Monday, March 26, 2012

Locomotion in the Hub - and Saucy Boys Too!

Here's another repost from my Jamaica Plain history blog Remember Jamaica Plain. Great stuff.

Boston Daily Globe September 18, 1887

Boston Stage Coach Days.

Evolution of Locomotion in the Hub - From the Old Lumbering Buses to the Comfortable Horse Cars.

A thousand horse cars now meander through the streets of Boston and its suburbs each hour of the day. Trains on nine railways glide into and empty hosts of passengers at as many stations in town at short intervals during the day. The ferry boats from Chelsea and East Boston, and sundry omnibuses that ply about our streets, add to the number making an ingress until an aggregate of non-residents is reached amounting to a quarter o four regular complement. These are again transported to their homes at night.

What would happen to this mighty swarm of all the means of conveyance were cut off for a time? Men and women abide with us today who are still in active life, with vigorous memories recalling the period when stage coaches, starting on alternate hours, were the only means of conveyance to Roxbury, Cambridge or Charlestown, and these seemed ample for the purpose intended. Five of these trips constituted a day's business, and the number of passengers carried in the whole time would not exceed a common horse car load at the present day.

This was but a little over 50 years ago. Compare it with out present status and observe how Boston as grown.

In order to fully appreciate this matter and the progress of enlargement, let us analyze the proceedings. Take the route to and from Roxbury as an illustration. The enlivenment caused by the introduction of steam railways in the early thirties, with their established stopping places out of town, rendered it possible for an interchange of visits, and it awakened desires in the thoughts of town residents that were novel. Every favorable opportunity for making excursions was improved.

But there came another longing in its train, a desire to create homes in our beautiful suburbs, and it was to cater to this caprice that other and better means of conveyance that the infrequent lumbering stage coach were supplied by the omnibus - a series of omnibuses in fact, to wit, five named President, Conqueror 1 and 2 and Regulator 1 and 2. These were drawn by four horses, and carried 24 passengers inside, with seats for six or eight more on top. The driver of these huge vans had naught to do but to care for his horses, and obey the summons to stop or go on given him by the bell boy, who looked up and attended to the passengers and collected the fares.

These omnibuses made half-hourly trips between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Business increased rapidly. Not only were suburbans accommodated, but city people took frequent outings, similar to the manner with horse cars now.

About 1840 a rival line appeared with two omnibuses, named Vete and Thorn respectively; fare six cents. Messrs Cheney & Averill also established a line of two-horse omnibuses (the first in Boston) to run between Dover street and Dock square. This line became merged in another one in a short time that was started by Hobbs & Prescott to run between Canton street and Dock square, and this in process of time came into the ownership of J.H. Hathorne & Co., who still own it.

About this period likewise the first spider-like black cabs began to run, fare 10 cents, and it was surmised that they would be popular because they were not confined to arbitrary routes like the omnibuses, but they failed to catch on, and had an evanescent existence.

Horace King, in whom the Roxbury line became finally vested, was an enterprising man. He is still alive today, or was recently, resting from a busy life upon the resources gained from his skill in manoevering this line of omnibuses. About 1850 Mr King made a radical change in the system, but supplanting the "arks" was the four-horse omnibuses were called in disparagement, with two-horse coaches of the New York pattern. The bell boys departed likewise, much to the pleasure of the patrons, for they were a saucy and overbearing set.

The driver took a hand - or rather a foot - in regulating ingress and egress to the vehicle, by means of a strap connected with the door, same as at present, and collected his freight the same as his successors do, but the fares were taken by men who boarded the coach midway of the Neck coming in, or between Dover and Eliot streets going out. The fare was eight cents either way, no less for short rides, and as the Canton-street line charged but five cents, the short-distance riders took those 'buses as a rule, and the Robury fare collectors were rarely eluded.

From omnibus to horse car was another important evolution. This occurred in 1857, first on the Cambridge route, then by the Metropolitan road.At first the service from Roxbury was limited to two cars which ran experimentally. A line of tracks with turn-outs was laid from the Norfolk House to Boylston street. Great doubts were expressed as to the feasibility of this innovation, and stress was placed upon the avowal that it would be impossible to run the cars after a fall of snow.

No attempts were made for several years to remove the snow and run cars in winter, but to offset this state the company purchased the omnibus line of Mr King, and made him a stockholder and director in the new enterprise. The runners were provided for the deposed omnibuses and they handled the winter traffic.

The first president of the corporation, Hamilton Willis, a State-street broker, handled the reins on the inaugural of the winter siege of coach running, much to the edification of the crowd assembled to see him off.

