Although stagecoaches were plying short routes about Boston in the early days, they did not become popular in New England until about 1783 when regular runs began over the old post road to New York. The first stages from Boston to New York took about six days to complete the trip. By the 1820s, when several turnpikes were in place between the two cities, the time of the journey had been reduced to 24 hours! One early record indicates that a stage journey from Boston to the Connecticut River usually began at two o’clock in the morning and ended at seven or eight o’clock in the evening. It; required a total of 32 horses over the course of the trip to carry a maximum of 10 passengers and fares ranged from $4.50 to $6.00. The schedule of the mail stage between Boston and New York over the Dorchester Turnpike was shown previously under “Streets, Bridges, and Parks.“
Official tolls set for turnpikes by the Massachusetts General Court in 1805 were: For a coach, phaeton, or other four-wheel spring carriages, drawn by two horses – 25 cents, two-horse wagons – 10 cents; cart or wagon drawn by a pair of oxen – 8 cents; horses, mules, neat cattle, led or driven, each 1 cent; sheep or swine, by the dozen – 3 cents. This same act also forbade collection of tolls from “persons going to or from church or grist mill, on military duty or on journeys within the town where the gate is located.”
Early in the 1800s a stage ran from Upper Falls to Boston through Newton Centre (presumably over the old Sherburne Road). The stage left Upper Falls daily at 9:00 AM and at 3:00 PM started the return trip from Boston. A second stage ran from Upper Falls to West Newton to connect with the railroad after it was opened to that village in 1834 .
As indicated earlier (see “Streets, Bridges & Parks“), the comfortable Concord Coach first appeared in 1829, a creation of Lewis Downing and Stephen Abbott. They did not invent the Stagecoach, which came from England, but merely improved the design. Downing had been operating a wheelwright’s shop in Concord, New Hampshire since 1813 repairing sleds and plows, and making a few chaises and wagons. A dozen years later, when the stage business was coming into full flower, he felt it was time to build a passenger and mail coach. He secured the services of an excellent wagon builder, J. Stephen Abbott of Salem, end their first coach was an instant success. It was the first of about 3,000 that were built by their firm. This type of coach required fewer horses “only two horses were considered enough” instead of four (except that a third might be added in bad weather).
When, for the first time, the Boston- New York run was accomplished within 24 hours “bells were rung and bonfires blazed all along the route.” It was no doubt a Concord Coach that; set this record. When the Charles River Railroad was opened in 1852, the stages from Upper Falls to Boston were deemed unnecessary and coaching became but a fashionable indulgence. In 1884 when the Boston & Albany Railroad took over most of the Charles River Railroad’s right of way and built the two track Circuit Railroad to connect with the main line at Riverside, more frequent rail service was available at Newton Highlands. In order to accommodate travelers using this service, horse-drawn barges made regular trips between the two villages. Newspaper ads in 1888 indicate that Nichol’s Barge was operating 10 trips daily between Upper Falls and Newton Highlands leaving Postoffice Square (Chestnut and Ellis Streets) and proceeding via Chestnut, High, and Elliot Streets to Newton Highlands. For many years transportation for students to Newton High School was available by horse-drawn vehicles, but most everyone walked except in stormy weather.
From 1845 on, railroad construction in Massachusetts was so intense that by 1850 almost every town in the state with 2,000 persons or more was served by a railroad. During these same few years 2,200 miles of track were laid in New England, considerably more than in any other section of the country. Massachusetts had one mile of railroad for every seven square miles of’ its area; New York only one for every 28 and Ohio one for every 58 square miles.
The first railroad in the state, and one of the first in the country, was the Granite Railway Company of Quincy which was incorporated March 4, 1826. Its main objective was to transport Quincy granite for the purpose of building the Bunker Hill Monument. It was built by Gridley Bryant.
The enterprise “had the financial and personal support of Thomas Handasyd Perkins, the enlightened merchant prince. Son-in-law of Upper Falls mill owner Simon Elliot, he was the same Thomas Perkins who, with his brother James, had just launched the Elliot Manufacturing Company in Upper Palls in 1823. (See the chapter on “Industry“).
Mr. Perkins was also financially involved in the building of the first passenger railroad in New England, the Boston & Worcester Railroad. It commenced service in 1834, operating between Boston and West Newton with the first train arriving at the latter point on April 16 of that year. Service between these two points consisted of three trips a day with two to eight passengers carried on each trip. The first engine used was the “Meteor” built by George Stephenson of England Almost immediately, however, the Boston & Worcester contracted locally for its locomotives. In 1834 (the first year of its operation) the Mill Dam Foundry had built the “Yankee”, the first locomotive built in New England.
During the next few years, locomotives operating on American rails were manufactured on both sides of the Atlantic. From a count of locomotives at work on American railroads made by the Secretary of the United States Treasury office we learn: “In 1838 the combined roster for all New England lines was 45. Of this number eight were American locomotives built outside New England, twelve had been imported from Great Britain, and the remaining twenty-five had been built in New England shops.” Surprisingly, many of the locomotives built in America, particularly in New England, were constructed in shops involved in the construction and repair of cotton machinery. These shops possessed the equipment and their workers had the necessary training and skills. We find that this was also true locally. When Newton’s second railroad (The Charles River Railroad) began operating in 1852 its owner, Otis Pettee, added a locomotive shop to his cotton machinery manufacturing plant at Upper Falls. In 1866, while the Civil War was still in progress, the employees engaged in manufacturing and repairing locomotives numbered 100.
