The Boston & Worcester Trolley Air Line

I often think as I get in my car to travel the three or four minutes from my home to the museum, how long this trip would have taken a hundred years ago. Granted, I might have had a car in 1917, but more likely for Southborough, I would have had a horse, and saddling a horse and riding those few miles is a half-hour operation at best. Walking is about the same (you save the time of saddling and unsaddling) and biking was (and is) about 10 minutes, with one major hill.

Imagine then how thrilling it must have been to go from Boston to Worcester in 2 hours by trolley! Now of course, train travel had been around since the 1830s, but with limited local service. The Boston & Albany’s tracks on the border with Hopkinton were a major freight line, as well the route of the named ‘varnish’ trains (the Boston end of the famed 20th Century Limited passed daily through Southborough, for instance) headed for New York, Chicago and all points west.

But on a trolley, all things were local. You could get on and off at will, plus, during the summer months the cars were open-air, and the route truly scenic.  Speaking of the Southborough portion west to Worcester, the booklet below simply glows:  “This portion of the road, running through woods and fields, with fleeting glimpses of all that makes the New England landscape famous, give the tourist a trip long to be remembered.”  To the east of Southborough the route ran through the middle of today’s Rt 9, the old Boston Worcester turnpike, which by the time of the Airline’s construction in 1901, had been largely abandoned.  It must have been an incredibly beautiful trip through the rolling hills of unspoiled countryside and quaint little villages, and in fact the Airline ran special cars for “Trolley Parties,” which were popular day-long excursions in the early 1900s.

The booklet below has never to my knowledge been published online, and is here represented in full size: just click on the images to expand. The very rare fold-out birds-eye view map is truly one-of-a-kind. The booklet is not dated, but can be reasonably assigned to the very first years of the Airline, as the map doesn’t show the White City Amusement Park, which became a major attraction on Lake Quinsigamond by 1905.

This first-time publication is the product of the Society’s continuing  efforts to share our history widely and make our collections accessible to all, and a perfect example of why we need and value your continued financial support.  Donations are easy to make online: just click the button at the end of this post.  More pictures of the Airline are available HERE.

In the meantime, enjoy this long-lost booklet, newly restored to view.

Click on any image below to expand

The fold-out map below is 30″ long and 24MB. But, you can browse to your heart’s content. Maximize your browser size to fully enjoy!

Won’t you make more wonderful finds like this possible?
Donating online is quick, easy and secure. Simply click the donate button below:

Happy Fourth of July!

Recently rediscovered in our photographic collection: Fourth of July, 1902 in Southborough with Ruth Ladd, Marguerite Henderson, Veda Henderson, Alice Hammond, the aptly named Rose Liberty, Evelyn Henderson, James E Griffin, and Corrina Liberty. The dog’s name is lost to history, but for today he can be ‘Firecracker.’

Happy Fourth of July from all your friends at the Southborough Historical Society!

Lost Southborough: 3 Historic Railroad Stations

Ever wonder why Southborough lacks an historic railroad station, especially given the beauties that still exist in Framingham, Ashland, Westborough, and many other points along the old Boston and Albany line?

Well, in fact, we once had not one, but three!

The first, on the branch Agricultural Line to Marlborough, stood on Main Street, in the empty lot west of Lamy’s insurance:

It’s unclear what happened to this beautiful Queen Anne Structure after service was discontinued in the early 30s. Perhaps some of our older members might remember when this building was demolished? How we could use this building now as part of a revitalized main street! Wouldn’t it have made a fantastic pub?

My understanding was that Southville Station, seen below in its prime, was abandoned, vandalized and eventually demolished in the early 70s, the low-point of historical preservation in Southborough.

However, its near twin Cordaville Station had a different fate. I had heard tell that it had been moved to New Hampshire, but I was never able to confirm that.

 

Until now! Sorting through our files as we move back into our museum quarters, I discovered this remarkable clipping. Ho ho! A clue!

So now, do you suppose our once glorious station still exists somewhere in Dublin New Hampshire? I’ve contacted the Historical Society there, and hopefully we’ll soon find out.

Regardless, the sad lesson to be learned here is that if you don’t value your historical structures, there’s always someone else that does…. much to the detriment of your own surroundings.

Moving forward, we need to guard our historic heritage much more actively, Southborough friends!

New Additions for Southborough History Buffs

Our newly created exhibit and meeting space.

 

Dear Friends,

Thanks to your financial support over the last year, we have been able to make many strides in bringing materials previously locked away in the archives online for public viewing.  Here are just some of the most recent offerings:

A Slide Tour of the Old Burial Ground
Join the late historian Kay Allen as she takes you through highlights of one of our most important historical treasures.

Historic Homes Database
Get information on the history of your home without leaving your desk!

