Wednesday August 29, 2007

The Trolley Air Line

Two centuries ago, the Worcester Turnpike Corporation was granted a charter to construct a toll road from Boston to Worcester. The 40-mile route passed through Wellesley and exists today as the busy Route 9. The Worcester Turnpike opened between 1808 and 1810 and was immediately popular for stagecoaches. The West Needham (now Wellesley) tollgate stood at the intersection of Weston Road. The gatekeeper lived nearby, and a member of the family was always ready to open the gate, day or night, at the blast of the coachmanÕs horn.
The invention of electricity made possible a new form of transportation: the electric railway car. The Boston and Worcester Street Railway syndicate, popularly known as the ÒTrolley Air Line,Ó was incorporated in 1901 and laid its tracks within the old turnpike right-of-way wherever possible. To win a franchise from Wellesley town fathers, the company agreed to make expensive improvements, including road widening to 75 feet, except through the village of Wellesley Hills.
The ride from Boston to Worcester began in Park Square. In 1913, the full trip took two hours and 20 minutes and cost 64 cents. The B & W was a Òsemi-rapidÓ line with limited stops including Wellesley Hills, where travelers could transfer to cars bound for Natick and elsewhere in Wellesley. Most of the cars held 52 passengers. The trolley was popular with excursionists, who, by changing lines, could travel to New London, Connecticut, or Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, a total of almost two hundred miles in a day.
Many factors contributed to the demise of the suburban electric railway: tough financial terms made it difficult for companies to afford maintenance and new equipment; during World War I, costs skyrocketed and ridership declined; motor buses were introduced; and, most important, the automobile provided a means of transportation that was faster, more flexible, and private. In 1930, work began on a modern four-lane highway. The last trolley west of Boston rolled out of Park Square on June 10, 1932.



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