Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
During the mid 1850s, Middleborough was experiencing a religious revival. In May, 1857, thirty-six new members were admitted to the Central Congregational Church under the direction of Reverend Isaiah C. Thatcher, the largest such increase since its organization ten years earlier in 1847. Similar additions occurred at the Central Baptist and First Congregational Churches, as well.
Counter to this movement towards the organized churches, but part of the same spiritual reawakening, was the growing interest by some members of the community in Spiritualism, the belief that spirits could and did communicate with mortals. Beginning in the late 1840s when Spiritualism began to become widely popular following the notoriety of the Fox sisters in the burned-over district of New York, numerous residents were attracted to the movement. Lectures held in local venues on the topic of Spiritualism became a monthly staple, and The New England Spiritualist, the region's largest Spiritualist newspaper, advertised for subscribers locally.
Later reports in more unsuspecting newspapers would claim that the "mysterious rappings were heard from all parts of the house, even from the precincts of the sacred pulpit", with "many of the congregation becoming so frightened as to leave the house, and the minister turning pale."
Though Reverend Thatcher did not become pale or frightened, as reported, he certainly seemed disoriented by the unprecedented disruption, stopping several times during his sermon and, once, muttering, "I don't know what is the matter here today."
Pratt expounded: "There was nothing mysterious about the rappings any more than when one brings down his heel upon the floor, or kicks over a table, or when a medium makes her raps with a pencil, with the handle of her parasol, or with a small cane fastened into her skirt, or on a tin box embedded in the cotton of her bosom."
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Muttock, photographic negative, late 19th century.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
On Christmas night, "a new aspect [was] given to this strange affair."
At 2 o'clock, the whistle began to offer its alarm in low murmers, which continued to grow louder and shriller, and fuller and deeper, till half past two, rousing from sleep, the inhabitants for miles around.
According to the tale, the whistle was sounded by an Irish-born worker who had lost the tip of his finger presumably while working one of the mill's saws. Some time later this same worker was accidentally killed while at work at the mill. Each evening the spirit of this worker was said to sound the mill whistle in hopes of summoning his fellow coworkers to help him in finding his missing finger tip.
Monday, October 26, 2009
On April 5, 1886, Jeremiah Doane of Middleborough acquired the lot of land at the corner of Center Street and “a proposed street to be called Lovell street”, from Eugene P. LeBaron. For years, the LeBaron family had owned a substantial portion of West Side property. On his newly-acquired lot, Doane erected a distinctive “four-square” house with a recessed porch which notably was set back on the lot, leaving a broad front lawn which sloped down towards Center Street. Clearly, the house was intended to have a markedly different appearance than the gable-end workers’ houses which dominated much of the immediate neighborhood.
In 1919, the Sullivans sold the house which has been subsequently owned by Fannie L. Andrews and later her son, Chester S, Mendell (1919-39), and since 1940 by the Moles family. The well-kept house still stands on the corner of Center and Lovell Streets as a reminder of Middleborough in a time of historical transition, when the community was rapidly being remade.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Cole writes in his introduction:
Driving back from Cape Cod into Plymouth County, taking nay exit will make its agricultural identity plain. Pickup trucks pass with license plates declaring this Cranberry Country.” The berry is so important to rural Carver that it appears on the town seal. A dirt road will inevitably lead to a bog, vast and rectangular or small and fitting the contours of the land. In this place, there were for years more acres of cranberry bogs than people. In the words of a Carver native, “Cranberries was all there was.”
In little more than a century, this diminutive fruit has forced those who would profit from it to become inventive and resourceful, to make for it a home, to protect it from wind and cold, and to fashion tools to tend and pick it. For some, the cranberry has provided a comfortable living for five generations, for others, only enough money to make it through each winter. When something so dominates the lives of people, it is worth knowing about.
And indeed Cole writes with much knowledge and skill, creating an intelligent and highly readable history. Chapters are devoted to the birth of the industry on Cape Cod and its expansion to Plymouth County, the early years of development, the wooden tools necessary for planting and harvesting, the Cape Verdean and Finnish immigrants who contributed to the evolution of cranberrying, the origin and growth of the cranberry cooperatives, the marketing of cranberries and the typical year of the cranberry grower. The work draws extensively upon archival sources (including the Middleborough Public Library’s Cranberry Collection) as well as interviews with individuals involved in cranberrying over the past decades.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
During the hot summer of 1956, proposed construction of the Meadowbrook Drive-In on Route 44 in Middleborough touched off a heated war of words between Meadowbrook developers and owners of Middleborough’s sole in-town movie theater, the Middleboro Theatre, located on Nickerson Avenue across from Middleborough Town Hall. The result of the battle would ultimately be the closure of Middleborough’s only cinema and the local birth of the drive-in culture which had emerged rapidly following World War II.
Meadowbrook developers John J. Abberley and Wilbur S. Edwards first proposed construction of a drive-in theater with an ultimate capacity of 1,000 cars on a 183 acre tract acquired from George Lovell situated between Route 44 and Clay Street in early 1956. The proposed drive-in, named for its proximity to Poquoy Brook, was to include a children’s playground, snack counter and other amenities. In a now-dated bit of fifties advertising, it was noted at the time that "drive-ins are popular with young people who cannot afford a baby sitter, with old folks who can watch the show right from their car, and with those who find difficulty in parking their cars at an intown theater."
Middleborough Selectmen voted 4-1 to grant Abberley and Edwards a permit to operate, with only Manuel J. Silva dissenting, concerned about the adverse effect the resultant competition would have upon the Middleboro Theatre, whose business had been characterized as being "barely sufficient to continue its operation there." David Hodgdon, owner of the Princess Amusement Company which had operated the 42-year-old Middleboro Theatre since 1917 naturally was opposed the granting of the permit. Hodgdon characterized Meadowbrook as "a seasonal ‘fast-dollar- Drive-in" as contrasted with his "movie theatre operating the year round offering a definite high-quality service to the public." Hodgdon noted that his theater had been "extensively remodeled in 1948, cinemascope added in 1954 and with air-conditioning contracted for this spring." Hodgdon believed (ultimately rightly) that the construction of Meadowbrook would mean the demise of the Middleboro Theatre, noting that "a community without a conventional theatre in its business center is not a pleasant prospect for any town." Despite Hodgdon’s somewhat frenzied plea, Selectmen refused to budge.
Meanwhile, Meadowbrook’s developers took umbrage at what they considered to be a gross misrepresentation of their business upon the part of Hodgdon. "The owners and operators of the Meadowbrook Drive-In Theatre intend to bring to Middleboro a community center in which all the people of Middleboro can participate and of which they will be proud … We intend to show the finest in motion pictures, to have an attractive concession building with an outdoor patio, and a play ground for the youngsters. Our one desire is to make the Meadowbrook a neat, clean, attractive, wholesome family gathering place." Additionally, Abberley promised to make the drive-in available to community, civic, and church groups. During the succeeding years, Meadowbrook, in fact, would be utilized for fund-raising activities and during the summer of 1962 was even put to use for drive-in church services.
Adding insult to injury for Hodgdon, however, was the fact that not only was construction of Meadowbrook moving rapidly ahead for an anticipated June opening (it, in fact, did not open until May, 1957), but Lakeville Selectmen on May 25, 1956, had approved a second local drive-in to be located on Route 44 across Poquoy Brook from – of all places –Meadowbrook Drive-In, a curiosity noted at the time. "Many people have expressed the opinion that two drive-in theaters, side-by-side is enough of a rarity as to be considered odd." Odd or not, Middleborough and Lakeville were poised to have adjoining drive-in theaters by the summer of 1956.
While David Hogdon continued to oppose the Meadowbrook operation throughout 1956, developers of the proposed Lakeville drive-in (Grossman Industrial Properties, Inc., of Quincy which operated drive-ins at Brockton, Wareham and Quincy-Braintree) continued to forge ahead with their own plans for a second area drive-in, believing that Middleborough was large enough to support two such theaters. They remained unfazed by both the Meadowbrook project as well as the less than pleasant odors wafting over on certain days from the nearby Hotz Brothers mink farm which the farm’s owners believed might be detrimental to the operation of an outdoor theater.
With the prospect of two drive-in theaters on the horizon, Hodgdon had had enough. Later that summer, Hodgdon, after several newspaper battles with Meadowbrook’s developers, sold his interest in the Middleboro Theatre (which still remained without air conditioning). Attempts by local parties to revitalize the Middleboro Theatre – which urged potential patrons in 1958 "For the Best Enjoyment Go to a Conventional Theatre" – were unsuccessful. The theater was closed and the property sold in 1962.
Meadowbrook Drive-in opened on May 8, 1957, with a double bill featuring Friendly Persuasion and Wichita on its 44 by 100 foot screen, and operated as the sole drive-in in the vicinity, the Grossman project in Lakeville never getting off the ground despite much initial enthusiasm. "Watching the picture, viewers were convinced that television cannot generate the emotion created by the wide screen. Whole families sat comfortably in the privacy of their cars, tuned their individual receiver as high or low as they wished, and occasionally glanced around to enjoy the clear country air, the panorama of passing motorists on the highway and the colored lights in the theater area." (This last bit assuredly penned by Meadowbrook’s marketing man).
In retrospect, the Middleboro Theatre had had little hope of survival regardless of the arrival of Meadowbrook. During this period, the community was rapidly reorienting itself to an automobile-dominated culture and the year 1956 marked the dawn of the drive-in culture and the end of downtown as Middleborough’s sole commercial and entertainment center. Notably that year, the First National Supermarket opened its self-described "palace of foods" at the corner of South Main and East Grove Streets and touted its many features, conspicuously among which was the "spacious free parking," signaling a move by business away from downtown Middleborough to so-called more conveniently located sites situated elsewhere, leaving in its wake a number of casualties including the Middleboro Theatre.
Vintage drive-in theater advertisements appear under a Creative Commons license. No rights reserved. For more vintage drive-in theater advertisements from the Meadowbrook Drive-In era , click here.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
In the mid and late 1800s, pictorial maps became widely popular in America. Depicting communities from a bird's eye perspective, these maps were consequently known as aerial maps and they recorded the primary geographic features and buildings of a given area. Cartographers and artists would quickly sketch the buildings and structures within the proposed subject area of the map and later draw more detailed versions for reproduction by lithographers. Frequently, key landmarks or properties belonging to financial sponsors received greater attention and were featured in insets along the margins of the map.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The singular creature described by Victor Hugo in his Toilers of the Sea, has just appeared in Middleboro. Mr. C. R. Brainard, who has many rare and beautiful specimens of sea and land gathered in the South during the last season, has just received by express one of the identical creatures known as the octopod sea vampire, or devil fish. The monster grappled a diver in the waters of the coast of Georgia, and when the diver, more dead than alive, was brought to the surface, the fearful creature was captured. His open length or distance is over four feet.
Most likely local residents learning of the octopus' arrival were keen to see the "monster". Those unfamiliar with it had only to read Hugo's work for a vivid and enthralling description of the sea creature and its menacing form.
What, then, is the devil-fish? It is the sea vampire.
The swimmer who, attracted by the beauty of the spot, ventures among breakers in the open sea, where the still waters hide the splendours of the deep, or in the hollows of unfrequented rocks, in unknown caverns abounding in sea plants, testacea, and crustacean, under the deep portals of the ocean, runs the risk of meeting it. If that fate should be yours, be not curious, but fly. The intruder enters there dazzled; but quits the spot in terror.
This frightful apparition, which is always possible among the rocks in the open sea, is a grayish form which undulates in the water. It is of the thickness of a man’s arm, and in length nearly five feet. Its outline is ragged. Its form resembles an umbrella closed, and without handle. This irregular mass advances slowly towards you. Suddenly it opens, and eight radii issue abrubtly from around a face with two eyes. These radii are alive: their undulation is like lambent flames; they resemble, when opened, the spokes of a wheel, of four or five feet in diameter. A terrible expansion! It springs upon its prey.
