Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad
by Francis B. C. Bradlee (1921)
For several years in the 1870's the inhabitants of Lynn had nursed a grudge against the Eastern Railroad, the predecessor of the [old] Boston and Maine. This was partly due to poor service, but principally on account of the location of the Central depot in Lynn. The ill feeling finally led to what was locally known as the "Depot war," influencing a mayor's election, and resulting a year or two later in the construction of the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad, one of the few successful narrow gauge roads in the country.
The subscribers to the articles of association for the organization of a corporation under the Massachusetts railroad laws, for the purpose of constructing and operating a steam railroad from Lynn to East Boston, held their first meeting Monday, April 8, 1872, at Young's Hotel in Boston, C. H. Coffin presiding. The following were elected temporary directors: O. D. Ashley of New York, Henry S. Washburn and Albert Bowker of East Boston, John B. Alley, Edwin Walden and Henry Breed of Lynn, John W. Porter of Revere, A. P. Blake of Hyde Park, Mass., and Dr. Samuel Ingalls of Winthrop. Among the speakers was Hon. Peter M. Neal of Lynn.
On June 10, 1874, an important meeting of the directors of the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad and citizens of Lynn was held at Concert Hall in the latter city. Many prominent persons were present, and Edwin Walden, who called the meeting to order, explained its purpose—namely, to give the citizens of Lynn full and explicit information concerning the advantages contained in the above project, and, if possible, gain their support bj' subscription, in the matter of obtaining a right of way and location from Saugus river to Market street in Lynn.
Mr. Walden then introduced A. P. Blake, president of the company, who addressed the meeting at some length, and at the conclusion of his remarks read a proposition by the board of directors to the citizens of Lynn, as follows:
"Whereas it is contemplated to build and maintain a railroad from that part of Boston called East Boston, to Lynn, to be owned by the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad Company, and to establish in connection therewith a ferry from some point in East Boston east of the Grand Junction Wharf of the Boston and Albany Railroad Company, to a point in Boston at or southerly of State street; and Whereas, the parties to this agreement desire to promote said enterprise; Now, therefore, we, the undersigned, do hereby agree to contribute an amount not exceeding the sum hereunto subscribed to a fund for purchasing or paying damages for a right of way and location of said railroad in Lynn between Market street and Saugus river, where the same is owned by individuals and cannot be obtained as a free gift and without paying therefor[e]...
This agreement is further upon the condition that the said railroad and said ferry shall be completed and put in operation before Jan. 1, 1876, and managed and run as an independent railroad company."
Mr. Blake was followed by other speakers, who explained the progress of the road thus far, together with its prospects of success. After a great amount of labor, the franchise was secured, together with the right of way as far as Saugus river. The East Boston and Boston land companies, in whose possession were thousands of acres of hitherto useless and unoccupied land, which this road developed, had seen the advantages a railroad would be to them, and so ceded a free right of way as far as Saugus river. Several citizens of Lynn were also generous in this respect, and subscriptions amounting to $9000 enabled the company to build its road as far as Market street in Lynn.
Many would-be stockholders held back, however; they feared that the project was a speculation, and that the road would be sold out to its competitor, the Eastern Railroad. This idea was strongly combatted by the directors of the "Narrow Gauge," who proved conclusively that they had in view the good of the public, as well as that of those more directly interested in the project. It was thought that the advantages of the road would be great and diffused through its whole extent. The chief advantage to Boston would be the means thus afforded for a cheap, speedy and direct transit to the seaside and suburbs, and the opportunity it gave the middle classes to secure pleasant homes near the city at much lower figures than had been hitherto possible. The road would be, also, a Godsend to the sweltering thousands of working men, women and children of the city, who might thus get a sniff of sea air and catch an occasional glimpse of green fields and woods. These alone should make the summer travel on the proposed road immense. Work on the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad was begun on Saturday, May 22, 1876, and the event was signalized by a parade and banquet in Lynn.
