|presented to the Maynard Historical Society
by Dave Griffin
November 23, 2000
|This page contains some information and photos not provided at the original meeting.|
A little under a hundred years ago a nickel and a 15 minute wait was about all you needed to travel to from Maynard to either downtown Concord or Hudson.
Starting in 1901 till its demise in 1923, the Concord, Maynard & Hudson Street Railway connected the towns of Concord, Acton, Maynard, Stow, and Hudson with about 20 miles of track. It had a short, but interesting history and I hope to convey a little of its story to you tonight.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the railway, I thought I'd start with what it was like to travel on this "electric road". The railway issued brochures called "By the Wayside," from which this description is based. For time's sake I'm going to paraphrase a bit here and there (click here to see the full available text) as we take a ride on the trolley from Hudson to Concord.. (Please chime in if you recognize any of the places that are mentioned.)
Leaving Hudson at Wood Square, we pass down Main Street, leaving the electric light plant of the town of Hudson on the right, and pass the Assabet gRiver , . . to O''Neil's Crossing, then following the Fitchburg Division of the B&M Railroad to Brown's Crossing.
We are now advancing towards the township of Stow. The first place to enter is Gleasondale (formerly called Rock Bottom), the business center of the town, and the first structures of importance to attract the traveler's eye is the new Methodist church and then the woolen mill owned and operated by the Gleason family for nearly a half century which is practically the only manufacluring industry in the town, the inhabitants being for the most part engaged in agriculture . . .
Avoiding the high hills, the track circles around to the right, following the highway a short distance and then enteriing the fields within view of pleasant pastoral homes . . . . In five minutes more, we are rounding Clark's corner and come in view of the Common with its stretch of lawn dotted with handsome shade trees, the ancient church and the public library in the background forming a perfect picture of rural beauty.
About a mile distant from here is Stow Lower Common . . . It is a charming residential part of town and is becoming an attractive place to people looking for a quiet country home.
The distance from Stow Lower Common to Maynard is short. After passing the plant of the electric road, we enter the town, the first noticeable building on our right being the large block owned by Harriman Brothers. and occupied by their New Method Laundry. This establishment is easily located at night by the two 3,000 candle power gas lights which throw their welcome light from its cupola. . .
Crossing the track of the B&M Railroad, we come to the immense plant of the American Woolen Company. The large building opposite the mill is the new boarding house for the mill workers . . .
Not unlike trying to keep track of banking institutions over the past decade or so, the history of Maynard's street railway is a jumble of companies starting, merging, maturing, merging some more, and ultimately fading away into memories. For any train enthusiasts in the audience who revel in the details of railroad history I apologize ahead of time for occasionally blurring the lines between these companies, but in the interest of time I'm going to refer to these railways collectively as the Concord, Maynard & Hudson (or CM&H) railway during most of these talk.
Boston began its experiments with short-distance transportation in 1826, with the appearance of local coaches, or omnibuses, as they were called. These early vehicles were pulled by horses and rapidly became very popular. These coaches were replaced by street railway cars, still horse-drawn, in the 1850's. Attempts to replace the horses with steam-powered and battery-powered cars proved to be unusable, and after a failed attempt to construct a cable-car system, Boston's street railways turned to a strange and new power source: electricity. In 1889, the first electric street railway opened for business in Boston. (The first electric street railway in the U.S. had started operation in Richmond, Virginia just two years earlier, in 1887)
A little over 10 years later, on August 3, 1899 with $50,000 of capital, William S. Reed, Charles E. Dresser (both of Leominster), Charles W. Shippee (from Milford), and Charles H. Persons (from Maynard) started the Concord, Maynard & Hudson Street Railway Company. The path of the railway proposed was the one we traced at the beginning of the presentation. Charles Persons was a piano dealer in town and also held local and state government positions. The other principals were already involved in other street railway companies in the Commonwealth.
