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History time: Coming of the elevated railroad to Forest Hills

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  January 29, 2013 12:23 PM

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(Richard Heath)

The two viaducts elevated and railroad. November, 1983.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.

The Forest Hills community was becoming increasingly important as an outer city and suburban transfer point for trolleys and trains after the electrification of streetcars in 1890. The governing body of the BERy, the Massachusetts Railway Commission, wanted a terminal at Forest Hills to be the main connection with Forest Hills commuter trains and the West Roxbury branch railroad.

Ground was broken for the terminal in March 1908, and opening-day was November 22, 1909. The Boston Herald reported that more than 3,500 patrons flocked to take seats in the first two opening hours beginning at 5:15 a.m. Mr. John H. Bell of 14 Varney Street was the second person to buy a ticket.

Considerable thought was given to the design of the terminal and elevated platform because it needed to harmonize with the Arborway and the great stone viaduct built just over a decade earlier. The viaduct was built largely to accommodate funeral processions from Forest Hills Street. It was massive stone structure, 1,150 feet long with granite walls six feet thick, it spanned a granite causeway eighteen to twenty feet high and was almost seventy feet wide. Edmund M. Wheelwright, the chief architect of the new Forest Hills terminal, arrived at a plan to support the elevated tracks on single massive steel piers encased in concrete eleven feet thick, set in a foundation twelve feet deep.

Forest Hills terminal was City Beautiful architecture a period of great optimism in American culture and architecture that began with the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. At Forest Hills the material was light tan concrete and the proportions were classical lines straight and elegant; it was not the fussy building of a generation earlier. The form showed the function (to paraphrase the architect Louis Sullivan). A stately building even in its last years, the terminal was a light and airy building with platforms open to the sky, and heavy canopies that kept out the wet weather.

The most important benefit of all to Forest Hills was the organization and rescheduling of wheeled traffic. At first motorcars and horse-and-wagons moved through the station, but when that proved impractical a new section of Washington Street was built between the station and the railroad depot in June of 1916. A new and much-needed passenger platform was built inside the terminal in place of the road. The elevated terminal was essentially a box built over the streetcar lanes, which entered and exited through at-grade portals on the north and south ends. Streetcars that once clogged the Square were routed through the station to separate berths based on route. It was in stark contrast to the streetcar corral of which the press had complained a decade earlier.

Accidents did occur, however, as the Boston Globe reported on April 12, 1911. A laundry wagon driven by Joseph Farrell collided with an electric streetcar near Morton’s Market the day before. Farrell was thrown to the ground and the frightened horse broke away from the chassis and raced madly through elevated posts and streetcars until caught at School Street.

The topographic change created by the new elevated line was complete in 1921 and would stand for the next sixty years. There were two administrative changes in the interim. On August 29, 1947 the newly-created Metropolitan Transit Authority bought the BERy for $20 million. (To avoid acronym confusion with the Mass. Turnpike Authority, the transit agency changed its name to Mass Bay Transportation Authority in 1964.) Second, on August 26, 1965 the rapid transit and trolley trains were given a color scheme. The Forest Hills-to-Sullivan Square elevated line would now be the Orange Line, so named because it traveled over what was originally Orange Street.

This column is a submission from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

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(Library of Congress)

The concrete elevated viaduct and the Casey Overpass in 1984.

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