Horse Car, Trolley, And Subway

Author: 
Foster M. Palmer
Volume: 
39
Pages: 
78-107
Years: 
1962
Copyright: 
1964
Publishers: 
Cambridge Historical Commisssion

 

Horse Car, Trolley, and Subway
 

BY FOSTER M. PALMER
 

WHEN our president asked me to speak on the subject of street railways in Cambridge, I demurred somewhat. Not denying considerable familiarity with the topic in general, I pointed out the relative brevity of my personal acquaintance with the Cambridge scene. Remembering the reception given the man who ventured to write a book about Brattle Street when his family had lived there only a hundred years,1 I questioned the propriety of one who arrived in Cambridge several weeks after trolley buses were put on Huron Avenue trying to tell anything about Cambridge street railways to an audience, a goodly number of whom can remember when horse cars went past the door of the house where we are meeting.

In the end we compromised. After all, street railways are neither so ancient nor so sacred a subject as Brattle Street. It was agreed that I should try to depict the main lineaments of the local scene and put them in relation to the broader one more familiar to me through long study. I certainly do not expect to say the last word on the railways of Cambridge tonight; the material is far too vast to be covered fully in one paper, no matter how perfect one's lifetime familiarity with it. Let us hope that we shall in the future have definitive papers by other hands on such more specific topics as the Cambridge Railroad and the Union Railway, the Meigs Elevated Railway, or Cambridge carbarns, to suggest a few. But tonight you will hear the story of local rail transit in Cambridge as it appears to one with a global interest in the subject.2

 

1 Cambridge Historical Society, Proceedings, 35:111.
2 In addition to the sources specifically cited below, mention should be made of Fifty

 

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The first street railways were products of the railroad boom of the 1830's. They were not envisioned purely to provide transportation within the city, a need as yet not pressing or obvious in the small, compact cities of that day. Both the New York and Harlem, opened in 1832, and the New Orleans and Carrollton (1835) were, as their names suggested, short-distance railroads linking a city with a nearby town. Both handled some of their longer runs with steam, and the horse-drawn intracity services were slow in drawing imitators. Throughout the 1830's and 1840's, these two remained special cases; street railway was not yet a common noun.The demand for local transportation was increasing, but it was being met by the omnibus, a short-distance stage coach that put on runners in winter.

The street railway did not begin to proliferate until the 1850's. The New York and Harlem was suddenly joined in the streets of New York by several other railways. A city railroad opened in Brooklyn, then of course a separate city unconnected by bridge or political bonds to New York, in 1854. Across the Atlantic in Paris a "chemin de fer americain" began regular service in 1855. The line linking Cambridge with Boston comes next, in 1856.3 Thus while Cambridge has no absolute priority in a wider area than New England, it definitely ranks as one of the pioneers and holds a noteworthy place in the world history of local transportation. To get a little ahead of our story for a moment, let me add that by the end of 1859 the number of cities having street railways had doubled, and that in the next decade the spread was world-wide; we read, for instance, of a horse railway in Batavia (the present Djakarta) in 1869.

________

Years of Unified Transportation in Metropolitan Boston, Boston Elevated Railway Company, 1938. The official annual reports required by the state, beginning with Annual Reports of the Railroad Corporations in the State of Massachusetts for 1856, Boston, 1856, continued from 1857 to 1869 as Returns of the Railroad Corporations, and thereafter in Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners, contain much interesting financial and other statistical data which this paper makes no attempt to analyze. They are much less useful for such matters as dates and locations of new routes, which have in many cases been inferred from directory, and other, maps in the Harvard College Library and from schedules published in the directories and in newspapers.

3 The Metropolitan Railroad, connecting Boston and Roxbury, was chartered earlier but opened later.

 

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In 1853, when street railways were first projected here, Boston had about 150,000 inhabitants, Cambridge not quite 20,000. Two bridges linked the two cities, the West Boston Bridge, built in 1793, and the Canal or Craigie Bridge, built in 1809.4 Both were toll bridges, though the company owning them was called the Hancock Free Bridge Corporation. The Harvard Branch Railroad, an enterprise whose story was so excellently told us by Mr. Robert Lovett three years ago,5 had been running since the end of 1849, but suffered the disadvantages of having a limited number of trains a day, an indirect route, and a not too convenient Boston terminus. It was losing money and was destined to have a short life of less than six years. The Fitchburg Railroad offered a limited amount of service to Porter's and other stations in North Cambridge. However, most travel between the two cities was by omnibus. The Cambridge Stage Company, which was the dominant firm, had sixteen coaches and 180 horses running on four routes in 1852. Another enterprise served East Cambridge.6

Let me pause here and try to lay a ghost. The statement is sometimes made that a street or at least a horse railway existed in Cambridge circa 1852, connecting Harvard Square with the Fitchburg Railroad at Union Square, Somerville.7 I have always considered that this was merely a slightly disguised description of the Harvard Branch Railroad,8 and nothing in my research for the present paper, which has been fairly laborious on this particular point, has

 

4 Upstream four additional bridges at or near the sites of the present Boston University, River Street, Western Avenue, and Larz Anderson bridges joined Cambridge with Brookline and Brighton.
5 Camb. Hist. Soc., Procs., 38:23-50.
6 On omnibuses, see articles in the Cambridge Chronicle, Jan. 31 and June 12, 1852, and Jan. 8, 1853, and schedules appearing regularly as advertisements. Two new omnibus lines opened in 1852, one on Broadway and one from Cambridge Crossing.
7 See Prentiss Cummings, "The Street Railway System of Boston," in Professional and Industrial History of Suffolk County, Boston, 1894, 3:286; "From Coach and Omnibus to Electric Car," Boston Blue Bulletin (Jan.-Feb. 1921), p. 8; Edward S. Mason, The Street Railway in Massachusetts, Cambridge, 1932, p. 3-4; and Camb. Hist. Soc., Procs., 38:50.
8 The Harvard Branch joined the Fitchburg not at Union Square, but at Park Street, well to the west. It ran primarily by steam, but at least considered using horses in its declining days (see Lovett, Camb. Hist. Soc., Procs., 38:45) and may actually have done so. Although it may thus technically qualify as a horse railway, it was in no sense a street railway
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caused me to change this opinion. Therefore, unless corrected here tonight or in the near future, I will state in the published version of this paper that the first street railway to be built in Cambridge, and indeed as indicated above in New England and in the whole world apart from the banks of the East River, the Mississippi, and the Seine, was the Cambridge Railroad, incorporated in 1853 by Gardiner G. Hubbard, Charles C. Little, and Isaac Livermore. These men and a small group of associates, notable among whom was Dr. Estes Howe, are deeply intertwined with civic enterprise in Cambridge. Hubbard was the president and Howe the treasurer of the Harvard Branch Railroad. They were among the leading men in the Cambridge Gas Company, which was laying its mains in 1852, and the Cambridge Water Works, which began operations in 1855.9

A charter was one thing; an actual railway was another. Dr. Howe remarked long afterward, "As the money in the steam road had been lost, the people of Cambridge were very reluctant to take hold of a horse railroad."10 At length a construction contract was entered into with Gardner Warren, who took his pay in securities and went bankrupt doing the job.11 By 1855 it was apparent that the capital of the Cambridge Railroad was going to be inadequate to equip and run the road, and a new corporation, the Union Railway Company, was formed for this purpose. As Henry W. Muzzey wrote a few

 

9 See Report of the Joint Special Committee of the City Council upon the Cambridge Gas Company, the Horse-Railroad Company, and the Water-Works, appended to an untitled memorial of the Union Railway Company to the City Council, dated March 1862. It is remarkable that two of the three incorporators of this local enterprise are, because of their other activities, included in the Dictionary of American Biography: Little as a publisher (of Little, Brown, and Company), and Hubbard primarily because of his subsequent connection with the telephone. Although this later involvement with a public utility undreamt of in the l850's stems from a chain of circumstances quite unrelated to his earlier associations with the various Cambridge utilities, surely this experience must have served him in good stead.

