Lonesome train on a lonesome track

Train crossing the Jones River, no date
Train crossing the Jones River, no date

Without a date, it’s hard to know if this train belonged to the Old Colony Rail Road, or the Old Colony and Fall River, or the Old Colony and Newport (you can imagine that Fall River was a little peeved when that happened), or the New York, New Haven and Hartford, or some other corporate conglomerate name for the railroad that ran through Kingston starting in 1845.  It is the bridge that crosses the Jones River, so it is at least fixed in place.

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Howland’s Lane Bridge

Two years ago, we noted that the wooden planks in the Howland’s Lane bridge over the railroad tracks needed to be replaced, an  issue had been under discussion for a decade.  The bridge, built in the 1870s and renovated during the 1930s, is now closed for repairs.  Rocky Nook’s primary water main, carried over the tracks underneath the bridge, will also be upgraded. See here and here for details.

Here are few early images of the bridge and the surrounding area.

How peaceful is this setting in the fields. One can hardly imagine the many trains that now go to steadily stream to and from Plymouth each day.

The Standish monument already stood across the Bay, but other familiar elements were missing.  Howland’s Lane was not yet unpaved. No water line crossed the bridge. No one lived in Rocky Nook. Gray’s Beach Park was still a marshy, rocky shore.  Shade trees stood few and far between.  It’s easy to imagine old Joshua Delano walking along the tracks, travelling from his warehouse at the wharf now named for him  to his home on Main Street for his mid-day meal.

New exhibit: I hear that train a-coming…

For more about Old Colony Railroad, check out the Local History Room’s exhibit case.

The Engine <i>Mayflower</i>, no date
The Engine Mayflower, no date

At one of their earliest meetings, the Directors of the Old Colony Railroad  voted to give the engines historical names related to Plymouth. The “Mayflower” along with the “Miles Standish” pulled the very first trainload of dignitaries officials on the railroad’s inaugural excursion on November 8, 1845.

Train tickets

The purple trains that stop in Kingston along the Old Colony line to connect commuters to the larger regional rail system have a long and interesting history.

The Massachusetts Legislature chartered the Old Colony Railroad on March 16, 1844. John Sever of Kingston was elected the new company’s first President.  Just a year and a half later, on November 8, 1845, the first ceremonial train loaded with company officials and invited dignitaries traveled the 37 miles from South Boston to Plymouth. And over the next 50 years, the Old Colony line expanded to cover much of eastern Massachusetts by building branch lines, leasing existing routes and merging with other railroads.

For example, in 1854, the Old Colony consolidated with the Fall River Railroad.

Old Colony & Fall River Railroad "Free Ticket" 1855
Old Colony & Fall River Railroad "Free Ticket" 1855

In 1855, the President of the Old Colony & Fall River Railroad Company, Kingstonian Alexander Holmes, issued this pass to his “Wood Agent” and fellow Kingstonian George Adams. Mr. Holmes had secured the services of Mr. Adams in May of 1850, and charged the company $20 for doing so as his debit account shows.

Old Colony & Newport Railroad Co. to Alexander Holmes, 1850-54
Old Colony & Newport Railroad Co. to Alexander Holmes, 1850-54

The Old Colony & Fall River had become the Old Colony & Newport in 1866 (the full accounting extends to that year, the last of Mr. Holmes presidency).  The company reverted to its original corporate name in 1872 after absorbing the Cape Cod Railroad. By 1892, the Old Colony Railroad stretched from Provincetown to Providence, west to Worcester, north to Fitchburg, over to Lowell and back down to Boston.

Kingston’s “local” line exemplifies the growth and consolidation of the railroad industry through the 19th century.  Small lines incorporated, then grew and combined into ever-larger conglomerates.  In 1893, the Old Colony’s Providence Division caught the eye of the mighty New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad — known as the New Haven — as a direct connection to Boston.  Rather than lease this important component to its larger neighbor, the Old Colony leased itself as a whole and was subsumed.  The New Haven continued to expand, eventually taking over not only most of the railroads in the northeast, but trolley lines and steamships as well

In 1935, decades of aggressive purchases and accumulated debt lead  the New Haven to bankruptcy (for the first time).

N.Y., N.H. & H. R.R. Co. Commuter ticket book, 1935
N.Y., N.H. & H. R.R. Co. Commuter ticket book, 1935

The Old Colony line still carried passengers, as shown by Kingstonian Helen Foster’s ticket book. The commercial artist commuted to her studio on Park Street in Boston by train until 1946, when she shifted her workplace back to Kingston. In 1947, the New Haven emerged from receivership. Despite some success in the early 1950s, overwhelming debt combined with the growing interstate system led the New Haven to discontinue service on the Old Colony line in 1959. The New Haven limped on to 1961, when it declared bankruptcy again; in 1969 it became part of the gargantuan Penn Central, which itself failed three years later, marking the final collapse of the railroad behemoths that had dominated the country for a century.

In Massachusetts, regionalism saved the rails.  In 1964 the MBTA was formed and the next year, it laid claim to the New Haven’s tracks in and around Boston.  Over the next four decades, purple trains began to appear along the commuter rail system.  In 1997, the Old Colony line once again ran through Kingston.

The Railroad Bridge over Howland’s Lane

The Railroad Bridge over Howland’s Lane

Mr. Isaac Hedges, shown in this snapshot and identified on the back by Emily Drew, was one of the incorporators and later one of the directors of the Old Colony Railroad, as reported in the Nov. 7, 1919 issue of the Old Colony Memorial.  This particular photograph is undated, but it was likely taken in the 1870’s, or perhaps even earlier.

Isaac Hedge at the Howlands Lane railroad bridge, no date.
Isaac Hedge at the Howland’s Lane railroad bridge, no date.

The first run on the Boston-Plymouth line was Nov. 10, 1845; there would be two runs that day. By 1849, there were 15 locomotives, 4 baggage cars, 158 freight cars and 4 snowplows busy along the South Shore. The line has been running since, with only a few years of disuse.

We don’t know when the Howland’s Lane bridge over the tracks was built, but in 1998, the Patriot-Ledger reported it standing for at least 60 years.  In 1999, it was to be rebuilt — made higher to accomodate the double-decker passenger cars on the current commuter service — but area residents thought this would make the neighborhood unmanageable and the project was not done.  In 2008, however, the wooden planks that will be repaired.

Here’s another early but still undated view of an unpaved Howland’s Lane, looking towards Main Street. The buildings at right are no longer standing; the house at left is 59 Main Street.

Howlands Lane, Rocky Nook, no date.
Howland’s Lane, Rocky Nook, no date.