The next move made by the Metropolitan road to enlarge its service was to lay a single track through Boylston, Tremont and Dover streets, to connect with the main track on Washington street for the return trip.Cars likewise came down Tremont street, from Jamaica Plain, Brookline and "Grab Village," and passed through Waltham street, to connect with the Washington street track, returning by a spur track about Dover street on Tremont street.

The next move was made to the Tremont House, and business so increased that double tracks were laid through the thoroughfares before long. Here is a good place to make a note. In 1857 - 30 years ago - the Metropolitan road owned and operated four cars. The number in use today is over 600; but this is only a section of the means of conveyance which our citizens and those prosecuting business here have at their command.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Back Bay Stables

Charlesgate Stables, Newbury street and Massachusetts avenue (BPL Flickr photo group).

Newbury street, 1883. Notice the 'X' marks through the buildings on both sides of Newbury street (click image for larger view).

Newbury street, from Hereford street to Massachusetts avenue 1902.

Newbury street, 1917. Notice that the large commercial stable on the corner of Newbury street and Massachusetts avenue, as well as three smaller facilities, are now automobile garages. The residents of the Back Bay were exactly the kind of people who could afford cars, and would need a place to park them.

When I was in school, we were taught the wars-kings-generals-presidents school of history. While I think it's a perfectly legitimate approach for a big-picture understanding of the past, when it comes to local history I very much prefer the every day life aspects of history. What kind of jobs did people do, how did they get about, what was in the shops, these all interest me far more than who the politicians were and what they did. While this blog could be sub-titled 'Lost Buildings, Institutions, and other such Stuff,' I thought I'd take this opportunity to do a double.

The maps above do show old buildings (or at least their locations). But what I am interested in is what the buildings were used for. In this case, I'm interested particularly in the building on Newbury street between Hereford street and West Chester Park, later Massachusetts avenue. Please note that there are 'X' marks through each of the buildings on this block. These maps were created by the fire insurance industry, as an aid for determining the risk, and coverage cost, of each property. The 'X' drawn from corner to corner of a building was used to signify the storage of hay for horses, and thus a high fire risk.

Here, the buildings have led me back to my interest in every day life. Although it had never occurred to me, of course during the 19th Century a district of wealth like the Back Bay would require stables for the horses and carriages of the residents. And with all those residences, where would the horses and carriages be kept? Now I know; this single stretch of Newbury street was used to stable the horses and carriages of Boston's Back Bay residents.

We know that there were no other stables in the Back Bay because of the lack of 'X' marks on any other buildings in the district. The Newbury street block housed both private and commercial stables. We know that this block was designated (unofficially, perhaps) for stables because the stables show up here and only here on the 1883 map, in spite of their being many open plots to build on south of Dartmouth street. The property of the Back Bay residential district was considered too valuable to be wasted on stables, and the smell, noise and fire threat of stables would only disturb the finer senses of the Yankee stock that was moving in to the district. This block was as far as you could go without leaving the planned district, as just south, the Fenway drained Muddy river and Stony brook into the Charles, and the rectilinear street pattern broke down.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Link Time: South End History

I've just found a relatively new blog that focuses on the history of Boston's South End. The blogger is associated with the South End Historical Society. The style of the blog is very similar to this one: places and people.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ghosts at the Franklin Park Zoo

The back of the elephant house.

I posted these photos of Franklin Park on my Remember Jamaica Plain blog four years ago, and I thought I'd share them here, as well. They come from the Library of Congress web site, and were taken in 1978. This was the end of the old zoo - the animals had already been removed.

Franklin Park was founded as the West Roxbury park, named for the corner of the short-lived town that had just been annexed by the city of Boston. The park was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, who had no interest in zoos. As repeatedly happened, the people of Boston had other ideas, and were happy when a zoo was added to the park. Generations of Bostonians came to the zoo and left with fond memories. Sadly, the city, and then the state, loved the zoo far less, and it was probably never funded properly from the start. It gradually fell into decrepitude, until, an eyesore loved by no one, the original animal houses were torn down and replaced by a new facility.

I was informed in the comment section of the original post that they tried to save that elephant head during demolition, but dropped it and smashed the trunk into many pieces.

Inside of the elephant house.

I remember standing right at that near corner, staring in at a big cat. Probably fifty years ago now - ouch!

Inside the big cat house.

Looks like ruins of an ancient civilization.

Not very homey.

Once there would have been children running about, squealing joyously. Between the lack of people and the low-contrast B&W printing, this looks like on of those end-of-the-world sci-fi movie settings.

Monday, March 5, 2012

From Boy Soldier to Dapper Upholsterer

On this blog, I've chosen to focus on places, which allows me to do a show-and-tell with photographs, maps and prints. As I've already burned through much of the available photos from the days of old, I thought I'd turn to my own particular interest, that of every day life.

