History of rail in Dedham, Massachusetts
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The history of rail in Dedham, Massachusetts begins with the introduction of the first rail line in 1836 and runs to the present day. Multiple railroads have serviced the Dedham since then, and current service is provided by the MBTA. The station in Dedham Square built in 1881 out of Dedham Granite was demolished in 1951 and the stones were used to put an addition on the Town's library. There are two active stations today, and multiple others in close proximity.
Dedham Branch service to Dedham Square
When Norfolk County was formed in 1793 Dedham was named as the shire town and "an influx of lawyers, politicians, and people on county business forced the town to abandon its traditional insularity and its habitual distrust of newcomers." Turnpikes, including those linking Boston and Providence and Dedham and Hartford, were laid through town during the first few years of the 19th century. Inns and taverns sprung up along the new roads as more than 600 coaches would pass through Dedham each day on their way to Boston or Providence.
Within a few decades of the turnpikes' arrival, railroad beds were laid through Dedham. The railroad was at first "considered dangerous. It was new fangled. People didn’t trust it, so they wouldn’t ride it. Only a very few brave souls in those opening years" ever boarded one. This fear was short lived, however as the first rail line came in 1836 and by 1842 locomotives had put the stagecoach lines out of business. The first line was a branch connecting Dedham station to the main Boston-Providence line at Readville, making stops at Stone Haven and East Dedham stations, all of which closed at the same on April 21, 1967.
In 1881, the Boston and Providence Railroad company built a station in Dedham Square out of Dedham Granite. There were more than 60 trains a day running to it in its heyday, but it was demolished in 1951 and the stones were used to build the main branch of the Dedham Public Library. In 1886 the railroad built a new bridge over High Street and placed a granite plaque there to commemorate both the new bridge and the 250th anniversary of the town's incorporation. The plaque was removed sometime thereafter and ended up in the woods near railroad tracks in Sharon. It has since been returned to Dedham.
The Dedham and West Roxbury Branches
The Boston and Providence Railroad (B&P) had opened from downtown Boston to south of Readville on June 4, 1834, and to Canton on September 12 of that year, but initially had no branch lines. It did, however, provide stagecoach connections for Dedham Center, starting on July 28, 1834. Direct train service between Boston and Dedham Center began on February 5, 1835, with the opening of the first railroad branch line service from Readville to Dedham Center.
For the first several years of the Dedham Branch's existence, service to Dedham changed often between "Dedham Specials" (through trains from Boston to Dedham and vice versa, using the Boston and Providence main line and the Dedham Branch between Readville and Dedham) and horse-drawn cars cut out of mainline trains at Readville. Dedham Specials became permanent in June 1842, giving Dedham Center reliable direct train service to Boston and making it possible for the first time to commute by train for those living in the areas served by the northern portion of the Boston and Providence Railroad.
This pattern of service persisted for the next eight years, until the West Roxbury Branch from Tollgate to Dedham via West Roxbury opened in June 1850. After this point, commuter service to Dedham ran via West Roxbury rather than Readville, although trains continued to run on the old Dedham Branch on non-commuter schedules. Commuter service to Dedham via Readville resumed in 1858, but was always lighter than commuter service via West Roxbury. Some of these trains were horse-drawn shuttle cars to East Dedham, rather than through Boston trains and they were not entirely replaced with through Boston trains until 1875.
The Norfolk County / New York and New England Railroad at Dedham
The Walpole Railroad was chartered on April 16, 1846, to build a railroad from Dedham to Walpole, but construction had not yet started when it was absorbed by the Norfolk County Railroad in July 1847. The Norfolk County, which had been chartered just three months prior to build from Walpole to Blackstone station, began passenger service between Dedham and Walpole in April 1849. Through Boston-Blackstone service via Dedham was instituted the next month.