The "Narrow Gauge" (three feet), "Shore Line" railway between Lynn and Boston was formally opened for public travel on Thursday, July 28, 1875. From a contemporaneous newspaper account we learn that:
"Invitations were extended to some four or five hundred persons, who were conveyed over the road in three trains containing three cars each. The locomotives were decorated with flags in honor of the occasion, and flags were hoisted on several buildings in this city [Lynn], and also at various points along the line of the road. The first passenger train over the road, containing the Lynn directors and several invited guests, left Lynn for Boston between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning, and made a good run. The three excursion trains from Boston left that city at noon, within a few minutes of each other, the last getting under way about 1 o'clock. The Lynn Brass Band had a place upon this one. The road and equipment being entirely new, and the trip purely experimental, the trains were run slowly, the first one occupying an hour and a half in the passage. No accident occurred during the trip, and the excursionists were well pleased with the road. Large crowds of people gathered at the ferry houses in Boston and East Boston to see the excursionists start, and they were received in this city with marked demonstrations.
Upon their arrival they were escorted to Odd Fellows' Hall, where a collation, prepared by R. O. Scarborough, was in waiting. After an invocation by Rev. C. W. Biddle, this was disposed of. When this part of the program was completed, the assembly was called to order by Hon. John B. Alley, who welcomed the visitors and introduced A. P, Blake, president of the new railroad company, who gave a brief and concise history of the enterprise and the steps taken to accomplish the work. He said it was scarcely three months since the first blow was struck, during which time a vast amount of raw material had, by busy hands, been put into shape for practical use upon this road. The roadbed and bridges had been constructed, the ties cut and laid, the rails rolled out and put in place, the engines and cars built, and a tunnel [at East Boston] four hundred feet in length excavated and finished with brick arching in the best possible manner. All this had been done in the brief space of about one hundred days—an achievement of no ordinary character. He referred to the economy which had been practiced in the construction; the entire expense thus far having been less than $300,000—the amount of the capital stock—with every bill paid, and money enough left in the treasury to meet all future demands.
Mr. Blake was followed by Charles W. Slack, who predicted the highest success for the road and great advantages to Lynn and other places along the route from its construction. Remarks of a similar tenor were also made by J. H. Lester of Boston, which closed the speech making. At intervals the band played and the Hutchinson family enlivened the occasion with two or three songs, finely sung, one of which touched upon "cheap transportation" and the "broad and narrow gauge." It was about 5 o'clock when the meeting broke up and the visitors returned to the station, where they entered the cars which were in waiting, and were conveyed back to Boston, where they arrived about 7 P. M."
The depot and ferry house at Rowe's wharf, in Boston, one hundred
feet long by thirty wide, had a drop which could be raised or lowered,
according to the tide, and was completed in a week or so after the
opening of the road.
The first ferry-boat, the "Union," had been used but a short time at New Bedford. She was of good size and very commodious. The depot in Lynn was formerly the furniture manufactory of Seth D. Woodbury, Bean and Austin, and their successors, and remains the same today [in 1921]. The intermediate stations were, at first, nine in number—West Lynn, Ocean House, Revere Beach, Revere House, Atlantic, Revere, Orient, Winthrop, Wood Island, and Jeffries' Point at East Boston. The ferry is four-fifths of a mile in length, and the entire distance from Boston to Lynn by this route is nine and seven-eighths miles.
The company, to start with, had three locomotives—the "Orion," "Pegasus," and "Jupiter," — which were built at the Taunton Locomotive Works, and cost $7000 each. The cars, of which there were seven first class, finished in hard wood and upholstered in plush, with silver-plated mountings, two baggage and two open cars, were built by Gilbert, Bush & Co., of Troy, N. Y. The seven first named cost $3000 each. The original board of directors was composed of the following: A. P. Blake of Hyde Park, president; John G. Webster of Boston, treasurer; John B. Alley, Henry Breed and Edwin Walden of Lynn; John N. Brown, T. B. Dix and S. A, Bradbury of Boston; T. W. Porter of Revere, Charles A. White of Hyde Park, O. D. Ashley of New York.