The first passenger cars on American railroads were Concord Stagecoaches mounted on flat cars, but gradually more suitable conveyances were built. In our chapter on “Industry” there may be noted a statement to the effect that in Upper Falls twin sons of Zilba Bridges joined with sons of a neighbor, Joseph Davenport, to form a business for building railroad cars in Cambridgeport and Fitchburg under the name of Davenport &: Bridges. The statement goes on to say that they made considerable improvements to the existing railroad cars such as building the first eight wheel car, becoming quite famous in the pioneer days of railroading. Further research, however, reveals that the Boston &: Worcester contracted with Davenport & Kimball of Boston, later Davenport & Bridges of Cambridge, and also with Osgood Bradley of Worcester for passenger cars. Both were makers of carriages and both came to be among the leading car building firms in New England
As to Davenport & Bridges building the first eight wheel car, we leave this to your judgment as we quote the following from E. C. Kirkland’s book, Men, Cities and Transportation:
“All cars had meanwhile become ‘long’ cars (1840-50s), enabled to round the short curves of the New England Lines by a mounting upon two swivel trucks of four wheels each. Gridley Bryant, or the railroads which made use of him, successfully proved in an historic patent case that he had invented and used this device for the Granite Railway. John B. Jervis of the Mohawk & Hudson or Ross Minans of the Baltimore & Ohio, however, had first applied it to passenger transportation.”Men, Cities and Transportation, E. C. Kirkland
Perhaps because the topography of the landscape was more favorable, the route of the Boston & Worcester Railroad took it through the north side of Newton. Despite the railroad’s interest in seeking freight shipments as the main contribution to its income, the manufacturing centers of Newton were by-passed except for Lower Falls, whose first request to have the rails pass through its village was rejected. The matter was reconsidered later, but Lower Falls had to be content with only a branch line. Meanwhile, the heavy shipments of steel and cotton together with their finished products continued to be hauled to and from the nearby Boston wharves by horse and ox-drawn “waggons” over the Worcester Turnpike.
There was no question that the coming of the railroad was to make the turnpike obsolete, especially after the development of sturdier freight and flat cars as well as locomotives powerful enough to handle the heavier loads generated by the expanding industrial revolution of the 1800s. Otis Pettee sorely needed such a facility in the 1830s when he was exporting his heavy cotton machinery to Mexico. Instead, it had to be hauled through snow, mud and dust over the old road. Often without fanfare he would dispatch workmen to fill potholes and level some of the difficult hills between Upper Falls and Boston, expending hundreds of dollars in the process. Occasionally, on request, he would submit a bill to the town for his work. On one such occasion (in 1842) his bill for the cost of labor of men, oxen and horses plus gunpowder used during the previous three years amounted to $701.28. A special committee appointed by the town reported that they had “…viewed the Roads and believed they had been very much Improved and that the Burden of Expenses ought not in Justice to be laid on Mr. Pettee. We would therefore recommend that; the Town pay Mr. Pettee $400 of the Ballance due [he had already received $150 in cash previously] which we think may be done without establishing a President [sic] that will likely to have any Bad effect.”
It is difficult to understand why, if Thomas H. Perkins was one of the financial backers of the Boston & Worcester Railroad in 1834, he did not have influence enough to have its rails laid through Upper Falls. Surely, his own cotton manufacturing plant established there 1823 could have benefited from its service. However, it was not until about, two decades later that southside residents. led by industrialist Otis Pettee, secured rail service for their villages. Pettee’s first request for such service resulted in an offer by the Boston & Worcester to extend a branch line from Riverside via Lower Falls to Newton Upper Falls. However, since this would result in a roundabout trip to Boston of some 15 miles in length, Pettee rejected the offer and turned his attention to constructing his own road from Boston through Newton’s southside and beyond.. The new road began at a ]unction with the Boston & Worcester at Brookline. Organized under the name of the Charles River Branch Railroad, it was to operate only as far as Dover although later an extension called the Charles River Railroad was authorized to carry it as far as Bellingham. Unfortunately, Mr. Pettee died just before the railroad reached Needham.
Not long after his death the railroad was to play an important role in the development of the city of Boston. By the 1850s the open mud flats of Back Bay had become an unsightly as well as malodorous nuisance. Also, the rising cost of real estate around its perimeter, especially its eastern border, inspired speculators to contemplate filling them in and developing the resultant large parcel of land. However, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which controlled 100 acres of the property, devised a plan that would not only accomplish the purpose of filling the flats but make it financially productive as well. As historian Walter Muir Whitehill phrased it; “The Commissioners [for the state] were reduced, as their seafaring ancestors had been, to the technique of parlaying nothing into something by way of exchange.”
By giving a percentage of the valuable reclaimed land to the contractors for their payment and selling the balance to eager developers, “the Commissioners found funds for further work without expense to the Commonwealth.” Actually, a profit of $3,000,000 was realized by the State from transactions involving the sale of its 100 acres. The contractors chosen for the job were Norman Munson, a Vermonter (but later a resident of Shirley, Mass.), and partner George Goss, a Boston contractor. They had never undertaken anything of the magnitude of the Back Bay job but boldly accepted the challenge. In doing so they planned to use two new techniques, the railroad and the steam shovel. Without these they never would have been able to transport efficiently the enormous amount of fill necessary for the job. They were fortunate in that the steam shovel had only recently been invented by William Smith Otis of Philadelphia, and some of the first of these machines were being built by John Souther in his Globe Locomotive Works in South Boston. (See conclusion of Section on “Railroads” for more information on John Souther.
Circumstances made the Charles River Railroad the right railroad the right place at the right time, as they were chosen to be the rail carrier for the huge project. How it was accomplished is best described in Ballou’s pictorial for May 21, 1859:
“The gravel is brought from Needham, near the line in Newton, a quarter of a mile from the Upper Falls Depot, and nine miles distant from Boston. One hundred and forty-five dirt cars, with eighty men, including engineers, brakemen and all, are employed, night and day in loading and transporting the gravel over the road. The trains consist of thirty-five cars each, and make, in the day time, sixteen trips, and in the night nine or ten, or twenty-five in twenty-four hours. Three trains are continually on the road during the day, and one arrives at the Back Bay every forty-five minutes. The excavators for loading the cars work by steam, and perform the work with rapidity and ease. There are two of them, both of which are propelled by engines of twenty-five horsepower.
