Was a Rochestarian the founder of the transcontinental railroad? Not so fast.

Was a Rochestarian the founder of the transcontinental railroad? Not so fast.

All photos, David Kramer, May 2019

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, allowing another opportunity to visit one of the most extraordinary monuments in Mt. Hope Cemetery, that of Dr. Hartwell Carver (1789 – 1875), the self-proclaimed father of the Pacific Railroad (another name for the transcontinental railroad).

I first discovered the monument many years ago when touring the cemetery with my friend Phil.  All erected monuments — Carver’s 50 footer is the second tallest in the cemetery — can easily be viewed as phallic symbols, Carver’s even more so because it’s topped by a statue of a robed woman.  The memorial’s seeming homage to Carver’s granite manhood is matched by 5 accompanying self-aggrandizing inscriptions paying homage to his apparently massive ego.inscript new

One inscription makes the claim of Carver’s transcontinental railroad paternity, “with him originated the thought.” Another explains that Carver roused public interest and demonstrated the railroad’s practicability.  Another lauds his “vision of the future.” Carver also reminds viewers that his family came to America on the Mayflower in 1620.

After we studied the phallic symbol and the self-promoting inscriptions, I distinctly remember Phil quipping — fair or not — that Carver is basically telling the world, “I’m a big d**khead.”

I’d forgotten about the monument until this year.  Looking closer, I discovered Democrat and Chronicle‘s Jim Memmott’s 2018 article, “Celebrating a Pittsford doctor’s train obsession.” (BELOW)

In the article, Memmott fills us in on the controversies and curiosities surrounding the memorial. First, Carver’s claim to be the father of the transcontinental railroad is highly dubious. At best, maybe he was a cousin. Second, as Memmott notes, some accounts say that the Union Pacific Railroad paid for the tribute. Memmot suggests it’s more likely Carver paid for it himself.  As for Carver’s ego, Memmott explains that Carver had the monument erected in his lifetime and authored the praises himself!

Memmott is more charitable towards Carver than was Phil. Memmott adds Carver to his list of Remarkable Rochestarians, saying “he deserves our thanks, even deserves the monument he erected to himself.”  Fair enough, but Phil’s quip is hard to resist.

dec 5 2018

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 4th, 2018

Celebrating a Pittsford doctor’s train obsession

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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