In December 1853, the Norfolk County merged with two other railroads to form the Boston and New York Central Railroad (B&NYC). One of the two other railroads had been the Midland Railroad, chartered in May 1850 to build a new Boston entrance for the Norfolk County, branching off the original route at West Dedham. This new route opened at the beginning of 1855, replacing the original, but ran for only six and a half months before it was shut down by court order following a lawsuit against the B&NYC concerning the new route's grade crossings in Dorchester.[nb 1]
Service along the original route from Dedham to Blackstone resumed on August 6, 1855, and ran until March 1857, when the entire B&NYC route from Boston to Mechanicsville, Connecticut reopened for a year under lease to the East Thompson Railroad. After the East Thompson shut down in March 1858, service from Dedham to Blackstone (as well as to Medway via the Medway Branch) resumed, being operated by trustees for the old Norfolk County. It was the only service along any of the former B&NYC lines until February 1867, when the entire B&NYC route was reopened by the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad (BH&E; the successor to the B&NYC).
From 1867 onwards, the track from Dedham to Islington was little used by the BH&E or its successor, the New York and New England Railroad (NY&NE), and was torn up in 1883. In 1881, the NY&NE opened a new Dedham route, branching off the NY&NE mainline at Dedham Junction in southern Dedham and running north to Dedham station. This route was unable to compete with the B&P's Dedham and West Roxbury branches, and service ended in 1884. It reopened in 1888 due to technicalities in the NY&NE's charter, but closed again in 1899. The original Norfolk County Dedham route was rebuilt by the NY&NE in 1890 to provide a Boston entry for the Old Colony Railroad's Wrentham Branch (the NY&NE rebuilt the line to prevent the Old Colony from seizing its right-of-way). Wrentham Branch trains were rerouted along the NY&NE mainline from Islington to Readville in 1899; an intermittently-operating shuttle between Dedham and Islington was run until 1904, using a self-propelled steam railcar. After this point, the two ex-NY&NE Dedham lines saw only freight service.
In 1864, Moses Boyd was the "well-known and gentlemanly" conductor of the Dedham branch of the Providence Railroad. At a party for his 25th wedding anniversary, his passengers presented him with gifts of cash that totaled between $600 and $700. In addition to the passengers from Dedham, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain, the President and Superintendent of the railroad attended the party at his home and presented him with a silver plate.
Late 19th and early 20th centuries
The Old Colony Railroad leased the B&P in April 1888, and was itself leased to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H or New Haven) in March 1893, while the NY&NE (which became the New England Railroad in September 1895) was leased to the NYNH&H in July 1898 and merged into the NYNH&H in 1908. Dedham service reached an all-time peak around the turn of the 20th century, as with the entire Boston-area commuter rail system. In July 1898, Dedham was served by 36 inbound passenger trains each weekday (two-thirds of which ran via West Roxbury), including six Wrentham Branch trains, and Dedham service via Readville increased in 1901 to an all-time maximum of 17 inbound trains per weekday.
The 1906 opening of the Needham Cutoff, connecting the West Roxbury Branch to the ex-NY&NE Needham Branch, was to have a detrimental effect on Dedham service. Although Needham trains using the West Roxbury Branch did not initially make any stops on the branch (sometimes with the exception of West Roxbury itself), they began to serve local stops between West Roxbury and Forest Hills in 1912, forcing reductions in West Roxbury-Dedham service. During World War I, passenger service on all U.S. railroads was cut drastically to free up rolling stock and schedule time for military use, and the NYNH&H was no exception. The original Dedham Branch was one of the hardest hit lines, being reduced to just ten inbound weekday trains.
From 1926 to 1938, Dedham service was provided by trains looping via the West Roxbury Branch outbound and the Dedham Branch inbound, or vice versa. At some point between the discontinuance of loop service in 1938 and the partial abandonment in 1940 of the West Roxbury Branch, Dedham service via Readville was discontinued entirely. Readville-Dedham service was reinstated in 1940, after the West Roxbury-Dedham section of the West Roxbury Branch was abandoned (the Forest Hills-West Roxbury segment continued to see service from Needham and West Medway Branch trains), but was massively reduced from peak levels, comprising just one Boston-Dedham and one Readville-Dedham round trip plus a second Boston-Dedham outbound train. Dedham service was further reduced in July 1959, this time to just a single Boston-Dedham round trip.
The MBTA era
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was formed in 1964 by expanding Boston's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (which was responsible for Boston-area bus, trolley, and rapid transit operations), largely in order to save Boston's collapsing commuter rail system. In April 1966, the MBTA started paying subsidies to the NYNH&H for continued operations on four lines, including the Dedham Branch (service on the NYNH&H's two other commuter rail lines continued without a subsidy, as the NYNH&H did not have Interstate Commerce Commission permission to discontinue those trains). Despite this, Dedham Branch service was discontinued in April 1967, a victim of poor ridership.
The NYNH&H was absorbed by Penn Central at the end of 1968. Penn Central went bankrupt less than two years later, in June 1970. To prevent the possible loss of control over rights-of-way used by (or possibly seeing future use by) its commuter rail services should Penn Central undergo liquidation, the MBTA bought a large quantity of Penn Central rights-of-way in January 1973, including both of the original B&P Dedham routes; the Dedham Branch was still intact at this point, while the Dedham segment of the West Roxbury Branch had been completely abandoned, having been reduced to an empty right-of-way.
The Franklin Line (the NY&NE's main line for much of its existence) passes through southeastern Dedham and, although it passes much further from the center of town than the Dedham Branch did, still serves a considerable portion of Dedham. On the segment of the Franklin Line located within Dedham, stations have existed at four locations: Dedham Corporate Center (signed as Dedham Corporate Center/128; formerly Rustcraft), Dedham Junction just to the east, Endicott, and Ashcroft. Of these four, only Dedham Corporate Center and Endicott are currently active. Just to the south in Westwood is Islington (also currently active), while Ellis station formerly stood further to the south, in far northern Norwood.
Dedham Junction and Dedham Corporate
The Norfolk County Railroad completed their Midland Division from Islington to Boston in January 1855. No station was originally located at the modern location, which was in the middle of a swamp until the middle of the 20th century. The line passed through several operators and finally to the New York and New England Railroad in 1875.
In 1881, the NY&NE built a branch from Dedham Junction (near the modern station site) to Dedham to replace the Norfolk County's original route to Dedham. This allowed the railroad to (unsuccessfully) compete with the Boston and Providence Railroad's Dedham Loop for Boston-Dedham commuter traffic. The branch was closed in 1884, but reopened in 1888 by state commission order. In 1890 a short leg allowing Dedham-Islington travel for the Old Colony Railroad's Wrentham Branch was opened; trains using this route skipped Dedham Junction station. By 1898, the New Haven Railroad had acquired the Old Colony, NY&NE, and the Boston & Providence. With the New Haven having no need for four routes to the small town of Dedham, the southern branch was soon abandoned. Service via Dedham Junction ended in 1899 and via Islington in 1904.
On May 2, 1955, the New Haven Railroad opened Rust Craft station off Rustcraft Road, just east of the modern station location. The station, which served the Rust Craft greeting card plant, was the first reverse commute-focused station on the MBTA system and was "hailed as the start of a new era". Rust Craft station was closed in 1977 due to low ridership.
During the 1980s, the Dedham Corporate Center office park was built nearby due to convenient access to Route 128 and Route 1. On January 15, 1990, Dedham Corporate Center station was opened just off exit 14 of Interstate 95/Route 128, near the old Dedham Junction and Rustcraft stations. As well as providing access to the office park, the station provides nearly 500 parking spaces for commuters riding to Boston, as well as access to the office park for workers coming from both directions on the line. The station consists of two platforms (each a long low asphalt platform with a short high-level platform for handicapped accessibility) serving the Franklin Line's two tracks. Original plans called for a much larger "transportation center" on the site, including a 1,000 car garage on Rustcraft Road, but town officials were opposed.
In late 2014, a kiss and ride dropoff lane was built on the north side of the station off Rustcraft Road. Dedham Corporate Center is the only stop between Back Bay and Foxboro on special game day service for New England Patriots home games at Gillette Stadium.
The Endicott station on the Franklin Line is located off Grant Avenue near East Street.
The Norfolk County Railroad opened its Boston Extension (the Midland Branch) from Islington to Boston on January 1, 1855 to end its dependence on the Boston and Providence Railroad for access to downtown Boston. East Street (later known as Endicott) was among the original stops on the extension. The line was closed from July 14, 1855 until late 1856 due to a lawsuit but has been continuously open since 1867, with service via the Midland Branch until 1898 and thereafter mostly via the B&P mainline.
Readville, located at the intersection of the NY&NE main line with the B&P main line (now the Providence Branch of the Providence/Stoughton Line and the Dedham Branch, is located in far southern Hyde Park, just to the east of the Dedham town line. It serves the Franklin Line and the Fairmount Line (the proximal portion of the former NY&NE main line), but not the Providence/Stoughton Line (Providence and Stoughton trains pass through the station, but do not stop there except during service disruptions). Also in Hyde Park are Hyde Park station, somewhat to the north, which serves primarily Providence/Stoughton Line trains, as well as, formerly, Glenwood Avenue station on what is now the Fairmount Line. South of Readville, the Providence/Stoughton Line passes through far southeastern Dedham en route to Route 128 station. Although Route 128 straddles the border between Dedham and Westwood, it is located in an unpopulated area, and mostly serves park-and-riders; however, it is also the only Amtrak station located even partially in Dedham.
Although both the original Norfolk County main line and, later, the West Roxbury Branch passed through Dedham, neither had any stops in Dedham apart from Dedham Square. The old Norfolk County (later NY&NE) mainline had no stops between Islington and Dedham Center, a situation also true for the 1881-opened NY&NE Dedham branch, while the West Roxbury Branch did have one stop between Dedham and its namesake West Roxbury station—this was Spring Street, also located in West Roxbury, slightly to the south of West Roxbury station.
The only other rail line to pass through any part of Dedham was the Needham Cutoff (running from West Roxbury to a junction with the Charles River Branch), opened in 1906 and now part of the Needham Line (as well as, prior to 1967, the Millis Branch), which briefly crosses the northern tip of Dedham en route to Needham. There have only ever been two stations on the Cutoff (both of which are still active): Hersey (formerly Bird's Hill) and Needham Junction. Although neither is located on the segment of the Needham Cutoff passing through Dedham, both are quite close to northwestern Dedham; further north, though still close, is Needham Center, located on the segment of the Needham Line which was originally part of the Charles River Branch.
An 86-year-old man was killed at the station when hit by a train in 1908. A 30-year-old woman suffered severe lacerations to her left leg when she got off the wrong side of the train and was struck by a train in 1994. In 1993, a 17-year-old boy was struck by a train, but he may have already been dead before the train hit him.
The cornerstone of the St. Mary's Church was laid at 3:00 on October 17, 1880 by Archbishop John Williams. A crowd of between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended, and special trains were run from Boston and Norwood to accommodate all those who wished to attend. It was one of the largest gatherings in Dedham's history.
In 1999, a special "Salute to WWII Veterans" saw 2,500 veterans board trains in Dedham, and then travel to South Station where the scene of their arrival home after the war was recreated. In 2015, Black Lives Matter protesters stood in front of the train running to Foxboro for a New England Patriots game to denounce racism.
Proposed Orange Line extension
Dedham is located in a densely-populated inner suburb of Boston just nine and a half miles from downtown, making Dedham Square a strong candidate for rapid transit service rather than either low-frequency commuter rail service (as was the case until 1967) or no service at all (as has been the case since then). The first such proposal appeared long before commuter rail service ceased, with the 1945 Metropolitan Transit Recess Commission recommending an extension of the Main Line Elevated (now the Orange Line) from Forest Hills to Dedham via West Roxbury, with five stations (Roslindale, Bellevue, Highland, and West Roxbury).
Two years later, the 1947 Coolidge Commission Report recommended two extensions of the Main Line Elevated: one from Forest Hills to East Dedham via West Roxbury and Dedham, plus another from Forest Hills to Readville, as well as a possible westward relocation of the Main Line Elevated between Essex Street and Forest Hills (only the last of these ever came to pass, as part of the Southwest Corridor project).
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