10 Report of the Hearings before the Cambridge Board of Aldermen on the Petition of the Charles River Street Railway Company [1881], p. 124.

11 Debate in the Massachusetts Senate upon an Act to Incorporate the Cambridge Broadway Railroad Company, April 25, 1862, Phonographic Report by W. Bacheler, Cambridge, 1862, p. 11; Henry W. Muzzey, Argument before the Joint Committee on Street Railways of the Legislature, February 3, 1871, Boston, 1871, p. 4; Report of the Hearings . . . [1881], p. 124.

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years later, "People who declined to furnish money to build the road were found willing to take stock in a company to equip it. There was something tangible about horses, cars, and real estate."12 A lease was executed, and the Union Railway Company hastened with its preparations, being anxious to open ahead of the Metropolitan.13

The Cambridge Railroad entered Bowdoin Square, Boston, via Cambridge Street, and left by a loop through Green and Chambers streets. It then ran down Cambridge Street, across the West Boston Bridge,14 through the entire length of Main Street (both the portion still known by that name and the part between Lafayette and Quincy squares which since 1894 has been a part of Massachusetts Avenue), along the south side of the College Yard (then Harvard Street, now also part of Massachusetts Avenue), through Harvard Square, and then out the entire length of Brattle Street to Mount Auburn, near the cemetery gate and the railroad station. A single track branch ran up North Avenue (now another part of Massachusetts Avenue) to Porter's Station.

By March 26, 1856, one track between Cambridgeport and West Cedar Street had reached such a state of readiness that trial trips could be run (charging no fares) with five cars purchased from the Brooklyn City Railroad which still bore such legends as "Greenwood Cemetery." Ice in Cambridge Street prevented running all the way up to Bowdoin Square. Two days later, both tracks were open and cars were running fairly regularly (still gratis) between Cambridgeport and North Grove Street.

First press reports were enthusiastic. "The cars are spacious and will seat comfortably twenty-four persons; the passage way through is sufficiently wide to accommodate as many more standing; and they run so smoothly that there is very little objection to riding in

 

12 Muzzey, Argument before the Joint Committee, p. 5.
13 For a contemporary reaction to the construction, see Letters of John Holmes to James Russell Lowell, Boston, 1917, p. 17-18.
14 The bridge was extensively rebuilt in connection with the construction of the street railway. Both it and the Craigie Bridge became free bridges in 1858, approximately one-third of the money required to make them so having been subscribed by the street railway company. See Report of the Cambridge Bridge Commission, Boston, 1909, p. 12; Muzzey, Argument before the Joint Committee, p. 7.

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this position. They are also well ventilated; and being lighted by large glass, afford a much better view of the beautiful scenery from our bridges and the other parts of the city than can be obtained in any other close carriage which we have ever seen on our streets. Fifty persons can be drawn in a car, by two horses, with more ease and comfort than can half that number in an omnibus, drawn by four horses."15 The next week, however, there was a remonstrance signed "John Smith, Jr." to the effect that the railway had wrought havoc with the streets it traversed, making them dangerous to drive upon. The editor acknowledged that the streets had not yet been put back into condition, but counted it a positive gain if the railway discouraged fast teams being driven too rapidly over the main streets. Two pro-railway letters answered John Smith, Jr., the next week.

By early April the cars were running from Bowdoin Square to Harvard Square, and by mid-month the branch to Porter's Station was open. The Cambridge Street hill proved to be not a serious problem, at least in good weather. The Chronicle on April 12 reported : "It has been ascertained by experiment that two of the poorest horses owned by the company will take forty passengers in a car up the hill in Cambridge Street with ease."16 By April 19 a total of fifteen cars, all from Brooklyn, were available, and sometime during the next week service to Mount Auburn began. At least on the inner part of the line, cars were running every seven and one-half minutes during most of the day. The last car from Boston left at 11:30 P.M.17 The first accident was reported on May 10: "One Donahoe, in attempting to get upon a car while in motion, fell and was slightly bruised."18

The horse railway in Cambridge was a success from the start. Additional cars and horses were added to take care of the growing traffic. Extensions were not long in coming. The Waltham and Watertown Railroad built, and the Union Railway leased and op-

 

15 Cambridge Chronicle, March 29, 1856.
16 Nevertheless, it later became common practice to add a "hill horse" to assist cars up this hill.
17 Cambridge Chronicle, May 3, 1856.
18 Annual Reports of the Railroad Corporations...1856, p. 282
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erated, a line from Mount Auburn to Watertown Village, or Water-town Square in today's terminology, in 1857.19 The North Avenue line was extended to the city limits, from where the West Cambridge Horse Railroad Company, also leased to and operated by the Union, ran to what is now Arlington Center. A line on River Street similarly connected with the Newton Railroad, which actually ran only in Brighton to Oak Square. A branch on Court Street and Third Street to East Cambridge opened in 1859. The company would have preferred to serve East Cambridge by a direct line to Boston over Bridge Street and the Craigie Bridge, but it met difficulty and delay in obtaining a location through the streets at the Boston end. Thus the Cambridge Street (Cambridge) line, when it was presently built, opened from the Harvard Square end first. When the Craigie Bridge entrance to Boston was made available, the company also expanded its service by another leasing arrangement into Somerville along Milk Street (Somerville Avenue) and Elm Street (skirting the Cambridge boundary) to Dover Street (Davis Square). In the early 1860's, an alternate line was established along Garden Street, Concord Avenue, and Craigie Street, and henceforth half of the Brattle Street cars used this route.

The running time from Harvard Square to Boston, three miles, was twenty-five minutes; to Mount Auburn, twelve minutes; and to Watertown, twenty-five minutes.20 A century later, with faster vehicles but heavier traffic, the running time for trolley buses on the latter route is sixteen minutes.

