It is impossible to overstate the significance of the railroad in the 19th century to the industrial growth and economy of New England and American cities. In order to connect Boston and its ports to the Hudson Valley in New York, a western rail line was constructed in the southern part of Massachusetts but was not an ideal route. In response, businessmen and politicians began to envision a more direct rail line across Massachusetts, but with one problem: trains hate climbing mountains! Instead of going around Hoosac Mountain, a massive detour, engineers thought they could tunnel through it, and that’s what they did, creating the Hoosac Tunnel. The tunnel through Hoosac Mountain is just under 5 miles long. Its active construction period consumed roughly a quarter-century and cost at least $17 million in 1870s dollars – an enormous sum. The cost was paid in dollars and the lives of nearly 200 miners (many of whom suffered terrible deaths as you can imagine). The first train passed through the tunnel in 1875, with the eastern portal wall constructed in 1877 (seen here). By 1895, roughly 60% of Boston’s exports traveled through the tunnel. Since then, some small collapses and deferred maintenance have left their mark on the tunnel, though it is still in operation today!
Spanning the Charles River between Upper Falls Village in Newton and Needham, the Echo Bridge, is one of the most stunning structures around Boston. While not technically a building, I couldn’t help but share one of my favorite off-the-grid places to explore in the region.
The bridge served as crossing for water to be transported from the Sudbury River to the growing City of Boston. The entire aqueduct transported water over 18 miles from Farm Pond in Framingham and was stored in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston. Due to the topography of Hemlock Gorge in Newton, a large elevated bridge was required, creating one of the biggest engineering marvels around Boston. George W. Phelps, a contractor from Springfield, MA was selected as the builder of the bridge with a low bid. The 500′ bridge features a total of seven arches, with the largest spanning the Charles River being 137′, the second largest masonry arch span in the U.S. upon its completion.
Echo Bridge is constructed of large granite block and brick, which was held in place by wooden framework until the arches would be able to support their own weight at the top of the arches. Echo Bridge gets its name from the acoustical phenomenon when you stand at the base of the arch at the river and when speaking, the sound reverberates and echoes back and forth.