A projected Medford railroad.
MR. Brooks, in his history of Medford, devoted but sixty lines to the subject of railroads, carefully tucked away in the chapter on roads or highways, and mentioned three corporations. These were the Boston and Lowell, Medford Branch and Stoneham Branch. The success attending the building of the Medford Branch, chartered in 1845, caused Stoneham people to attempt the latter enterprise. They obtained their first charter April 27, 1847, as an extension of the Medford Branch, with the proviso that organization and location be made within one year, and construction within three years. So little was done, however, that on April 21, 1848, the general court extended the time of location to April 23, 1849. As the conditions were not met, this charter lapsed, and on May 15, 1852, a second charter was granted. Mr. Brooks names Thaddeus Richardson, Amasa Farrar and William Young as corporators. Mr. Farrar was a [p. 91] civil engineer and probably surveyed the route the road was to take. By the charter provision it could connect with either the Medford Branch or the Boston and Lowell. To either of these roads the new could sell, the purchasing road increasing its capital stock therefor. The charter named the capital stock of the new road as $100,000, and forbade beginning the construction till one-fifth of that sum had been paid in. On May 13, 1852, the time was extended to May 1, 1853, and on April 29, 1853, a further extension of three months was granted. The work of construction began. Mr. Brooks records, ‘It was graded from Stoneham into the bounds of Medford, when its construction was suddenly stopped.’ After sixty years have elapsed it is of interest to trace its course in Medford as far as may be seen, and incidentally to think what the development of Medford territory might have been had the railroad been built. Twenty years before, Purchase (now Winthrop) street was built from the old Woburn road, just north of Whitmore Brook, in a comparatively straight course to the angle of old High street now called Winthrop Square. This formed a shorter and more level route from Medford's adjoining town of Woburn, and led to the building (across Meeting-house Brook and the marsh) of Winthrop street, where were the ‘upper ship-yards.’ In the fifteen years since the Boston and Lowell railroad was built, rapid strides had been made in engineering, and this new road was to overcome as much elevation in three miles as the former did in twenty. Its steepest grades were at its northern portion, in the adjacent border of Stoneham and Woburn, then through the level of South Woburn, which had just been incorporated as Winchester, along and across the old mill pond and crossing the main highway near the present parkway. It followed the valley of the Aberjona till the old boundary between Woburn and Medford was reached, there it curved eastward and crossed the highway at Symmes' [p. 92] Corner, as that part of Upper Medford was and still is called. To this point the last half mile had been up grade in the side of the hill, but from thence the grade required a cut of more or less depth till the present Medford boundary line was crossed. At various places along the line in Winchester and Medford may still be found traces of the work in the cuts and embankments made, while the stone bridge built over Whitmore Brook still remains, though a few rods away all trace of the roadbed disappears where Whitmore road enters the Fells reservation. Southward the elevation of Ram's Head slopes down to Winthrop street so steeply as to raise the query as to how the railroad was to pass without crossing it twice at grade to connect with the visible remains of the work farther on. Near the entrance to the Medford Almshouse is a well-preserved embankment in which trees have grown, which was built across the meadow through which flows the Albree Brook. A narrow strip of this meadow lies between the highway and the railroad embankment and sometimes holds water. This is often mistaken by passers-by for a remnant of the Middlesex Canal. (The writer has several times heard it thus spoken of by some in the trolley cars in passing.) The statement is about a mile from being correct. At the end of this embankment is a rock cut through the edge of Sugar-loaf Hill, and next is the lane leading northward into the Fells. There all trace of the roadbed ceases, though it was probably graded further ere work was suspended, and we may be curious as to the cause. Whether the work was begun and ‘ground broken with ceremony’ at Stoneham is uncertain. As to the Medford end of it, let us call in Caleb Swan, who grew up to manhood in Medford, and get his story as he wrote, in (about) 1856, with the case fresh in his mind:—1 [p. 93]
The Stoneham Rail Road was intended by its projectors in Stoneham only to go to Winchester, where the Lowell cars go to Boston 11 times a day,—in an evil hour the route was changed, to come down through Medford,—crossing the Medford road at Mr. Swan's land and again at the Medford Bridge–thus coming through the heart of the town. The Town was entirely opposed to it, and at a Town Meeting a vote was passed intending to instruct the Selectmen to oppose it— but the vote was worded by Mr. Perry for the selectmen ‘to do what they thought most for the interest of the town,’ and under this wording they favored the road, Mr. P. C. Hall being chairman of the selectmen. In locating the road through Mr. Benj. L. Swan's land Richardson the President had it laid out down through the garden, within thirty feet of the house,—thus wantonly and unnecessarily destroying the value of that old mansion as a pleasant residence!— when the proper and natural route, was along through the meadow not Six Rods distant from the garden—more level and as short a distance. To protect their property from this wanton destruction Dr. Swan (for his property front of his house) and B. L. Swan (for the Homestead) brought suits in the Supreme Court against the road, on the ground that the Stock had not been taken by responsible parties, as required by the Charter. Cahill, of Worcester, the contractor, who took [$] 55,000 of the Stock was proved to be bankrupt, his property in Worcester mortgaged, and he did not pay his mechanics in Worcester.—Yet Judge Myrick's decision was ‘that as Cahill had complied with previous contracts he might comply with this and be able to pay for the stock’!! and therefore was a responsible person. but although the relief the Messrs. Swan's sought for was not obtained from the Court, yet it was obtained from public opinion,— for after the disclosures made on the trial, of the entire bankruptcy of Cahill, and of the whole concern, they could not borrow or fleece the public out of another dollar,—they could get no more money to pay the laborers, and they consequently broke down and failed in July 185—just as they were on the point of entering Mr. Swan's land He had accidentally heard in Boston (not from Mr. Perry his Lawyer) of a late law requiring a road to fence the land, before entering upon it,—and on demanding this of them, they could not get money to buy materials to do it and had to stop work; the next day they would have entered upon Mr. Swan's land and commenced the destruction of his garden. Mr. Russell's farm west of the Town Poor house is nearly destroyed by their coming over the best part of his land,—which he gave the Road.[p. 94] used and yet lonely thoroughfare, and this within six miles of the State House. The question naturally arises, Would this condition exist had that railroad been completed and operated? Would not Medford have grown here, as elsewhere, a residential section? It is a coincidence that Medford, at about the same time, established nearby its almshouse and cemetery. People naturally keep from both as long as possible. It was once (and long since) satirically said in town meeting that prosperity would only come to Medford after some first-class funerals. Without any thought of personal reflection, we may add there surely has time enough elapsed for them to have occurred. Winchester is growing in worthy style toward Medford line. The silent city of Oak Grove on the one side and the narrow strip of Park Reservation on the other, must ever lie between, but there is an opportunity on the Medford side, along the old railroad location, for excellent home sites and tasteful, comfortable homes of a thrifty people, beautiful as any for situation, and backed all the way by our great natural park, Middlesex Fells.
M. W. M.