The gearing of the engines is so arranged, however, as to greatly augment their power. When an empty train arrives at the pit, it is divided, and one half is fed by one excavator, and the other half by the other. A locomotive is attached to each half, and the cars are drawn past the excavators, to be filled. Two shovels-full fill a car, the operation being very much like that of a dredging machine. As the shovel is elevated from the pit, it is turned toward the car, and when directly over it the bottom is opened, and thus the gravel is deposited. The time occupied in loading an entire train of thirty-five cars is about ten minutes. The excavators do the work of two hundred men. The process of loading the cars, though very simple, is curious and interesting. During the year the contractors have been at work, there have been taken out of the hills of Needham about three hundred thousand yards of gravel. Some of the sand-hills which have been made by the machines in excavating, is about twelve acres in extent. The farm from which the sand and gravel are taken belongs to the Charles River Railroad Company. When the contractors commenced operations there was a mortgage on the land. They, the contractors, agreed, on their part, to lift the mortgage, and the Railroad Company agreed without further compensation to give the sand. It is believed that the excavation and filling in are going on at a more rapid rate than has ever been known in history of any similar contract in the country. The contractors make, in the Back Bay, on an average, about twenty-five hundred cubic yards, or forty-five hundred superficial feet per day. This is equal to nearly two house lots. About fourteen acres of land have been made already, At the rate the work is progressing, the hundred acres belonging to the State will be completed in about four years more time.”
In 1859, Munson & and Goss had also signed a contract with the Boston Water Power Company for filling in their lands adjacent to those of the Commonwealth, and it is recorded that the task of filling all of the Back Bay area took more than ten years. It is said that over 200 men were employed in Needham and more than 100 acres of land were leveled. The contractors leased a large building on the river for a machine shop, engine house and other purposes while the river was dammed for water power.
It must be noted that even after his death Otis Pettee “turned a dollar” as his heirs traded off a mortgage secured on land previously purchased by his railroad in Needham. Phineas E. Gay was another contractor who, in 1872, excavated sand and gravel at Upper Falls (on the south side of the present Needham Street), and for two or three years was engaged in the same business of removing it to fill other marshes in Back Bay.
As indicated previously , the Charles River Branch Railroad and the Charles River Railroad had been united by act of 1851 as the Charles River Railroad. In 1886 this road was authorized to build to the Rhode Island line and thence unite with a Rhode Island corporation, the New York & Boston Railroad. The live was extended to Woonsocket and was graded for about five miles on toward Pascoag.
It was planned that the New York & Boston, now chartered under three states, would form a fast through line to New York City as well as connections to the west of Willimantic, Connecticut. It was also to have terminals on both sides of the city of Boston. The line was to extend “from Newton Upper Falls to Cambridge and via the Grand Junction (Railroad) to connections with the northern roads and to the sea at East Boston.” The New York & Boston, however never did use the Grand Junction as a passenger route, and after the railroad became amalgamated into the Boston, Hartford and Erie system in 1865, its line became a secondary one. Its tracks between Brookline and Newton Highlands were sold in 1882 to the Boston & Albany for their Highlands branch.
In 1866 the Boston & Worcester (before becoming the Boston & Albany) had taken over all the property of the Grand Junction Railroad from Cottage Farm Bridge to East Boston along with the docks and warehouse at that point, and thus closed the door to its acquisition by any competitors. The Boston & Albany paid $415,000 for the approximately five miles of track from Brookline to Newton Highlands.
In 1884 the Boston & Albany built a two-track Circuit Railroad to connect with its main line at Riverside. Much of this was done through promotion of James F.C. Hyde, the first mayor of Newton (1874). Mr. Hyde had invested in quite a bit of real estate along this new right-of-way to Riverside, and the introduction of rail service to the area greatly enhanced the sale of his land. Indeed, the result of this new connection with the Circuit Railroad, combined with its improved train service, not only brought the south side of the city into closer contact with the villages on the main line, but also created a real estate boom. Sections soon to be called Eliot and Waban were born, taking over land formerly identified with Newton Upper Falls.
The Boston & Albany, the New York & New England (soon to be called the New York, New Haven & Hartford) continued to operate trains over the B & A lines to Boston. As a result of this rail connection at the Highlands, the rail service through Upper Falls was very prosperous . The freight tonnage was heavy and the passenger traffic brisk, not only to Boston and return (especially of Saturdays) but between the villages as well. This was mainly because of commuters to the factories at Upper Falls and the knitting mills in Needham. The fare between stations was 5¢ for the round trip, Newton Highlands to Boston 25¢, and $16 for a three month 180 ride ticket from Upper Falls to Boston.
A few years later, however, the trains from Upper Falls using the old Cook Street connection with the Boston & Albany were discontinued. Since rail service between Needham and Boston through West Roxbury and other points had been established, the local service was reversed and began running through Needham. Passengers continued, however, to make connections with the B & A at Newton Highlands.
Nevertheless, to answer the argument that many of us remember, the more recent running of the New York, New Haven & Hartford trains over the B & A lines to Boston, we submit this news article from the Town Crier of August 4, 1911:
TO RUN ON B & A TRACKS
Four important new features in railroad operation have been determined upon in consequence of the closed relations lately established between the New York, New Haven & Hartford and the Boston & Albany, under trackage rights lately obtained by the New Haven on the Boston & Albany. Two new loop lines or passenger-train circuits in and out of Boston, are shortly to be operated. Furthermore, improved train service for the New Haven have already gone into effect over two important sections of the Boston & Albany.
The trackage rights thus secured by the New Haven are authorized by the general railroad laws of Massachusetts. They give the New Haven the same right to run its trains over the respective sections of the Boston & Albany tracks that it has on its own lines.