Holy Hill Walking Tour
Grab the kids and take a fun and informative walking tour around the Museum with this out-of-print guide.

Southborough Historical Photos Collection
Take a look at our ever expanding collection of online photos.

Southborough Genealogical Resources
New means to research your families history.

Of course, we rely on you to help us make this happen. We have a number of volunteer positions open at the Society, and are always in need of ongoing financial support, so please keep those donations coming!

Annual Meeting Recap, and a Call for Volunteers

In case you were not able to attend the annual meeting this past Saturday, here is a recap of my presentation about the current and future direction of the Society.

Faced with severe challenges, things looked pretty grim in the summer of 2016. The Museum building was closed for mold remediation after a flood; the membership had fallen to dangerously low levels, and the Society was faced with a serious financial shortfall.

The old interior summer 2016  while undergoing renovations

But from darkness, light: Over the past year, the SHS has gained a new, pro-active board dedicated to bringing the Society into the 21st century. The work began by introducing a set of new, streamlined by-laws that better reflect the realities of today’s volunteer organizations; completing the flood and mold remediation of the entire interior and the collections; and re-inventing the storage and exhibit space to better utilize both the building and the artifacts.

Our renovated conference and meeting area

But a collection is just a bunch of objects until it’s used to tell a story: our story.

A student investigates a particular painting at the Oakland Museum of Art. Notice too that some of the framed panels on the walls are interpretive flat screens.

With the introduction of affordable flat screens over the last decade, there has been a revolution in the way small museums are able to interpret their collections. The Society intends to embrace this new technology with gusto, with plans to secure grants in 2017 to purchase the screens and create new, digital interactive displays with rotating special exhibits. These exhibits will showcase objects in our collections, and will be designed to work equally well in the museum, in the classroom, and online.

For 2017 and 2018, the Society will focus on three aspects of Southborough history that have greatly influenced the way we live today.

The first was the coming of the railroad to Southborough. The Boston to Worcester line is the second oldest in the country, dating to 1835, and brought about dramatic change in the way people viewed themselves and the world. In a single year, Southborough left the 18th century and headed for the 20th.

Our second theme will focus on women and domestic life in the 19th century. Southborough was the second most productive agricultural land in the state by the 1870s, and most residents lived and worked on farmsteads tended by women. The days were long, and unbelievably hard — a fact little appreciated by the youth of today. We’re going to be taking a look back at what it took to tend a home, hearth and bring a meal to the table 150 years ago.

The museum and old burial ground sit adjacent to where once a Nipmuck village stood. The first peoples of this place, the Nipmucks, are almost entirely forgotten today, and deserve a more thorough look as the founders of the place we today call Southborough.

Finally, the Society Board is dedicated to bringing Heritage back to Heritage Day, and we’ll be organizing a set of activities in and outside the Museum to complement festivities on St. Marks Field.

Lastly, we are now once again in a position to accept volunteers. The first opportunity is May 13, empty the trailer day, when the remaining objects in our collection come out of storage. We need able backs and legs to help make this happen.

We have openings for 2-3 curatorial volunteers to prepare our photograph and paper collections for digitizing by the Boston Public Library in their Digital Commonwealth Project. The work is Mac-based using Filemaker, which is a pretty simple database program. The task is mainly assigning accession numbers to photos and transferring content information to the database. As the Historical Commission will be supervising this work, there is a possibility of a senior tax position as well.

We’re also looking for experienced editors and writers familiar with Word Press to edit and publish content on our website, including this blog.

And finally, in conjunction with myself and our new Treasurer, Rebecca Deans Rowe, we’re looking for people experienced in writing grant applications to help fund our activities.

It’s been a challenging but rewarding year. Let’s make the next even better!

With heartfelt thanks to everyone for their amazing support,

Michael Weishan,
President

Our New Candidates Preservation Forum

The old burial ground, through the talented eye of Allan Bezanson

Dear Friends,

It was a big win for historical preservation last night at Town Meeting. All the preservation CPC articles were funded, including those of the Society; the Adaptive Reuse Bylaw was passed with close to 90% agreement (a remarkable feat for a zoning regulation) and the Main Street Registrar District was funded. The only cloud on the horizon was the authorization to sell the historic Fayville Village Hall. The Selectmen, though pledging to work for preservation of the exterior, refused to commit to that in writing, and a last minute amendment to place a permanent preservation restriction on the building before sale (full disclosure – proposed by me, but advocated this past August by the Historical Commission) failed after the selectmen again argued it wasn’t necessary.  (A preservation restriction would have preserved the restored facade and open space on the property in perpetuity. At present, the building has no such protection, and once sold, will be out of all Town control.)  Admittedly the selectmen pledged transparency and full cooperation with the citizens in determining the fate of the parcels, but we currently have only their word – which has gotten me to thinking. How binding is the word of a board whose members may or may not be in place when final decisions are made on multi-year projects like this? Mr. Cimino is retiring, Mr. Rooney has already resigned, Mr. Kolenda is in a highly contested race for re-election, and Mrs Phaneuf is up next year, most likely before the disposition of Fayville Hall. So if there is no written guarantee, what do we have? There is also the issue of “executive session,” which has been used extensively by the Selectmen for recent real estate transactions, and excludes the public from deliberation. It’s pretty hard to be “transparent” behind closed doors.