The original route of the railway would have bypassed Stow Center because the company was unable to obtain rights-of-way from a number of Stow townspeople who opposed the railway running on a path other than along the highway (which had some grade problems by Lambert Hill making it very hard for rail cars to pass through). Just about everybody else in Stow very much wanted the trolley to roll through town and they petitioned the Stow selectmen to grant the right-of-way request -- which they did.
A few months later in January of 1900 another street railway company, the Concord & Clinton, was created and proposed building a railway from Monument Square in Concord, through Acton, and into Maynard. In the spring of 1900, yet another company, The Lowell, Acton & Maynard Street Railway came into existance with intent of building a railway starting in Maynard, moving through South Acton and Acton, and ending in the city of Lowell -- the latter never being reached.
To make a long, and rather convoluted story short, by 1911 all of these railway companies eventually merged together and operated under the name of the CM&H Railway.
Construction of the railway started early in 1901, with the building of bridge, grading roadbeds, and installing track and overhead wires that supplied the electricity for the cars. That electricity came from a power plant, located right here in Maynard. A "carhouse", a barn for storing and maintaining the cars, was also located in Maynard
The railcars themselves were supplied by Laconia Car Company of Laconia, New Hampshire, and the Wason Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Massachusetts.
On August 5, 1901 the power station electrified the wires and the first rail car ventured out for a trial trip from Maynard towards Stow and back. Here's how the local newspaper described the event:
|After weeks of expectation, disappointment and almost despair, the first
car on the electric road was run in Maynard on Monday. It wasn't greeted by brass bands
nor cheering crowds nor were any speeches made on the occasion, but the fact remains that
a real electric car owned by the Concord, Maynard & Hudson Street Railway and
propelled by power from the company's power house in Maynard was successfully run from the
car barn nearly to Gleasondale and back.
The car started from the barn at 3 o'clock, John W. Ogden, superintendent of the road, acting as motorrnan. Director Julius Loewe, Vice President Persons and Contractor (Marcus A.) Coolidge of the electric road were also on hand, as were representatives of the Maynard and Stow boards of selectmen.
The news of the great event had not been made public but nevertheless, a large crowd was assembled when Mr. Ogden turned on the "juice" and through that gentleman's courtesy, many of them were allowed to ride on the car.
The citizens of Stow, some of whom had never before seen an electric car, manifested great delight over its unexpected appearance and showed their joy in many ways. The outbound trip was necessarily a little slow but on the homeward run good time was made. The running of the car has re-awakened all the enthusiasm heretofore existing and visions of trolley trips on moonlight nights are already flitting through the minds of the local people.
The Weekly Enterprise
While there was much work still to do on the railway's infrastructure, a much anticipated trial run to Concord was made few weeks later on August 18th -- also making news:
|The long time vision of connection with the outside world by electric
power has become at last a reality, the missing link, a car to run between Maynard and
Concord Junction, being discovered on Monday. . . . The juice was turned on by Supt. Ogden
and the trip began at exactly 8 minutes past 1. It was slow going on the down trip as many
offending tree branches had to be removed from nearby trees but the car reached its
destination at 10 minutes of 2.
On the car were Supt. Ogden, acting as motorman, Alfred Lever, acting as conductor, Vice President Persons, Directors Loewe and Shippee of the electric road, with enough passengers of lesser importance to make the total 75.
The car was handsomely decorated with American flags and attracted much attention all along the route, the inhabitants turning out en masse, waving handkerchiefs and otherwise expressing delight at the successful completion of the road.
The car was met at the junction by a good-sized crowd, who had heard of its coming and for their accommodation, many of the Maynard people left the car and allowed them to ride to Maynard and back. On the second trip up, the car sailed along in good shape, leaving the junction at 9 minutes of 3 and arriving at the Congregational Church at Maynard at 10 minutes past, making a 19-minute trip, which is good time when everything is considered.