For the new “Needham circuit” of the New Haven, trackage rights over that portion of the Albany’s Newton circuit between Newton Highlands and Boston will be utilized. The trains of what formerly was the Woonsocket division of the New Haven continued to run over this part of the Newton circuit after its sale to the Boston & Albany until the New Haven’s own line between the Dedham Branch and Needham was built to bring them into Boston all the way over New Haven rails. The new relations with the Albany make practicable the organization of the Needham circuit with a frequent and rapid train service which will do much for the development of one of the most attractive suburban regions. On the railroad map of Greater Boston the two circuits, the Newton and Needham, will form a sort; of irregular figure 8, the stretch between Newton Highlands and Boston being common to both circuits.Town Crier, August 4, 1911
While this type of service continued for some years, the connection with the Boston & Albany was eventually discontinued. When service was reversed and the NY, NH & Hartford ran its trains through Needham to Boston, Newton Upper Falls remained a passenger station. However, passenger service was discontinued in 1927 and the building used only as a freight station. The nearest station became Needham Heights and was, as it is at present, the first passenger station on the line (now operated by Amtrak) . The freight service in Upper Falls, however, continued to prosper, as new industries were located in the area. In 1953 a spur track was extended across Needham Street and over the Charles River to service the many new factories and warehouses on the Needham side of the river.
In later years a number of consolidations affecting the local railroad resulted in these name changes:
|1855||New York & Boston Railroad|
|1865||Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad|
|1873||New York & New England Railroad Company|
|1895||New England Railroad Company|
|1898||Leased to the New York, New Haven & Hartford RR Co.|
|1908||Purchased by New York, New Haven & Hartford RR Co.|
|1969||Above RR merged with the Penn Central Transp. Company|
|1973||Right of Way acquired by the state under control of MBTA|
|1973||Trackage rights granted to Conrail – freight service operated by the U, S. Government|
|1982||Trackage rights granted to Bay Colony Railroad.|
Due to the advent of the automobile, passenger service on the Circuit Railroad began to shrink and on May 31, 1958 the last trains ran over the Highland Branch from Boston to Riverside. By legislative action the property was transferred to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (later the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) which spent eleven million dollars converting it to a high speed trolley service which commenced July 4, 1959. Protests from both Newton and Brookline were to no avail, and the Riverside to Lechmere service is now an integral part of the MBTA system with two and three car service every seven to ten minutes. With good, low-cost parking available patrons of the Riverside Branch from Newton and adjacent communities enjoy one of the better lines of the MBTA system.
Occasionally, there were train wrecks in the area and we include a news item from the Boston Globe of August 30, 1902 concerning one that happened in Upper Falls:
“About 4:05, as a Woonsocket-bound accommodation, which had left Boston at 3:32, was approaching the Upper Falls station, it turned from the rails of the main line and entered upon a 400-foot spur track, leading to the sheds of the Garden City Coal Company. What caused the train to take this latter course is as yet unexplained. The most rigid investigation fails to show that the switch was open; that the signals were not working, or that there had been any tampering with the working gear of either. At the end of the coal company’s spur was a partially filled car, and, from this, Michael Devlin, aged about 40, was shoveling coal into bins along the track.
The speed of the on-coming train could not be checked to prevent a collision. Before Devlin realized the danger of his position the crash had come. At the end of the spur is a huge bumper, and this was swept away. As the coal car struck the open side of the shed, a great amount of lumber was torn off, and the wreckage descended a 20-foot embankment and was piled up on a small footbridge that failed to bear the weight.
Engineer Wm. H. Cook was unable to bring the engine to a stop until it occupied a perpendicular position at the top of the debris. Cook was not injured. Fireman Lawrence Koldenburg of Oak St., Needham jumped when he saw a collision was inevitable, and suffered a broken leg. He was removed to his home.
Beneath the wreck of the car Devlin was found. He had been pinioned between large timbers and terribly crushed. At the hospital this evening it was feared he could not live. The passengers, about 30 in all, were thrown from their seats, but so far as could be learned no one was injured. At the point where the accident occurred a small brook runs along the embankment. Crossing this was a footbridge for the employees of Masten & Wells, who rushed to the aid of the train crew.
Had it not been for the presence of the coal car and the bumper, it is more than probable the entire train would have been hurled into the ditch.”
“It was a tip-cart horse belonging to the highway department, which for slowness of gait never had an equal in this or any other fire department. The first alarm the company responded to was from Box 52, at 4:05 P.M. March 25th. Every schoolboy, and every one else who went faster than a walk, passed the company enroute to the fire. By persistent persuasion, the noble animal succeeded in reaching the spot where the fire had been, but not until it was extinguished.”
Very few industrialists appeared in Newton, particularly after the nineteenth century, outside the industrial villages of Upper Falls, Lower Falls, and North Village (Nonantum). However, we did discover one who certainly could be included in that category who lived in Newton Corner. A notice of his death in the TOWN CRIER of September 15, 1911 contained a record of his achievements in the industrial field:
“John Souther, the oldest iron manufacturer in the United States died Tuesday evening at his home, 43 Fairmont Ave., Newton, aged 95 years. A daughter and son survive him. Mr. Souther was born in Boston, March 1, 1816 and was a pupil of the old Hawes School. When 17 years of age he entered an iron foundry and made the pattern for the fence around Boston Common. He invented the steam shovel and the steam dredger. He founded the Globe locomotive works, retiring from the company in 1881. The machinery built by him has been used on railroads in every state of the union as well as in many foreign countries. During the war of the rebellion the government had the exclusive use of Mr. Souther’s works and the machinery for many war vessels was built by him. When 90 years old. Mr. Souther invented an ice-making machine. He was also the father of the automatic sprinkler.”TOWN CRIER of September 15, 1911
Some of the achievements charged to Mr. Souther above might be questioned. The statement that he is “the oldest iron manufacturer the U.S.” would require a great deal of research to prove, and it does appear that his invention of the steam shovel is not quite true.
Walter Muir Whitehill, the noted historian, in writing about the filling of Back Bay with gravel says that two techniques were used – the railroad and the steam shovel:
“John Souther (1816-1911), who built engines at the Globe Locomotive Works in South Boston, was just putting a steam shovel, invented by William Smith Otis of Philadelphia, into active production.”
Nevertheless, the other achievements of Mr. Souther certainly qualify him to be included here.