It would seem to me then that now is the ideal time to ask the candidates running for Selectmen this May their views on historic preservation, which includes to my mind, preservation of historic landscapes and open space, preservation of historic buildings and townscapes, funding of future preservation projects, and the candidates’ opinions on how best to preserve the historic nature of Southborough. In that spirit I have framed seven questions for our candidates, and I have already extended an email invitation to each to share their views via the comment section.

TO THE CANDIDATES FOR SELECTMEN:

  1. Given the argument above on the fluidity of Town board makeup, would you commit now to placing a preservation restriction to protect the exterior of Fayville Town Hall before it is sold? If not, why not?
  2. Study after study has shown that taxes on single family homes don’t cover their cost to the Town, and each new build actually contributes to higher rates for everyone. (Sometimes, astronomically so, as we learned at town meeting: sending a single student to Norfolk Regional Agricultural costs 46K/year!) Given that, what would you propose to limit further development and increase the quality of life for current residents?
  3. If the majority of home-owners in a particular area of Town favored the creation of an historic district, would this have your support?
  4. Would you support the Town acquiring any open parcels that come out of agricultural use to prevent their development?
  5. What other ideas do you have to promote and protect the historic nature of Southborough?
  6. What plans might you suggest to revitalize the Main Street area economically and aesthetically once the road improvements are done?
  7. And finally, if plans were developed for a cultural corridor linking the Library, the Old Burial Ground, the Museum, the Town House, St Marks church and the cemetery, would you be generally supportive of such an idea?

 

Important Town Meeting for Historic Preservation: April 25th 2017 at 7 PM

Dear Friends in History,

As part of our expanded mission to encourage historical preservation in Southborough, we wanted to make you aware that there are quite a number of questions at April 25th’s Town Meeting that have a direct effect on historical preservation in Southborough.

Articles 15 & 16 are requests from the Historical Society to finish the climate control work at the Flagg school, and to seek CPC funding for curatorial work on the collections. We’ve made vast strides since our flooding disaster, but we still have a long way to go. This year we will begin working with the Digital Commonwealth Project, digitizing the vast majority of our paper collections to make them widely available for the first time. The curatorial funds we are requesting are a critical step in this process.

Article 17 seeks funds to remove invasive species from the Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. These protected acres are an important part of our agricultural heritage, provide much needed recreational space, and deserve our active support.

Article 21 suggests raising the limit for tax support for our seniors from 1000 to 1500. This valuable program allows seniors to work off a part of their real estate taxes, and starting next year, the Historical Commission will open a slot for a senior to work on the Town’s Historical Records. This helps seniors, and helps the Town.

Article 24 opens the historic Fayville Town Hall to sale. The Historical Commission has voted to support this measure ONLY if the Town first approves Articles 26-30, Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings, proposed by the Historical Commission. The purpose of this bylaw is “to allow for and provide incentives for the adaptive reuse of Historical Buildings in  a manner that ensures compatibility with their surroundings and that preserves their historical nature and appearance. This section is intended to promote the preservation of Historic  Buildings by allowing Historic Buildings to be adapted for a purpose other than that for which they were originally built, thereby enhancing the community’s appearance and preserving Southborough’s architectural legacy for future generations.”  The bylaw encourages reuse through various means, mainly by more ample interpretation of our existing zoning laws in order to support the reuse, rather than the demolition of historic structures. For example, if you have an old barn, you might consider installing a small rental unit to help pay the mortgage, or open that home-based business you’ve always dreamed of. Most importantly, this bylaw grants approval authority to the Planning Board (where it belongs) rather than to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which in previous years has proven capricious in its rulings. If Articles 26-30 pass, then the Fayville Town Hall (Article 24) can be converted into condos or retail or affordable housing. Without their passage, the Hall has no such protection.

Article 34, which was also proposed by the Historical Commission, seeks funds to at last complete the National Register District for the Main Street area. This is the final piece of a project that has been going on for almost 20 years with considerable investment of time and funding. When complete, the area will receive its designation from the US Secretary of the Interior. This naming has proven a critical preservation step in other communities, fostering restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures in the area, while providing positive support for property values.

Whew! Quite a line-up!

If you care about historical preservation in Southborough, this is not a meeting to miss!