The rules for drivers of the Union Railway provide interesting sidelights on operation. "8. You must walk your horses around all short curves, such as that in Harvard Square, and not stop upon them. Also walk your horses over the switches at the 'Port stables. 9. You must not allow any person to drive your horses or tend

 

19 The Fitchburg Railroad gave up passenger service on its Watertown branch on June i both because of the horse car competition and because the management was convinced of the inherent unprofitableness of branch lines. See Sixteenth Annual Report of the Directors of the Fitchburg Railroad Company, January 26,1858, Boston, 1858, p. 12— 14. The report suggests that the Waltham and Watertown was what later came to be called a "real estate road," promoted by persons anxious to sell Watertown land.
20 Alexander Easton, A Practical Treatise on Street or Horse-Power Railways, Philadelphia, 1859, p. 104. Easton also gives the fare schedules in great detail, p. 98-99
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your brake, but those employed by the Company.21 ... 13. When in Boston, you must look out for carriages coming in from the cross streets, and drive slow, not exceeding five miles per hour, at any point. And when coming down the hill, past North Russell street, not to exceed three miles per hour." One of the conductors' rules reveals a surprising possibility: "14. All obstructions upon the track, such as broken wagons, sleds, sleighs, Sec. must be reported to the nearest agent of the road as soon as possible; also at the Office. The car must not be taken from the track to go round such obstructions if it can be avoided." Hose bridges, placed on the track to enable cars to cross fire hoses, were kept at the 'Port and at the Dunster Street stables. Another surprising relation with firefighting is disclosed by drivers' rule 20, which set a limit of five miles per hour when a fire engine was attached to the car.22

The horse was of course a most important part of the horse railway. Muzzey asserted that the Union company furnished superior horses. It was early observed that car horses came to understand the conductor's bell, and needed no additional signal from the driver's reins to start or stop.

In the first years, the cars did not run on Sunday, and John Fiske reminisced that when he came to college in 1860, those who wished to visit Boston on a Sunday had to walk or take an omnibus "in which riding was a penance severe enough to atone for the sin."23

The success of the Union Railway did not fail to inspire competition. A bill to incorporate the Cambridge Broadway Railroad passed the Massachusetts House but was defeated in the Senate in 1862. The hearings on this bill are instructive. The Cambridge Railroad and the Union Railway were accused of having watered stock and high fares. The answers made on this as on other occasions when the same accusations were brought were that unusual

 

21 At least in later years, this rule was not always strictly enforced. Two members of the audience testified to having been allowed to hold the reins as children. The other aspect of horse cars most vividly recollected in the discussion was the straw on the floor.
22 Easton, Practical Treatise, p. 104-106.
23 Walter Gee Davis, ed., Cambridge Fifty Years a City, 1846-1896, Cambridge, 1897, p. 42
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inducements had been required to secure investors in what had been not merely a new but a new kind of enterprise; and that the Union, unlike the Metropolitan which was continually picking up and setting down way passengers in the busy main streets of Boston and Roxbury, had to contend with the long, unproductive bridge sections. Fares had their ups and downs, but during most of the l860's and 1870's were eight cents or seventeen tickets for a dollar from Boston to Cambridgeport, ten cents or twelve for a dollar to Old Cambridge (which was reckoned as from Dana Street to Fayerweather Street), and fifteen cents with no ticket reduction to Mount Auburn. Checks or transfers were given, but were withdrawn at the time of the great epizootic of 1872, and not restored for several years.24

Although the Cambridge Broadway Railroad had not received its charter, pressure for a horse railway in that direct and unencumbered street forced the Union to build it instead, prematurely in the opinion of that road's officers and also at a time (1863) when wartime inflation had trebled the price of hay and grain.25

After the rapid building up of the network from 1856 to 1863, there ensued a long and fairly stable period of horse car operation. History, whether on the grand scale or the small, commonly shows alternations between times of stability and times of change, and we shall see this amply illustrated.

One change that did occur in this period was the widening of Brattle Street, heretofore a virtual country lane, to sixty feet, ordered December 14, 1870.26 The presence of the horse cars was no doubt a factor in deciding on this ample width. The street was also straightened at this time and the railway was involved in considerable expense in moving its tracks.

Two new lines were built in the early 1870's, one on Prospect Street providing a better link between Cambridgeport and East Cambridge than the old Court Street line, which was closed down, and one on Pearl Street.

 

24 Bacheler, Report of Debate in the Massachusetts Senate, passim; Muzzey, Argument before the Joint Committee.
25 Report of the Hearings ... [1881], p. 125-126.
26 Lewis M. Hastings, "The Streets of Cambridge," Camb. Hist. Soc., Procs., 14:42
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Let us try to visualize the service as it existed in 1875 by summarizing a schedule. Cars left Harvard Square every seven minutes throughout the day, and oftener in rush hours, for Bowdoin Square via Main Street. There was also half-hourly service to Bowdoin Square via Broadway, and to Scollay Square via Cambridge Street and East Cambridge. Outbound from Harvard Square, cars left for Mount Auburn via Brattle Street on the hour and half hour, the latter continuing to Watertown, and for Mount Auburn via Garden Street at quarter of and quarter after the hour. There were five cars an hour to North Cambridge, one of them continuing to Arlington (which had been known by this name since 1867). From Central Square, Cambridgeport, there was half-hourly service both to Brighton, and to Boston via Prospect Street and East Cambridge.27

Until about 1880, all cars from Cambridge had terminated in Boston at Bowdoin Square, except for those over the Craigie Bridge which went in to Scollay Square, using a complicated route through Leverett, Causeway, Merrimac, and Chardon streets, returning via Haymarket Square and Merrimac, Lowell, and Brighton streets. Even then, these termini were well to the north of the places where most passengers wanted to go, and there was a long struggle to get permission from the Boston aldermen to run direct service from Cambridge to such central places as Tremont Street and the newer district around Park Square.28 The first such concession that was obtained was a small one—two Brighton cars per hour were allowed after crossing the West Boston Bridge to turn down Charles Street to Park Square. Presumably the fact that Brighton was by this time a part of Boston had some bearing on the granting of the right to Brighton cars.

Such was the situation when in 1881 a new group of capitalists, headed by Charles E. Raymond, formed the Charles River Street Railway Company and projected an extensive network of new lines in Cambridge and Somerville. A leading feature of their scheme was better communication with the Back Bay, but they were evasive as to how they were going to get to Boston. They spoke of a new

 

27 Greenough's Cambridge Directory for 1875, p. 496—497.
28 Report of the Hearings ... [1881], p. 4, 131.

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bridge at a location they were not yet ready to divulge; one of their lines was to cross the Brookline Bridge; but also plainly in their minds was the hope of running into Boston over the tracks of the Union Railway, under the provisions of a general law passed in 1874.29 For one railway to run over the tracks of another introduced possibilities of competition beyond the obvious. Each company would try to arrange its schedule so that its car was just ahead of the other's and would thus pick up the lion's share of the fares.