The devil-fish harpoons its victim.
It winds around the sufferer, covering and entangling him in its long folds….
Its folds strangle, its contact paralyses.
Having read this passage, breathless Middleborough residents were no doubt grateful not to have encountered the octopus in its natural habitat.
"Octopus" by Victor Hugo, 1866, watercolor
Hugo, Victor. Travailleurs de la mer [Toilers of the Sea]. Volume III. London: Sampson, Low, Son, & Marston, 1866., pp. 86-88
Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", February 6, 1873, p. 5.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
One of Middleborough's most fondly recalled restaurants was the China Villa, owned and operated throughout the 1950s by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick S. N. Wong, Chinese restaurateurs with over forty years experience in the business.
The China Villa opened in April, 1949, in what had formerly been Dunn's Dinner Cottage at the junction of Anderson Avenue and West Grove Street, then Routes 44 and 28, respectively, the site now occupied by a Mobil gasoline station. While most of the traffic along these routes was destined for Cape Cod and most establishments along them catered to a largely out-of-town clientele, the China Villa opened with the intention of attracting local customers. "Wong's goal was to give Middleboro a real Chinese restaurant which would cater to local people. Although located along Route 28, the China Villa, unlike many roadside eateries ... developed a steady trade of local patrons."
The China Villa operated for several years until it closed before being sold in 1962 when it was replaced by Hughes' Ford showroom and garage which had relocated from Wareham Street in 1963.
Fred Wong's China Villa, postcard, mid-20th century
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
With its history and large membership, the local organization felt a keen need for the construction of its own Memorial Hall, as later explained by Alvin C. Howes, head of the later building committee:
“He stated that there are two reasons for building the memorial hall. The first is that their members need a home, and the second is that the Grand Army is one of the greatest associations in America, and the building will stand as a memorial to those who defended the country when their assistance was wanted.” Prior to this date, the organization had leased space in the American Building on South Main Street, beginning in 1871.
Shopping around town for a suitable site, the G. A. R. ultimately selected a lot on North Main Street between the Captain Drew House (where the Central Fire Station is now located) and the residence of J. B. Ryder, which lot they purchased from the Peirce Trust. Though the neighborhood remained residential at the time, the proposed G. A. R. hall as well as the planned Public Library would by 1904 have created a small civic area on the eastern end of the downtown district.
Plans for the Memorial Hall called for an impressive building. “It will be built of brick and stone, of handsome architectural design and will be two stories high. The dimensions are 55 by 38 feet. On the ground floor will be the post room which will be utilized for a meeting room. This room will be 38 by 25 feet and will have convenient ante-chambers. There will be a room on the first floor in which the post can store their Civil War curios and relics, of which they have a large number.
“On the second floor will be a large banquet hall with the kitchen adjoining. The hall will be 38 feet square. The finish will be in North Carolina pine. The lighting will be done by gas and electricity and the heating will be by steam …. It is estimated that the building will cost about $6,000.”
The cornerstone of the building was laid in a ceremony on September 17, 1902, which was described by a correspondent of the Brockton Times the following day as “one of the most interesting events in Middleboro for a long time.” The program, which started at 4 p. m., included a chorus of Middleborough High School students singing “America”, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Building Committee chair Howes addressed the assembled audience following which a tin box containing various newspapers; rosters of the G. A. R., W. R. C., S. of V., and G. A. R. Associates; a G. A. R. badge; bylaws of the local post; and miscellaneous other items was placed inside the cornerstone. Warren B. Stetson, the post’s chaplain, read an appropriate scriptural passage.
Much enthusiasm attended the day’s events, but the G. A. R.’s hopes for its Memorial Hall were soon to be dashed. It is not readily apparent from the remaining reports what occurred, though it seems that a representative of the state prohibited further construction on the building, alleging that its foundations as constructed were insufficient to carry the weight of the proposed building. A second report blamed the local district police.
“What will be done at the G. A. R. building, in the process of construction, is a quandary. The foundations were laid, the details arranged for the floor and the cornerstone has been laid. Recently a member of the district police looked over the building and pronounced the foundations unsafe, not substantial enough to support the building. Work was stopped and nothing is being done there. Most of the members of the building committee of the memorial hall are attending the national encampment in Washington and definite plans cannot be made until they return.”
By late October, the G. A. R. seemed to have reconciled itself to the failure of its building scheme. “The G. A. R. corporation preserves silence as to the probable outcome of the construction of its building. It is understood a meeting of the corporation will be held soon, and then a disposition will be made of it. One member says that it will be voted to sell what is completed of the structure and drop the idea of a memorial building.” It was not reported why the organization did not simply rebuilt the structure’s foundation.
Ultimately, the G. A. R. did dispose of the property and the completed foundation. In 1907, Middleborough grocer E. J. Kelley constructed the large house which now stands upon the proposed G. A. R. site, and it appears from the building’s dimensions that it sets upon the original foundation for the Memorial Hall that never was.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
View of the Nemasket River at Muttock, Middleborough, MA, photograph, late 19th century.
Nature encroaches upon the colonial and Federal-era industrial site at Muttock, obscuring the stone foundations and walls which were once part of Abiel Washburn's shovel works. Though a number of proposals called for the revival of industry at Muttock following the mid-19th century when the last operations - the grist and saw mills - were abandoned, nothing came of these initiatives. The site was left to decay, though it became a popular locale for early photographers, including the unknown one who captured this image of a boy fishing in the river. Today the site is better known as Oliver Mill Park. Many of the same ruins may be viewed today, and the site remains popular with photographers.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
It was somewhat natural that Middleborough would develop such an industry given the abundance of clay locally, a resource which began to be commercially exploited immediately prior to the Civil War and which permitted the establishment of a number of brick-making companies. While these brick companies thrived for a number of years, little is known of the success (or failure) of Bailey's venture beyond the Middleboro Gazette's report of September 13, 1889 that "Jeremiah Keith has sold his clay pigeon business, patent rights, machinery, fixtures, &c., to Luther S. Bailey of Middleboro."
"Clay Pigeons", photograph by Lisa Larson, June 15, 2008, published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
These modern clay pigeons differ little in appearance to those which would have been produced nearly a century and a quarter ago in Middleborough.
Middleboro Gazette, "North Middleboro", September 13, 1889, p. 1.
Old Colony Memorial, June 7, 1890, p. 5.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Despite their proximity, the towns of Middleborough and Plymouth were not linked by railroad until the final years of the 19th century, when the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, one of Massachusetts' last steam railroads, was built. Though operated for less than fifty years (1892-1936) before it became defunct, the Plymouth & Middleboro had a history typical of that of many railroads throughout the region. Never able to fully finance itself through either passenger or freight revenue, the railroad saw first the discontinuance of its passenger service and later its freight service which eliminated them as an (ultimately futile) cost-cutting measure. Today, little remains of the former railroad in whose right of way much of Route 44 was ultimately constructed in the mid-twentieth century.
A railroad linking Middleborough with Plymouth was first proposed in the second quarter of the nineteenth century as a replacement for the infrequent and uncomfortable stages which ran between the two towns. Though the proposition progressed to the extent that a proposed route was declared feasible and a charter granted in 1849, no further action was taken and the project soon afterwards was abandoned.
The suggestion of a Plymouth to Middleborough railroad was again mooted nearly twenty years later when it was proposed extending the Middleboro & Taunton Railroad eastwards towards Plymouth. Little concrete action, however, was taken to implement the proposal, prompting a correspondent to the Middleboro Gazette from North Carver to castigate Plymouth residents for what he saw as a lack of initiative. “Had Plymouth one quarter the energy of Taunton, the road would have been built long ago.” Interestingly, the route proposed at the time was very close to the one which would actually be built twenty-five years later: “The distance would be only about fifteen miles,” wrote the correspondent in a letter dated January 1, 1867, “giving a station at West Plymouth, one between Carver Green and the Plympton line, one between Eddyville and Waterville, and another in the vicinity of Middleboro Green.”
Despite the fear of the unknown writer that “the fractiousness of certain parties in Plymouth” might prevent such a plan, Plymoutheans appeared to favor the general idea of a west-bound railroad and three years later in 1870 the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial called for a railroad from the general vicinity of Kingston through Plympton to Middleborough. The writer of the letter advocating the proposal, merely identified as “P”, demonstrated remarkable foresight regarding the value of such a road, at least from a freighting standpoint.
The wood and lumber which grows in this region, would make some business for a railroad as the most of it is carted five, ten, or fifteen miles to market. There is no part of Plymouth County where wood grows more rapidly, and three hundred dollars per acre, and more in some instances paid for it on the stump. To show the importance of this branch of business, I have only to say, that there are near the proposed route in East Middleboro’, Plympton and North Carver, eight saw mills, where from one and a half to two million feet of lumber is sawed annually....Can any other route be suggested which will combine so many interests and accommodate Plymouth County so much as this. [Old Colony Memorial, “Railroad from Plymouth to Middleboro’”, September 22, 1870]
Despite the forcefulness of the arguments presented, the idea of a Plymouth to Middleborough railroad failed to gain momentum, however, until over ten years later in the early 1880s. At that time, the Middleboro Gazette joined the Memorial in advocating a Middleborough to Plymouth line, hinting at the opportunities awaiting Middleborough businesses if connected with the port of Plymouth which had recently established a packet line to Mexico, "one of the most promising markets upon the continent." Although the idea for the Plymouth & Middleborough was later stated as having originated with Carver residents Dr. George F. Morse and John Dunham who proposed it to Plymouth dentist, Thomas D. Shumway, the project seems in fact to have received its earliest support from the westernmost town, Middleborough, which found its existing connections with Plymouth to be lacking. “A Middleboro couple visiting Plymouth, last week, not satisfied with the roundabout railroad connections between the two places, on concluding their inspection of the interesting historical attractions, took the highway on foot and made the return over land.”
Construction of direct route between Middleborough and Plymouth was perceived as having a number of benefits for Middleborough. The new railroad would give Middleborough four connections to Boston: “via Taunton and Stoughton, via Brockton, via Plymouth and Whitman, and via Plymouth and Duxbury.” Additionally, it was likely that an early morning mail train would be added to accommodate both Plymouth and Middleborough. According to an anonymous Old Colony employee at Middleborough: “When the Plymouth & Middleboro railroad is completed you can reasonably expect that the early morning mail train to Plymouth may be continued on over the P. & M. to Middleboro, and not require an entirely new train from Boston …. It will not pay to run a [morning mail] train all the way to Middleboro from Boston just for Middleboro accommodation alone.” At the time, there was much enthusiasm in Middleborough for the town's increasing importance as a rail center: the Old Colony line from Brockton was being double-tracked, and both early and late trains were added to accommodate Middleborough and Brockton. At this time, the Middleboro News facetiously asked, "Why not try the Meigs elevated railroad between this place and Plymouth?"
Plymouth residents were encouraged that the new railroad would help foster both industry and tourism at Plymouth. “… The Plymouth & Middleborough Railroad will redound largely to the manufacturing interests of Plymouth, while at the same time it will increase its importance as a pleasure resort. It will bring many travelers to the town who otherwise would not come.” The line would open for Plymouth (which had previously been linked by rail only with Boston) direct connections with southern New England and New York beyond, a matter “of first importance”. Additionally, as the shire town of Plymouth County, Plymouth would now be more easily accessible by the towns of the southern portion of the county whose residents had frequent need to travel to Plymouth on legal matters.
While interested Plymouth parties held a public meeting July 29, 1882, to investigate the possibility of improved rail connections for Plymouth, no concrete proposals were forthcoming, nor was Middleborough mentioned in particular. Nonetheless, a letter in the August 10, 1882, Memorial indicated that the support of Middleborough was crucial for the success of such a project. "A new railroad is going to be built, and if Middleboro sees her interest she will arouse herself before it is too late and have a voice in directing the initiatory steps .... If Middleboro prefers to rest herself contented, expecting a new railroad is to be brought to her doors without effort on her part, we fear she will be mistaken." The writer, identified only as “Spike”, further pointed to the difficulties Middleborough might face in constructing such a railroad, particularly “the obstacles to be overcome in passing through the streets of their town at enormous expense, (no new street crossings of railroads now being allowed at grade)”.
