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.


  1. Grab Village? Anyone know what that refers to?

    1. I had the same question when I first read this. Unfortunately, I couldn't find another reference to that place-name.