Despite the impractical or redundant character of many of the lines proposed, which we can see all too well from the vantage point of a time when even the best transit routes have difficulty in doing enough business to justify decent service at quiet hours, a great deal of antimonopoly sentiment favored the new enterprise. President Eliot testified in favor of it, as did Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The hearings before the Cambridge aldermen and the Legislature are worth rather extensive quotation, not so much for what they tell us of the Charles River project as for their many excellent vignettes of the general horse car scene. Many of the themes — crowding at rush hours and bunching of cars — are perennials in the history of local transportation.30

Higginson spoke of his experience coming home to Cambridge in the late afternoon when he was in the Legislature: "Of those one hundred days, be they more or less, when I rode out in a Cambridge horse-car, I never once had a seat; never. Not on a solitary occasion did I have a seat all the way from Bowdoin Square to Harvard Square. The pressure upon the cars was so great, and the natural courtesy of members of the Legislature towards ladies is so great, that somebody always had to stand up, and I found myself always that somebody. I noticed that the young gentlemen of the University were often wearied by their excessive devotion to athletic exercises, and were not able to stand up to make room for ladies;

 

29 Ch. 29, Sect. 12, Acts of 1874.
30 A decade earlier William Dean Howells had been seriously concerned about overcrowding and the failure of men to give up their seats to women. His remarks on the sociology of the horse car are penetrating. See "By Horse-Car to Boston," Atlantic Monthly, 25:114-122 (Jan. 1870).

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and consequently I, not being directly in the athletic line, was able to do it."31

L. M. Child, attorney for the old company, asserted that it was running a car a minute in rush hour around Bowdoin Square loop, and that the insistence of everyone to be on the first car caused much of the trouble. "I leave it to you that if there stand three cars in Bowdoin Square to-night, and there are sixty passengers to go in them, if there won't be forty passengers in the first car and ten passengers apiece in the other two? The American people are a remarkable people, and they will go out by the first car if they have to hang on by their eyelids."32 Dr. Alexander McKenzie, pastor of the Shepard Church, said there was no satisfactory place to wait for a car: "We have no station in Boston. We have either to impose on the friendly apothecary, or stand in the street, or else go into the candy shop on the other side, on the corner of Chardon Street. There is no suitable or respectable place for a person to wait in for a horse car."33 He maintained the point in cross examination. "Q. Don't you think that if they would separate themselves and take the cars going to the several sections of the city, it would have an effect in reducing the crowd? A. I think it would have some effect, but there is no place to wait unless in the apothecary store or on the corner of the street. Q. There is a place on the other side, isn't there? A. I don't think there is a fit place for a lady to go into. There is a candy shop on one side, and a row of seats on the other that are almost always full. I don't know what other arrangements they have. I think it is an imposition on this apothecary to fill his store. Q. There is room enough in the station without going into the apothecary store, is there not? A. When I go in there the seats are always full, and there is a crowd of people around the

 

31 Charles River Street Railway Company, Petition to the... General Court [1882], p. 46.
32 Report of the Hearings ... [1881], p. 158, 159. Muzzey had similar comments in 1871, particularly as to Cambridgeport or Cambridge passengers crowding the through cars for Watertown and Arlington rather than taking the special short-run cars intended for them (Argument before the Joint Committee, p. 16). Senator Dodge in the Broadway hearings of 1862 had said: "It has not been uncommon to see a car go out with the people crowding upon it like bees about the entrance of a hive" (Bacheler, Report of Debate in the Massachusetts Senate, p. 10).
33 Charles River Street Railway Co., Petition, p. 70
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door. It is a very narrow store, and people are buying their candy and newspapers. I should be very unwilling to take a lady in there, and almost as unwilling to go in myself."34 Such was waiting for a street car in 1882.

Apart from the natural objections of the Union Railway, and the fears of Professor John S. Trowbridge that a proposed line on Oxford Street would interfere with the projected physical laboratory -plans to put it on the Holmes lot had had to be given up because of the vibrations from the North Avenue cars35 — the main theme of those who opposed the Charles River scheme was that street railways interfered with driving. Opposition on narrow Inman Street was particularly strong: "Grant the location through this street, and we cannot have a carriage stop at our doors," said Theodore C. Kurd.36 Magazine Street was wider, but L. H. Sanborn still protested : "I think the driving public of Cambridge and the vicinity should have a little show for themselves. ... The driving public want one avenue to get out of Ward Four without any interruption."37 J. H. Roberts said that Oxford Street was "the only avenue where there is not a track, and the only street, it seems to me, where we can really drive with any safety."38 Linn B. Porter, editor and owner of the Cambridge Chronicle, said that the plan to put tracks on Mount Auburn Street "proposes to ruin the one long avenue to the cemeteries which is now free from obstruction; and whom will this line accommodate? ... the poorest part of the population ... where a street railway is about the only thing they don't need."39 Expressing doubt as to the feasibility of entering Boston from the Cottage Farm over Brighton Avenue (now a part of Commonwealth Avenue), a route that was also criticized as being very indirect, Theodore C. Hurd said, "When you get that location, in the faces of those who own high steppers along that street, let me

 

34 Same, p. 75-76.
35 Report of the Hearings ... [1881], p. 55.
36 Same, p. 47.
37 Same, p. 65, 66.
38 Same, p. 76.
39 Same, p. 77. Phoneticians as well as social historians will find additional comment of interest on this poor district in Charles River Street Railway Co., Petition, p. 48,53
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know it."40 Jabez Fox also objected: "We do not want to be disturbed by the noise of a line of jangling, clattering, and rumbling horse-cars running by our front doors and under our front windows."41 Snow removal by the horse car company in winter, far from being regarded as a civic service, was considered a curse by those who used sleighs: "You know how much Brookline bridge is used for private travel, particularly in the winter when the long bridge is rendered practically impassable by the horse-cars for sleighs. Now, sir, when they lay out their new tracks, you will have to sell your sleighs."42

In reply to all this, E. B. Hale, attorney for the Charles River Company, said "horse-cars are the carriages of the common people." He added that many remonstrate before they are built, but that "I never knew a man to advertise his place on the line of a horse railroad for sale who did not mention that as one of the strong reasons why it should sell."43 The fair-minded Colonel Higginson, who lived on Buckingham Street and personally preferred not to have rails on Mount Auburn Street because of inconvenience in driving, made a balanced statement in the later hearing: "I think horse cars almost always injure a street.... But so few people own vehicles, and so many people travel by horse cars, that the convenience of the few in that respect ought to be sacrificed to the public good."44

The Charles River Railway received many of the locations requested and started building in the fall of 1881. The first lines constructed were those centering on Inman Square. Then, building on Columbia Street, the new company came into collision with the Union Railway. At Lafayette Square there was tearing up of track, and an injunction.45 The city of Cambridge had granted a location through Brookline Street, but it was found that, as had been predicted by opponents, Boston would not permit access to

 

40 Report of the Hearings ... [1881], p. 48.
41 Same, p. 30.
42 Same, p. 31.
43 Same, p. 165-166.
44 Charles River Street Railway Co., Petition, p. 49.
45 Same, p. 10; Cambridge Tribune, Dec. 30, 1881, p. 8
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the city at the opposite end of the bridge. The Charles River Company went to the Legislature to obtain access at least to the Boston and Albany's Cottage Farm station.46

The Charles River Railway first reached Harvard Square via a line on Kirkland Street, originally a shuttle requiring a transfer at Washington and Beacon streets, Somerville. By 1883, there was through service from Harvard Square via Kirkland, Beacon, and Hampshire streets and the West Boston Bridge to Park Square, Boston. And by 1884, the Charles River had completed its road through back streets paralleling the main line of the Union. Leaving Harvard Square on Boylston Street, it ran over Mount Auburn Street to Putnam Avenue, then down one block to Green Street, which narrow way it followed to Central Square. Passing through Central Square on Main Street — some maps suggest on its own second pair of tracks, but this is not clearly established — it turned up Columbia Street to Hampshire Street and in to Broadway, and then over the tracks of the Cambridge Railroad (which about this time started operating under its own name) to Bowdoin Square. This line was most unprofitable for obvious reasons.

Meantime, the Cambridge Railroad built lines to Brighton both on Western Avenue and on Boylston and North Harvard streets, meeting at Barry's Corner. It also succeeded in expanding its Back Bay service. In 1882 there were four cars an hour and the limitation to cars from Brighton was removed. By 1885 the old Court or Third Street line had been reopened so that Somerville cars could reach the Charles Street route.

The Cambridge Railroad absorbed the Charles River Railway on October 30, 1886. The Green Street line was reduced to half-hourly service at rush hours only. The Kirkland Street-Park Square line ran all day, but only once an hour.47

The winds of change continued to blow more strongly and in 1887 the Cambridge Railroad itself was absorbed, along with nearly all the other street railways in the Boston area, into the

 

46 Charles River Street Railway Co., Petition, p. 1-14.
47 George Coolidge, Boston Horse Car Routes and Transits, 3d edn., Boston, 1887
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West End Street Railway.48 For the first time a comprehensive transportation system for greater Boston was in sight. The question was, with what motive power? Horse cars were having a hard time keeping up with the transportation needs of the growing cities. Many mechanical substitutes for the horse were suggested and tried in various places, including such oddities as compressed air and ammonia gas engines. The three most important were steam, cable, and electricity—the last still in its infancy. Although steam trams operated successfully in many places for many years, the courts had ruled against their use in Massachusetts.49 However, unlikely as it may seem to those who now associate this form of transportation exclusively with the steep hills of San Francisco, Cambridge very nearly had cable cars.

Cars hauled by an endless cable running continuously under the street, which they grip through a slot and release at will, were introduced on the hills of San Francisco in 1873, and survive only there. However, the ability of the cable to pull cars at a constant speed substantially faster than the horse, to absorb great fluctuations in load, and to obviate the increasing stable-labor problems of the horse car led it to be rather widely used, especially in the 1880's and early 1890's, even where its unique hill-climbing ability was not needed. New York, Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, and Denver were among the cities which had extensive cable networks largely on level streets. The essential requirement was enough traffic to warrant the very heavy capital cost of installing the special cable track and machinery. This the Cambridge Main Street line had to an eminent degree, and to those familiar with the street railway situation at the time it must have come as no surprise to read in the Street Railway Journal for January 1888, that Henry M. Whitney, the obviously progressive president of the new West End Street Railway Company, proposed to adopt the cable system

 

48 See Louis P. Hager, ed., History of the West End Street Railway, Boston, [1891]. One product of the merger was the through route—cars which did not terminate in Boston proper but went on through to another outlying district. The first of these from Cambridge went to North Point (or City Point) in South Boston.
49 See legal discussion in the article entitled "Electrics Threatened," Cambridge Tribune, May 26, 1894
.

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for Washington Street, Boston, and the line to Harvard Square, Cambridge. "The estimated cost of the system is between $600,000 and $1,000,000. The topography of Cambridge, it is said, is best suited for the use of a system like that at present used in Chicago, on account of the great number of branch or spur tracks running from different parts of the city into Main Street. In this system a grip car runs over the direct line, and connections are made with it from the branch routes by means of horses. When the main line is reached, the horses are detached, and when the grip comes along, it picks up the cars and conveys them to their destination at a greatly increased rate of speed."50

In April it was reported that the West End had asked the Boston and Cambridge city councils for permission to run by cable. Experts from Chicago and Kansas City had testified in Boston. The May report said that it had been definitely decided to build the experimental cable route in Cambridge; power would be derived from automatic cut off engines placed near Harvard Square, and an inch and a quarter diameter cable of Roebling manufacture would be used. By June the Thomson-Houston Company was proposing to put electric cars on the lines from Harvard Square to Arlington and to Watertown and Newton as feeders to the projected cable line.

In the July issue the first note of doubt appears; the Cambridge authorities wanted to try the overhead electric system, in other words, the trolley, first, and by August the cable bubble had burst. What had happened was this: while electric railways had been in existence for several years, they had not yet demonstrated their capacity for reliable handling of heavy city traffic.51 The first installation to do so was that made by Frank J. Sprague in Richmond, Virginia, in January 1888. Whitney visited this and another new electric road at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now a part of Pittsburgh), in early June. He realized that the electric system had come of age, and he resolved to adopt it.52 This was an important turning point not only in Boston but in world transit history, since

 

50 Street Railway Journal, 4:24 (Jan. 1888).
51 It might almost be said that they were still in the same league with ammonia gas.
52 Street Railway Journal, 4:206-207 (Aug. 1888).

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the West End was the first really large property to take the Richmond lesson to heart.

Though the Cambridge line had had the first horse cars, and was the choice for the cable installation which was never carried out, the lines to Brookline and Allston (including one of the few routes over which trolleys still operate today) were chosen for the first electrification. Whitney announced his change of heart to the Brookline selectmen on July 18; Sprague was chosen as the contractor and cars began to be operated by electricity on New Year's Day, 1889.

Cambridge came next, and not far behind. This contract was awarded to the rival Thomson-Houston Company, which had twenty electric cars running between Bowdoin and Harvard squares on February 16, 1889.53 Electrification proved highly successful and was soon after extended up North Avenue, where at first the electric cars stopped only at fixed points about a quarter of a mile apart.

Some horse car lines, including the one on Kirkland Street and that from Harvard Square to Barry's Corner, were quietly dropped. The other lines were electrified with moderate rapidity in the early 1890's, the conspicuous exception being Brattle Street, to which we will return in a moment. Many of the first electric cars were rebuilt horse cars —sometimes two horse car bodies were spliced together—but experiments in larger rolling stock were not long in coming. The most interesting of these was a double decked car which was tried out on the Main Street and North Avenue lines for about forty days in the winter of 1891—1892. Built by the Pullman Palace Car Company, using the patents of E.C. Sessions, this car had a number of unusual features. The entrance was in the center, and four stairways led to the four sections of the canopied upper deck (front and back on left and right) which did not directly communicate with each other. To obviate the problem that would arise if someone climbed to a section that was full even though others had space, an electric seating diagram was provided on the lower deck, showing the state of oc-

 

53 Cambridge Tribune, Feb. 16 and 23, 1889.

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cupancy above. One of the most unusual features was that the driver's compartments were on the upper deck. This car was a model of elegance, "the inside finish being mahogany, with quartered oak, decorated ceiling. The glass in the windows is crystal sheet, while that in the doors is French plate embossed. Mirrors are placed on the upper deck and on each side of the doors. The car is provided with spring seats and backs, covered with tapestry."54

Curiosity riding on the double decker was heavy — some of the figures on loads carried are almost unbelievable — and first reports were that the car was a success. However, at the end of the trial period it was returned to the manufacturer. It later saw service in Louisville and in Tiffin, Ohio, where it ended its days sometime after the turn of the century.55

The Harvard Bridge opened September 1, 1891, without transit service, but an electric line over it was opened in 1893. This finally gave Cambridge a direct connection with the outer part of the Back Bay. From the first, cars turned down Boylston Street; later, through service to Roxbury was also established. Another innovation at the beginning of 1894 was the Cambridge Circuit line, which described a figure 8 from Riverside through Putnam Avenue, Pearl Street, Central and Harvard squares, and Cambridge, Prospect, and River streets.