Almost as if in response to the challenge of the anonymous Plymouth correspondent, on August 16, 1882, a citizens' meeting of individuals interested in the project was held at Middleborough, with Horatio Barrows, partner in the shoe manufacturing firm Leonard & Barrows, presiding. Barrows, James H. Harlow, and Matthew H. Cushing each spoke in favor of the proposal, arguing that Middleborough would prosper through increased freight traffic and direct communication with the port of Plymouth. A committee was established to further the Town's interest, consisting of Barrows and Harlow, along with William R. Peirce, George L. Soule, George T. Ryder, Albert Alden, John B. LeBaron, Albert T. Savery and George Brayton. Following the meeting, the Middleboro Gazette reported that “there is apparently a very general opinion in this village, that a large number of shares of stock in a railroad direct from this point to Plymouth would be readily subscribed for. It is evident but little objection can be found here in regard to such an enterprise.”
Despite the support demonstrated for the proposed railroad to Plymouth in Middleborough, as had earlier Plymouth writers, the Memorial chided that Middleborough needed to do more to advance the project, threatening that Plymouth would instead build a line towards Sandwich. “It is said that ‘history repeats itself,’ and it would not be among the probabilities that in the near future a Cape Codder, on his way to and from Boston by way of Middleboro, will be a rare person to find, unless Middleboro shall awake to see that she has an interest in shaping preliminary matters.”
Yet despite the Memorial's urgings (and admonishment) to Middleborough to get behind the railroad proposal, there failed to be a consensus at Plymouth concerning either the feasibility of the route, or Plymouth's needs relative to future rail connections, and alternatives to the Middleborough route existed in the form of proposed lines from Plymouth to either Tremont in Wareham, or Sandwich. By this time, however, the Middleboro Gazette was so firmly behind the proposed railroad that it threatened, half in jest, the removal of the shire town from Plymouth were the Middleborough railroad not to be constructed. For their part, some in Plymouth seemed to fail to grasp that the importance of a line westward towards Middleborough was not the connection with Middleborough, per se, but the connections which Middleborough afforded as an important railroad junction, with Taunton, Providence and ultimately New York. A connection with Sandwich or Tremont would simply leave Plymouth as a way station with “roundabout connections”. One who clearly understood the importance of the Middleborough route was the anonymous Plympton writer whose letter dated August 21, 1882, appeared in the Memorial and who asked rhetorically:
If the business interests of Plymouth require additional railroad accommodation, is it not in the direction of Taunton, Fall River, New Bedford, Providence, and New York? And is not Middleboro the point to reach by a new railroad? … An air line from Plymouth to Middleboro would probably be thirteen to fourteen miles. Is not this the link which is necessary to complete the Old Colony Railroad system, facilitate intercourse between the northerly and southerly sections of Plymouth County, and especially benefit the business interests of the Town of Plymouth? [Old Colony Memorial, “The New Railroad”, August 24, 1882, p. 4]
The notable Charles G. Davis (1820-1903) of Plymouth, Judge of the Third District Court, however, disagreed, arguing that it was the Sandwich connection which would prove most beneficial by locating Plymouth on a main line, although he conceded that the success of the project would be dependent upon the Old Colony’s willingness to run express trains over the line to Plymouth. As to the value of a Middleborough line connecting Plymouth with the remainder of southern Plymouth County, Davis testily disposed of that: “Oh yes! the shire town question! This is the bugbear for everything, and I am sick of it.” Additionally Davis who demonstrated a clear prejudice against the Old Colony Railroad, feared that that corporation would easily acquire control over an independent line to Middleborough built at public expense as it had with the Duxbury & Cohasset Railroad which had been chartered in 1869 and built in the succeeding years as a mainline extension today known as the Greenbush line.
After several pages arguing in favor of the Sandwich proposal and highlighting the drawbacks of primarily of the Tremont proposal, Davis concluded:
I will content myself with the statement that by a railway to Sandwich the increased value of woodlots, of the beautiful sites on the shore, and on the numerous lakes which join the inland section between Plymouth and Sandwich, the additional facilities, the increased traffic, summer houses and resorts, would compensate many times over; all the advantages to Plymouth claimed for a road in any other direction. [Old Colony Memorial, “The Railroad Enterprise”, August 31, 1882, p. 1]
While Plymouth vacillated, the Middleborough committee concluded that a route which joined the existing Old Colony line at North Plympton to be the shortest and most feasible route. Towards that end, Barrows, as chairman of the committee, published in the Middleboro Gazette, an open letter "to the citizens of Kingston, Duxbury, and towns along the South Shore Railroad" which suggested the construction of a twelve-mile road linking Middleborough with Kingston, and enumerated the benefits to those communities which would arise therefrom. Meanwhile, in an attempt to discredit any alternative project which might jeopardize the Middleborough-Kingston line, both the Middleboro Gazette and Middleborough's second newspaper, the Middleboro News published articles "ridiculing ... and deprecating" the proposed Plymouth to Sandwich line.
Matters continued in this fashion for a number of years until Plymouth finally came to accept the idea of a line westwards toward Middleborough. Ultimately, one of the strongest supporters of the project at Plymouth was Dr. Thomas D. Shumway. Shumway would become closely associated with the project over the nearly four years it took to organize and construct the railroad. A dentist, Shumway had “invented the process of filling teeth by the use of ivory points to consolidate the gold by a burnishing method in distinction to the use of a mallet”, and he became visible within the region by lecturing on this method and other dental topics. Shumway became deeply interested in the Plymouth Commercial Club’s advocacy of a new railroad for Plymouth. Comfortable in front of an audience from his previous dental lectures, Shumway began addressing meetings on the importance of the railroad proposal and he became the project’s most visible proponent. “The fact that the road was constructed was largely due to his endeavors, and he was made first president of the Corporation [upon its organization] and was re-elected yearly afterward”. Ironically for a railroad president, Shumway had been closely affiliated with the National Labor Party a few short years before in the mid-1880s.
The Town of Carver also came to support the proposed railroad as prospects were high that the railroad would invigorate Carver’s local economy. In January, 1892, the Old Colony Memorial remarked that the town’s “prospects are much more than flattering, now that the Plymouth & Middleboro railroad is to traverse it, in its northern sections.” In February, 1892, the Middleboro Gazette reported that Dr. Shumway was “looking after the interests of a railroad connection between Tremont and some point on the Plymouth & Middleboro line.” While Shumway denied the report, stating that he “had about all the railroad he wanted at present”, the story was indicative of the continuing demand for a suitable line through Carver or West Plymouth.
By the late 1880s, with a consensus forged that a line linking Plymouth and Middleborough by way of North Carver was the most practicable and potentially profitable route, survey work could begin. By March, 1889, sufficient subscriptions had been received so that a survey of the proposed route could be undertaken, which commenced on March 9. Rapidly completed, the survey was made public in late May when the directors met with the Plymouth Board of Selectmen to present plans of the proposed route as required by public statute. Two routes were considered at the Plymouth end: one via Cobb’s Swamp with a grade of 80 feet to the mile and a length of 18.79 miles which was considered the most practicable, and a second through Cold Spring which had a 130 foot rise, but was shorter at 17.56 miles. While it was the first route which initially was favored, it was the second route which would come to be built.
Chartering, Financing and Organizing the Road
In January, the bill chartering the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and was signed by Governor Bracket on March 23, 1890. The first public meeting of the new railroad was held at this time on March 13, 1889, at Carver. The company was organized with a board of nine directors: five from Plymouth (Thomas D. Shumway, Leavitt T. Robbins, Nathaniel Morton, W. P. Stoddard, J. W. Mixter), three from Middleborough (William R. Peirce, Eugene P. LeBaron, Albert T. Savery), and one from Carver (George F. Morse). Officers of the company, all Plymouth residents, were Shumway, President; Robbins, Vice-President; Mixter, Treasurer; and Benjamin A. Hathaway, Secretary. A week later, on March 20, the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad Company was incorporated.
The first step for the newly organized corporation was raising the necessary funds with which to construct the railroad, a matter of some concern by opponents of the bill during the House debate who questioned whether the communities involved would be able to finance the undertaking. “The champion of the bill in the House, Representative Powers, of Hyde Park, when taunted by the opposition with the statement that if the charter was granted Plymouth was too poor to build the railroad, replied: ‘The gods help those who help themselves.’”
Ultimately, an arrangement was made whereby the railroad was to be financed through private subscription and leased to the Old Colony Railroad. “President Choate of the Old Colony had no objections to the exceptions granted to the petitioners for the private construction of the Railroad and the operation of it by the Old Colony.” The charter for the Railroad provided for 800 shares.
The project was supported through both municipal and private subscription. At a town meeting held April 26, 1890, the Town of Plymouth voted 225 to 86 to subscribe to 400 shares at a cost of $40,000. On May 31, 1890, the Town of Middleborough authorized the purchase of 200 shares for $20,000, and the Town of Carver later took 50 shares at $5,000. By June, 1891, some $14,000 still required raising, prompting the Memorial to hopefully write, “with so important a matter to our future prosperity hanging upon so small a sum, there can be no question that the money will be forthcoming.” While the Town of Plymouth in September did vote to acquire an additional 100 shares, bringing its total investment in the project to $50,000, the remaining $4,000 was proving difficult to come by. In late December, 1891, the directors of the railroad voted to issue a second call for subscriptions. “The payment will be 50 per cent, the previous call having been for 10 per cent.” With such an incentive, people apparently responded and ultimately private individuals subscribed $5,000, which brought the total to the $80,000 necessary before the project could be bonded. On February 8, 1892, the stockholders of the railroad authorized the issue of first mortgage bonds through the International Trust Company of Boston in the amount necessary to complete the railroad - $225,000. The Old Colony agreed “to provide the money to build the road and reimburse itself from the sale of the bonds issued after the road [was] built.”
Included in the cost of construction were financial damages which were required to be paid to owners of property which would be taken along the route of the road. A number of properties were demolished for the construction, including the “old Holmes house beside the bridge” at Plymouth, which was torn down sometime in April, 1892, or after. Apparently there was some difficulty reaching a settlement on the amount of damages in some of these cases. In mid-1892, Charles G. Davis who had so vociferously opposed the project back in 1882 and whose houselot near the northeast corner of Court and Lothrop Streets in Plymouth abutted the new rail line petitioned the Plymouth County Commissioners with a number of others for a hearing into the matter of damages, but no decision was reported. By October, the damage issue had been settled, and Davis’ suit “for a large bill of counsel fees” was adjusted and withdrawn.
From the start, the intention was that the completed railroad would be immediately leased to the Old Colony Railroad. A memorandum of agreement signed between the Plymouth & Middleboro and the Old Colony bound the Old Colony to operate the new road “for a term of ninety-nine years, paying as rental thirty per cent. of the gross receipts, and guaranteeing that this rental shall be sufficient to pay the interest on the bonds, viz., $11,250 per year.” Consequently, the Old Colony became an active partner at times in the construction of the roadway, lending both its facilities and rolling stock to expedite the construction.
The Proposed Line
The route, as accepted, essentially followed the course of modern Route 44 which was constructed on much of the western portion of the railroad's right of way. Branching from the Old Colony Line between Middleborough and Boston near Keith Street, the P & M crossed Everett Street just north of its present junction with North Street. Cutting through Muttock where it crossed the Nemasket River and a relocated Plymouth Street, the line ran north of Plymouth Street, on to the Green, crossing Plympton and Raven Streets, through East Middleborough between Eddyville and Waterville where it crossed Carmel and Brook Streets, and on to North Carver. At North Carver, the line crossed Plympton (North Main) Street and continued to run north of Plymouth Street and south of High Street crossing Gate Street and running to West Plymouth where it passed between Darby and Little Clear Ponds before continuing eastward parallel with the Kingston town line through largely forested land crossing the Plympton Road and passing north of Round Hole and North Triangle Pond before reaching North Plymouth where it turned southeastwards toward the Plymouth terminus, crossing Court Street and joining the Old Colony line near Lothrop Street.
The fifteen plus mile route between the two towns was determined by “Engineer Rollins of the Old Colony office force” and would involve the removal of 400,000 cubic yards of earth, and the construction of ten bridges (“four under grade bridges of iron, …five over grade bridges of wood, with one pile bridge”), fourteen culverts, and 1,500 feet of new roadway.
Stations were to be established along the line at Plympton Street at the Green in Middleborough (“Putnam’s”), Carmel Street between Eddyville and Waterville at East Middleborough (“Mount Carmel”), High Street at North Carver (“North Carver”), and at West Plymouth near Darby Pond (“Darby”). The stations were named in February, 1892, by Shumway in consultation with the board of directors. The two Middleborough stations, however, were later renamed. Originally, the Green station was known as “Putnam's”, in honor of the former pastor of the Church of the Green, Israel W. Putnam. However, as goods and baggage destined for Putnam, Connecticut, frequently got misrouted, the name was changed in June, 1906, to “Nemasket”. Mount Carmel station, originally named for the rise of land north of Waterville, was renamed East Middleborough in March, 1907, possibly because most residents knew the station by the latter name and had apparently always referred to it as such. Tellingly, no station was established at Muttock in Middleborough, despite the desire for one there by local residents. In January, 1893, it was reported that Muttock residents were seeking a flag station along the line and “are likely to get it next Spring.” They never did.
Construction Begins on “The Big Cut”
On January 4, 1892, construction work on the railroad officially began when president Shumway broke ground on the land of Captain Gamaliel Thomas a short distance from Court Street in Plymouth and removed the first shovelful of earth. “The implement used was a good, solid, Oliver Ames, round-pointed, steel shovel, donated for the purpose by Wm. H. H. Weston, and the spot chosen was the grade on land of Capt. Gamaliel Thomas near Cold Spring ….” In attendance were officials representing the railroad and the Town of Plymouth, Plymouth Commercial Club members, the contractors and members of the public. The first shovel of earth was later distributed at a celebration by the Plymouth Commercial Club in small keepsake boxes.
One of the largest pieces of construction on the railroad was to be the building of the railway bridge over Court Street in Plymouth and the cutting of a route westward through the highlands in the Cold Spring neighborhood. In order to create the cut through the high ground, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 cubic yards of earth required removal. So large in fact was the excavation to be done, that the project became known as the “big cut” with the hill being dug into some twenty-eight feet deep. The earth excavated from the high ground would be used to fill the meadow on the east side of Court Street, as well as lowland and swamp to the west, and would create the embankments on either end of the Court Street bridge. The line itself would be carried over Court Street by means of an iron railroad bridge resting on granite block abutments and the roadway would require deepening in order to pass under the bridge in such a manner as “to present no disfigurement of that thoroughfare.”
In late December, 1891, “derricks, a hoisting engine and necessary tackle” had been dispatched to Plymouth for use at Court Street, and by the start of construction on January 5, 1892, the derricks had been erected, and foundation work on the abutments had begun. Meanwhile, “about a dozen” railroad cars stacked with cut granite blocks had arrived at Plymouth station, and land belonging to Captain Gamaliel Thomas was in the process of being graded.
In order to perform the necessary cut and fill work at Court Street, a temporary track was laid. “A frog is being put into the Old Colony track from which to lay temporary rails to and across Court Street, and over this track the engine, shovel and [19 dump cars] will be taken to the big hill which is to be attacked.” Work on the Court Street project was sublet to Leavitt, Dailey and Crockett of Boston and was expected to take as long as construction of the entire remainder of the railroad.
Despite stormy weather in January, 1892, work progressed quickly. The brook near Court Street was redirected through a newly constructed stone culvert under the proposed railway bed. More exciting for spectators was the arrival of the locomotive to be used in the construction work from Fay & Scott of Dexter, Maine. The locomotive and dump cars “were towed through as freight, the engine being disconnected and driving wheels and piston rod and connecting rods being stowed in the cab.” Given the steep grades on the project, only a short train of cars could be used. The steam shovel arrived next, disassembled on three flat cars. “The machine is very similar to a ‘scoop’ dredge on wheels. Its bucket will hold more than enough to fill an ordinary dump cart, and is armed with enormous teeth.” The shovel was to be assembled and in working order within ten days, and would be put to use immediately as work on the cut was required to be completed by April as the steam shovel was engaged elsewhere after that date. The steam shovel was a marvel to all who came to witness it in operation, beginning the first week of February. Each shovel equated to 48 cubic yards of earth and a mere two loads were enough to fill the Old Colony dump cars in use on the project while the other dump cars were able to accommodate three to four loads.
While the shovel worked admirably, the locomotive (known as “Old Sarah”) proved troublesome. A hole in the boiler allowed water to leak into the fire box, and repairs were required before it was found that it could not be used. Subsequently, a second locomotive, “No. 17, D, of the Old Colony road” was requisitioned and was put to use in mid February. The performance of even this engine was erratic. “Although a much more powerful machine it is only capable of handling four dump cars on the Court Street grade, backing down ahead of them and pushing them up. It gets stalled occasionally on the return with the empties, having to start at the foot of the grade with its load all uphill before it. The machine also has derailed a number of times on account of being too long for the curves, and a shorter switching engine is to take its place.” Additionally, six of the 19 dump cars were received damaged and had to be repaired on site.
The Court Street operation seemed continually plagued by problems with either the locomotive or the dumpcars. On the morning of March 10, a collision of dump cars halted work for six hours, “which was the worst feature of the case.”
On Thursday morning just after Engineer James Henry started up the Court Street grade on the P. & M. R. R. with six empty dump cars – his first trip of the day – a collision occurred which put an end to operations for the forenoon. Five loaded dump cars were at the head of the cut, and as the fifth was let down against the others it started the chocks beneath the wheels, and the four cars with about five tons of earth apiece on board started down the declivity. Just as the locomotive pushed the empties to the top of the grade in the first cut, John Lynch, brakeman, saw the runaways charging down on him, and jumped, landing in a snow bank where he stuck waist deep. Engineer Henry couldn’t see the cars, but knew something was wrong and reversed his machine before he got a view of the flying dumps. A couple of seconds later the cars struck the ascending train, and the empty dump cars reared up into a monument of iron and wood. The shock to the locomotive was very slight, so that Fireman T. Holsgrove really knew nothing of the smash until he saw the cars piling up. Five of the cars were damaged, sills broken, draw heads and bunters broken off, and trucks more or less the worse for the incident. [Old Colony Memorial, “Collision of Dump Cars”, March 12, 1892, p. 4]
By mid-March, half of the length of the cut had been traversed by the steam shovel, though “more than half of the material to be removed, remains ahead”. Initially, the soil was described as easily excavated, “being like yellow sugar, covered with a little over a foot thick, of frozen earth, which has to be broken up small enough to go through the shovel.” Deeper into the high ground, however, the earth was found to be harder, “mixed with clay and small stones.” In order to hurry the process, work was carried out round the clock, with the excavated earth being used for fill on the east side of Court Street. Through April, the shovel was progressing at the rate of eight feet daily, and new dump cars obtained from the Old Colony Railroad were substituted when those previously in use by the contractors were sent to a job elsewhere.
Not all the excavation work was mechanized. The initial smaller cut was made by laborers working on either side of the hill who created an initial cut which the steam shovel would deepen. In April, as the steam shovel inched westwards, a gang of men continued to dig manually eastwards steadily closing the gap between themselves and the steam shovel, three feet of earth separating the two operations. Meanwhile by mid April, much of the fill work had reached completion, and work focused upon filling the meadow to the east of the bridge and a “little hollow” to the west. Throughout the spring, however, the fill deposited in a swamp beyond the cut on the west side of Court Street continued to settle.
In mid-May, only one hundred feet of earth separated the diggers from the steam shovel near Centennial Street, and work was focused upon completing the remainder of the cut as quickly as possible, with “all energies directed to the front.” Excavation, in fact, did move rapidly. “It takes about three and one-half minutes to load a car, attach it to the train, and place an empty car alongside the shovel.” Finally, on the night of Sunday, May 22, the remaining earth in the cut was breached. The steam shovel was immediately disassembled and shipped to Ashland, where it was long overdue.
While this work was being undertaken, construction of the iron bridge over Court Street went on apace. First constructed was the western abutment with excavated earth being dumped towards Court Street to create an embankment. In late February, work on the eastern abutment was begun. By mid-March, the bridge girders had been received and could be seen waiting in the Old Colony track yard at Plymouth. Filling next to the abutments continued through March and April and by early April, the fill level had reached the height of the bridge on the east, while work was continuing on the west side of Court Street.
Strangely, little notice seems to have been given the installation of the iron bridge girders which appear to have been in place by early April at which time the first test of the new layout occurred when an open car on the Plymouth & Kingston Street Railway was run under the bridge in order to determine whether there was sufficient clearance. “The result showed the electrics would just barely squeeze through. The P. & M. Co. will lower the street in accordance with the decree of the County Commissioners, about eight inches, which will better matters. [Superintendent C. E. Barnes of the Plymouth & Kingston] doesn’t want any more lowering done than is absolutely necessary, as it means more power will be needed to climb the grade.” In late April, the bridge was considered complete enough that it was being used by the engine which was transporting earth to the east side of Court Street where it was used to fill the meadows between the street and the Old Colony line.
Construction Commences at Middleborough
Simultaneous with the work at Plymouth, construction was being carried out on the western end of the line at Middleborough. At the time, an unnamed Boston newspaper reported an “unexpected obstacle to the building of the [rail]road” at Middleborough, but the historical record has left no indication what the possible impediment may have been. Most likely it had to do with the existing road layout at Muttock. Regardless, the Old Colony Memorial remained dismissive reporting that “a favorable decision may be expected, for the Middleboro people are quite as much interested as our own, and will allow every reasonable facility, even to the changing of the street in question, so there is no need to borrow trouble on that account.”
At the Middleborough end, the first five mile section of track was sublet for construction and work commenced on January 4, 1892. “Contractor McCarthy sent out fifty men to Middleboro Monday morning, teams having already preceded them, and they struck in with good will.” The work at Middleborough was reportedly overseen by Lyman P. Thomas (1861-1929) of South Middleborough who was employed by the Old Colony and had previously worked as a construction and maintenance engineer with the Sante Fe Railroad.
The initial work at Middleborough involved clearing and grading the route north and eastwards from the Middleborough terminal. The proposal was to keep as large a force as possible engaged upon the project throughout the winter in order to advance the project as rapidly as possible. The largest project at Middleborough involved the Nemasket River which was to be crossed by a 180 foot long wooden pile bridge to be built by architect Colonel Earl E. Ryder who had a long association with the Old Colony Railroad as designer of many of their stations.
Grading of the roadbed continued throughout the spring and at least one interesting story survives from this operation. The tale which quickly made the rounds of Middleborough followed a rather macabre discovery at the Green when workmen on the railroad
dug up, near the sheds of the old First [Congregational] Church, a lot of old decaying parts of coffins, and the metal mountings and such articles. The find gave rise to suspicions of unholy burials and the speculations grew into wild stories. Investigations showed that the stuff was cleaned out from the old tomb when the bones were removed to new resting places. The sexton dumped the trash where it was found. [Old Colony Memorial, “County and Elsewhere”, April 2, 1892, p. 1]
With work at Plymouth still focused on “the big cut”, the laying of rails began from the Middleborough end of the line with the first rail of the Plymouth & Middleboro being laid on May 2 at 3:40 PM. To compensate Middleborough for the lack of formalities at the start of the project, an appropriate ceremony was held on this occasion with vice president Leavitt T. Robbins of the railroad driving the first spike. “The next was driven by selectmen Joseph T. Beal[s] and Jared Alden, of Middleboro, they being followed by Engineer Rollins, President Thomas D. Shumway, Contractor McCarthy and others.”
