This summer marks 50 years since my first trip to Boston, which quickly became one of my favorite cities. I came there as a 12-year-old, to attend my uncle Robert’s wedding along with my mother.
I was astonished to find that Boston still had PCC streetcars, of a type very similar to those Chicago had retired nearly a decade earlier. While my relatives were out making merry, I went off to ride all the various lines.
I have returned to Boston numerous times since then. Recently, I spent a few days there to help my uncle celebrate his 87th birthday.
While PCCs are long gone from the MBTA Green Line, a few still soldier on between Ashmont and Mattapan. This “high-speed trolley” has been running in an old railroad right-of-way since the 1920s, on private right-of-way with just a couple of grade crossings. Along with the MBTA’s Riverside line, which began service in 1959, it is considered a forerunner of modern light rail.
Although I did not have time to do as much railfanning as I might have hoped, here are some pictures from that trip.
PS- We expect to receive our shipment of Chicago Trolleys books by September 22nd, which should allow us to ship all copies that have been pre-ordered by the release date on the 25th. More information is at the end of this post.
Horsecars in Roxbury
While researching when the above photograph could have been taken, I learned quite a bit about the early history of public transit in Boston. Roxbury was once its own municipality, but was annexed into Boston in 1868.
Before horse-drawn streetcars, there was the “Omnibus.” This was a large passenger coach, similar to a stagecoach, that ran on a fixed route between Boston and Roxbury, and offered frequent service (hourly, in some places). This ran from 1832 until 1856.
Streetcars offered some advantages, as they ran on tracks laid in city streets, which were frequently unpaved in this era and could be turned to a muddy mess when it rained. Often pedestrians would walk along the middle of the tracks.
One source says horse cars “began at Boylston Market to Norfolk House in Eliot Square, (and a) second line met at Tremont House, traveled over the neck to Norfolk House and then via Center Street over Hogs Bridge to West Roxbury.”
The Metropolitan Railroad Co. continued to operate horsecars until 1886, when it was bought out by the West End Street Railway Co. Thus, the dates when this photo could have been taken are probably between 1856 and 1886.
West End sought to improve service and reduce costs. After looking into the feasibility of building cable car lines, the railroad became aware of a new invention, electric streetcars. After examining Frank J. Sprague’s pioneering operation in Richmond, Virginia, the West End introduced electric streetcars to Boston in 1889.
I was unable to find a definitive date when horsecars stopped running in Boston. The various dates I did find were 1891, 1895, and 1900. But the latter seems unlikely.
During construction of the open-cut MBTA Orange Line in the 1980s, which replaced an elevated, the former site of a Metropolitan R. R. horsecar barn was excavated, and thousands of artifacts recovered. You can read a full report here, in someone’s masters thesis.
Interestingly, the First Church of Roxbury building, which dates to about 1804, is still there, although the steeple had to be replaced after it was damaged by rough weather in 1954.
Norfolk House was built in 1853 and is also still standing. The four-and-a-half story building has now been converted to condos.
Quincy Station Landmarking Recommendation Approved by Commission on Chicago Landmarks
Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) is very pleased to announce that the final recommendation for landmarking the Quincy Elevated Station at 220 S. Wells Street was recently approved at the September 7, 2017 meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
Opened for service on October 3, 1897, the Quincy Elevated Station has served generations of Chicagoans and visitors to the City, and remains the best example of an original Loop “‘L’ Station.
More information here.
Pre-Order Our New Book Chicago Trolleys
We are pleased to report that our new book Chicago Trolleys will be released on September 25th by Arcadia Publishing. You can pre-order an autographed copy through us today (see below). Chicago Trolleys will also be available wherever Arcadia books are sold.
Chicago’s extensive transit system first started in 1859, when horsecars ran on rails in city streets. Cable cars and electric streetcars came next. Where new trolley car lines were built, people, businesses, and neighborhoods followed. Chicago quickly became a world-class city. At its peak, Chicago had over 3,000 streetcars and 1,000 miles of track—the largest such system in the world. By the 1930s, there were also streamlined trolleys and trolley buses on rubber tires. Some parts of Chicago’s famous “L” system also used trolley wire instead of a third rail. Trolley cars once took people from the Loop to such faraway places as Aurora, Elgin, Milwaukee, and South Bend. A few still run today.
The book features 226 classic black-and-white images, each with detailed captions, in 10 chapters:
1. Early Traction
2. Consolidation and Growth
3. Trolleys to the Suburbs
4. Trolleys on the “L”
5. Interurbans Under Wire
6. The Streamlined Era
7. The War Years
8. Unification and Change
9. Trolley Buses
10. Preserving History
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 09/25/2017
Series: Images of Rail
Meet the Author
David Sadowski has been interested in streetcars ever since his father took him for a ride on one of the last remaining lines in 1958. He grew up riding trolley buses and “L” trains all over Chicago. He coauthored Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936–1958, and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog. Come along for the ride as we travel from one side of the city to the other and see how trolley cars and buses moved Chicago’s millions of hardworking, diverse people.
Images of Rail
The Images of Rail series celebrates the history of rail, trolley, streetcar, and subway transportation across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the people, places, and events that helped revolutionize transportation and commerce in 19th- and 20th-century America. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.
The book costs just $21.99 plus shipping.
Please note that Illinois residents must pay 10.00% sales tax on their purchases.
We appreciate your business!
For Shipping to US Addresses:
For Shipping to Canada:
For Shipping Elsewhere:
NEW – Chicago Trolleys Postcard Collection
We are pleased to report that selected images from our upcoming book Chicago Trolleys will be available on September 25th in a pack of 15 postcards, all for just $7.99. This is part of a series put out by Arcadia Publishing. Dimensions: 6″ wide x 4.25″ tall
The Postcards of America Series
Here in the 21st century, when everyone who’s anyone seems to do most of their communicating via Facebook and Twitter, it’s only natural to wax a little nostalgic when it comes to days gone by. What happened to more personal means of communication like hand-written letters on nice stationery? Why don’t people still send postcards when they move someplace new or go away on vacation?
If that line of thinking sounds familiar, then Arcadia Publishing’s Postcards of America was launched with you in mind. Each beautiful volume features a different collection of real vintage postcards that you can mail to your friends and family.
Pre-Order your Chicago Trolleys Postcard Pack today!
For Shipping to US Addresses:
For Shipping to Canada:
For Shipping Elsewhere:
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
This is our 194th post, and we are gradually creating a body of work and an online resource for the benefit of all railfans, everywhere. To date, we have received over 320,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.
You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store.
As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”
We thank you for your support.
In order to continue giving you the kinds of historic railroad images that you have come to expect from The Trolley Dodger, we need your help and support. It costs money to maintain this website, and to do the sort of historic research that is our specialty.
Your financial contributions help make this web site better, and are greatly appreciated.