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The Railroad in Dover
By Marta Hunter
There is a charming little volume in the Dover Library titled Dover on the Charles – A Contribution to New England Folk Lore by Alice J. Jones. Published in 1906, it contains the reminiscences of a spinster school teacher and her bucolic youth in a Dover fifty years past. Short on hard data, but filled with sweet gossip of which farm hand married which house maid in her parents’ household, it did contain a tantalizing (yet dateless) tidbit about the coming of the Air Line Railroad.
I, too, had grown up in Dover and remembered the railroad and the trains running through town, but had always thought of the railroad in modern terms. This little snippet from Miss Alice’s book meant that the tracks that run through Dover Center had been laid over 160 years ago. I was fascinated.
“Air Line Railroad”, I found, was a generic term for a straight route train line. It was derived from the same sort of thinking that gives us the saying “as the crow flies”. The real name of the railroad that ran through Dover in those days was The Charles River Branch Railroad. A charter was granted for this railroad on 1 May 1849 and it began service from Boston to Newton Upper Falls about three years later. By 1861, the train was running through Dover to Medfield. The Charles River Branch’s real claim to fame was that it played a large part in hauling gravel from the town of Needham to the newly created Back Bay of Boston to use for fill.
A railroad is an expensive proposition and the Charles River Branch line changed hands several times before finally becoming a part of the New York New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
Currently the tracks are owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) and the trains that run are operated by Bay Colony Railroad. Trains do not run through Dover any longer but parts of the Medfield tracks are still in use.
Dover had two depots: the one most of us are familiar with in Dover Center, now called Springdale Crossing, and a second depot on Farm Street. This Farm Street depot was the subject of a newspaper piece cut out and put in a scrapbook of a Boston Girl Scout in the late 1920’s. The piece was printed in the Girl Scout Newspaper and announced that a Dover resident permitted camping on his property free of charge for all Girl Scouts. Scouts should take the train from South Station to the Dover Farms Depot where they would be met by a farm wagon for their gear and then take a “pleasant hike” to the gentleman’s estate for a camping holiday. Although the man’s name is not mentioned, the fair for the trip is: six and ½ cents each way.
During the sleepy 1960’s the train that ran through Dover held fascination for Dover children. Although warned and cautioned and perhaps even threatened to stay away, we were drawn to the daily crossings. Placing pennies on the track to be crushed flat by the moving train was a never ending amusement. And recently a pillar of the community confessed to placing safety pin as well as pennies on the tracks to see the results of the moving might of modern trains. In a town without street lights to come on to tell the children to come home, we used the train whistle. Miss Lydia Higgins, a venerable piano teacher who lived on Walpole Street, instructed her students to remember to come in from playing to practice when the heard the train whistle at 5PM.
The Bad Boys in town would sometimes find a way to trip the light and bell signals into ringing without a train coming down the tracks. Traffic would back up on Springdale Avenue and the long suffering Dover Police Department would send a cruiser slowly down the tracks to catch the pranksters.
The railroad winds its way through some of Dover’s prettiest places. A movement is in the works to turn the unused rail beds into accessible bicycle and walking paths. The Bay Colony Rail Trail (www.baycolonyrailtrail.org) is working with the towns of Newton, Needham, Dover and Medfield, the MBTA and Bay Colony Railroad to make this neglected land a treasure for all to enjoy. With very few street crossings that would need to be dealt with, the Dover portion of this trail would be a safe and fun way for Dover children to again ride their bikes in town and enjoy the beauty that is their small, charming hometown of Dover.
Taken with permission from the Dover Historical Society’s Old Home Day 2010 Booklet