The laying of the track was overseen by A. Goss, “an oldtimer of the New York & New England Railroad”, and once more a large force of men was employed to move the project ahead as quickly as possible. Once work on the big cut at Plymouth was completed, rail laying would begin there as well, though the Memorial viewed this as somewhat doubtful in early May given the presence of “a heap of earth about 250 feet long and averaging 22 feet deep to be dug away.”
While Ellsworth C. Braddock of North Carver later related that the rails for the road were produced by the Stanley Iron Works at Bridgewater and Sagamore, and backed down the line from Middleborough, reports at the time of construction indicate that the rails employed were, in fact, old rails furnished by the Old Colony which was then in the process of installing heavier rails on its South Shore division:
…The Old Colony directors have already passed a vote to take up fifteen miles of steel track, substituting heavier rails, and will sell the lighter rails to the P. & M. road with all necessary switches, frogs, spikes, etc., at considerably less than the market rate for new rails. This is very favorable for the P. & M. enterprise, greatly reducing the cost of construction. [Old Colony Memorial, “The Plymouth & Middleboro R. R.”, June 27, 1891, p. 4]
By mid-May, track laying had progressed from the Old Colony line eastwards through Muttock and “passed the depths of ‘Meeting House Swamp’”, reaching nearly to the Green, with the road bed being surfaced with gravel. Meanwhile, work was being done on grading the proposed station sites at the Green, East Middleborough, North Carver and Darby.
Work was also undertaken at the Middleborough railyard in order to create a direct connection between the Plymouth & Middleboro and the Taunton branch. Such an arrangement would facilitate through trains from Plymouth to Providence and New York. An interlocking switch system controlling trains approaching from the north was installed during August, 1892, and would permit “Plymouth & Middleboro trains to be sent safely across the Old Colony track on the way to Taunton and Providence.” No provision, however, was to be made to connect the new railroad directly with the mainline to Boston. Passengers and freight would be required to switch trains at Middleborough.
Another change which was required was the relocation of portions of Plymouth, Precinct and Nemasket Streets. As laid out, the railroad would have crossed Plymouth and Nemasket Streets, creating the need for two separate bridges as the state prohibited at grade crossings on newly-constructed railroads. In order to eliminate this, “portions of Precinct, Plymouth, and Nemasket streets are discontinued, and a new street opened from Precinct to Nemasket streets. This leaves the [Muttock] school to one side, and the building is to be moved to a more accessible location.” One bridge, over what became Plymouth Street was constructed. Similarly, the westernmost end of North Street was shifted to the southwards at its intersection with Everett Street.
Track Laying at Plymouth
With the completion of the big cut at the close of May, 1892, track laying operations were relocated to Plymouth, the line having reached Waterville in Middleborough. A gang of 35 men who had been previously engaged in the work at the Middleborough end arrived at Plymouth to commence operations there at the “end of the construction track in the long cutting” on May 26. “Sleepers and rails are being conveyed by the construction train to that point, and from there distributed along the line, the cars following as fast as the track is completed…. The sleeper gang works nights, and the rail layers days.” Within a week, two and a half miles of track had been placed, and progress advanced so quickly that the last railed was anticipated as being in place by June 28.
An informal ceremony was planned for the laying of the final rail, with officials and stockholders being conveyed to the site by train where the last rail would be placed. Following this, the party would continue on to Mount Carmel station in East Middleborough “where the people of the neighborhood will spread a collation in a grove, and there will be a little jollification.” The final rail, in fact, was delayed until July 1, and was placed about a mile east of Mount Carmel just west of Brook Street. “A working train took the party of about 30 from [Plymouth] on flats on which settees were placed, and a dozen or fifteen more persons were picked up at North Carver.” A party of about 100 individuals took part in the ceremonies which witnessed the ceremonial driving of the last spikes by Nathaniel Morton, president of the Plymouth Commercial Club; John J. Russell, director of the Old Colony Railroad; Fred Austin Ward, chairman of the Carver Board of Selectmen; Captain Albert T. Savery, chairman of the Middleborough Board of Selectmen; and Charles S. Davis, chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen. Following a brief address by Reverend Ernest W. Shurtleff, pastor of the Pilgrimage Congregational Church of Plymouth, president Shumway stepped forward to drive the final spike whereafter three cheers “were given with hearty good will.” Following the ceremony, the train continued through to Middleborough arriving at 4:40 PM, the first passenger train to arrive in town along the new line.
Following this, ballasting and leveling of the road would need to occur, as well as an inspection by both the Railroad Commissioners and the Old Colony Railroad, before the railroad could be opened. Throughout August, “quite a force” was engaged in ballasting, “and a gang of experienced ‘tampers,’ from the Old Colony is smoothing up and putting things in readiness.” On October 11, “railroad commissioners Dale and Stevens and engineer Swain, President Charles F. Choate [of the Old Colony Railroad], Master of transportation Sanborn, Division Superintendent E. G. Allen, Division Master E. H. Bryant, Master Mechanic Willis, and other Old Colony Railroad officials; together with President T. D. Shumway, Director N. Morton, and others of the Plymouth & Middleboro R. R. Co., started from [Plymouth] about 10.15 A. M. to view the last named railroad corporation’s tracks.” Though the day had begun unpropitiously when the special train which carried the officials from Boston struck and killed a pair of horses at Harrison Square, the remainder of the day came off without a hitch. A thorough examination of the track, road bed and switches was made following which “a nice lunch” was enjoyed at the North Carver station, served by D. H. Maynard of the Samoset House of Plymouth.
To construct the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, a large force of manual laborers were required and many Italian and Irish immigrants from Boston were hired for the task. To house them, shanties were to be erected along the course of the line, as well as shelters for the work horses involved. One large camp was established near Tinkham’s Bottom at Plymouth and as it consisted mostly of Italians, it came to be known as “Little Italy”. “A large stable of tight boards accommodates the horses, and an equally large barracks is the living and sleeping room of the men, some seventy in number. One bright eyed son of Italy informed the reporter they lived on macaroni, beans and beer; and they appear to be a well-behaved, polite set.”
Ellsworth C. Braddock of North Carver later recalled that local labor was employed in the construction of the road as well:
My father, grandfather, John Parker, and many others in [Carver] worked for these contractors. Their pay was ten cents per hour, and they usually worked ten hours a day. They leveled the hills, filled in the hollows, and put in culverts at Brook Street, Shaw’s Crossing, Lakenham Brook, and at several places in Darby….My grandmother, Mary Braddock, earned extra money by cooking for the railroad workers. She made her own butter and cheese, baked a dozen or more loaves of bread a day, apple pies, and four pots of beans on Saturday, and who knows how many dozens of doughnuts. The men would stop at the house and buy what the wished. She charged ten cents for a loaf of bread, a pie, or a dozen doughnuts. She also sold eggs.
Sometimes eight and sometimes ten.
Work on such projects for the manual laborers could be dangerous, and at least two fatalities were reported during the construction of the line. The first fatality was Daniel McGeary of Boston, who died following an explosion involved with rock blasting at Tinkham’s Bottom at Plymouth. An employee of McCarthy Brothers, McGeary on January 27 was in charge of the blasting. When a charge failed to detonate, McGeary worked to draw the charge when it exploded, “shatter[ing] the rock and horribly mangl[ing] him.” The Old Colony Memorial provided a gruesome account of McGeary’s injuries from which he died, after having been taken to Boston that same afternoon.
On June 3, a second fatality occurred at Middleborough on the siding just south of the Clark & Cole lumber mill on Cambridge Street when an unnamed Italian laborer was killed.
He was sitting upon the edge of an empty dump car of the construction train, which was being backed onto the siding, when, by the sudden stopping of the train, he was thrown backward upon the track between the cars. In the rebound of the train empties, a car passed over his body, near the abdomen. He was terribly injured internally, and died in a few moments. It is said that the unfortunate man had several times been warned of the danger of riding upon the edge of cars, but persisted in spite of all warnings. After Medical Examiner Ellis had viewed the body, it was taken to Soule’s undertaking rooms. [Old Colony Memorial, “County and Elsewhere”, June 4, 1892, p. 4]
In addition to the danger involved in the construction of the road, there was occasionally ethnic friction among the workers. In early February, “a decidedly Donnybrook Fair kind of row” occurred near Parting Ways involving some 60 Italians and 70 Irish laborers. The altercation was later blamed on “a mixture of rum and beer.”
While it was the efforts of these laborers who made the railroad a reality, typically it was the contractors, McCarthy Brothers, who received the greater credit at the time.
McCarthy Bros., the contractors, began work on the P. & M. R. R. Jan. 4, 1892, and have pushed it very energetically since, notwithstanding the severity of the winter and a wet, unpleasant season following, which retarded them….[They] are entitled to much credit, not only for the expeditious manner in which they have accomplished their contract, but for the general fair, honorable, gentlemanly dealing with employes, and all parties with whom they have had business transactions. [Old Colony Memorial, “The Last Rail.”, July 2, 1892, p. 4]
Completion and Celebration
The festivities at the final rail laying on July 1 were deliberately kept low key in order not to detract from the final celebration to be held at the railroad’s opening. Planning meetings were held through the summer with a meeting at North Carver on August 9 to finalize much of the program. The highlight of the day for most was expected to be rides along the new road, and officials urged the Old Colony to run low fare trains throughout the day. Plymoutheans anticipated the arrival of large numbers of tourists, and the Memorial assured readers that “our hotel people, restaurants and the Columbus Pavilion at the Beach will provide for their necessities.” The Middleborough and Plymouth Bands were to be on hand, and the evening was to be capped by a concert and ball “at the fine large Town Hall which Middleborough possesses.”
The proposed opening date for the railroad (and with it the date of a formal celebration), however, was continually pushed back from September 1 to October 17 to November 14 and finally to December 1. A delay in furnishing the completed stations in Middleborough still further postponed the opening of the railroad beyond December 1. Finally, on Monday, December 5, the railroad was opened for business by the Old Colony Railroad which four days earlier had officially leased the Plymouth & Middleboro for a term of 99 years in accordance with its earlier agreement.
…There was no oration, no ceremony, no parade, no band, nothing except a very glad party and a business-like way of running things generally. On Monday morning at 8.45 o’clock engineer E. Mellen and fireman J. Mitchell started their coal fed iron steed from the Old Colony station here, with a smoker and two passenger coaches attached in charge of conductor E. E. Perry, baggage-master W. Snow, and brakeman J. McNaught. The train was numbered 594 and had 159 passengers from [Plymouth], all bound for a first trip over the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad on the occasion of its being opened to public travel.
The first through ticket was sold to Thomas Jackson, who retains it as a souvenir.