At first only two trains were run regularly, these being under the charge of Charles E. Smith, formerly of the Lynn and Boston horse railroad, and Elbridge G. Allen, formerly of the South Boston line. The price of tickets between Lynn and Boston was fixed at seven for one dollar, twenty cents for single fares, and thirty-five cents round trip. From Lynn to Revere Beach, all points, ten cents, or fifteen cents round trip; Lynn to East Boston, eighteen cents, or eight tickets for a dollar. It took about ten minutes to cross the ferry. William H. Gale was appointed ticket agent at the Lynn station.
Trains began running Thursday, July 29, 1875, at 6 A. M., starting from each terminus every hour until 9 P. M,, and passing each other on the ridge of Chelsea beach. The number of passengers conveyed over the road the first day was 1075.
The shore line that began nearly fifty years ago is today  proof of the wisdom of the few who proposed it and worked in its favor. At its head are men who began as conductors and trainmen, and whose policy is shaped by an experimental knowledge of the requirements of the travelling public. On few roads do officers and men work together in such general harmony. A frequent service and large number of trains and ferries are only equaled in the largest cities, and both disagreements and accidents are at a minimum.
In passing, it is interesting to note that the first, and luckily so far, the only serious accident on the "Narrow Gauge" took place on the morning of July 11, 1917, at Pleasant street station on the Winthrop branch, when, owing to a "split switch," a car was derailed and overturned, killing one passenger and injuring some sixty more, fortunately most of them only slightly. Hand brakes were used exclusively on the road until 1878, when the vacuum brake was adopted and is still in use.
The Winthrop branch, a circuit line of a little over five miles, beginning at Orient Heights, or Winthrop Junction, as it was called for many years, was itself the outcome of two distinct corporations: The Boston, Winthrop and Point Shirley Railroad, incorporated in 1876 and opened for travel in July, 1877, and the Eastern Junction, Broad Sound and Point Shirley Railroad, which was incorporated in 1880, but never operated. In 1883 the two above roads were consolidated and incorporated as the Boston, Winthrop and Shore Railroad, and operated as such until that company was leased by the "Narrow Gauge" in 1886, and finally absorbed by the latter in 1891.
During the 1870's and early 80's a fierce competition for the Lynn travel raged between the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn and the Eastern Railroads, to the consequent benefit of the public, but to the detriment of the finances of both companies. The terminus of the Eastern had originally been in East Boston, which gave them an advantage, for it enabled them to run trains into the old station in direct opposition to the "Narrow Gauge." Not satisfied with that, the Eastern also built a branch line leaving the main road at Oak Island, just below Revere, running around by Revere Beach and Point of Pines and joining the main line at Saugus River Junction. It was first used July 2, 1881, and many of the main line trains were run that way, also hourly trains on Sundays between Boston and Lynn. This branch has been abandoned for many years and the tracks have been taken up, although traces of them can still be clearly seen [in 1921].
The consolidation of the Eastern and Boston and Maine roads put an end to the profitless competition, for an amicable agreement was entered into by the latter company and the management of the "Narrow Gauge." There have often been discussions, rumors and plans, that the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn should be extended to Salem, Beverly and Peabody; also that it might be used as a freight carrier, but it all came to nothing.
In the last few years, owing to the general demoralization of transportation companies and business generally all over the country, particularly so in New England, due to the "crash" of the New Haven Railroad, the "Narrow Gauge" has had its share of troubles, labor disputes, consequent high cost of operation, raises of passenger rates and reduction of service.
At present  the road has over 600 employees, 25 locomotives and 100 passenger cars. Many elderly persons will recollect the peculiar arrangement of some of the earliest cars : two seats faced each other, and between them was another seat at right angles against the side of the car, making a kind of alcove. These seats were not popular with passengers, and in a very short time were changed to the regular arrangement of seats. Four large modern ferry-boats, the "Dartmouth," "Ashburnham," "Brewster" and "Newtown" connect the road with Boston proper; these steamers replaced the "Union," "Oriole," "City of Lynn" and "Swampscott." so long in service. In spite of all its large equipment, the capacity of the "Narrow Gauge" road is often taxed to the uttermost to accommodate the tremendous crowds which flock to Revere Beach, Boston's popular summer resort, particularly on Sundays.
Three years ago  the company experimented running express trains each way between Lynn and Boston during rush hours, but it was not successful and was soon given up...."
— The Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume LVII, 1921