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Medford Branch Railroad.

Three years since, in Vol. XVII, p. 34, the Register gave an account of the ‘Branch,’ quoting from various authentic sources, and venturing a prophecy which now seems likely of fulfilment.

With the impending possibility of discontinuance of passenger service, interest in the road is aroused, and it is difficult to answer all queries or to obtain correct information relative to its earlier days. The earliest of Medford's histories deals with it but briefly, only fourteen lines, but gives a view of the terminal station on Main street that is of interest. Thirty years later Usher's history devoted two pages to the subject. Of this but fourteen lines, mostly a reproduction of the former, are textual, the remainder being the report of James Hayward (who surveyed the route) and his estimated cost of the proposed work.

Both these histories give the names of the corporators and the date of the charter (March 7, 1845), and here all printed and published allusion to the Medford Branch Railroad corporation ceases, i.e., so far as we have been able to ascertain.

In ‘Medford Past and Present’ (Medford Publishing Co., 1905), Mortimer E. Wilber mentions the ‘Branch,’ quotes from Usher and gives the names of the (then) station agents, with date of appointment and their four likenesses in group. In the ‘Brief History of the Town and City’ Mr. Hooper devotes but three lines to the Branch and two to the Boston and Lowell. In his letter prefacing the history he says, ‘The limited space allowed [p. 38] has excluded much of interest,’ and this is certainly true. These are the sources to which we naturally look for information, with results as stated.

The facts are, the ‘Medford Branch Rail-Road Company’ had but a brief existence, while the Branch railroad has been in public service over seventy years. The original corporators (as they were privileged by the charter to do) disposed of their charter and franchise to the Boston and Maine. We have before us a printed copy of the latter's petition to the county commissioners of Middlesex, which sets forth that fact, and also that it had undertaken to construct the ‘Branch,’ had filed location thereof according to law, and was desirous to proceed with construction forthwith. Then follow the names of the property owners along the line with whom question of land damage was unsettled, beginning with Luther Angier at Main street and ending with William Bradbury at the other end. The petition was signed by the president of the Boston and Maine, Thomas West.

On the first Tuesday in June, 1846, at their meeting at Concord, the commissioners ordered the petitioners to give notice to all these interested persons and corporations of its meeting for a view, and a hearing at the Medford Hotel on ‘10th of August next, at ten of the clock in the forenoon, by serving each of the land owners named with a copy of this petition and order thereon, fourteen days before said view,’ etc.

The copy mentioned is endorsed as to Mrs. Eliza Perkins and is attested by the signature of ‘John T. White, Constable of Medford.’ In all there were forty or more. The only corporation we notice is the First Baptist Society in Malden.

We must accept this as ‘documentary evidence’ that the Medford Branch Rail-Road Company had but brief existence, and that the Branch railroad was built by the Boston and Maine and always has been a part of its system. And now arises the query, Just when was it built and when did it begin operation of passenger service? [p. 39] In the reports of railroads to the state, that of 1846, the Boston and Maine reports ‘9 65/1000 miles of branch road of single track.’ Of this the Medford Branch is a little less than two miles (9,800 feet) according to Hayward's survey, and is probably included in this report. We base this conclusion upon the statements of the foregoing petition and the date of commissioners' view of location, as compared with the time of running the first trains. Who knows when that ‘eleven-ton engine, built at Lowell,’ with two cars first traversed the branch? Inquiry among the oldest residents of Medford has so far been unavailing. The ‘documentary evidence’ available is this: up to and including March 1, 1847, the Boston and Maine Railroad advertisement in the Boston Advertiser announces no train service to Medford. In the issue of March 2 appears

Medford to Boston6 1/2 & 8 A. M.1 3/4 & 5 1/2 P. M.
Boston to Medford7 1/4 & 9 A. M.2 1/2 & 5.50 P. M.

The above we consider as conclusive evidence that the Medford Branch began operation on that day, and was obtained from the file of the Boston Advertiser. We found no mention of it in the news columns, though we did notice that on the Fitchburg railroad at Cambridge, on the previous day, the snow-ploughs were derailed and engines sent out from Boston to clear the track—a sidelight on the weather conditions of the time.

Of the cost of building the Medford Branch, and whether it tallied with Mr. Hayward's estimate, we have no means of knowing. The reports to the State are complete, and answer the law's requirements, but are for the entire system, and other than tabulated matter are very brief and deal mainly with the accidents that occurred.

We have seen in print the statement that its cost was $38,208.60. This tallies with ‘Medford Past and Present,’ which in turn agrees with the total estimate given by Surveyor Hayward and quoted in detail by Usher [p. 40] (see p. 73). Mr. Hayward's report consists first of an estimate of cost, not including ‘land or damage to real estate,’ $25,082.50. At this point comes a matter of interest that is now forgotten, as neither history alludes to it. It was proposed to build the road on the south side of the river, and just here is a lesson in local geography with a touch of local history also, with a little of engineering thrown in. Fifty years before, this last had been shown in the survey and construction of the Middlesex canal along the Mystic marshes of Charlestown and Medford, but for the last ten of the fifty the competition of the Boston and Lowell Railroad had been disastrous to the water-way. The charter of the latter railroad allowed no other railroad into Lowell for forty years, but there was no hindrance toward Boston. The canal embankments could be used as a road-bed for the Medford Branch, and the cut through the ledgy shoulder of Winter hill in the corner of Medford and Charlestown was already made. The canal was but little used, and a proposition to discontinue it as a water-way, and by the laying of iron pipes along the ten miles of the southern end to Woburn utilize it as a water supply for Boston, had just been made. Mr. Hayward said:—

To the expense of building the branch, I have added that of building a second track on the Maine Extension Road,1 from the proposed junction with that road to the Middlesex canal, where the route proposed on the south side of the river would meet the Extension road. This I do, that we may have all the data for comparing the two routes proposed.