Cheers from a crowd collected on Court Street greeted the train as it passed the big iron bridge, and then the cars rattled merrily along the rails, running very smoothly for a new road, until the brakes went on six miles out at Darby. At the little station, Caleb T. Robbins and Nathaniel Clark accompanied by Miss Orrie Clark, the station agent, got on board. A crowd of about 75 people were at North Carver most of them jammed into the cars, some finding seats while the rest had to stand. Some facetious man in the party called “Hack! Hack!” just as the train stopped, and had the distinction of having installed North Carver into that city custom. Selectman Albert T. Savery of Middleboro joined the party at Mount Carmel, and at Putnam four more passengers were picked up. The train ran across Nemasket bridge and wound around the long curve, through the old Indian village of Muttock and soon reached the main line of the Old Colony. As it rolled past the Middleboro factories, cheers and waving hands and handkerchiefs greeted it and, a moment later Middleboro station was reached. [Old Colony Memorial, “Our First Railroad”, December 10, 1892, p. 1]
The train, bound for Providence via Taunton continued on after a short wait. Meanwhile, the first eastbound train on the new road departed Middleborough at 9:38 A. M., in charge of conductor Isaac Grew, with engineer J. Cross and baggage master A. J. Harvey. The train, numbered 591, carried about 90 passengers. Most Middleborough residents were keen to experience the novelty of the new railroad, and between the time the first Plymouth-bound train passed and the second departed Middleborough at 1:38, “50 tickets between Putnam and Mount Carmel were sold.” The Memorial described what passengers that day saw. “Most of the scenery along the road is of scrub oak and pitch pine order of architecture, but here and there are some exquisite bits of scenery, notably Darby Pond, Nemasket River, a lake near North Carver, and the little brook where the last rail was laid.” Perhaps as an inevitable sign of things to come, the freight train on the opening night “was a little late.”
The proposed formal ball to celebrate the opening never occurred. Instead, the Plymouth Commercial Club, on January 4, 1893, hosted its Middleborough counterpart to a ball at Odd Fellows Hall in Plymouth. About 250 attended the evening which consisted of dinner catered by D. H. Maynard of the Samoset Hotel of Plymouth and afterwards dancing to music provided by Damon’s Orchestra. Middleborough returned the favor on March 15, with a similar banquet held at Middleborough Town Hall hosted by the Middleboro Commercial Club and catered by S. S. Bourne of Middleborough, followed by dancing until midnight.
The visitors were impressed and delighted with the beauty of the hall and its tasteful arrangements. It was brilliantly lighted with both gas and electricity. The stage was set with an attractive landscape, and embowered among ferns and potted plants was Carter’s orchestra of eight pieces discoursing most pleasing music. Down one side of the hall cosy tables loaded with refreshments stood; a line of Japanese and silken screens alternating with stands supporting foliage plants and flowers, separating this area from the main floor, the whole effect being extremely attractive. [Old Colony Memorial, “Courteous Middleboro”, March 18, 1893, p. 4]
Passengers, Schedules & Fares
Though flat cars loaded with passengers had passed over the road on July 1, 1892, from Plymouth to Middleborough, the first through passenger train traveled the railway on September 27, carrying about 30 people associated with the Plymouth & Middleboro corporation in a car borrowed from the Old Colony. The train departed Plymouth at 10:07 and reached Middleborough 55 minutes later after stopping at all stations along the route. After meeting in the west room of Middleborough Town Hall and touring the building “in which Middleboro has such just pride”, the committee returned to Plymouth.
The first public passenger trains were inaugurated on the road on December 5, 1892, and the original schedule for the line called for three trains each way daily.
There are to be three trains a day each way, Sundays excepted, all of them running through between Providence and Plymouth, so the people of that city, if they care to do so, can go to Boston by way of Plymouth….The running time between Plymouth and Middleboro, will be thirty-five minutes. Trains leave Plymouth at 8.45, 11.35 A. M., 4.10 P. M., and return from Middleboro at 9.38 A. M., 1.38 and 6.00 P. M. [Old Colony Memorial, “To Middleboro”, December 3, 1892, p. 4].
The passage indicates that proponents may have been over optimistic, particularly thinking that Providence residents would travel to Boston by way of Plymouth, a route which would have added considerable expense and time to their journey.
There were high hopes that residents of the three towns would make use of the passenger service provided. Middleborough businesses saw themselves at the center of Plymouth County, while tourist-related operations at Plymouth believed that the new line would facilitate summer traffic in particular. George T. Ryder & Company, a Middleborough dry goods firm, advertised heavily in the Old Colony Memorial in early December, 1892, encouraging Plymouth residents to shop at Middleborough. “Everybody who uses the new route, will want a souvenir of the visit to the railroad centre of our county, and Geo. T. Ryder & Co.’s mammoth stock gives just the opportunity wanted.” On December 13, “bargain” Tuesday at Ryder’s, 74 tickets to Middleborough were sold at Plymouth, “showing that a little enterprise in the right direction will draw business to a live concern.” C. D. Kingman who operated greenhouses at Middleborough similarly advertised in the Memorial the following spring urging Plymouth residents: “Take the new railroad, come and see if we have not got the largest and best stock of bedding plants ever grown in Plymouth County.”
The first week of operation saw some 187 through tickets sold at Plymouth, “besides many for way stations.” Also noteworthy was the purchase of a direct ticket from New York to Darby, “which shows that little hamlet has already been heard of in the great outside world.” By December 28, 659 tickets had been sold: 322 local and 337 through tickets via Middleborough. “People at the intermediate stations, who never before have enjoyed the convenience of a railroad are delighted, and, in proportion to population give their full share of patronage. In one day [during the last week of December], North Carver counted up twenty-seven outward passengers and ten disembarked there.”
Tourists did begin making their way to Plymouth as well. In July, 1893, a Sunday School excursion from Middleborough traveled over the railroad to Plymouth in order to see the historical sites and to enjoy a harbor sail aboard the Stamford around the Gurnet and a scenic ride along the electric street railway from the Hotel Pilgrim to Kingston. “…We hope … our Middleboro friends will have a most delightful time and be glad that they have assisted in making this short railroad cut from their beautiful home town to the Pilgrim shore. Now that old Nemasket has shown the way wouldn’t it be strange if other towns in Plymouth and Bristol counties followed the example.” The mid-1890s at Plymouth saw a “large number who … crowded the hotels and filled the town all summer, as never before”, a development attributed to the railroad.
In 1900, the schedule was altered. Commencing January 8, 1900, the 9:24 A. M. train from Middleborough was rescheduled to leave at 8:09 A. M., stopping at Putnam’s, 8:16; Mount Carmel, 8:21; North Carver, 8:26; Darby, 8:31 (flag), due Plymouth 8:40 A. M. Additionally, the 4:20 P. M. train from Plymouth was rescheduled to 5:20, stopping at Darby, 5:29 (flag); North Carver, 5:35; Mount Carmel, 5:40; Putnam’s 5:45; due Middleborough at 5:51 P. M. Improvements to the Sunday schedule were made in early spring, much to the pleasure of most riders with a train being added to Providence, departing Middleborough about 10 A. M. “This will allow people so disposed to take in the clambakes down the Providence river, to see a basketball game at Rocky Point, or to enjoy other attractions in that section…. It is not questioned that it will be a decidedly popular train.” This, no doubt, was the special excursion train recalled in later years by Lyman Butler.
Ridership was boosted following October 1, 1906, when a general fare reduction lowered the price of a ticket between Middleborough and Plymouth from 50 to 35 cents. “On the P. & M. branch of the local fares from North Carver will be as follows: Boston, 85 cents; Plymouth, 20 cents; Darby, 10 cents; Mt. Carmel, 5 cents; Nemasket, 10 cents; Middleboro, 15 cents; Brockton, 45 cents; Fall River, 45 cents; Taunton, 35 cents; Providence, 85 cents.”
Yet despite these changes, passenger traffic on the railroad steadily decreased over the course of its history, largely due to the competition represented by the automobile. By 1918, the railroad was running only two passenger trains daily, and one on Sundays. “For Plymouth 8:40 a. m., 6:55 p. m. Sundays 8:40 a. m. Leave Plymouth 7:10 a. m., 5:35 p. m. Sundays 5:35 p. m.” During the summer, the mid-afternoon train was restored.
When it was constructed in 1892, the Plymouth & Middleborough Railroad was intended, primarily for passenger traffic. Despite this initial intention, the line, in fact, was used primarily as a freight line throughout its history, with at least one daily freight train. Amateur Middleborough historian Lyman Butler later recalled of the Plymouth & Middleboro: "At the peak there were three or more cars on the passenger train and real long freights. I used to see freight so heavy that they required two engines." Freight, however, received a slow start on the new road. While through freight for Providence and New York was shipped almost immediately from Plymouth, no freight was loaded during the first week of the railroad’s operation at any of the four way stations. The volume of freight traffic, however, would shortly thereafter increase dramatically.
Freight originating in Middleborough was mostly west-bound freight received from the two way stations at the Green and Waterville. Much of the freight which passed over the line in Middleborough was agriculturally-based, consisting to a large extent of boxboards, cordwood, slabs, boxes, box shooks, cranberries, milk and ducks.
One Middleborough firm making heavy use of the line was Clark & Cole, producer of wooden shipping boxes, including boot and shoe boxes, which operated a steam mill on Cambridge Street in Middleborough, and a second mill at North Carver. In 1893, the company purchased a woodlot on Plymouth Street just west of the Green, but didn't begin making large-scale purchases of wood lots near the rail line until 1905, purchasing twenty-two parcels of land between that year and 1909, the year the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. At its peak, Clark & Cole sawed a million board feet of lumber a year, shipping three railroad cars of boxes to Boston daily, a large proportion of the logs producing these boxes having passed over the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad.
Lumber from other mills, including that of Albert T. Savery at Waterville, made its way over the line, as did finished wood products, as well. Many of these goods originated in the California Mills on Prospect Street in Plympton, just over the Middleborough town line at the foot of Soule Street and were shipped from East Middleborough. From January 1, 1892, the California Mills were operated by Asaph F. Washburn (1845-1935) of East Middleborough, and his son-in-law, Edwin E. Soule (1868-1952) as Washburn & Soule. The firm produced box shooks which were shipped to Malden via Middleborough. The mill also made cedar cranberry barrels, as well as half, third, and quarter barrel cranberry boxes over the course of its existence. The mill survived the railroad by five years only. It burned in 1941, and declining business did not warrant its rebuilding.
Agricultural produce was shipped on the line, principally cranberries from East Middleborough and North Carver, site of one of four screenhouses of the New England Cranberry Sales Company. One of the more unusual agricultural products shipped over the railroad were the thousands of ducks shipped annually from the farm of Charles H. Soule located off Cedar Street in the Soule Neighborhood of East Middleborough. Created on eight acres of land purchased from Horace Soule in 1899, the duck farm produced some 12 to 15,000 ducks annually which were shipped by express from the Mount Carmel station. The late Alberta N. Soule recalled: "After picking, the ducks were placed in large barrels with plenty of ice, and early the following morning they were packed for market. The poultry arrived in Boston for market the morning after it was dressed." Charles Soule abandoned raising ducks about 1916-17, due to a poor market, but later raised turkeys.
To support these operations, grain was hauled over the line “by the carload” to the Mount Carmel station. In 1910, C. P. Washburn, a Middleborough grain dealer and a summer resident of Waterville, purchased a strip of land adjacent to the East Middleborough station with the intention of constructing a grain house and siding. “When this is completed it will prove a decided convenience for those residents of that section who use large quantities of grain.” Although such an operation would have greatly convenienced the East Middleborough poultry raisers, unfortunately it was never built.
Also carried over the line were hoops and staves, presumably for Washburn & Soule, and, in 1896, plumbego, or black lead, mined in Nova Scotia, landed at Plymouth and destined for the Parlor Pride Manufacturing Company in Middleborough, which manufactured stove polish. This latter freight showed the importance of the rail line’s connections with ocean-going vessels.
The heaviest user appears to have been Plymouth itself, not surprising since the railroad provided direct connections with the west and ultimately New York. A drop in freight rates for goods shipped to or received from points west of the Harlem River terminal in New York at the start of 1894 further stimulated business at Plymouth. “The freighting at [Plymouth] is considerable either way, with Boston and New York, and it is quite often the case that two locomotives have to be put on to take the heavy trains up the grades on the Middleboro road as far as North Carver. The yard [at Plymouth] is full all the time of cars, and it is getting to be a problem what can be done to make more room when times get good again.” More humorously, the Old Colony Memorial reported at the time that oysters were able to be dispatched from Wareham within two or three hours to Plymouth by means of the railroad. “By this arrangement we have better oysters than ever before …. Dr. Shumway is entitled to [an oyster] stew at the town’s expense.” The railroad did, however, enable Plymouth residents to receive fresher goods more frequently than by means of the roads.