The roadbed seems to be in fine condition, the cars running along almost as smoothly as on the part of the road from Concord Junction to Concord, which has been in use for some time. Just as soon as the railroad commissioners go over the road, a schedule will be made out and cars run on regular time. Great enthusiasm was manifested throughout the afternoon, especially at Maynard, where a wild scramble was made for the car on each of the three trips.
The Weekly Enterprise
The railway started normal operations on September 1, 1901. That first month 12 rail cars carried 52,347 passengers at a nickel per ride along the railway's 8 and a quarter mile route. Within a few years, after merging with other street railways, the CM&H company would have nearly 20 miles of track under its control.
Obviously the part of the railway that most people identify with are the trolley cars. The cars were typically about 35 feet long, 8-9 feet wide, and little over 12 feet tall. Each car weighed in between 17-19 tons, and ran on two sets of 4-wheel "trucks". The cars were propelled by two Westinghouse electric motors rated between 25 and 35 horsepower (depending on the type of car). The speed of the motors was regulated by what were called controllers (K-12, K-63, K-28B, K-35G2). The cars were stopped by both hand and air brakes (made by Christensen). The cars rode on "light rail" tracks that were embedded in the streets and also ran on their own beds. At various points along the track there were "turnouts" where two cars could pass each other.
Three general types of passenger cars were put int service in the first two years of operation: 6 closed cars, 7 open cars, and 3 parlor cars.
Seating 34 passengers each, the closed cars were built by the Laconia Car Company, of Laconia, New Hampshire. The cars were painted yellow and white, with gold trim, had plush seats and were heated.
|Seating 60 each, the open cars, built by the Wason Manufacturing Company of Springfield Massachusetts, were configured with 12 rows, a running board, and windows at each end. These cars were used during the summer months, when ridership on the railway was the heaviest.|
In 1902, three new closed cars were brought into service. Unlike the other closed cars these were actually built by the railway itself, by splicing together some older (battery-powered) rail cars from the Milford & Hopedale Street Railroad into a single car 40 feet long. Unlike the other cars, which were numbered, each of these custom cars was given a name: the "Concord", "Maynard", and "Hudson". The Concord and Hudson were configured as "parlor cars", painted blue with white trim. With the ability to seat 28 people the cars were intended for events like private parties and the like. The carpeted floors and shaded windows created an elegant room that was appointed with 18 cane chairs and plush box seats in the corners, 32 electric lights (in five colors), and highly-polished woodwork.
The remaining custom car, the Maynard, was set up as a more conventional closed car, capable of seating 48 people, and was pressed into regular service until it was wrecked in 1912. The Hudson was eventually converted into a regular passenger car like the Maynard. Indeed, even the Concord, met the same fate when it was sold to the Connecticut Street Railway in 1916.
|In 1917 the railway received permission to operate a one-man car for operation between Maynard and West Acton. Because of the war, the car didn't arrive until 1919. The car was known as a "Birney Safety Car", which is considered to be the first successful trolley car that could be operated by a single operator.|
|In addition to the passenger cars, a small number of other utility cars were operated by the railway. Two cars were configured as snow plows, which cleared the tracks of during the winter. It is interesting to note that these plow cars used motors from the open cars, which were presumably not used much during the winter months.|
|Two other cars, a "line car" and a "flat car" were used for maintenance and hauling equipment. In 1903 the line car underwent a temporary transformation in support of the "Old Home Week" celebrations in Stow. Outfitted with special decorations, lights, and chairs for a band, the car provided music for a special trip that included the parlor car and a regular passenger car.|
The center of operations for the CM&H Railway was located right here in Maynard, at the intersection of Main Street and Great Road -- the buildings exist to this day: the former St. Casimir's Church and the Mill Pond office building.
The car barn was a brick building with a wooden roof, 50 feet wide and 204 feet long, capable of holding 20 cars on the 4 tracks that ran into the front of the barn. A 100 foot long portion of the building contained the machine shops, offices, and crew lobby complete with lockers, pool table, gramophone, and over 100 records.