This expense (in five items) amounted to $9,652.60, and, added to the estimate already given, total $34,735.10, to which ten per cent. ($3,473.50) was added for engineer, contingencies, etc., making $38,208.60. As yet we have not ascertained the actual cost of the branch, as only the accounts of the Boston and Maine can give proof.

By this it appears that the recent ‘Interurban’ project and even the defunct Mystic valley were not the first to [p. 41] consider a way paralleling the Medford turnpike. Mr. Hayward placed his report before ‘Messrs. Bishop, Lawrence and others,’ the corporators of the railroad (Mr. Usher says a committee of citizens employed him), closing thus

The distance to Boston by the northern route is thirty-two hundred feet greater than that by the southern route; and the southern branch will be forty-two hundred feet longer than the northern.

They decided for the shorter branch, all within the bounds of Medford, but the longer distance to Boston.

It was twenty years before the Wellington district began to increase materially in growth. To be sure, some ten years later, Editor Moody of the original Medford journal suggested ‘a suspension bridge to the highlands of Somerville,’ but he was ahead of the times. Not until Middlesex avenue was opened, with its bridge across the Mystic, had that peninsular district a direct outlet to Boston, and even then its growth was slow.

In the second year of service, April 28, 1848, there were three accidents reported:—

April 28 James Gregg, having laid down between the rails on a curve near Medford, was run over by an engine and killed instantly.

May 5 Samuel Baldwin, in getting out of the cars at Medford after they had started, was struck by the baggage car and his arm was broken.

November 4 James Pratt, Medford, legs broken by collision at Medford Junction.

In 1853 Enos Ormsbee and Silas Bumpus of Charlestown, carpenters, walking on the track to Medford, were instantly killed by the 7 3/4 A. M. northern train, the So. Reading train passing at the same time. [This must have been below the junction and not on the branch.]

And another, in which the Medford Branch figures:—
June 28, 1854, L. G. Brown killed at Causeway street [Boston]. He was driving with two others when his horse became unmanageable and dashed open the gate. Brown was struck by outward Medford train.

Doubtless there are those that remember that for some years locomotives were not allowed to cross Causeway and Traverse streets in Boston, and that the trains were [p. 42] hauled by horses to the locomotives waiting just below Causeway street and also inwardly.

Another report throws a little light on the manner of operating the branch:—

January 3, 1854, Saugus and Medford train coming in at 2.20 P. M., Baggage Master Caleb Eames, Jr., of Saugus, killed near freight house owing to misplaced switch.

This record indicates that some Medford Branch trains were attached to other inward trains at Medford Junction and the combined train taken over the Main line to Boston by one engine. A similar arrangement obtained on other roads. Such would have left the Medford engine free to return with cars brought to the junction by another outward train, and better accommodated the time schedule.

Report of another accident was nearer home:—

September 4, 1857, Mrs. Dexter Loud of Abington was fatally injured at Park street station. It was not known whether she stepped from the car on to the track; her dress caught on the step of the engine and she was dragged under the wheels.

Doubtless further search of reports would reveal further accidents and fatalities, and we have only quoted those on the branch or in some way related thereto.

This branch railroad certainly was of great service to Medford in its earlier years, and had its first competitor in passenger service in the Medford and Charlestown Horse Railroad in 1860. This continued until 1873, but it is questionable if the long haul over Winter hill was very attractive to Medford people, other than the few who dwelt along its line, and even its operation attracted few new residents. This road was taken over by the Middlesex corporation and, after 1873, eleven years discontinued. Reopened in 1884, extended to West Medford and Malden, and soon after operated by electricity, it became a powerful competitor. Taking its patrons at their very doors and landing them at their places of business is an advantage the steam railway with its fixed terminals cannot offer, even were it electrified. So the problem remains. [p. 43]

Of the engineer's estimate for depot buildings, the larger part went into the terminal station on Main street. Printed views show it in its various appearances to date. and incidentally some other changes near the square.

1 Near the other end of the branch one resident still remains that witnessed the building and opening of the branch—the oldest man in Medford, J. Everett Wellington. His name does not appear in the petition referred to, as his family gave the strip of land the railroad required. It crossed their orchard, and he tells us that on the Fourth of July, 1846, ‘we dug up and replanted ten sizable apple trees. Apples were already formed on them, but all the trees lived and bore fruit that year.’ Of the many trees in that orchard, over which numerous houses have been built, a few still remain, but have suffered for want of care in these later years. One of the conditions of land grant was that all Medford Branch trains should stop there. At first there was no station house, a signal was shown. After a while a little ‘shack’ was provided for shelter, and later a station house erected.

We had a pleasant interview with him recently, sitting on the lawn and looking over the village grown up around his home. A whole history might and should be written of this corner of Medford called by his name and practically bounded landward by the Medford Branch Railroad.

1 The railroad from Wilmington to Boston was then so styled.

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