Plymouth’s ability to substantially weather the economic downturn in the 1890s was also cited as a consequence of the railroad. “The Middleboro Railroad … was a great factor in this prosperity.” One of the heaviest Plymouth users was the Plymouth Cordage Company, the world’s leading producer of rope, which was an early supporter of the project (Cordage company treasurer G. F. Holmes spoke on the “Business Men of Plymouth” at the celebratory banquet on January 4, 1893). In August, 1902, an additional freight train was put in commission on the line in order to accommodate the Cordage Company which had considerable business in the west. The train was to run through via Providence. Frequently, the Cordage Company ran large trains. One such train which passed through Middleborough enroute to Providence and consisted of two engines drawing 36 cars filled with rope.
As early as 1882, the Robinson Iron Works of Plymouth, a manufacturer of nails and nail plate, had supported improved rail connections for Plymouth. At a public railroad meeting held July 29 of that year in Plymouth, James Miller, Treasurer of the iron works, had asserted that “the future growth and increased prosperity of Plymouth largely depends on additional railroad accommodations and new railroad connections.” Demonstrating the value of the new road for the company (which after 1890 produced nail plate only) were the nineteen carloads of iron which passed over the road to the firm’s Plymouth plant on March 23, 1893, “instancing the convenience of this new freighting thoroughfare, to one of [Plymouth’s] large manufacturing concerns. Western bound merchandize gets out that way likewise with considerable more facility than by the old route through Boston.” Other large freighters undoubtedly included the Puritan Mill of the American Woolen Company.
In West Plymouth, Darby later became a busy station with freight, primarily milled lumber and logs from the Clark & Cole mill. “Darby station is a very busy place just now. A great number of logs are being shipped every day,” reported the Memorial in May, 1904. July, 1906, witnessed “as high as 80 bushels of blueberries” being shipped from the station in a single day. Carver, too, saw not inconsiderable freight pass through its small freight house. North Carver, as well, reported heavy freight traffic in spring of 1906, “a double header every day and sometimes three engines being necessary to haul the cars.” Trains drawn by two and three engines were a common sight.
While freight carried on through trains to Taunton, Providence and beyond posed no difficulties, the additional freight carried by the line created additional work and congestion at the Middleborough terminal for freight requiring transfer to Boston-bound trains. Following the turn of the century, considerable congestion was experienced at Middleborough in its freight yard, partially due to the increased volume being shipped to and from Plymouth and Carver. While proposals called for the creation of a new larger freight yard at Depot Grove (the land now occupied by the Middleborough Veterans’ of Foreign Wars Post on the east side of Station Street), the expansion was not warranted when freight receipts began to decline rapidly throughout much of the Old Colony system as the decade progressed.
One freight change also involved the carrying of mail to Eddyville, North Carver, Carver, East Carver and Plympton. At the time of the railroad’s construction, these post offices were serviced by the so-called Star Route either out of Middleborough or Silver Lake. Postmaster Avery recommended that these post offices going forward be supplied by the Plymouth & Middleboro with the post offices at Plymouth and Middleborough being made the distribution points. As the contract for carrying the mails did not expire until July, 1893, no immediate change was anticipated. Additionally, Plymouth benefited by the addition of additional mails being added which would permit “large concerns [there] doing a big Western business to attend to their correspondence and get it off the same afternoon. This is in striking contrast with the three Boston mails which constituted [Plymouth’s] service four years ago.” And although the North Carver station remained quiet throughout much of the day, the inactivity was favorable to the delivery of mail in the community. “All of the mail for the town was delivered on the morning train from Plymouth, and after the mail carrier delivered to the various parts of town, he would bring all of the outgoing mail back to the station to be sent on a train later in the day.” In 1908, a “new [Railway Post Office] main train with messenger” was placed on the Providence-Plymouth line. “This is the first time there has ever been a train of this nature on that road, and it is calculated to facilitate matters considerably.”
Despite the volume of freight on the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, it was not enough to offset the expense of operating the line. Among the reasons for this was that the express rate for freight to Providence from Plymouth was twice that of freight sent via Boston which cost fifty cents per hundred pounds and express goods, not surprisingly, tended to be shipped through Boston. Tellingly, at the hearing before the state Railroad Commissioners in December, 1911, it was remarked that “the road has never earned enough to pay interest on the bond” issue.
Locomotive-spawned fires tended to be seasonal, not appearing before Memorial Day when the woods remained damp. One of the earliest and most serious of these woodland fires along the line of the Plymouth & Middleboro occurred Sunday, July 17, 1892, “north of the first overhead bridge not far from Parting Ways. It ran across the railroad, and made quick time for “Little Italy,” the railroad laborer’s settlement at Tinkham’s Bottom.” Though the fire was extinguished, stong winds rekindled it the following day and ultimately some 2,500 acres were burned, including 1,700 acres of good standing timber. On July 5, 1894, a spark from the 11.25 Middleborough-bound train ignited dry leaves and brush near the home of Andrew Burns near Little Clear Pond in Plymouth. The fire spread rapidly and split into three separate fires which moved south and east in a mile wide front. Eventually the fire was brought under control, though a large tract of good-sized pine standing timber was lost.
Yet another serious woodland fire on May 30, 1900, was touched off by a drifting spark from a passing locomotive, and burned a substantial portion of land immediately east of Putnam station. “It overran dense woods and pasture land for several hours, and the railroad station was only saved by hard work. Grover Bennett had valuable oak and pine standing timber destroyed.” Again, in mid-August, 1900, Putnam station came close to being burned from sparks. The platform was reported as having been “considerably burned.” In early May, 1902, still another fire originated Putnam, this time burning three miles towards Halifax. Clark & Cole lost 500 cords of cut wood and logs, and 700 acres of standing timber for an estimated loss of $5,000. Once more the cause was attributed to drifting sparks. A three-day forest fire was ignited May 5, 1905, “after the east bound freight of the Plymouth and Middleboro Railroad pulled out of Darby.” The same afternoon after the Middleborough freight had passed, a second fire was sighted “along the track west of North Triangle Pond, and southeast of Monk’s Hill.” The combined fires which burned over portions of Plymouth, Kingston, Plympton and Carver, were battled by 1,000 men sent by the N. Y., N. H. & H., as well as the older students of the Carver schools. $75,000 in standing timber was lost. Two additional fires near Darby station started on May 11: one on the south side of the tracks at the station which burned over a few acres towards Little Clear Pond, and a “second blaze started about half way between Darby and the Plympton carriage road bridge.” Although no source was attributed as to the cause of the fire, it was likely drifting sparks from either a locomotive or the earlier fires for which the P & M was responsible.
Because of the enormous liability to itself, the railroad was keen to reduce the number of and damage from fires arising from their locomotives, particularly after 1909 when the Commonwealth made railroads liable not only for any damages resulting from a locomotive-spawned fire but for the costs incurred by communities in extinguishing such fires as well. Spark arrestors were adapted to engines and were ultimately required by state law. In early 1911, the N. Y., N. H. & H. was testing an oil-burning locomotive on the Cape Cod branch. One particular advantage was the elimination of sparks. “There are no sparks to be blamed for setting woodland fires and this alone it is calculated will save the company much money, hitherto paid in damages.” The adoption of these and other practices helped reduce woodland fires along the line between Middleborough and Plymouth throughout the early twentieth century.
Mr. Reed called for a fellow workman at the LeBaron foundry about 5 o’clock, but as the man was not quite ready to leave for their home near Titicut, Mr. Reed drove off again. He made his start for home about 6 o’clcock and went through the mill yard of Clark & Cole, crossing the track there as he often had done in making a short cut. The carriage struck a switch, which frightened the horse and the animal started into a run across the rails. A ground box containing signal wires made him swerve and follow the line of the Plymouth & Middleboro tracks. While the scared horse was scudding over the sleepers the 5.20 p. m. passenger train from [Plymouth], due in Middleboro at 6.09, came along and struck the back of the covered buggy in which Mr. Reed was, smashing the vehicle to match-wood, and killing Mr. Reed instantly. His skull was badly crushed about the back. [Old Colony Memorial, “Former Resident Killed”, February 11, 1893, p. 4]
Frequently, service was delayed due to mechanical problems on the road. In September, 1903, a series of mechanical failures occurred on the road. “The engine on the first outgoing train broke its guide some distance up the road from Plymouth, and reached there under difficulties. A telegram was sent to Boston for another engine, which arrived in time to take the 11:20 train to Middleboro. On the way [there] the second engine broke its rocker arm and had to be laid up, while a third engine was called into service to make the trip to Providence.” Trains were delayed on July 17, 1909, when the engine on the afternoon passenger train broke down just east of North Carver, and did not arrive in Middleborough until 6:30.
A change in the schedule which took effect on May 6, 1918, was the apparent cause of an accident on the line on June 17, 1918, “when engineer B. P. W. Lovell … was badly injured. A switcher was placing the train just arrived at the Plymouth station and had run it up on the Middleboro track, evidently not aware that the train was due 12 minutes earlier. Engineer Lovell was unable to stop his train, as it was on down grade and crashed into the switching engine.”
Equally serious was the derailment of a portion of the Plymouth and Taunton freight between Nemasket and East Middleborough on the night of November 10, 1910. Until the cars could be removed, “the passenger trains to and from Plymouth ran as far as the wreck and the passengers and mail were transferred.” Another derailment occurred on the bridge over the roadway at Muttock on the afternoon of October 25, 1920, when a car loaded with soft coal came off the rails, twisting them badly in the process. “It was fortunate that the car did not topple over the bridge.”
Storms, as well could delay traffic on the road. A severe storm in March, 1912, washed out sections of the track bed and the line was deemed unsafe with the Plymouth trains being rerouted through Whitman and Bridgewater. Winter, too, could also delay trains.
In bad weather the trains were sometimes an hour late. The engineer used to back the train to try to plow through the drifts, or in going through a cut, he would butt the drifts two or three times. There was a plow in front of the engine, and just ahead of the wheels there was a spout through which sand ran down on the rails. [Braddock: 13]
In Middleborough, the pile bridge over the Nemasket River was replaced in spring of 1912 by an 80-foot cement arch bridge. At the time of its replacement, the pile bridge was being “carefully watched … to guard against accidents” as “its years of usefulness [had] nearly passed.” Interestingly, the pile bridge had been cited by some as the reason for the small herring catch that year in Middleborough. Vibrations from passing locomotives transmitted to the river by means of the piles were alleged to have deterred the fish from coming further upstream to spawn. Similar concern was shown towards the structural condition of the bridges at North Carver and in 1915, both the bridge at the North Carver depot and the one below at “Old Gate” [Gate Street] crossing were overhauled, with new girders being installed and the surfaces replanked. Nine years later, the wooden bridge at the North Carver station caught fire in the early evening of July 30, 1924. “A spark from a locomotive in the afternoon evidently lodged on the under structure and started a fire which burned one side of the large stringers …. The wood was as dry as tinder and the fire was burning briskly.” Engine 1 from Middleborough responded and quelled the blaze with no significant damage to the bridge.
The Towns Sell Their Railroad
Encouraging patronage on these competing lines were decisions taken by the management of the New Haven road which failed to take into account local needs. In January, 1922, the schedule of the morning steam train from Plymouth was advanced by fifteen minutes which “made [for] very poor connections with the Boston bound trains and meant a stop at the Middleboro station for nearly an hour” for North Carver residents who traveled to Boston via Middleborough. Following complaints by North Carver residents and through the efforts of Representative Frank E. Barrows of Carver, the railroad altered its schedule to better account for connections with the Boston trains.