Just to the east of the carbarn was the power station, a brick building some 48x120 feet in size. The generators were powered by two Babcock & Wilcox boilers, which were coal fired. (The coal was delivered by the Boston & Main RR via a small "spur" track at the back of the building. The boiler's fed steam into two Slater 350 horse-power engines, which were, in turn, connected to Westinghouse 425 kilowatt, 550 volt (DC) generators.
This equipment was apparently NOT state of the art even when it was initially installed, but it remained in service, unchanged, until the railway was shut down.
On the night of January 25, 1918, the carbarn burned to the ground when a fire started in one of the closed cars. Apparently nobody was injured, but the railway lost 12 passenger cars, a snow plow, and numerous materials needed to maintain the railway, seriously injuring the company as we''ll discuss later. The carbarn was rebuilt on the same site, although it was limited to holding only 9 cars on 3 tracks.
I don't have many details on the the men who kept the trolley system running each day. (I do know that was mostly men -- I have yet to find a reference to a woman in any capacity other than a passenger.) There were typically two men per car: a motorman and a conductor. The conductor was responsible for collecting the fares and generally helping out the passengers (and occasionally taking care of any disruptions by the youth of the day). One conductor lost his life while on duty. Walter White was killed when he fell from a car that was crossing a bridge in Concord. He went over the bridge's railing and drowned in the river.
|Motormen were responsible for the car's operation. He operated a controller that regulated how much electricity reached the motors -- which determined how fast the car would go, and most importantly he operated the brakes. Because these railways operated on the streets, along with horses, pedestrians, bicycles, and automobiles, the trolley motorman was not unlike a bus driver today and had to be alert and stop the car if necessary. They worked a 10 hour day, 6 days a week, and earned 20 cents/hour: a whopping $12/week.|
On February 2, 1915, during a particularly vicious sleet storm, Car 210 derailed at Hale's corner in Gleasondale. Bob Swaney was the motorman that evening, Frank Thompson was the conductor. According to Bob, "There was no crash. It just went down and slid to a stop. There was only one passenger, a man, who was going to Hudson. He just slid along the seat and wasn't hurt a bit." It tood three days to get it out of the gully.
At 7:30 am on November 22, 1902, the Concord started a journey with a party of about 40 railway officials that would take it from Maynard to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and back -- a distance of nearly 130 miles. The car connected through the following street railways: Hudson, Marlboro, Northboro, the Worcester Consolidated, the Westboro & Hopkington, the South Middlesex, the Milford & Uxbridge, the Milford, Attleboro & Woonsocket, and finally the Woonsocket Street Railway. After stopping in Milford for lunch, it arrived in Woonsocket at 3pm. It arrived back in Maynard at 9:30 that evening.
|Churches in Acton would hire cars to bring groups to Canobie Lake (in Salem, NH), and to the zoon at Lexington Park (now a cemetery). They got there by first taking the line to Maynard, and then out on the Concord leg to Bedford, Chelmsford, Lowell, Lawrence, and then Canobie Lake.|
The railway operated what was called the "7 P. M. Express" from West Acton to Maynard on Saturday evenings. Families would travel to Maynard to do their shopping. But Maynard had another appeal -- Concord, Acton, and Stow had no liquor licenses. The men would slip the motorman a few dollars to hasten the trip to Summer Street, where they would all jump off the car and head for the nearest "refreshment center" -- carrying their suitcases. The car would then leisurely roll down Nason Street where women and children got off to do their shopping. On the last trip back the car would again stop at Summer Street and the men would pile on the car -- in good spirits and suitcases filled with beer.
The Acton branch may not have attracted a lot of riders, but they were loyal because the trolley provided a connection to the South Acton train station, and its trains that travelled into Boston (as they do today). In February, 1920 a series of snowstorm tied up the trolley lines and covered the tracks with inches of ice. The CM&H staff was overwhelmed, so a group of volunteers armed with shovels and pickaxes helped clear the tracks.
