locomotives, freight trains, and freight cars engaged in interstate commerce, 1889-1891 (51A-H20.1).

17.13 Committee papers contain correspondence, copies of bills and resolutions, newspaper clippings, and occasionally maps, drawings and blueprints of proposed construction projects. Maps and drawings accompany records of the 43d Congress (1873-75) concerning plans for a horse railway over bridges connecting Rock Island, IL, and Davenport, IA, (43A-F25.2) and a tunnel under the East River to connect New York and Brooklyn (43A-F25.3). A file from the 48th Congress (1883-85) on the proposed cession of the Illinois and Michigan Canal to the United States by the State of Illinois (48A-F32.1) includes a signed Presidential message from Chester A. Arthur, as well as a large map and correspondence from several sources, including the War Department.

17.14 Subjects on which substantial documentation is found in the committee papers are the Ohio and Erie Canal, 1895-1901 (54A-F38.1, 55A-F35.1, 56A-F35.1); the Hennepin Canal, 1874-85 (43A-F25.2, 48A-F32.1); improvements in the Dismal Swamp Canal between the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina Sound, 1877-81 (45A-F31.2, 46A-F32.3); and railroad safety, 1879-83 (46A-F32.8, 47A-F27.1).

17.15 The bill files from the 58th and 60th Congresses (1903-5 and 1907-9) consist solely of printed copies of several bills.


1 Congressional Record, 46th Cong., 2d sess., Jan. 6, 1880, p. 205.

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.