High-Wheelers in Hingham

Group of Boys with Bicycles
These seven Hingham boys posed with three bicycles are witnessing the birth of modern cycling. Behind them are two older bicycles—so-called “high wheelers” or “penny farthings” (the latter nickname descriptive of the relative sizes of the two wheels). High-wheelers originated in England and became popular in the United States in the early 1880s. As this photo lets us see clearly, these early bicycles had a “direct drive” mechanism, that is, the pedals attach directly to the wheel, so that the cyclist’s motion turns the wheel directly. Enlarging the front wheel, therefore, was the only way to make the bicycles go faster–and this is what happened. Front wheels often five feet in diameter, with the cyclist perched directly over the wheel, meant an increased risk of the cyclist pitching headfirst from the front of his bike. Cycling in the era of the high wheelers was a sport for athletic young men.

By the early 1890s, however, “safety bicycles”—like the one lying on the ground in front of the boys—had been introduced and quickly grown in popularity. With two wheels of equal size and pedals connected to a chain that propelled the rear wheel, this direct ancestor of our modern bicycles had a lower center of gravity and was easier to ride. With these technological advances—and the pneumatic tires which smoothed out the ride, bicycling became a very popular past time, with men, women, and children all participating.

Hingham’s Unbuilt Highways, Part 2

As discussed in our prior post, Hingham’s Unbuilt Highways, Part 1, traffic has been an issue for the Town of Hingham for nearly 100 years.  This has been particularly true for Main Street.  Each time the State proposed a plan to solve the problem, though, concerned citizens have stepped forward to oppose what they saw as a threat to the town’s character.

When Route 128 was extended into Hingham (heading to Nantasket Beach) in the late 1920s,  increased complaints about traffic on Main and East Streets led the State, by the mid-1930’s, to promise a bypass route for traffic relief.  The route that it proposed followed Gardner Street, starting at Whiting Street, crossing Main Street, and eventually turning north through the less developed eastern part of town into Hull. Funding issues stalled any actual construction, however. In 1938, the State offered a “temporary fix,” offering to build a rotary in Hingham Centre at the intersection of Main, Short, and Middle Streets.

The Hinghamite, August 1941

August 1941 issue of The Hinghamite, a monthly newspaper published by Albert L. Pitcher during the 1940s

As reported in August 1941 issue of The Hinghamite, the rotary plan, which probably would have resulted in several historic buildings being torn down, was halted by the efforts of Mrs. David T. Whiton and Miss Ethel H. Studley, owners of some of potentially effected properties.  They gathered a petition of nearly 250 names and packed a public hearing which convinced the State to back down. The Town did agree to better signage, more traffic islands, and other measures to help ease traffic problems.

View of Hingham Centre from corner of Main and Short Streets, 9/8/13

Hingham Centre, as seen from the corner of Main and Short Streets in September 2013. Some of these buildings might have been torn down if the State’s rotary proposal had gone forward. Photo by Robert H. Malme

By the 1950’s and the dawn of America’s freeway age, renewed efforts were made to take traffic off Main Street, this time with a proposed relocated Route 128 expressway. Highway surveyors were for time a constant presence in several parts of town.  Leavitt Street resident Carl Burr (whose diary we have blogged about previously) mentioned being visited due to his property being in the potential path of the new highway. By the time the State got serious about the project in the late 1960s, the southern end of Route 128 had been pushed back to Braintree, and the route running through Hingham to Hull was renumbered Rote 228. On February 29, 1968 the State held a public hearing at Hingham High School to describe its proposal for a relocated Route 228:

Proposed Relocation of Route 228 in Hingham-Norwell-Hull

The State’s proposal was an 8-mile, four-lane expressway (250 to 400 feet wide) from Route 3 to George Washington Blvd. in Hull.  According to the State, this would fulfill three specific goals: to stimulate residential development and recreational activities for the towns along its route, to provide traffic relief to local streets, and to provide safety, comfort and reduced travel times to motorists. The State offered three alternatives for this proposed expressway’s route through the southern and middle parts of Hingham.