Although it operated for over 20 years the CM&H Street Railway was never what you would call a major money maker. For the first 10 years ridership hung around 1 million passengers per year, and eked out an annual profit of $6-8,000. Ridership in the second decade steadily increased to nearly 1.4 million passengers (mostly due to the merger of the railways), but profits continued to dwindle. With less money available to invest in maintaining the railway, the ties and poles started to rot and the rails started to wear thin.
|A big hit during the warmer months, the railway would often have all of their open cars out on the line during the summer for either regular service or chartered parties. With Maynard as the only significant population center and the only one with major industry, winter traffic between the other rural towns was quite low. Starting in 1917 a variety of gimics and changes with the fare system were tried to improve ridership and profitability.|
As I mentioned earlier, the carbarn fire in 1918 crippled the railway, forcing it to borrow cars from other railways for over a year. To make matters worse, an acute shortage of coal in New England during the winter of 1918 forced the railway to bring operations to a bare minimum.
The winter of 1921 harbored a severe storm that brought down many of the electrical wires that powered the trolley. Emergency repairs restored part of the railway within a few days, but it was over a week before the whole system was running again. That expenses incurred by that storm pushed the CM&H Railway company into receivership on December 20, 1921.
Ridership, already dropping in general, was badly hurt by the rebuilding of the Main Street bridge in 1922, which required riders to transfer to cars on the other side when riding to Concord. On December 14, 1922, the CM&H Railway ran out of money and time, and it filed to cease operations. On Tuesday, January 16, 1923, the railway received permission to shut down, which it did later that day when the last cars completed their run and the power station was shut down.
The railway sold off the cars to other railways in Holyoke, Northhampton, and Athol. The tracks, poles, and wires were sold to the L.B. Foster Company. The generating equipment was considered obsolete and junked. The carbarn was first turned into a bus garage, then a model shop for Raytheon, and finally an office building. The power plant had its smokestack demolished and a new facade erected towards Great Road and was transformed into the St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church. The two buildings on Great Road are the last major traces of the railway that exist to this day.
Although it served the communities of Hudson, Stow, Maynard, Acton, and Concord for over two decades, the railway eventually fell to the popularity of the automobile. Indeed, soon after the railway vanished, a bus service took over its place (even using the carbarn as a bus depot), but that service eventually fell to the convenience of the automobile in 1954.
I close tonight with this wonderful picture of a postcard from the beginning of the last century. In 1909, the residents of Maynard had a vision of how transportation downtown would operate 90 years into the future. Just how will Maynard's Main Street look 100 years from today?
Thank you for coming tonight.
This article draws heavily from a book called the Concord, Maynard, & Hudson Street Railway by O.R. Cummings -- a publication of the National Railway Historical Society in 1967 -- and the definitive history of the Street Railway system in Maynard.
Photos and other information was obtained from these other sources:
|1||Harold D. Forsyth Collection||At Hudson circa 1914 is CM&H Car #208 waiting at Wood Square.|
|2||Richard B. Sanborn||Car #16 under B&M railroad bridge at Gleason Junction.|
|3||Maynard Historical Society||CM&H Car in Stow. Photo was taken from a postcard.|
|4||Maynard Historical Society||Power House in Maynard|
|5||O.R. Cummings||Car #18 at Nason and Main. Note car on left, which is on the South Acton Branch|
|6||Maynard Historical Society||Car on Powdermill Road|
|7||N.D. Clark Jr.||Car #14 stops in Westvale|
|8||William Towler Collection||CM&H Car #12 connects with Lexington & Boston Car #11 in Monument Square, Concord. (December 1908)|
|9||Cars in Wood Square, Hudson. (circa 1910)|
|10||Maynard Historical Society||Car crosses over the Assabet River via the Great Road bridge, circa 1903.|
|11||O.R. Cummings||CM&H Timetable - Nov. 1, 1901|
|12||Maynard Historical Society||Turnout on Powdermill Road|
|13||Frederick A. Persons||15-bench open car #215 at the Maynard carbarn (circa 1912)|
|14||O.R. Cummings||The parlor car "Concord" in Wood Square, Hudson, shortly after going into service in 1902|
|15||O.R. Cummings||Interior of the parlor car "Concord" showing wicker chairs and other furnishings. The gentleman seated in the car is John W. Ogden, superintendant of the railway. (1902)|
|16||Maynard Historical Society||"Birney Safety Car" on the South Acton Bridge. Note the "Exchange Hall" building in the background. The bridge was replaced in 1996.|
|17||O.R. Cummings||Plow #2, built by Wason in 1901. Photograph taken at the Maynard carbarn.|
|18||From a Souvenir card (via O.R. Cummings)||Band car for Stow Old Home Week, July 28, 1903 was specially decorated and illuminated for the trip. The.motorman, in white shoes, was Joe Kaller; on the rear platform is Roland P. Harrriman, president of Stow Old Home Week Association. The little girl was Emily Gleason (later Mrs. Joseph Perkins of Stow)|
|19||Maynard Historical Society||Car barn and powerhouse. Photo was taken from the Mill Pond canal.|
|20||Maynard Historical Society||Car barn, car, and crew. (circa 1905)|
|21||William Towler||Crew lobby at the Maynard carbarn, complete with pool table and gramophone.|
|22||William Towler||Interior view of the powerhouse and one of the Westinghouse 425 KW direct current generators.|
|23||O.R. Cummings||Maynard carbarn after the January 25, 1918 fire. All except two cars were lost.|
|24||O.R. Cummings||Arthur Woodman, Conductor|
|25||O.R. Cummings||Jim Longley, Conductor|
|26||O.R. Cummings||Charley Conant, Motorman|
|27||Maynard Historical Society||Public safety notice by the CM&H Railway, published in the Maynard newspaper on April 5, 1912.|
|28||Robert C. Swaney||Ice on the track caused Car #210 to derail on February 2, 1915 at Hale's Corner in Gleasondale.|
|29||Robert C. Swaney||Ice on the track caused Car #210 to derail on February 2, 1915 at Hale's Corner in Gleasondale.|
|30||Maynard Historical Society||From a postcard published by the CM&H Railway showing Wood Square in Hudson. CM&H car, left front. Boston & Worcester car, left rear. Worcester Consolidated car, right front.|
|31||Maynard Historical Society||Unidentified group in front of a CM&H car. (date unknown)|
|32||Maynard Historical Society||Volunteers clear tracks after massive snowstorm, February 1920. Man in center with mug is Phil Bower. To his right is Ed Ledyard. The W.A. Haynes Grain and Lumber store in in the left background.|
|33||Maynard Historical Society||Volunteers clear tracks after massive snowstorm, February 1920. Man on right with pickaxe is C.J. Lynch. To his right (obscured) is Phil Bower. Photo was taken on Nason Street. The former Roosevelt School is on the right.|
|34||Maynard Historical Society||The inaugural run of the CM&H Railway. At the controls in the front of the car is J.W. Ogden, superintendant of the line. Sitting in the front seat is Dr. Glazer (light suit). At the end of the next seat are Charles Bennett and Rufus Howe. (November 1901)|
|35||O.R. Cummings||The South Acton line is cleared by the Wason plow, with a closed car as a pusher. Photo taken at the South Acton bridge.|
|36||F. Persons||Maynard carbarn showing the offices, crew lobby, and machine shop.|
|37||R. McGarigle||A Middlesex & Boston Street Railway bus makes the turn from Powdermill Road to Main Street. (circa 1957)|
|38||Maynard Historical Society||A postcard from 1909 depicts what people then thought Main Street would look like in 1990.|
Links that may be of interest: