When elevated train service from Boston extended to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain in 1909, the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and points south were ecstatic to realize the chance to enjoy quicker transit to the city. The station, which opened in 1909, was an architectural landmark and engineering feat, as the new terminal was the largest structure of its kind and the most costly in the country at the time. The large station was made of steel and reinforced concrete, finished in copper at the elevated section, and took nearly two years of construction. City architect Edmund M. Wheelwright designed the station, and upon its opening, it was called “the chef-d’œuvre of rapid transit development in Boston”. Like with many cities all over the country, shifting transportation planning and priorities and shrinking investment necessitated the once grand station to suffer the fate of the wreckingball. As part of the Southwest Corridor project, this station was to be demolished, with a modern station constructed to service the MBTA trains on the Orange Line. Also, plans were developed for a 12-lane highway along the railroad right-of-way between Boston through Cambridge. The residents of the affected areas, including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, South End, Back Bay, and Cambridge, protested against the destruction of their neighborhoods by the planned highway, and won! The old Forest Hills Station was a casualty of the proposal, but a lasting reminder for neighborhood planning and advocacy, preserving character and people over cars.
TOOT TOOT! Next stop, Willington, Connecticut. Historically, all of central Connecticut was occupied by various Algonquin tribes which for thousands of years inhabited the region, the larger Pequot and Mohegan, and the smaller Nipmuck, Podunk, Shenipset and Skunkamaug all sharing a common-lineage, and language. In 1720, a party of eight men, originally from England, bought 16,000 acres of the region and called it Wellington after the town in England. Willington was incorporated in 1727. Like many early towns, Willington began as a farming community with modest industry until the 19th century, when the American Industrial Revolution saw mills and factories sprouting up all along the river towns in the region. Villages spouted up in town, mostly following their geographic location in relation to the town center (South Willington, West Willington, etc.) and each had their own industry and character. By the 20th century with industry in decline, many of the former mills and villages closed up and residents moved to “greener pastures”. The town is today mostly rural and serves as a suburb to larger towns nearby.
This train depot is located in West Willington just over the town line of Tolland. Due to this, the depot was originally named Tolland Station. Rail service began here in 1850, when the New London, Willimantic and Palmer Railroad Company built a freight and passenger station near this location. The rail line was later absorbed into the larger Central Vermont Railway in 1871. The original depot burned down in 1894, and was replaced that same year by this structure. The line, and this station, were in use for passenger service until 1947, when it closed. The depot has luckily been occupied by businesses ever-since, preserving this building typology in America that we are losing every year.
The first train arrived in Gardiner, Maine in 1851. Rail here introduced a new mode of transportation for passengers and freight, which previously relied on horse or ship up the Kennebec River. When the old station was deemed too small and outdated, the Maine Central Railroad Company decided to hire Portland architect, George Burnham to complete plans for a more fitting station. This building is a mix of styles, the two I would categorize it as are Romanesque Revival and Spanish Revival. The building incorporates a number of influences of the two along with a deep overhanging roof supported by large brackets, heavy rusticated granite blocks at the base, and quoining around the windows and corners. The station was in operation until about 1960 when rail service here halted. Since that time, the building has been adaptively reused as a retail store, today as a recreational cannabis dispensary. So you can get high and look at cool architecture!
The Newington Railroad Depot was built in 1873 at the narrowest point at the Piscataqua River as part of the Portsmouth and Dover Railroad. The Portsmouth and Dover Railroad Company was chartered in 1866 in order to provide a link between the eastern and western divisions of the Boston and Maine Railroad and also included the means to cross Great Bay. The rail line was completed in 1874 and included this railroad depot which included a residence for the stationmaster while he collected tolls for pedestrians and carriages crossing the bridge nearby, and operated the swing section of the bridge to permit boat traffic to pass. By 1915, the one story wing was constructed which served as a 10’x20′ waiting room and ticket office. The offshoot rail line remained in service until the completion of the General Sullivan Bridge in 1934, due to the popularity of the automobile. The rail line was subsequently abandoned, and the nearby tracks were taken up in 1940. Elmer Brooks, the longtime stationkeeper was allowed to remain in the old depot, renting the building from the State of New Hampshire, who acquired the site in 1940. He lived here until his death in 1971. After which, the building has decayed. The State of New Hampshire should restore this valuable piece of history and has an amazing opportunity for a park in the surrounding area. Hopefully something is done to preserve the building!
All Aboard!! The Kneeland Street Station was built at the southern edge of Downtown Boston in 1847 for the newly established Old Colony Railroad Company. By the early 1840s, the city of Boston had six major rail lines connecting it with other places including Lowell, Maine, Fitchburg, and Salem to the north, Worcester to the west and Providence to the southwest. The southeastern part of Massachusetts had yet to be served by a rail link to Boston. On March 16, 1844 the Old Colony Railroad Corporation was formed to provide a rail connection between Boston and Plymouth. Construction of the line began in South Boston in 1844 and the line opened to Plymouth in 1845. The company needed a more accessible station to the residents and businessmen of Downtown Boston, so they acquired a large parcel of land on Kneeland Street to extend the line. The corporation hired architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who designed this stunning railroad station constructed of brick with strong stone trimmings. As was common, a large clock was affixed to the building to allow waiting passengers to know how long they would be waiting. From 1845 to 1893, the Old Colony railroad network grew extensively through a series of mergers and acquisitions with other established railroads, serving lines to Providence, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford and down the Cape. The railroad was acquired in 1893 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and sought to consolidate the many local stations into a larger building. They soon after began construction on Boston’s South Station, re-routing lines to that new building. They sold off the excess stations, including this one on Kneeland Street, and it was eventually demolished in 1918.
The railroad line through Crawford Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire was completed and opened in 1875 by the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad, and had a transformative effect on the local economy. Soon after completion, tourists arrived in droves during the summer months to take in the area’s scenic beauty and clean air. From this, wealthy investors built large resort hotels, like the Mount Washington Hotel, to satisfy the demand of the affluent visitors. The Portland and Ogdensburg was taken over by the Maine Central Railroad in 1888, and this depot was built in 1891. It was one of the most elaborate stations built by that railroad’s Mountain Division, because of its prominent location in the mountains. The Crawford Depot presently serves as a visitor center and shop operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Nearby is the trailhead to Mount Willard, which has some of the best views for a modest hike.
The Southport railroad stations in Fairfield, Connecticut, are reminders of the important role of railroad passenger service in the historical development of the town which continues to this day. In Southport, there are two stations, an east-bound and west-bound, one on either side of the tracks. The older east-bound station was built in 1884 to replace a depot destroyed by fire. It is typical of the substantial brick stations built at small-town stops throughout the state in the period. The use of brick was likely to prevent fire destroying yet another station. The stations were commonly large enough to accommodate spacious waiting rooms, ticket counters, offices, restrooms, and a baggage area. The brick station was converted to a restaurant, with a modern addition by Roger Ferris + Partners completed by 2017.
The wooden west-bound station was built around 1895 as part of a massive rebuilding of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad’s main line. At this time, the railroad adopted a single design-concept for all the stations, reverting to wood construction, and limited the stylistic details. The Southport station has an interesting design however; with its saltbox-like roofline, bargeboards, and stick detailing. Imagine all the people and stories that passed through these buildings. Parents saying goodbye to children going off to college or war, businessmen and women commuting to and from work, or people like me who took it to Manhattan!
Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893) was born in Easton, MA, the son of Oliver Ames Jr. who ran the Ames Shovel Works in town. On the death of his father in 1877, Frederick became head of the Ames & Sons Corporation also inheriting upwards of six million dollars, which he invested in railroads. From this, he eventually became Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts! Due to his role for the Old Colony Railroad, Ames had a rail station built in his hometown, adjacent to his family’s factory. Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed many other buildings in town for the Ames Family, designed this station in his signature Richardsonian Romanesque style with its large arches, varied rustication of stone, and brownstone trimming. The building was completed two years before Richardson’s death. Rail service here was cut in the 1950s, allowing the Ames family in 1969 to buy the station back from the consolidated New York Central Railroad, gifting it to the Easton Historical Society.
The village of Waban in Newton, Massachusetts, was named after a Massachusett Chief who had previously resided atop Nonantum Hill on the Newton-Brighton line. This location is believed to have been a favorite hunting ground for Waban (the Wind) and his people. Throughout much of the 19th century, Waban remained a quiet agricultural region. As late as 1874, fewer than 20 families held title to all of its land. In the mid-1880s, however, interest in suburban developments near the Boston and Albany Railroad became increasingly widespread. Seeing suburbanization in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century.
The station that allowed all the development in the early days of Waban was built in 1886. The Boston & Albany Railroad hired renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson to design the station, and many others on branches of the various lines radiating out from Boston. The Highland Branch (which this station was on) was later acquired by the MBTA in Boston, which operated it as a Commuter line. Waban Station closed along with the rest of the Highland Branch commuter rail line in 1958 and reopened a year later in 1959 as part of the Green Line’s D Branch. The gorgeous H.H. Richardson-designed station was demolished in order to build a 74-space parking lot. They literally paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…
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!