In the meantime, the great question was what to do about Brattle Street. Since 1889 the cars from the west had continued to use Main Street along with the electric cars, which of course meant that once an electric car came up behind a horse car, it could go no faster than the latter. "The Brattle Street horse cars are in the way of all the other cars," said the Cambridge Chronicle in an editorial on May 27, 1893, urging that the residents of Brattle Street withdraw their objections to poles and wires and the noise of heavier cars in the interest of the convenience of the larger community.

 

54 Street Railway Journal, 7:603 (Nov. 1891). Illustrations of the car appear in Hager, ed., West End Street Railway, facing p. 60 and 73.
55 William H. Watts II, A History of Double-Deck Electric Railway Cars ... in the United States of America [Central Electric Railfans' Association, Bulletin 57], Chicago, 1944, p. 5. Although reminiscences of the double-deck car were particularly invited from the audience, none were forthcoming.

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The North Avenue people had also objected to the trolley, but would not now think of returning to the horse car. There was some interest in putting storage battery cars on Brattle Street, but this project came to nought. A Brattle Street resident suggested that a simple solution would be to run the horse cars only to Harvard Square and let the passengers transfer to electric cars; it was alleged that two thirds transferred anyway to Park Square cars (the Brattle cars went to Bowdoin Square).56 If Brattle Street alone had been involved, this solution might have satisfied everyone for several years, and the Brattle Street horse cars might even have outlived those on Marlborough Street, Boston, which ran until Christmas Eve, 1900. However, there were Watertown and Newton to be considered. Certainly these people did not want to come from their greater distance by the slow-moving horse cars. The solution adopted was to put trolley cars on Mount Auburn Street instead. By the end of 1893, horse cars were running only from Harvard Square to Mount Auburn, the line west of the latter point having been electrified, requiring a double transfer for through passengers, electric to horse to electric. Trolley cars began running through on Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, on May 17, 1894,57 but the horse cars on Brattle Street via Garden Street could not be given up until the new electric line being built on Concord and Huron avenues was ready. Installation of overhead wires on the latter was delayed by legal action, and an interim plan was worked out. "On and after July 28 the horsecars now running on Brattle street will be transferred to the Concord and Huron avenue line, running to Fresh Pond lane. This will furnish service pending the settlement of the injunction case on the use of the trolley system."58 Little attention was given in the press to the fading away of horse cars on Brattle Street, which to us seems an event of considerable interest. The legal problems on Concord Avenue were resolved later in the year and electric cars started running as far as Fresh Pond Lane on November 17.59 With the later extension on Aberdeen Avenue, and the opening in 1898

 

56 Cambridge Chronicle, June 3, 1893.
57 Cambridge Tribune, May 19, 1894.
58 Same, July 21, 1894; see also May 26, 1894.
59 Same, Nov. 17, 1894
.

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of the Waverley line on Belmont Street, the Cambridge trolley network practically reached its ultimate extent, although the Belmont Centre line which skirted the Cambridge boundary along Grove Street did not open until 1906.

Meanwhile in Boston extreme congestion had led to the building of the Tremont Street subway, the first in America, which opened September 1, 1897. The first car to enter the new subway —an open car, it may be added — came from Allston and Cambridge via River Street, Putnam Avenue, Pearl Street, and the Harvard Bridge, one of the many now improbable appearing route combinations which flourished during the height of the trolley era. Again Cambridge played its bit in transit history. For many years cars continued to operate from the Park Street subway station out Boylston Street and over the Harvard Bridge to Central and Harvard squares and other destinations in and beyond Cambridge.60 Though an indirect route from Park Street compared with the present subway, the service to many points in between was convenient.

The year 1897 is also noteworthy for the lease of the West End to the Boston Elevated Railway. On the local scene, the Harvard power station on the present site of Eliot House was built in this year.61

The next fifteen years were the trolley era par excellence. The electric car, although not much faster than the horse car in the crowded central districts where congestion rather than the speed of which the vehicle was capable was the limiting factor,62 speeded up as it reached outlying districts and increased the distance from work which it was practicable to live.63 Outside the cities, the growing network of country trolleys and interurbans opened up

 

60 The electric indicator board which was installed in 1899 to reduce confusion on the east side of the southbound platform at Park Street listed twenty-seven routes, ten of which operated to or through Cambridge (Fifth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, Boston, 1899, plate l).
61 Street Railway Journal, 13:856 (Dec. 1897).
62 See map in same, 14:475 (Sept. 1898).
63 The role played by horse car and trolley in changing Boston from a "pedestrian city" in 1850 to a "suburban metropolis" in 1900 is described by Sam B. Warner, Jr., in Streetcar Suburbs, Cambridge, 1962. While Warner chose Roxbury, West Roxbury, and Dorchester for detailed study, many of his observations apply also to Cambridge
.

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new recreational possibilities. The following quotation, though not bearing directly on Cambridge, calls back an era that has vanished as quickly as it rose so well that I cannot refrain from including it: "Special cars will be provided for Hampton Beach or Salisbury Beach, or Revere Beach Reservation from Arlington Heights, Waltham, Lexington or Concord on application by telephone or letter to Superintendent of Lexington & Boston St. Ry. Co., Lexington, Mass."64 It was just thirteen years since the first trolley car had operated in Massachusetts.

In 1899 General William A. Bancroft, who had been superintendent of the Cambridge Railroad as early as 1885 and mayor of Cambridge from 1893 to 1896, became president of the Boston Elevated. Bancroft lived at 12 Ware Street, and for years his private car, number 101, kept at North Cambridge car house, was often seen picking him up on Broadway. This car is now a part of a restaurant in Foxboro; some will rejoice that it has been preserved at all, while others will be reminded of the line, "Oh, better that her shattered hulk."

Though trackage was complete, routes continued to proliferate: North Cambridge to Dudley Street, Harvard Square to Bay View, Harvard Square to Park Street via Cottage Farm, and so on. Around 1910 there was an "Historic Boston Trolley Trip" from Park Square twice a day in good weather, which of course included Cambridge in its rounds.

