Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Maynard's Transportation History - Part 1

Kerosene street lamp, circa 1900. Courtesy of
Maynard Historical Society. Click to enlarge.
For people afoot, starting 1878, the Town of Maynard decided to providing lights for the thoroughfares of this new town. Amory Maynard was on the committee. The result was 25, six-foot tall, kerosene-fueled street lamps installed on downtown streets. By 1891, railing against darkness encompassed 74 lamps, lit sunset to midnight. (Anyone out past midnight was expected to have their own kerosene lamp.) A few businesses supplemented street lights with their own far more luminous gaslights.

In 1902, the Town of Maynard signed a contract with the American Woolen Company to provide power for 92 electric lights. Circa 1931, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston began supplying power, there having been contentious debate that the woolen company was charging more than market rates for its monopoly. Today, Maynard’s several thousand street lights are light emitting diodes, with the exception of early 20th century style ‘historic’ fixtures in downtown locations.

Horse count by year (light tint line)
Maynard’s Annual Town Reports included Assessors’ Reports which until 1933 included a horse tally. The maximum was reached in 1899 at 256 horses. Businesses moved goods about town by horse-drawn wagons. A wealthy family of this pre-car era might have a carriage house on the property and keep a horse on site, or board a horse at a livery stable in town. The site of the Fine Arts Theatre was once a livery stable. Larger operations such as Parmenter Farm on the north edge of town were caring for dozens of horses for various businesses. Maynard was also home to a number of urban barns. These were not remnants of working farms, but rather one-horse barns for people who carted goods about town or to and from the railroad.

Unlike cars, horses are not inert until needed. Horses consume 15-20 pounds of pasture grass or hay daily, and 10-20 gallons of water. What goes in comes out, so stalls needed to be mucked out daily, and new hay added for bedding. Grooming took time, as did ensuring horses got some exercise. Getting a horse into harness was much more time consuming than pushing the start button on a modern-day vehicle. The horse population gradually declined. By 1919 there were only 123 horses, then fewer than 20 when the count stopped in 1933. A few remained. Peter Grigas reminisced about how well into the 1950s he and his friends rode their family-owned horses from Maynard to Lake Boon on summer days, stopping at Erikson’s Ice Cream on the way back.

Steam engine trains, initially wood-fueled, then coal, reached Assabet Village in 1850. According to the centennial history book, Amory Maynard was a prime mover in getting the right-of-way secured, and as a reward, was given a lifetime pass. The first train ran July 1850. At that time the tracks extended only as far as north Marlborough – which became Hudson in 1866 – but were later extended to the center of Marlborough, a distance of 12.4 miles from South Acton, in 1855. Most of the traffic was freight, but it was possible to take a passenger train from the center of Assabet Village all the way to Boston, or detrain at South Acton to board a train heading west.

Railroad bridge over the Assabet River (1850-1979). There was
a smaller bridge underneath for carting coal. Location
is the site of the current Rail Trail bridge (2018)
Over the decades, there were a few minor accidents and two major ones. November 26, 1905, the local-stop passenger train from Boston to Marlborough left Boston at 7:16 p.m. The Montreal Express left the station 30 minutes later. There was fog. In Lincoln, near the bridge over the Sudbury River, the Express smashed into the rear of the local, killing 17 (9 from Maynard) and seriously injuring 25-30 others. Fault was attributed to the engineer of the Express, who had only recently been promoted from fireman. The flagman at the rear of the local, knowing it was running late, had dropped flares on the tracks so as to warn the following train, but the engineer had not sufficiently slowed the Express. The other accident was a derailment in Maynard, on Easter Sunday, 1911. Several people suffered minor injuries.

Train service declined in the twentieth century. Passenger service west of Maynard ceased in 1939; for Maynard the last passenger train was May 16, 1958. Freight service ceased about ten years later, bringing nearly 120 years of railroad to an end. In 1979, Mass Transit turned the right-of-way over to the towns, which in turn sold pieces to individuals and businesses. A vision of converting the abandoned tracks to a paved rail trail began in 1992. The five towns voted to approve the trail in 1998. The southwest end – Marlborough and of Hudson, 5.6 miles – was paved circa 2006. The north end – Acton and Maynard, 3.4 miles – was paved in 2018. The middle may never be completed, as some owners refuse to sell the land or permit passage.

Maynard bicycle club 1896
The “Golden Age” for bicycles was the 1890s – after invention of the air-filled tire and before cars and motorcycles. John Dunlop, a veterinary surgeon, experimented with putting air-pressurized rubber tubing inside a rubber tire. He patented the concept in 1888. By 1892, he was a millionaire, and the people of the United States were on their way to having ten million bicycles – for only 75 million people. Women took to wearing bloomers. There were demands for asphalt-paved roads. Bicycle racing and bicycle clubs were everywhere. Circa 1896, Maynard had a cycling club that favored the high-wheeler design – a large wheel directly powered by pedals, with a frame arching back to a small trailing wheel – over what came to be known as the ‘safety’ design, with its wheels the same size, a chain-drive to the rear wheel; and better brakes. A 1900 photo in the Maynard Historical Society collection is a group photo featuring the Priest brothers and their three-seater ‘safety’ bicycle.

Today, the fastest growing market segment is electronic/hybrid, i.e., combining battery power and pedaling. Usages are commuting, urban delivery (food and other), and recreational. Upsides include low operational cost. Downsides include safety and weather. Maynard and neighboring towns have implemented plans to promote safer sharing of roads. The towns also have miles of woodland trails suitable for mountain bike exploration.  

This is Transportation, Part 1. Trolleys to airplanes will be in Part 2. Some content in this column is in Maynard’s newest history book: MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS – A Brief History (2020), which can be purchased at 6 Bridges Gallery, 77 Main Street, for $21.99.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your presentation on 11/23/21, and I appreciate being able to read about it again. Thank you!