The first record of street railways in Newton concerns the Waltham & Newton Horse Railway which was chartered on July 13, 1866 Previous to this, the only local record of such a company was when the nearby Watertown Horse Railway was incorporated on February 26, 1859.
The Watertown & Newton Horse Railway went into service on August 31, 1868. Several years later, on June 29, 1886, the Newton Street Railway was chartered and an elaborate system of horse-drawn cars was planned that; would link many of the villages of the city together. However, this did not materialize as three years later they had purchased the Waltham & Newton Railway Company and the following year were authorized to use the trolley system. The first electric car was tested in Waltham on July 23, 1890 and on September 21 of that year full electric service from Waltham to West Newton was inaugurated. People were eager to experience the novelty of riding on an electric car and on the first Sunday the road carried 3,353 passengers, on Monday 2,293 and on Tuesday 2,650. On May 13, 1893 service from Waltham to Watertown went into operation; to Newton Corner via Bemis, May 15, 1897; to Park Street subway, via Watertown Square-North Beacon Street, February 28, 1903 and into Crosstown and Waverley service in 1903.
Meanwhile, other companies were forming. The Natick Electric Street Railway was chartered on August 10, 1891 with the name changing to South Middlesex Street Railroad in 1894. Later this was to be succeeded by the Middlesex & Boston Street Railway which was incorporated July 24, 1907. A short time after this they were to absorb the following companies:
|Westboro & Hopkinton Street Railway||November, 1908|
|Natick & Cochituate Street Railway||November, 1908|
|Newton Street Railway||July 1, 1909|
|Newton & Boston Street Railway||Oct. 8, 1909|
|Lexington & Boston Street Railway||July 1, 1909|
The Middlesex & Boston Street Railway also operated the Newtonville & Watertown Street Railway jointly with the Boston Elevated Railway -now the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).
The Newton & Boston Street Railway mentioned above was the one more closely associated with Newton Upper Falls. It had been organized in 1891 with permission to establish other lines in the city if desired. In 1892 an extension of its lines was granted on Walnut and Beacon Streets and although delayed by sewer construction it was carried to Newton Highlands and later, in the same year, to the corner of High and Summer Streets in Newton Upper Falls. A news item of May 5, 1893 records the following:
“The frame for the new waiting room of the electric railroad on High Street was raised this week. Holmes Bros. have the contract for the building.”
Formerly a one-story structure, a second floor has been added in recent times and it is now a dwelling at 86 High Street. The following is an extract from a news item appearing August 26, 1892 under the headline “THE CONNECTING LINK,” with the subheading, “Street Railway Connection between Upper Falls and Newtonville on Monday”:
“It is expected that Newton’s new electric street railway will be opened for the public travel next Monday. The road, when completed, will pass through Newton Centre, Newton Highlands and Newton Upper Falls…. Railroad men say that the new road is one of the best constructed and best equipped in the country outside the great cities…. The new railroad is known as the Newton & Boston Street Railway Company”
The city was alert in accepting only the best product in street car transportation by examining all types available, as we find recorded in Otis Pettee, Jr.’s. diary of June 17, 1890:
“Went to Beverly with city officials to see the practical workings of electric car by storage battery & was much pleased by its success as a motor.”Otis Pettee, Jr.’s. diary of June 17, 1890
Another entry informs us that the first car arrived in Upper Falls at 6:45 PM, August 27, 1892 and that regular service to the village commenced August 31. One might suggest justifiably that this service to Upper Falls was hurried a bit by the developers of the beautiful Echo Bridge Park which was nearing completion on both sides of the river in Hemlock Gorge surrounding Echo Bridge.
Arriving in the late summer of 1892, the railway was ready for the park’s opening in the spring of 1893. It was ready, also, to carry a record number of 5,000 persons each pleasant Sunday to the beautiful grounds, the amusements and above all, the glorious seven-arched Echo Bridge which was attractive by day but enchanting when floodlit at night. Also, with the splendid concerts by large military bands and the myriad of colorful canoes dotting the river, it is easy to see why three thousands of Newton residents as well as visitors from surrounding towns would be attracted here. (See also chapter on “STREETS, BRIDGES AND PARKS”).
In 1906 the streetcar line was extended to Needham Square and beyond to Needham Junction. In anticipation of this extension, the City of Newton had previously widened Cook’s Bridge (Elliot Street Bridge) for its proposed use by the Newton & Boston Street Railway which paid part of the $1,250 cost. The completion of this final link established direct service between Needham and Watertown, making connections with the Boston Elevated (MBTA) at that point and at Needham, an extension of the Boston Elevated ran at that time from Spring Street in West Roxbury to Needham. The Newton & Boston Street Railway became the Middlesex & Boston Street Railway in 1909 and for many years supplied continuous service to all sections of Newton and surrounding communities. In 1926 trolley car service was discontinued and was replaced by bus service. The Commonwealth Avenue and the Framingham lines were the last to be operated by street cars (1930-31). Dwindling patronage brought the Middlesex & Boston, the principal carrier, under a subsidy granted by the state, and it is at this writing (1998) being operated exclusively by the MBTA.
To complete the record of local street railways, there came into operation in 1893 the Wellesley & Boston Street Railway and in 1896, the Commonwealth Avenue Street Railway. However, these lines were consolidated with the Newton Street .Railway in 1904 and later (1909) taken over by the Middlesex & Boston. In 1901 there was an attempt to consolidate some of these many trolley lines and the Boston Suburban Electric Company was formed for that purpose. Five companies were involved, and in 1912 there were 141 miles of electric lines operating from Lowell on the north to Needham on the south. This company owned Norumbega Park and Lexington Park, and before the day of the automobile a ride in the summer on an open trolley car in the evening or on a weekend to these parks and picnic groves was a pleasant and relaxing:: experience.
These cars had large covered platforms with traverse seats that could be reversed when running in. the opposite direction. Double running boards along the sides were provided for the conductor to walk upon in order to collect fares and to assist passengers boarding and alighting. Although open on the sides, cars were equipped with colorful drop curtains for rainy weather. To ride up front in the open vestibule with the motorman was every boy’s dream (and we suspect that of the older folks as well).
Another very important street railway that bisected the city and village from east to west was the Boston & Worcester Street Railway. Operating on Boylston Street, it was an important means of transportation for Upper Falls residents since it ran through the heart of the village. It was granted a franchise in 1901 to operate on this street on condition that it construct a boulevard 90 feet wide, pay $15,000 damages and provide and maintain street lights. A few years later, in 1903, an electric express service was inaugurated and in 1912 a trolley freight service from Worcester to Boston was established. This was operated until 1928 when it was discontinued.
This company introduced a new type of large multiple-motored car that could travel on the reservations through the woods of Norfolk and Worcester counties at a mile-a-minute speed. This service not only opened these regions for the inhabitants but brought patrons to the amusement centers and lakeside resorts.
On June 10, 1932 the last, car was operated from Park Square to Framingham and the service was replaced by buses over the entire system. This was made necessary by the construction of the state highway (Route 9).
Today’s model of this vehicle might very well represent the world’s first mode of transportation – after the invention of the wheel, that is. Wasn’t there among the drawings Archimedes left behind one that very closely resembled our two-wheeled bicycle? The concept of this idea lay dormant in the minds of inventors for nearly two centuries until two Frenchmen, one in 1645 and another in 1779, along with a German in the year 1816 came up with inventions which unfortunately never met with a great deal of acceptance by the public. It was Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a blacksmith in Scotland, who finally devised the first workable bicycle. MacMillan’s bike had a steerable front wheel about 30 inches high and a pedal driven rear wheel about 10 inches taller, both rimmed with iron.
In l871 England was producing a similar “practical” model, that is if one could call the high-wheeled type a practical machine. With a sense of humor typical of the British they called their new plaything a “pennyfarthing”, and if one knows that a penny was a large, rather oversize coin whereas the farthing (worth one-quarter its value in comparison was a more diminutive coin, one can guess that the outline of the two placed side by side would resemble their highwheeled contraption
However, in 1866 a French mechanic named Pierre Lallement had left France for the United States, and with the help of’ James Carroll of Ansonia, Connecticut secured the first US patent for a bicycle that same year. The metal wheels gained the nickname “boneshaker” for the bicycle, but that was remedied in 1888 when John Dunlop developed the air filled pneumatic tire. The bicycle received a further transformation not long after its arrival in America. When a great many of its riders grew tired (or fearful) as they had to mount the vehicle from practically a second story window, the two wheels were reduced in size and made more uniform earning the more reasonable sobriquet by being called the “safety” type.
Henry K. Rowe in his TERCENTENARY HISTORY OF NEWTON, 1630-1930, The Murray Printing company, Cambridge, Mass. (published by City of Newton – 1930) contributes the following:
“The invention of the bicycle created a furor over cycling. It was the time of the high wheel, and clubs were formed and races held with keenest relish. The rashness of the rider who “scorched” on the uncertain seat of the big-wheeled steed resembled that of the aviator who disregards the danger of a nose dive, for a small stone in the path might send the rider headlong, but he did not have so far to fall. Newton men vied with one another on the track, and as a group with cyclists of other towns. They joined in the annual ride around the Hub. They ran out of town to dine in the country with zeal equal to the automobile tourist who frequents a roadhouse. In 1882 the Newton Bicycle Club was organized, chiefly through the efforts of Charles L. Clark of the Boston Club, who lived in Newton…The meetings of the Club could not fail to be enjoyed as there was always a collation, and the Club continued its existence long after most of the other bicycle clubs had collapsed.
The Nonantum Cycling Club was equally active in the enjoyment of associated travel. Riding tandem was a much enjoyed as the side wheel car and the motorcycle. A tandem race was held in Newtonville in 1886. Those who were less venturesome and were not yet provided with safety bicycles made use of the tricycle. It was a more lumbering vehicle and required more foot power, but the rider could divert his gaze from the path to enjoy the scenery as he traveled over a country road. On the macadamized streets of the city he was as free as a boy with a velocipede, for neither automobiles nor trolley cars were in the way and there was no restriction to his speed. He might even race with another tricycle. Before the decade was half over annual tricycle races were being run off in the city.”TERCENTENARY HISTORY OF NEWTON, Henry K. Rowe
The 1890s were the peak period for bicycle activity in America. There was great excitement when a bicycle trip around the world was accomplished by a woman, Annie Londonderry, who began the trip on June 26, 1895 and completed it on September 24, 1895. (See other references to bicycles and their manufacture in the chapter entitled INDUSTRY.)
Today the word “transportation” is synonymous with that of “automobile” which next to eating and breathing became the most essential tool in this business of living in these modern times. Or is this entirely true? An advertisement appearing in 1908 of an earlier manufacturer of cars, The Winton Motor Carriage Co. of Cleveland, Ohio clearly illustrates that man’s love for his motor car prevailed even then. The company borrowed this item from the Saturday Evening Post, entitled A Six Cylinder Courtship:
“I tell you, it makes a fellow’s blood tingle to look at a car like mine, and feel that it belongs to him; a car that will start on the direct drive, a car that will race a railroad train or jog contentedly behind a milk cart, a car that can make a steep hill ashamed of itself; a wild dashing car that eats up the miles; a faithful sweet-running car that purrs like a pussy-cat! To own such a car is to own a kingdom; the driver’s seat is a throne, the steering wheel a sceptre, miles are your minions and distance your slave.”
Following a period of experimentation in Europe the automobile came to America in the late nineteenth century. The construction of the first gasoline fueled automobile in America occurred in 1891 by the Stevens-Duryea Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, Mr. J.F. Duryea was the designer. However, dozens of cars, their names mostly forgotten, closely followed the above into the market place. Three of the more modern makes might be recalled, Ford, Studebaker and Dodge. Fords began to outnumber other makes on our highways when Henry Ford ‘began to make “tin Lizzies” on an assembly line basis in the 1920s. There were so many that when they were eventually abandoned, they produced enough “carcasses” that today’s world would consider them to be an environmental problem . However, during this time, youngsters could scour nearby dumps and retrieve enough miscellaneous parts and bodies to enable themselves to create a skeletonized facsimile of the original car that would run.
The “tin Lizzie” was a tough little machine, and if you abused it; it would fight back. The backlash of its crank could break your arm if you failed to keep your thumb under the handle when you were trying to coax its spunky little engine to life. It has often been said that if the self-starter had not been invented there would have been considerably fewer women drivers. From an advertisement appearing in 1912 we learn that a FORD MODEL T TORPEDO RUNABOUT in 1912 cost $590 which included Top, Windshield, Speedometer, Gas Lamps, Generator, 3 Oil Lamps, Tubular Horn, Kit of Tools.
The 5 passenger Touring Car sold for $690. Along with the early gasoline driven cars there were a sprinkling of those vehicles propelled by electricity which was supplied by storage batteries. Most of these looking like fancy, horse- drawn carriages, were steered by a tiller-like handle and were mostly favored by the older generation.
Two makes of gasoline driven cars were manufactured locally. The Metz and Waltham Motor cars (both rear wheel chain driven) were made as early as 1908 in Waltham. Cars that ran by steam power were perhaps more common in Newton as the Stanley Steamer was manufactured here in the shop of the Stanley Dry Plate Company (later sold to Eastman Kodak). The early Steamers looked fragile but they were rugged and they were fast. It is said that no one had ever driven a Stanley to its limits. (In June 1906 its racing car was the fastest car in the world establishing a world record of 127.66 miles per hour at Ormond, Florida. Its fragile looking body, looking much like an inverted canoe with four wire wheels (see picture), was made by J.R. Robertson of Auburndale, a canoe manufacturer.)
In 1899 the steep grade up Mt. Washington was conquered by a pint sized Stanley Steamer, and another had made the ascent three years before a gasoline driven car had accomplished the feat. The company was in operation under the Stanley Brothers from 1897 until 1917 when it vas reorganized. It went into bankruptcy six years later. (See Chapter REMEMBRANCE – A PRESENT FROM THE PAST)
A personal note might be added here. My father, when a resident of Newton Corner, drove Stanley Steamer cars, possibly for the Stanley brothers, as I understand he knew both men. My mother on occasion went riding with him and she recalled on the earlier models it was wise to take a shovel along. For some reason once in a while a small fire would occur in connection with the making of steam which made it necessary to stop and throw a scoop of roadside sand on the flames to extinguish them. There was no danger involved and I never heard of anything more serious than this occurring in the operation of the vehicle – nothing to compare with Mr. John Gould’s experience with his Stanley in front of the Methodist church in Upper Falls one Sunday morning (See GOULD FAMILY biography).
The White Company of Cleveland, Ohio was also a manufacturer of “steam cars” commencing in the year 1901 and continuing, the writer believes, into the 1920s and it is recalled that they were a fine looking car with about the same appearance as a gasoline driven car of that period.
Air transportation had a spectacular and dramatic – yes, even controversial, beginning. For example, was Orville and Wilbur Wright’s plane that flew a few feet above the sands at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 the first flight of an aeroplane? Or does the graceful little monoplane that was flown by Gustave Alvin Whitehead from Turis Hill, Fairfield, Connecticut on August 14, 1901 deserve that honor? The Bridgeport Sunday Herald of August 18, 1901 reported the craft flew that day at a maximum height of about fifty feet for about a half mile! Subsequent flights immediately afterwards were performed along the shore front at Fairfield Beach.
Yes, air transportation did have such a spectacular, dramatic and controversial beginning that it would be difficult to condense its story enough to be included in this type of journal. Its role in peace; the first flights, initially over land and then, more daring, over the sea. In war; from the almost adventuresome and exhilarating “dog- fights” of World War I to the great armadas of air craft in World War II destroying whole cities, first by conventional explosives and later by the horrifying reality of a single atom bomb. From deadly pilot-less “buzz” bombs and V-2 rockets to winged missiles of death which later became rockets that placed men on the moon. Lighter than air vehicles such as the great peace time dirigibles, hundreds of feet long, similar to the three that rendezvoused over Newton in the 1920s bearing names such as the “Los Angeles”, “Akron” and “Shenandoah” (all of which were lost later by accident) to the observation balloons and aircraft traps over cities in World War I and II.
It was an adventuresome time for aviation. In 1919, a United States Navy aviation crew, one of three traveling in Curtiss flying boats, achieved the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The plane, designated the NC4 and commanded by Lieutenant Commander A.C. Read, accomplished its epic flight, going by way of the Azores and Lisbon. Reaching Plymouth, England on May 31, 1919, the NC4 had covered 3,925 miles (6,310 kilometers) and required 57 hours of actual flying time. Eight years later, on May 20, 1927, Colonel Charles Lindbergh in his fragile “Spirit of St. Louis” startled the world by flying solo from Long Island, New York to Paris, France.
The first air mail flights and the passenger carrying planes from transcontinental to transoceanic remind us that the first official air mail pilot in the U.S. was from Newton! In September, 1911 the big event at the Harvard-Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum Airfield was a $10,000 inter-city flight competition sponsored by the Boston Globe, The flight rules of the race required the four contestants to fly a circuitous route over the cities of Nashua, Worcester, Providence and back to Squantum. One of the competitors was Earl(e) Ovington of Newton who was piloting a 100 horsepower Bleriot monoplane which he had learned to fly at the Bleriot Aviation School in Pau, France in 1906. He was easily the winner of the race, the only one of the four contestants to complete the 174 mile course.
Prior to his training as a pilot Ovington had worked as an engineering assistant to Thomas A. Edison in New Jersey. After his return from France his reputation as a skilled pilot began to spread throughout the northeastern United States and he began to win a number of prizes at air meets. He was the first pilot to fly over Boston.
At a large meet in Garden City, Long Island, New York an attempt was to be made to fly the first air mail in the United States following the lead of the British two weeks earlier. Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock had attempted in November 1910 to fly a plane on a ship-to-shore flight to demonstrate a method to expedite the delivery of mail , etc. from arriving and departing transoceanic vessels. However, bad weather thwarted one attempt and a broken propeller, another. Now at Garden City another attempt was to be made. Two prominent British flyers were approached to participate but declined politely when they learned that there was no remuneration. “However Earl L. Ovington volunteered to make the flight. Although he flew a Curtis-type pusher biplane at Chicago he preferred his tractor-type monoplane and came to Garden City with an American-made Bleriot Queen… named the Dragonfly and bearing a bold number 13 (see picture). Postmaster Hitchcock was disappointed with his choice as he expected his mail carrier’s plane to be a two-setae with one seat reserved for him…” The Bleriot was only capable of carrying one person…”Not wishing to surrender the distinction of being the first air mail carrier he reported ‘I immediately decided to postpone the flight until a two-setae plane could be procured.’” Eventually Hitchcock relented and he said, “I handed the pouch to Ovington…and permitted him to proceed on that first flight alone. For a time I felt rather deeply disappointed of thus failing in my ambition to become the first (air mail) carrier of record (in the United States). Afterward, when I became better acquainted with Earl Ovington and began to appreciate his fine qualities…I cease to begrudge him the honor he wrested from me.”
Ovington took off on September 23, 1911 with a load of 640 letters and 1,280 postcards in a mail bag tucked between his legs – the first airplane carry of United States mail authorized by postal authorities. Ovington flew to Mineola, about three miles away, where, as agreed, he dropped the bag in a prearranged spot to waiting postal officials. The drop landed on time and on target, but unfortunately the bag broke on impact with the ground, scattering the mail hither and yon. After a scramble, all the letters and cards were retrieved and sent on the way via regular postal channels, all of them bearing the cancellation ‘AEROPLANE STATION No.1 – GARDEN CITY ESTATES, N.Y.” For this feat Ovington was awarded the title “AIR MAIL PILOT No. 1”
The editor of our local TOWN CRIER must have been interested in the “Birdman” (as Ovington soon came to be known) as some of his other exploits often appeared in his paper – such as this one in the October 6, 1911 issue:
“Postmaster General Hitchcock has issued an order authorizing Earl L. Ovington of Newton Highlands, to act as aerial mail carrier, and has directed the postmaster of New York to dispatch letters by the aeroplane route, from New York to Chicago and San Francisco. The route which is officially “Route 607001″ is the longest messenger route ever established. Ovington will carry a specially constructed mail pouch with a number of letters in it, when he endeavors to cross the continent…”
Unfortunately, the engine of Ovington’s new cross-country plane “proved inadequate for its task” and the route was not attempted. Ovington, however inaugurated an era that would continue until 1916, a period when letters were flown experimentally and without expense to the Post Office Department.
In the March 29, 1912 issue of the TOWN CRIER there is an account concerning an illustrated lecture Mr. Ovington gave at a local church of some of his “thrilling experiences”:
“Mr. Ovington gave a clear account of his adventures as an aviator, covering a period of four years. His descriptions of the meets at Squantum and Waltham were especially enjoyed; his audience being familiar with the birdmen and their doings in those events. The views shown on the screen to illustrate the talk were made from snapshots taken by various newspapermen throughout the country and show Mr. Ovington in full flight. They are said to be unequalled. The speaker told of the danger that was attached to flying. He told of his many narrow escapes from death; especially at the Chicago meet, where he fell into Lake Michigan, and at Bridgeport, Conn., where he fell a distance of 600 feet before the monoplane righted itself.
‘At Bridgeport’ said the aeronaut, ‘was the only time that I really thought I was dropping to my death. I vas piloting a Bleriot monoplane and was 2000 feet in the air. In some manner or other my machine tipped over, at least 90 degrees , and started to fall. Fortunately I was able to steer the plane around to its correct position before it had fallen half the distance to the ground.’
The speaker also told of reminiscences and incidents at the Columbus, Ohio meet, at Chicago and Nassau. He told in detail his experiences in the Trio-State race last September which event Mr. Ovington won, receiving the Boston Globe prize of $10,000…
At present he is at work on a hydroplane of his own invention. The machine when completed is expected to fly through the air and also through water. The hydroplanes that are used today are not able to alight on land but the one being constructed by Mr. Ovington will descend, without fear of damage, both to dry land or into the sea. In other words it will be a flying machine and motor boat in one.”TOWN CRIER, March 29, 1912
Whatever happened to Ovington’s hydroplane or the balance of his birdman career we do not know. We do know that at the same time he was dabbling in aeronautics he was venturing into another field, strangely enough described in a little book of reminiscences published in 1947 by the former editor of the TOWN CRIER, John Temporally of Newton Upper Falls.
About 1910 the rather unusual stucco structure on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Irving Street was built by Earl Ovington. He used it as his Vitality laboratory from which he mailed cultures for souring milk to clients. Promotion of sour-milk (semi-buttermilk) as a beverage was founded upon the belief that Bulgarians gained health and a ripe old age because of their imbibing quantities of it.
Mr. Ovington, who learned to fly at the Bleriot School in France in 1906, sold the Vitality laboratory to J.W. Crewel; he in turn sold to Dr. Turner, who moved the business to Maine.”
Mr. Ovington eventually retired to Santa Barbara, California. He flew the mail only once again after 1911, before his death in 1936. He and Frank Hitchcock joined in a 20th anniversary round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona with the letters they carried bearing the signatures of both men.
The first air mail flights between Boston and New York were inaugurated in 1926, operating under “Contract CAM (Contract Air Mail) 1 Boston-New York via Hartford awarded to Colonial Air-Transport, Inc., Naugatuck, Connecticut.” The writer remembers these flights, recalling that two pilots lost their lives by accidents occurring during these flights. As children (and grown-ups too) we would signal the pilots in those open cockpit planes at dusk with flashlights and they would often answer with a similar signal.