To provide proper background for the next great change, the Cambridge subway, we must retrace our path a good many years. The Tremont Street subway had taken conventional trolley cars off the street and put them underground for a short distance, freeing them and other street traffic from reciprocal delays. Only so many cars per hour could be run through it, however. There was need for a train service with higher capacity, greater speed, quicker loading, and longer distances between stops—in short, rapid transit. Steam operated elevated railways had operated in New York since 1871, and were proposed for Boston as early as 1879. However, the first scheme on which the Legislature looked with favor was that of

 

64 Katharine M. Abbott, Twentieth Century Trolley Trips, Boston, 1901, p. 122.

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the Meigs Elevated Railway Company, which was incorporated in 1884 and authorized to build a line between Bowdoin Square and Cambridge.65 We come here to one of the most fascinating byways in transit history, which there is not time to cover adequately tonight. Suffice it to say, very briefly, that Captain Joe V. Meigs had designed an unconventional steam railway with horizontal driving wheels whose adhesion depended on pressure rather than weight, combined with diagonal supporting wheels. He built a demonstration line, including steep grades and sharp curves, at 225 Bridge Street, East Cambridge, but was unable to obtain financing.66 The Boston Elevated Railway was incorporated in 1894 and authorized to build various elevated routes, including one in Cambridge using Green and Mount Auburn streets to avoid Main Street as the Charles River Street Railway had done a decade earlier.67 In 1895 the new company bought the Meigs franchise, and by its lease of the West End in 1897, it assured that any rapid transit facilities which it built would be operated as an integrated system with the surface lines.

Rapid transit plans were still only formative and subject to frequent change, but it was evident that any form of rapid transit to Cambridge would require a new bridge. The Cambridge Bridge Commission was formed in 1898 and in 1900 secured permission to build a drawless span. A temporary bridge south of the old West Boston Bridge was completed in October 1899 and the old bridge removed. Work began on the new bridge in 1900, and it was ready for use in 1906. A center fenced-off section was reserved for rapid transit tracks, while the regular trolley tracks were outside the fence in the roadway at either side. Meanwhile public sentiment against elevated railways had hardened, and a subway was planned instead. Since the Charles River Dam was also built during this period, it turned out that the Cambridge Bridge, which was designed to carry an elevated railway over a tidal stream, actually carried subway trains over fresh water.68

 

65 Ch. 87, Acts of 1884.
66 See Joe V. Meigs, The Meigs Railway, Boston, 1887.
67 Ch. 548, Sect. 6, Acts of 1894.
68 Report of the Cambridge Bridge Commission, Boston, 1909, p. 14—40. For three weeks following a fire on the temporary bridge in October 1904, trolley passengers had to change cars and walk across the short burned section. The Charles River Dam went into operation on October 20, 1908

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Unlike the subways in Boston, which were built by the Boston Transit Commission and rented to the operating company, the Cambridge subway was built by the Boston Elevated Railway. In its planning, one of the main questions was the number of intermediate stations, proposals ranging from only one (at Central Square) to as many as five. Agitation for a station at Dana Street was particularly strong.69 The subway was conceived as a high speed facility to serve primarily transfer passengers, and it was finally decided to have intermediate stations only at Kendall and Central squares, giving the unusually long spacing of 1.27 miles from Park Street to Kendall Square. The station at Harvard Square, with its four ramps connecting platforms for inbound and outbound subway trains with those for trolley cars from and for the west and north, was a most ingenious feat of planning.70 Actual construction of the subway began in Cambridge in July 1909, and it opened from Park Street to Harvard Square on March 23, 1912, beginning, as the Electric Railway Journal said, "a new transportation era for the suburban cities and towns lying at the west of the New England capital."71 Cars for the new subway were unusually long, 69 feet 2 1/2 inches, eighteen feet longer than contemporary New York subway cars. Door placement was also novel; there were doors at the center of each third of the car, a great improvement on the conventional placement of the end doors at the extreme end.72

The subway in Cambridge has changed little since its opening in 1912. The original cars are still running, supplemented by more of similar type necessitated by extension at the other end. Changes in Harvard station belong more to the surface story,73 and the sale of

 

69 Electric Railway Journal, 31:763 (May 2, 1908); 32:183-184 (June 27, 1908).
70 See same, 39:784, 787 (May 11, 1912) for plans and sections.
71 Same, p. 782. The combined population of Arlington, Belmont, and Watertown rose 73 per cent in the decade 1910-1920, to a large extent as a result of the Cambridge subway.
72 Same, 39:58-61 (Jan. 13, 1912).
73 The loading platform for North Cambridge, Arlington, and Huron Avenue was lengthened in 1922—1923 and provided with an electric indicator showing at what berth cars for the various destinations would stop, and, in the case of the Arlington cars, whether they were limited or "all stops." The head house (originally a substantial brick building designed to harmonize with the college buildings) was rebuilt early in 1928 as a much smaller and partially transparent structure to improve visibility for motorists—an early sacrifice to the automobile god. See Co-operation (Boston Elevated Railway), May 1928.

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the Cambridge subway to the Commonwealth in 1920 (to obtain capital for various projects outside Cambridge) made no tangible difference to the rider. Outside of Cambridge, of course, change was extensive. The line was pushed eastward and southward a station at a time, as a regular subway as far as Andrew Square, which was reached in 1918, and on the surface (although in part roofed over) along the right of way of the Old Colony Railroad and its Shawmut branch, reaching Ashmont in 1928. Charles station was added in 1932. The Cambridge-Dorchester subway remains a high capacity, efficient line, which is due to be rejuvenated by new cars about to be delivered,74 and may possibly be extended further to the south and even conceivably to the north and west if some of the plans perennially discussed ever come to fruition.

With the coming of the subway, transit service to Cambridge assumed a new pattern. Instead of taking a direct but slow car from any one of a considerable variety of points in Boston to a particular part of Cambridge, the tendency now was to take the Cambridge subway from Park Street (or, later, Washington Street or South Station) and transfer at one of the Cambridge stations, most often Harvard Square.

The East Cambridge viaduct was also opened in 1912, but at first cars from Bridge and Cambridge streets ran over it without requiring a transfer at Lechmere Square. The Boylston Street subway was completed in 1914, and Harvard Bridge cars no longer turned down Boylston Street. Lechmere became a transfer station in 1922 and the East Boston tunnel (which had carried trolley cars from Cambridge through Scollay Square to East Boston since 1916) was converted to third rail operation in 1924, virtually completing the transition to a system of rapid transit with transfers to feeders.

Cars as well as routes were changing. Larger and heavier types

 

74 The new cars started going into service in May 1963.

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were introduced on the routes feeding into Harvard subway. Some of the older cars were rebuilt into articulated or "snake" cars, to increase capacity without increasing crew. Open cars were seldom seen in Cambridge after the summer of 1917.

The early post-subway era saw the only regular appearance of foreign cars, that is, cars of other companies, in the streets of Cambridge. Through cars of the Middlesex and Boston Street Railway ran from Harvard subway to Lexington, Bedford, Billerica, and Lowell.75 The Waltham cars of the same company also came into Central Square for a time in 1914-1915.76

The first World War, with its inflation, was hard on street railways; in 1918 the Boston Elevated came under public control. As one economy measure, the small one-man Birney safety car was introduced, first on Broadway and later on other routes, including Belmont Centre and Central-Porter via Inman Square. While the one-man feature was later introduced on all cars except the center entrance type, the Birney car (which became the standard in many small cities) never really caught on in Boston, and the last was taken off in 1929.