Nonetheless, the New Haven Railroad appeared to continue to ignore local needs in the compilation of its timetables throughout the 1920s. Though a representative of the New Haven at the time emphasized the company’s need to curtail train services “because of the general falling off in local travel, due largely to the automobile”, the inconvenient coordination of trains of the Plymouth & Middleboro with other lines frequently compelled riders to find alternative methods of transportation. John J. Fleming, who in September, 1924, corresponded with the New Haven, attempted to bring this matter to the railroad’s attention, specifically citing the case of the Plymouth & Middleboro.
What sense is there in having the train from Plymouth arrive at Middleboro at 9.35 a. m., ten minutes after the departure of the morning Cape train? Perhaps you will be interested in the actual experience last Monday of a Plymouth man, unaware of this humorous lack of connection, who had to wait all day at the Middleboro station so as to take the Cape train at 4.34 p. m. Possibly the fact that on Sundays a Plymouth resident cannot visit Middleboro via your line and return to Plymouth the same day is of no importance to those making up your time table; perhaps it makes little difference in any case – but it does not help the railroad in competing with the automobiles, of which you complain. [Middleboro Gazette, “Further Correspondence on R. R. Time Table”, October 10, 1924, p. 5]
Ridership statistics appeared to bear out Fleming’s point. “By the year 1924, passengers averaged only seven a day, and sometimes there were as few as two.”
At the time Fleming’s futile correspondence, the East Middleborough station had already been closed for five years since March, 1919, and Darby had been a flag station since earlier that spring where passengers wishing to board the train were required to signal it to stop by means of a flag. In a further effort at least to reduce costs, if not improve service, the New Haven replaced the steam cars on the line between Taunton and Plymouth with gasoline-powered cars which began to run on the rails in late 1924. “They are equipped with a baggage compartment and will seat 35 passengers. They are operated by two men and a considerable saving is effected over the steam method of operation.” Lyman Butler remembered: "The trains gradually got smaller until there was just a combination baggage and passenger car. The road bed was neglected; there was not much to spend for maintenance. Even the freights were reduced to two or three cars, sometimes only one and the caboose. The last I saw was a small engine, a 2-4-0, and a caboose."
The Old Colony Railroad and its lessee, the New Haven Railroad, were confronted with plummeting freight revenues and dwindling passengers throughout the post-World War I period. The Old Colony estimated that it was being operated along with its leased line, the Boston & Providence Railroad, at a $2.5 million annual loss which it found “entirely chargeable to the unprofitable suburban passenger service.” In order to bring financial order to its chaotic operations, the Old Colony took the step of drastically reduced services, closing stations and entire lines altogether. Among them was the Plymouth & Middleboro where passenger service was discontinued in 1930 and freight service six years later in 1936.
Later, when Route 44 between the Middleborough Rotary and North Carver was constructed, it was built within the Plymouth & Middleborough’s former right of way for much of its route. Little consequently remains of the railroad west of what is now North Main Street in Carver. East of the former North Carver station, however, a considerable portion of the railroad bed remains for a considerable distance beyond Darby Pond, and its course is readily discernible on aerial photographs of the region.
Also keeping alive the memory of the Plymouth & Middleboro are the reminiscences of older residents, some of which have been left on record for posterity. Following is an excerpt of an undated letter from Arthur Robidoux of Middleborough to Charlie Conrad recounting his memories of the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad.
I remember those happy days in Charlie Conrad’s sandbox and yes, we could hear the train whistles from the old Middleboro-Plymouth rail line. I recall seeing the Plymouth passenger train standing near the canopy of the Middleboro depot in the 1920s. Later that steam train was replaced by a motor car or bus, my father said, and ran awhile on that Middleboro-Plymouth line until it was replaced by a road bus, Miss New England, that ran from Middleboro to Plymouth along [Plympton and Plymouth Streets]. A fellow named Guertin operated the motor bus and it was running for some time. A later replacement was the Interstate Bus out of Taunton to Plymouth ….
There were two railroad stations in Middleboro on the Middleboro-Plymouth line: Nemasket at Middleboro Green, and one in East Middleboro…. I don’t recall the date but you and I were wandering down the railroad track near Muttock one day when a short steam driven freight train crept up behind us. Wisely we let it pass. I think our jaunt took us as far south as the depot at Middleboro Green which we entered – the door being open – and found some express tickets on the floor. The place was bare and was later torn down or removed. This was after passenger service was discontinued and you lived up near Maddigans’ As I say, I don’t recall the date but that was the last train I saw on that line. [John D. Rockwell papers, copies in author’s possession]
“Map of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Cape Cod Division – Old Colony System,”, detail, (Boston: Rand Avery Supply Co., 1896).
The Nemasket, Mount Carmel and North Carver Stations appear to have been identical with a distinctive deep-eaved roof, the generous overhang of which provided shelter above the station platform. Facing the tracks at each station was a bay window.
Mount Carmel (East Middleborough) Station, Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad at Carmel Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1920.
Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad Construction Crew, photograph, 1892, from Ellsworth C. Braddock, Memories of North Carver Village (Marion, MA: Channing Books, 1977), p. 11.
North Carver Freight House, Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad at High Street, Carver, MA, photograph, c. 1910.
USGS Map, Plymouth Quadrangle, detail showing Plymouth location of Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, 1939.
Unlike the other three way stations along the line, Darby station appears to have combined the passenger station and freight house in a single building. Of the stations along the line, Darby was situated in the least populated area, and accordingly little passenger traffic was anticipated when the line was built. Much heavier receipts were received for the freight shipped through the small building, particularly after the Middleborough lumber milling concern of Clark & Cole located a mill nearby.
Bradbury, L. Joseph. Old Colony Club 1769: A Biographical Journal of Its Past Presidents. Plymouth, MA: Old Colony Club, 1984.
Braddock, Ellsworth C. Memories of North Carver Village. Marion, MA: Channing Books, 1977.
Butler, Lyman, “An Unfinished Millstone”, The Middleborough Antiquarian, 5:2, April, 1963.
History of the Old Colony Railroad. Boston, MA: Hager & Handy, 1893.
John D. Rockwell papers, copies in author’s possession
“Memorandum Containing Basic Information Regarding Reasons for Contemplated Changes in Passenger Service”, Old Colony Railroad, January 15, 1938
Middleboro Gazette, “Plymouth and Middleboro Rail Road”, January 5, 1867, p. 2; “Notice to Passengers”, January 12, 1900; August 8, 1902; May 5, 1905; December 1, 1905; April 27, 1906; May 18, 1906; June 15, 1906; August 3, 1906; September 14, 1906; September 21, 1906; June 26, 1908; July 23, 1909; November 12, 1909; May 27, 1910; November 11, 1910; February 10, 1911; August 4, 1911; December 22, 1911; March 22, 1912; April 12, 1912; June 25, 1915; May 10, 1918; June 21, 1918; March 28, 1919; August 6, 1920; October 29, 1920; January 27, 1922; April 28, 1922; June 2, 1922; August 1, 1924; “Further Correspondence on R. R. Time Table”, October 10, 1924, p. 5; November 28, 1924;
Old Colony Memorial, “Railroad from Plymouth to Middleboro’”, September 22, 1870; July 13, 1882, p. 4; “The Railroad Meeting”, August 3, 1882; “That New Railroad”, August 10, 1882, p. 1; August 17, 1882, p. 4; “The New Railroad”, August 24, 1882, p. 4; “The Railroad Enterprise”, August 31, 1882, p. 1; March 8, 1899; “Plymouth and Middleboro Railroad”, May 30, 1889, p. 4; January 25, 1890; “Middleboro Railroad”, March 29, 1890, p. 4; “The Plymouth & Middleboro R. R.”, June 27, 1891, p. 4; September 19, 1891; “Complimentary to Dr. Shumway”, “Railroad Beginning”, and “Second Call”, January 2, 1892, p. 4; “All About the Railroad”, January 9, 1892, p. 4; “The Railroad’s Growth” and “Compliments of the Commercial Club”, January 16, 1892, pp. 4, 5; “Fatal Explosion”, January 30, 1892, p. 4; “Railroad Building”, February 6, 1892, p. 4; “P. & M. R. R. Meeting”, February 13, 1892, p. 4; “Hardly So”, February 20, 1892, p. 4; “The Stations Named”, February 27, 1892, p. 4; “On the P. & M.”, February 27, 1892, p. 4; “Work on the P. & M. R. R.”, March 12, 1892, p. 4; “County and Elsewhere”, April 2, 1892, p.1; “Plymouth & Middleboro”, April 9, 1892, p. 4; “Railroad Progress”, April 23, 1892, p. 4; “County Commissioners Meeting”, May 7, 1892, p. 1; “Track Laying”. May 7, 1892, p. 4; “Plymouth & Middleboro R. R.”, May 19, 1892, p. 4; “On the P. & M. R. R.”, May 21, 1892, p. 4; “A Hole in the Ground”, May 28, 1892, p. 4; “County and Elsewhere”, June 4, 1892, p. 4; “Lengthening Out”, June 4, 1892, p. 4; June 11, 1892, p. 4; “The Last Rail”, June 25, 1892, p. 4; “The Last Rail”, July 2, 1892, p. 4; “Forest Fire”, July 23, 1892, p. 4; “The Forest Fire”, July 30, 1892, p. 4; “Getting Towards the End”, August 6, 1892, p. 4; August 13, 1892, p. 1; “The Railroad Celebration”, August 13, 1892, p. 4; “Commissioners Meeting”, September 17, 1892, p. 5; “The First Passenger Train”, October 1, 1892, p. 4; “Can’t Say Just When”, October 8, 1892, p. 4; “Inspected the P. & M.”, October 15, 1892, p. 4; “The Railroad Opening”, November 5, 1892, p. 4; “To Middleboro”, December 3, 1892, p. 4; “Our New Railroad”, December 10, 1892, p. 1; Ryder Co. advertisement, December 10, 1892, p. 5; “Business on the P. & M. R. R.”, December 17, 1892, p. 4; “Post Office Inspection”, December 17, 1892, p. 4; “People Use It”, December 31, 1892, p. 4; “A New Pilgrimage”, January 7, 1893, p. 4; January 14, 1893, p. 4; “Former Resident Killed” and “How the P. & M. R. R. Helps Us”, February 11, 1893, p. 4; “Courteous Middleboro”, March 18, 1893, p. 4; “P. & M. Freight”, March 25, 1893, p. 4; Kingman advertisement, May 6, 1893, p. 8; “A Pleasant Excursion”, July 8, 1893, p. 4; “Plymouth Freighting”, February 10, 1894, p. 4; “Railroad Better than Highway”, February 17, 1894, p. 4; “A Forest Fire”, July 7, 1894, p. 5; “A Good Meeting”, October 6, 1894, p. 4; November 14, 1896; “More Track Room” and “Why Is It?”, August 12, 1899, p. 4; “Station Improvements”, August 26, 1899, p. 4; June 2, 1900, p. 3; “News Notes”, August 18, 1900, p. 3; “News Notes”, November 2, 1901, p. 3; “News Notes”, February 1, 1902, p. 3; “News Notes”, may 10, 1902, p. 3; “Darby”, May 21, 1904, p. 3; “Two Forest Fires”, May 6, 1905, p. 5; “Woods Burned”, May 13, 1905, p. 1
Plymouth Illustrated: 1893. A Tour of Plymouth As It Was long Ago. Plymouth, MA: The Old Colony Club, 1993.
Pratt, Ernest S., “Old Sawmills of Middleboro as I Remember Them”, The Middleborough Antiquarian, 5:4, November, 1963.
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Vol. II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.
Shaw, Constance Jenney and Amy B. Sheperdson. Images of America: Carver. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Soule, Alberta N., “Valley Farm – Soule Neighborhood”, The Middleborough Antiquarian, 5:3, June, 1963.
Washburn, Charles M., “Waterville and the Plymouth and Middleborough Railroad”, The Middleborough Antiquarian, 4:4, November, 1962.