Monday, April 3, 2023

On Display at the State Library

This month, we’re sharing a 19th century broadside from our collection that pertains to track work and commuting to and from Boston - a topic that continues to dominate local news today! Commuters taking the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in and out of the city are currently experiencing a slower ride because of “slow zones” and track inspections on most of its lines. In track news of a different sort, in 1888, residents in Quincy were notified that they might soon find it easier to get into the city - the item we’re sharing is a notice that was issued calling for a Quincy town meeting to hear proposals for the laying of tracks and use of motive power of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company. 

Much like how the MBTA currently holds public meetings, on January 17, 1888 a notice was issued by the Selectmen of Quincy to inform the general public of an upcoming town hall meeting to discuss the petition of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company for the construction of a track from Neponset Bridge to the intersection of Hancock and Squantum Streets. At the town meeting, they were also scheduled to hear about the petition of the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company to use motive power (i.e. powered by water or steam) on its tracks as authorized by the General Laws of the Commonwealth. Readers familiar with Quincy will recognize many of the street names listed on the notice: Hancock Street, Granite Street, and Willard Street, to name a few. 

But does this proposed track relate at all to the current MBTA track? The short answer is yes, the Quincy and Boston Street Railway Company is an early relative of today’s MBTA. In 1900, it was sold to the Brockton Street Railway Company, whose name was changed to the Old Colony Street Railway Company in 1901 - this is not to be confused with the Old Colony Railroad, which was a major railroad system in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Old Colony Street Railway Company then merged with the Boston and Northern Street Railway Company and formed the Bay State Street Railway Company, which operated in Boston and as far north as New Hampshire and as far south as Rhode Island. In 1919, Bay State was absorbed into the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, which was then acquired by the MBTA in 1968. In the eighty years that passed from the issuance of this notice to the MBTA acquisition, these tracks changed ownership a number of times. 

Visit us through April 25 to see this notice on display in our main reading room. And if you attend a public MBTA meeting now, you can rest assured in the knowledge the Boston area residents have been contending with public transportation for quite some time! You can also keep up to date on all things MBTA by checking out the resources in our digital repository. Here you’ll find copies of annual reports, “week in reviews and lookaheads” for each subway line, and more.  

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian