Old Colony Railroad

Old Colony RR

In the early 1840s there was quite large number of Dorchester residents opposed to the coming of the railroad along the town’s eastern border.  Nevertheless the Old Colony Railroad was chartered in 1844 and authorized to build from South Boston to Plymouth.

Background: The Boston and Providence Railroad was one of three chartered in 1830-1831. The other two were the Boston and Lowell and the Boston and Worcester Railroads. Together they were the nucleus of the Massachusetts and New England railroad system. The Boston and Providence was considered of importance from the beginning to alleviate the difficulties of transportation for the developing industries of southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The promoters had other conflicting goals: trying to take some of the business from New York steam navigation and trying to form along with those steamboats a line of regular transportation between New York and Boston. The route that was finally decided showed a preference for the second goal.

The Boston and Providence extended only to the eastern shore of the Seekonk River. A Rhode Island company took the route from there to Providence, and a New York company handled the steamboat route from Providence to New York. Interlocking directorates assured the agreements. Bostonians were upset with the arrangement since it had not secured for Boston the trade of the industrial southeastern portion of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island. When Josiah Quincy, Jr., became president and Bostonians were a majority of the directors, the business with Boston increased.

Opposition to Railroads in Dorchester: Orcutt reports that in 1842 there was strong opposition to the modern invention of railroads. When a petition was brought before the Legislature, asking permission to build a railroad from Boston to Quincy through Dorchester, the town was bitter in its opposition. Col. Walter Baker presided over a town meeting in February where three resolutions were passed:

1). That, in the opinion of the inhabitants, the railroad petitioned for by Thomas Greenleaf and others, if located upon either of the lines designated upon their plan, will be of incalculable injury to the town generally, in addition to the immense sacrifice of private property which will also be involved. A great portion of the road will lead through thickly settled and populous parts of the town, crossing and running contiguous to public highways, and thereby making a permanent obstruction to a free intercourse of our citizens from one part of the town to another, and creating great and enduring danger and hazard to all travel upon the common roads.

2) That if, in the opinion of the legislature, there can be shown sufficient evidence of public utility to justify the taking of private property at all, for the construction of the projected railroad, it should be located upon the marshes, and over creeks bordering the harbor and Neponset River, and as remote as possible from all other roads; and by which a less sacrifice will be made of private property, and a much less injury occasioned to the town and the public generally.

3) That our representatives be instructed to use their utmost endeavors to prevent, if possible, so great a calamity to our town as must be the location of any railroad through it; and if that cannot be prevented, to diminish this calamity, as far as possible, by confining the location to the route herein designated.
A true copy from the Dorchester records … Dorchester, Feb. 3, 1842

The Boston and Providence had withstood challenges to the west, but also, in the east the Old Colony Railroad was chartered in 1844 in the face of Dorchester’s opposition and authorized to build from South Boston to Plymouth with the result that two steam railroads, with branch tracks, were built in Dorchester. The first president of the Old Colony Railroad was Nathan Carruth who had come to Boston at age 15 with nothing and had built up a successful business as a clipper ship and apothecary merchant. He lived on a 12-acre estate called Beechmont that reached from Ashmont Street to the present-day Beaumont Street.

Plymouth and Cape Cod were already adequately supplied with water transportation to Boston, so the main reason for building the line was to compete for New York traffic. Business depression, water competition, disadvantageous agreements and irregularities on the part of the officers contributed to financial weakness. Not until the 1850s did the company become a consistent dividend payer. The Fall River Branch Railroad Company was incorporated two days before the Old Colony received its charter, and Fall River agreed in 1847 to a junction with the Old Colony at South Braintree. In 1854 the companies merged.

Financing expansion with bonds became common during the 1850s, but at first these were not well regulated. Nor were they enough to bring prosperity to the railroads. The fluctuating economy caused the stocks and bonds of the railroads to fluctuate as well. Then the 1860s brought the Civil War and brought profits to the railroads. Over the years the Old Colony expanded. By the 1890s it “reached as far east as the tip of Cape Cod, formed a through line between Boston and the southern New England ports of Fall River, New Bedford, and Newport, participated by steamship connections in the New York-Boston traffic, and connected with the northern New England trunk lines, the Boston and Lowell, the Fitchburg, and the Boston and Albany, at junctions north or west of Boston. It had increased its scope by the lease in 1888 of the Boston and Providence Railroad.” Later in the 1893 the Consolidated Railroad leased the Old Colony’s lines, and from that time the early lines were only part of a larger system with the name New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

Until 1927, Rapid Transit trains of the Boston Elevated Railway (later the MTA, then the MBTA, and the T) terminated at Andrew Square. Passengers for Dorchester and Mattapan who like everyone else paid 10 cents to go anywhere on the Boston Elevated system boarded street cars at that point. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad offered a faster and more expensive means of traveling from Boston to Dorchester, using the Old colony Division main line to Harrison Square, then turning onto the double track Shawmut Branch to Milton Jct., then onto single track Milton Branch to Mattapan Square. The first alteration of the New Haven Service as the result of conversion to Rapid Transit was the elimination of Crescent Avenue Station on the Old Colony, which was located at about the present site of the MBTA Columbia Road Station. The New Haven’s Harrison Square Station was eliminated, being only 0.4 miles from the new Fields Corner Rapid Transit terminal, which became the first temporary terminus for the Rapid Transit Extension. Trolley traffic along Dorchester Avenue was considerably reduced when the new Fields Corner terminal opened in 1928. The remaining 2.2 miles of third rail rapid transit line was completed a year later from Fields Corner to Ashmont.


Brown, C.A. “Milton Branch Shawmut Branch” in The Shoreliner, v. 10, issue #3, 1979.

Kirkland, Edward Chase. Men, Cities and Transportation. A Study in New England History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908.

Restuccia, Paul. “Carruth Constructed Garden Suburb. A Developing Story, A Continuing Series on the History of Building in Boston.” In Boston Herald, Mar. 1, 2002.


Posted on

December 22, 2021

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