Every so often, the Boston Globe would run 'in the old days' articles featuring historical nuggets. Here we learn something I would never have guessed in a million years - plaid streetcars! And cars named after famous heroines, as well. In this case, both women cited have Wikipedia articles, so it must be true!

Daily Boston Globe December 23, 1928

Wore First Uniform of Streetcar Conductor

R.H.J. Nagle Finds Modern Girls Only Improvement Over Things of 60 Years Ago

"Give me the old Boston of 60 years ago!" exclaimed R.H.J. Nagle, the upholsterer, as he worked on a Duncan Fyfe table sent in by King's Chapel for renovation.

"There was not the hustle and bustle in those days; we seemed to have time to enjoy life. Today everything is just rush, and what does it benefit us?"

The only thing modern Mr Nagle approves of is the girl of today. "She is OK. In my day they were too timid," he asserted. probably the hoopskirts had a lot to do with this opinion. As Mr Nagle had been a hoopskirt spangler,* which was attaching the thin gauze covering to the hoops, he probably realized how much they hindered the women in getting about.

Mr Nagle is not 75 years of age. He was one of the first advertisers in the Boston Daily Globe. He had a yearly rate of $20 for four lines on the front page. He has always read the daily and Sunday Globe. he calls it a fine home paper "and mighty interesting."

Street Cars Painted in Plaids

Mr Nagle had the distinction, when he was a conductor for the old Metropolitan St. Railway, to be fitted with the first uniform ever worn by a street car conductor in Boston.

His run was from Bartlett st, Roxbury, to the East Boston ferry. It was the Highland car lines, and the cars were painted in plaids and named after popular heroes and heroins, including Flora MacDonald and Grace Darling. Fares were six rides for a quarter, half fares were three cents, single fares were a nickel. The hours were from 8:45 a m to 12:00 midnight and the pay was $1.75 a day. he had a layoff of four hours in the afternoon.

Mr Nagle remembers the visits of all the Presidents of the United States. President Grant stopped at the St James Hotel, now the Franklin Square House; President Harrison at the Hotel Brunswick, and President McKinley at the Vendome. He also recalled the visit of the Prince of Wales who become King Edward VII.

The visit of the first six Chinese mandarins to this country in their gorgeous costumes of silver and yellow was the most colorful event that he recalls. They were conducted by Ambassador Burlingame, and left the train at what is now the Hotel Buckminster, to be escorted with ceremonies into the city.

Saw Back Bay Filled In

Mr Nagle was born in Cardiff, Wales, Sept 13, 1853, and was brought here at the age of three years. HE was named after three of the English Kings, Richard III, Henry VIII, and John I.

He spent part of his boyhood in Charlestown, and he recalls the long walk to the site of the present main Postoffice on Devonshire st to purchase brown sugar for the table; white sugar was then unknown. Milk was 3 1/2 cents per quart.

He tried to enlist as a drummer boy in the Civil War, but was prevented by the watchfulness of his parents. A little later he enlisted in the Regular Army as a fife player and was detailed to recruiting duty at Governors Island. Shortly after his discharge from the service his detail joined Gen Custer, and all perished in the massacre.

The change in Boston that has interested him the most was the filling of the Back Bay. He lived on the Mill Dam where the Fenway Theatre now stands. Water was carried from the Old Tavern at what is now Charlesgate East. It was piped in from Jamaica Pond in a two-inch log pipe. The method of carrying the water was to attach two buckets to a wooden hoop taken from a molasses barrel, supporting the hoop in each hand as he walked in the center of the hoop.

He walked down Beacon street to the Phillips School. School met every day, including Saturday morning.

Boating, fishing, clamming and catching muskrats were his favorite pastimes in the area between Tremont st and Beacon. It was nothing unusual to see 20,000 persons skating in the Back Bay, he declared.

Simple Business in Those Days

The business methods in those days were very simple as compared to the present. The shutters were removed from the windows at 7 a m and put back at 8 p m. No credit was extended to the customer; cash was paid and the goods either carried or teamed away by the purchaser. In ordering from the Boston wholesale houses the mail was used, but if the need was urgent the horsecars were taken downtown.

Mr Nagle claims the children were given more coasting privileges in those days, and that the slide across the Common, from the State House to Tremont st was a popular one.

He began to learn his trade of upholsterer in 1872 and has been in business for himself since 1879.

Reading has been his favorite pastime. He has a library of 500 books, especially of general history.

He has never been sick a week at a time and never had a family doctor. He still attends to business and is quite active.

Sept. 13, 1927, he made an air trip from the East Boston Airport over the city, which gave him a clear idea of Boston's development since the days of 1968, when it was a city of 192,000 inhabitants.

*spangle: n One of the small metal clasps used in fastening the tapes and wires of a hoop-skirt.