BAHS Home | History | Neighborhoods | Photo Collection

This article by Allston-Brighton historian Dr. William P. Marchione appeared in the Allston-Brighton Tab or Boston Tab newspapers in the period from July 1998 to late 2001, and supplement information in his books The Bull in the Garden (1986) and Images of America: Allston-Brighton (1996).   These articles are copyrighted in the name of the author. Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution.  

Commuting in 19th Century Allston-Brighton


Before 1816 no regularly scheduled transportation of any kind existed between Boston and its western suburbs. The first hourly stagecoach service to the outlying towns was established in 1826.  By 1827, two stage lines connected Brookline and Brighton to the metropolis, one running through Brookline Village, the other across the Mill Dam and along the “Brighton Road” (lower Commonwealth and Brighton Avenues).
   
Prior to 1830 the Brookline/ Brighton Center stagecoach stopped at the Bull’s Head Tavern, the home of the Brighton Cattle Market, located a quarter mile east of Brighton Center.  However, with the construction of the Cattle Fair Hotel in Brighton Center, the stagecoach began stopping there.
   
A far more important form of public transportation was introduced in 1834 with the construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad through Brighton. Though the building of a western railroad ultimately reinforced Brighton's position as the center of the cattle and slaughtering industries, support for the project was far from unanimous. Railroads brought hazards and inconveniences to the communities they crossed: noise, smoke, frightened horses, engines crossing streets at grade, and the possibility of property damage from fires. 
   
In addition, Brighton's economy was still largely tied to agriculture, farmers comprising nearly two-thirds of the town's workforce in 1830.  The prosperity of Brighton's farms rested upon the town's proximity to the largest urban market in New England. If a western railroad were built, remote regions of the state would begin sending cheap produce to the city to compete with goods produced in Brighton. Thus the town's farmers had much to lose.
   
Moreover, the Brighton Cattle and slaughtering industry had no pressing need of the services that a railroad would provide. The herding of cattle over hundreds of miles from interior areas by farmers and drovers had been going on for decades. These overland cattle drives continued to be an important source of supply for the Brighton cattle market long after the construction of a western railroad.
   
There is no mention of the railroad issue in the Brighton town records of the late 1820s and early 1830s.  This silence is rather surprising, given the town's propensity for taking strong positions on transportation issues.  What appears to have happened here (the evidence being admittedly circumstantial) is that a small group of political entrepreneurs, led by former State Senator Gorham Parsons, reached an understanding with the railroad whereby the town would raise no formal objection to the construction of the line in exchange for moving it to the northern edge of town, a measure that would both safeguard property values in the more desirable and elevated sections of the community as well as locate the railroad in an area where Brighton's principal officeholders held substantial acreage. 
   
Significantly, the major officeholders in Brighton in the 1830 to 1834 period were chiefly North Brighton landowners. They included Francis Winship, part-owner of Winships' Gardens, who represented Brighton in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1823 to 1829 and in the Massachusetts State Senate from 1829 to 1833.  Winship also served on the Board of Selectmen from 1829 to 1832 and frequently presided over Brighton town meetings. The Brighton depot was to be placed in Winships' Gardens, which operated to the advantage of the nursery since many of its patrons were Bostonians.  From 1831 to 1835 North Brighton men controlled the town's Board of Selectmen.  In the 1833 to 1835 period major North Brighton landowners held all three Selectmen's seats.  They were Edmund Rice, Dana Dowse, and Cephas Brackett.
   
The rerouting of the Boston & Worcester Railroad from the center of the community to the  northernmost part of town was extremely significant for the future of Brighton.  If a railroad had been built through the Brighton Center area, as was originally proposed, nuisance industries would almost certainly have been more widely scattered over the face of the town.  By confining the railroad to Brighton's northernmost section, Parsons and the other "solid men of Brighton" helped to foster a degree of industrial concentration.
   
Construction of the Boston & Worcester Railroad began in 1832.  By the spring of 1834---with the line completed as far as West Newton---service was inaugurated. In her reminiscences of early 19th century Brighton, Mary Ann Kingsley Merwin wrote as follows of this inaugural trip: “I was on the bridge in Winship’s Gardens, and saw the first locomotive that passed over the road with passengers. It had a single car containing the officers who were making a trial trip as far as the road was finished, to West Newton, I think.”
   
The establishment of Brighton's railroad depot at the center of Winships' Gardens helped to stimulate the development of North Brighton.  By 1850 the area near to the depot, known as "Brighton Corners," had become the town's second largest commercial center, containing some fifteen business establishments, including two general stores, a hotel, a livery stable and two lumber yards.  This neighborhood's share of the town's population, which had stood at a mere 6.4 percent in 1820, rose to almost 25 percent by 1850.
   
In addition, a substantial concentration of slaughterhouses, ropewalks, and lumberyards soon lined the entire railroad corridor, giving the northern quarter of the town a distinctly industrial character.
   
The B&W also reinforced the position of the local cattle and slaughtering industries by offering special freight rates to anyone transporting cattle to the Brighton Stockyards. By 1850 Brighton was doing some $10 million a year of business in cattle and slaughtering, much of the livestock now arriving by rail. The Brighton Depot at the foot of Market Street was actually making more money for the B&W than the line’s elaborate downtown passenger depot at Lincoln and Beach Streets.
   
Another mode of transportation came to Brighton in the 1830s, the omnibus, a horse-drawn wheeled conveyance (a kind of urban stagecoach), which moved along a set route on a regular schedule, carrying about a dozen passengers.
   
In 1839, Sumner Wellman of Brighton established the first omnibus line in Brighton, which ran between Brighton Center and Boston by way of Brookline Village and Roxbury.  The omnibus enjoyed important advantages over the railroad.  Very little capital was needed to establish such a line and the route could be altered at any time to take account of new development. Wellman owned no property whatsoever, apart from his horse drawn vehicle.  He drove the omnibus himself, alternating trips with his one  employee, Daniel Hyde. 
   
This line survived for twenty-one years.  A major advantage for Wellman lay in an absence of competition on the Washington Street route. By 1845 his omnibus was making six trips a day, at 9 and 11 a.m. and at 1, 3, 6 and 9 p.m., for a fare 25 cents (18 1/2 cents from Brookline) each way, with tickets available in lots of six for a dollar (at an average cost of 16 2/3 cents apiece).  Eventually Wellman's line became what was termed "an hourly."
   
However, the lure of the omnibus was severely limited even for those who could afford to pay its relatively high fare, for these heavy horsedrawn vehicles were slow (averaging less than five miles an hour), uncomfortable, and poorly ventilated. 

BAHS Home | History | Neighborhoods | Photo Collection