This August marks 50 years since my first trip to Boston. This picture of MBTA 3295 was taken on Beacon Street on August 31, 1967, and shows the PCCs just as I remember them from that time. (Frederick F. Marder Photo)
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.
This giant steaming teakettle has been a Boston landmark since 1873.
The subway station at Government Center was closed for renovations when I last visited Boston three years ago, but has since reopened.
The Green Line subway, oldest in the United States, first opened in 1897. I believe this is Government Center.
The Red Line subway.
It’s incredible that this PCC is still in service. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “3087 was built by Pullman-Standard in 1945, #W6710A. It was rebuilt in 2000 for service.” Here, we see it pulling in to the Ashmont Terminal, where riders can switch to the Red Line subway. Unlike the other light rail lines, the Ashmont-Mattapan line is considered part of the Red Line. When we were there, it was operating as a free shuttle, although the trains had fare boxes.
3087 at Mattapan.
The turnaround loop at Mattapan.
The PCCs are not air conditioned, but have forced-air ventilation and sealed windows.
3087 at Ashmont.
The Red Line at Ashmont.
Out of Town News, which occupies the famed former Harvard Square subway kiosk built in 1928, may eventually be forced out as part of a redevelopment scheme.
A trip to Harvard Square would not be complete without visiting Leavitt & Peirce, which has been there since 1884.
This “cigar store Indian” princess graces the store’s entry way.
Besides cigars, they sell chess sets at Leavitt and Peirce.
The Green Line at Park Street, where you can switch between the B, C, D, and E branches or change to the Red Line.
Currently, the Green Line’s northern end is at Lechmere, although there are plans to extend it another 4.7 miles to Somerville and Medford.
These “Type 7” LRVs were built between 1986 and 1997, and have been rehabbed since I was last in Boston three years ago. Now they are all paired in service with the newer Type 8s, which are handicapped accessible.
On our way to Logan airport, I had time to take a few shots at the west end of Green Line route “B,” which goes to Boston College.
My final MBTA shots were taken near the west end of Green Line route “C”, which is Beacon Street. It is a bit confusing that the B line runs on Commonwealth Avenue, while the C line is on Beacon. But the lines were assigned letters due to their position on maps. Watertown was assigned “A” as it was furthest north, but rail service there was abandoned in 1969, before the letters were used on any roll signs. The best explanation for why Watertown got bussed is that streetcars had to go against traffic on a one-way expressway feeder ramp that became a real bottleneck. It was easier to re-route buses around this, although the tracks and wire remained for many years for access to Watertown Yard.
There is a station called Fenway on Boston’s Green Line, but that’s not where you want to go to see a ballgame. Kenmore Square is closer, and three of the four Green Line branches stop there.
It’s been 40 years since I first visited Fenway Park. On this night, the Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-3.
Fenway is one of the most beloved ballparks in Major League Baseball, in part because of its 40-foot “Green Monster” wall in left field.
Boston double-end PCC 3327, signed for Heath on the MBTA Green Line “E” branch (formerly called Arborway), is heading up the Northeastern Incline from the Huntington Avenue Subway in this March 1974 view.
A period illustration for the M.T.A. song (aka Charlie on the M.T.A.), see Comments below.
Horsecars in Roxbury
While visting the Simon Willard House and Clock Museum, I was intrigued by this early photograph, which shows a horse car near the First Church of Roxbury. The picture was dated as “circa 1910,” but must have been taken many years before that.
A close-up of the photo, showing a horse car on the line to Norfolk House, operated between Boston and Roxbury by the Metropolitan Railroad Co., which operated between 1856 and 1886.
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.
The Right Here in Roxbury Wiki says: “The Norfolk House has served as a hotel and public house when Roxbury was a prominent stop on the road out of Boston. Later it was converted to a settlement house with a branch of the Boston Public library. Currently the first floor is retail space and the upper floors are condominiums.”
This early 19th century gallery clock is the original from the First Church of Roxbury, and is on loan to the Willard House. Meanwhile, an exact replica was made and hangs in the church.
This January 1962 image shows DC Transit pre-PCC car 1053, just prior to the end of streetcar service in our nation’s capitol. Unfortunately, this historically important streetcar was later destroyed in a fire at the National Capital Trolley Museum in 2003.
You might be mistaken for thinking this funicular was in a rural location, but this picture (and the next) shows the Angel’s Flight Railway in Los Angeles in August 1968. By then, much of the surrounding area in the Bunker Hill neighborhood had been cleared for redevelopment. Angel’s Flight itself was dismantled in 1969, as part of the hill was leveled. After being in storage for many years, it was finally relocated and has now once again resumed operations, with important new safety features after a series of accidents.
Sacramento Northern MW-302 on an early 1960s fantrip. Don’s Rail Photos: “1020 was built by Hall-Scott Motor Car Co in 1913, as OA&E 1020. It became SF-S 1020 in 1920 and SN 1020 in 1928. It was renumbered as MW302 in 1941 and went to Western Railway Museum in 1962.”
A postwar Pullman-built PCC prepares to cross the Chicago River on Madison Street, probably in the early 1950s. That’s the old Chicago Daily News building in the background.
Postwar Pullman PCC 4112, signed to go west on the Madison-Fifth branch of Route 20, turns onto Franklin Street, probably in the early 1950s.
This picture shows a CTA crane in operation on the old Metropolitan or Garfield Park “L” in the early 1950s. You can see how many nearby buildings have already been cleared away in order to build the Congress Expressway.
A wooden Met car on the CTA’s Kenwood shuttle in August 1957, just a few short moths before this branch line was abandoned. The CTA (and CRT before it) was a tenant and this complicated operation of the line. In addition, the CTA during this period closed several branch lines, in their efforts to consolidate and streamline service.
This picture of CTA postwar PCC (built by St. Louis Car Company) at South Shops was probably taken at around the same time (and by the same unknown photographer) as the Kenwood picture, i.e. August 1957. The nearby bus is 3625. If the date is correct, all the postwar Pullmans had been gone from the property for more than two years already.
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
On the Cover: Car 1747 was built between 1885 and 1893 by the Chicago City Railway, which operated lines on the South Side starting in April 1859. This is a single-truck (one set of wheels) open electric car; most likely a cable car, retrofitted with a trolley and traction motor. The man at right is conductor William Stevely Atchison (1861-1921), and this image came from his granddaughter. (Courtesy of Debbie Becker.)
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.
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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!
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