The 1920 report of the public trustees of the Elevated for the first time mentions the force that was to make a shambles of the transit industry: "No one observing the multitude of automobiles that choke the streets leading to the business center of Boston in the morning and at night can fail to appreciate the serious nature of the competition between that form of transportation and the street railway."77

Not long after, the motor bus began to supplant some of the minor street car lines, especially those whose track was worn out and not worth rebuilding in view of lessened use. The first such abandonment in Cambridge was of the Cottage Farm line in 1924. Broadway and River Street followed in 1925, Spring Hill in 1926, Belmont Centre in 1928, and Prospect Street in 1930.78

 

75 Trolley Wayfinder, Boston, 1913, p. 71.
76 Information from Mr. Charles A. Duncan, Danvers, Mass.
77 Third Report of the Trustees of the Boston Elevated Railway Company, Boston, 1920, p. 12.
78 When track on Cambridge Street in Boston was abandoned at the end of 1925 as part of the Northern Artery development, the all-night service substituting for the Cambridge subway during its hours of closure was changed from car to bus. See Co-operation, July 1932, p. 111
.

 

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When rail abandonments, now beginning to touch some more important routes, resumed after a few years, they were in favor of a new vehicle, the trolley bus or trackless trolley, which was introduced on Cambridge Street in 1936 and on Huron Avenue in 1938 (the latter after an interim year of gasoline buses). The Somerville lines which entered East Cambridge for a few blocks were converted to trackless trolley in 1941.

Street cars did yeoman service throughout the second World War, carrying crowds swelled by gas rationing and the increased labor force. As the war ended it appeared that modernization would take two principal forms — trackless trolleys on most lines, with streamlined street cars on a few trunk routes. The streamlined cars were introduced on the Lechmere-Subway line during the war, but their first appearance on the streets of Cambridge came in a rather improbable place, on the least important of the rail lines then surviving. The Metropolitan Transit Authority took over from the Boston Elevated Railway on August 29, 1947, and immediately began sending some of the new cars from Watertown car house to Central Square at hours when they were not all needed on the Watertown-Subway line.

In September 1949 the Harvard Bridge was closed for extensive rebuilding without tracks, bringing an end to street car service from Harvard Square to Massachusetts Station.79 The Watertown-Central cars on Western Avenue were taken off in 1950. The main Cambridge trolley lines, those passing through the Harvard subway to North Cambridge and Arlington on the north, and to Watertown and Waverley on the west, seemed for a time to have a brighter future. The years 1951—1954 were definitely a period of trolley improvement on these busy routes. The streamlined cars were introduced in April 1951, and were providing the base or non-

 

79 For one week only cars continued to run from Harvard Square to a temporary crossover which was asphalted in place in front of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then the Harvard service ceased, but Watertown cars were extended from Central Square to this crossover throughout the time the bridge was closed.

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rush service on the Arlington Heights-Watertown run by June.80 The new cars, unlike all the older Boston cars, were single ended, or designed to operate in one direction only; therefore they could not be used on lines such as Waverley, which at that time terminated in a stub-end crossover, nor be turned back at Arlington Center, which also lacked facilities for turning cars around.

The first of these disabilities was removed by the construction of a loop at Waverley Square, Belmont, in 1953 in connection with the depression of the Boston &. Maine tracks at that point. Curiously enough, only double ended cars used the new loop for the first fifteen months, although additional modern cars from South Boston had been transferred to Cambridge. Finally, the Waverley line received its new cars in September 1954, and the modernization of the rail lines had reached its peak.

Discordant notes were not long in appearing. In January 1955 the City of Cambridge opened a campaign against the safety islands in Massachusetts Avenue, and in February the MTA began testing diesel buses on this run. In November the axe fell: the Arlington car line was cut back to North Cambridge and even this was operated by buses in the late evening. The remaining steps —closing of surface tracks through Harvard Square, giving of all Sunday service by bus, earlier evening hour of changeover to buses on North Cambridge, and inclusion of the Mount Auburn lines in this practice, beginning of work on trackless trolley wire, and opening of trackless service to Belmont Street and Trapelo Road side by side with the street cars all followed in quick succession between the summer of 1956 and June 1958.81

During these last years, when even the oldest cars used in passenger service dated from the 1920's, a remarkable link with the past was often seen in Cambridge streets. Car number 724 was what

 

80 E.R.A. Headlights, June 1951, p. 2, and July 1951, p. 3.
81 Positive notes were not lacking even in these last years. The trolleys distinguished themselves by keeping going better than buses in the heavy snowstorms of March 1956. A rebuilding of the Mount Auburn bridge at the divergence of the Watertown and Waverley lines was carried out from May to October 1956. The successive closing of each of the four tracks gave Cambridge trolley aficionados a last fling at photographing the unusual. The bridge at Porter Square had also been rebuilt in 1955
.

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was called a 20-foot spliced car, built by the West End Street Railway in 1893 from two horse cars, and its conversion to a rail grinder made little change in its external appearance. It continued to do its work of smoothing the rails almost to the end.

On Friday, September 5, 1958, car 5727, the 7:56 P.M. from Watertown, and 5579, the 8:02 from Waverley to North Cambridge, were the last cars to carry passengers through the streets of Cambridge. On the succeeding Saturday and Sunday all the cars left the Cambridge division via Watertown82 and 102 years of street railway operation in Cambridge came to an end. Off the streets, trolley cars still operate on the East Cambridge viaduct, but even this has an uncertain future. Occasionally a trolley may be seen in the Harvard Square subway shops, having been brought over the rapid transit tracks from Ashmont for repairs.83

Various relics of the trolley and even the horse car era remain in the form of carbarns. The carbarn ancestry of the Star Market at Mount Auburn is well disguised. The Baldwin Street barn, on Cambridge Street, now a chemical company, is somewhat less drastically altered. And across Dunster Street from the new Holyoke Center, with which it contrasts strongly, there stands an aged brick building which once belonged to the Cambridge Railroad. Its windows and doors have been bricked up, and an additional story added, but it is still visibly a relic of horse car days.

The living trolley can still be found on six routes in Boston, one of them, mirabile dictu, new in 1959. The author of this paper has for twenty years been traveling about to see interesting survivals and developments in this field, but there are probably not many among you who would care to go to South Bend or to the Isle of Man or to Wuppertal in pursuit of the rare things that can be seen in these places. However, within a hundred miles of Cambridge you have the most varied collection of street and interurban cars that has ever been assembled. If you wish to pursue the topic of tonight further, you cannot do better than to visit the Trolley Mu-

 

82 The streamlined "P.C.C." cars were taken out on Saturday and the older "type 5" cars and work cars on Sunday.
83 The Ashmont-Mattapan high speed trolley line is isolated from the rest of the trolley system
.

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seum at Kennebunkport, Maine. There you may see some seventy cars, from many states and countries, ranging in date from 1873 to 1939, most of them in running order. I know of no better way to recreate the street railway era —and a fascinating era it was.

Read October 30, 1962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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