Proposed Relocation of Route 228 in Hingham, Norwell and Hull

The “Gardner Line” alternative began at an interchange with Route 3 in vicinity of today’s Derby Street Shoppes, taking the route across Whiting Street and south of Gardner Street, across Main Street then turning north in the vicinity of Prospect Street. The two other alternatives, the “Pond Line” and the “Webster Line” started at Route 3 in Norwell and ran north to Prospect Street.  From Prospect Street, all three proposed routes proceeded north along a “Common Line” running parallel to the border of today’s Wompatuck State Park.  North of Free Street (where an interchange was planned), three alternative routes were again proposed north to Hull.  Two of these proposed routes, the “Western” and “West Central” Lines would have required “relocating” Triphammer Pond and the Weir River.  The “Eastern Line” would have run east of Triphammer Pond but would have skirted Turkey Hill.

All three proposed routes intersected with Route 3A (with a large interchange) at between Summer Street and today’s Weir River Farm. Any of the alternatives would have condemned 17 to 26 houses and requiring those living in them to move and would have cost $12 to $15 million (in 1968 dollars).

View from Top of Turkey Hill

View from top of Turkey Hill–which would have been much different if the Route 228 expressway had been built.  Photo by Robert H. Malme, May 2015

Many Town officials were receptive to the plan, provided that the State chose one of the Norwell routes. The Selectmen even asked the State to add an interchange at Rockland Street in the event the Eastern Line was chosen. In the spring of 1968, however, Norwell rejected the proposed routes within its borders due to their proximity to the municipal water supply, and the State indicated that the Gardner Line would probably be its recommended southern alternative.

At a Special Town Meeting held on September 30, 1968, Hingham voters rejected the State’s plans by a narrow vote of 559-506.  (A second article, requiring the Selectmen to insist upon the Pond-Common-Eastern Line configuration if the State moved forward with a highway despite the Town’s vote, passed 422-231). Since neither Norwell nor Hingham would approve a southern route through their respective towns, no construction was started. By the early 1970s, with continued opposition and with overall sentiment for expressway-building waning in the metro Boston area waning (a trend exemplified by the cancellation of the Southwest Expressway in Boston), the State abandoned the plan.

Continued traffic problems on Main Street, however, revived the idea of building a relocated Route 228 in the early 1990s. Several frustrated Main Streets resident asked Selectmen to reconsider the State’s 1960s plan. This time, however, a large majority of town citizens and the town’s officials stood up against this idea. Their sentiments were best summed up in a letter which John P. Richardson wrote to the editor of the Hingham Mariner on August 8, 1993, arguing that any such highway would ruin one of the town’s gems, Wompatuck State Park.

richardsonletter8893

Letter to the Editor of the Hingham Mariner, written by John P Richardson on August 8, 1993.

The idea died quietly and has not been revived. Current sentiment with building new roads to solve traffic problems can best be summed up by the response of the Town Traffic Committee to the complaint of a frustrated Main Street resident, as reported in the July 29, 1993 Hingham Mariner.  When the Main Streeter asked what could be done for relief from the traffic noise, the response was, “Move to Plymouth.”

Hingham R.F.D.

Ervin Horton in his Stanley Steamer (1911)
This 1911 shot from our photo archives depicts Ervin Horton (1876-1959), at the time a Hingham mail carrier, in his Stanley Steamer automobile. When we reproduced the photo in Michael Shilhan’s 1976 local history, When I Think of Hingham, the caption read, “Ervin S. Horton and his red Stanley Steamer on South Street in front of the Post Office, July 31, 1911.”

Ervin’s son, Howard Leavitt Horton (1904-1983), memorialized the Hingham of his youth in letters, stories, water color paintings, and sound recordings, many of which are in our archives. Here, in a 1975 letter written to Historical Society President James W. Wheaton, an elderly Howard Horton remembers his father, the delivery route, and the car:

I remember driving around the Hingham R.F.D. mail route with my father in that old Stanley Steamer . . . . We started up Fearing Road and turned right past the old Cadet Field (now Derby) and then left at the foot of the hill by the harbor and over Otis Street then turned right on Downer Avenue passing the Crow Point Inn and to the Steamboat Landing. Then we took a very sharp left turn and up a very steep hill, Steamboat Lane. This was before 1915 and there were few automobiles in Hingham then and I doubt if any of them except my father’s Stanley Steamer could go up that hill after a sharp turn. The old Stanley Steamer just went up that hill puffing steam with no trouble at all. The Crow Point Golf Club was at the top of the hill and then we turned right and there was a beautiful view of Boston Harbour. . . .

In those days there was an old blacksmith shop as we turned right leaving Downer Avenue on Lincoln Street . . . Mr. Wing’s blacksmith shop and then Jerry Breen’s farm house and barn with a windmill which pumped water from a well for use on his truck garden. There were several of these farms in Hingham and they all drove over Lincoln Street early in the dawn to get to the market district on Hanover and Blackstone streets at Boston by daylight, these huge wagons requiring two horses and sometimes four. . . .

Crow Point Golf Club
This postcard dates from 1915, around the time young Howard Horton accompanied his father on summertime mail delivery trips up the hill to the Crow Point Golf Club, a 9-hole golf course located at the top of Paige Hill, off Howe Street.
Steamboat Hill

Steamboat Hill ran up from the former steamboat landing–where the Hingham  Yacht Club now has its pier:  the sharp left up the hill remains in place today.  The painting above, showing Steamboat Hill from the far side, was made somewhat earlier, in 1895–the year before Melville Garden was closed and development of Crow Point accelerated.

Hingham’s Unbuilt Highways, Part 1

For nearly the last 100 years, residents of Hingham have had to deal with traffic congestion in its downtown, the harbor area, and along Main Street. The recent effort by the town to survey residents about possible improvements to Route 3A and Summer Street is only the latest attempt to try to solve the town’s traffic problems. Documents from the John Richardson Collection and other materials in our archives confirm that the search for a solution to traffic problems has a long history.

Starting in the 1920’s the town asked the state to fund a project to take beach and through traffic away from Hingham Square. The state took the easiest solution and expanded Broad Cove Road and Otis Street to four lanes so that 3A could be re-routed away from the eastern end of Lincoln Street and North Street in 1932. Though successful, this action reduced the ability for non-automobile traffic to easily access the waterfront from that date forward. Around the same time, to further speed Nantasket and other traffic east of the Harbor, the state also built Chief Justice Cushing Highway, with the now infamous Harbor Rotary, and constructed George Washington Blvd. to Hull.

Looking North towards the Harbor Rotary in 1941:

Hingham Rotary and Harbor (1941)With the 1950s came the start of the freeway era in the country and Massachusetts. By 1959, the state had completed the 128 Beltway, the Central Artery, and the Southeast Expressway as far as Derby Street (later to be Route 3). Hingham officials saw the new expressway as an opportunity to attract tax-producing industrial and commercial development to South Hingham but also worried about what a potential residential population boom would do to the town. With these thoughts in mind, the Hingham Planning Board produced a report called the ‘1959 Town Plan Summary’ which projected Hingham’s population as 25,000 by 1980 and made a series of recommendations to best accommodate this growth while preserving the town’s character.

Cover of 1959 Planning Board Report:

1959 Hingham Town Plan Summary

The report made two recommendations to help increase recreational use of the Harbor. The first was to fill parts of it to connect the Harbor islands to the mainland and build a marina where the Yacht Club is now, as seen in the map below.

Hingham Harbor Plan (1959)

Second to ease waterfront access to town citizens, and to help solve many of the town’s traffic problems, the Board recommended building a pair of parkways (which, depending on costs, would be built as limited access expressways right away, or upgraded to them in the future) to take Nantasket and other through traffic away from the Harbor area and from Main Street (see Location A in the map below). The north-south parkway would take through traffic from Route 3A at the Back River Bridge southward parallel to Beal Street (by the Ammunition Depot, slated to close and holding out the opportunity for industrial development) and then further south along the western side of town to Route 3. The east-west parkway would then take southbound and Nantasket traffic east, following a route through the center of Town, north of High and Free Streets, and then across 3A to George Washington Blvd.

1959 Hingham Highway Plan

Neither of these plans got off the drawing board: they appear to have largely been an alternative to the state’s known plans for the Hingham area, which included, as can be seen referenced on the top left side map, the Shawmut Trail. The Shawmut Trail was a proposed expressway that would have run from Route 3 near today’s Braintree Split eastward across the Fore River (over a new bridge) to Route 3A in Weymouth just west of the Back River Bridge. It would then have continued into Hingham mostly along the path of Route 3A to end at the proposed Route 128 (later 228) Expressway near Turkey Hill (shown on Map C). As can be seen on the Location B and C Maps above, a portion of the Shawmut Trail route would have run directly from the Broad Cove Rd/Otis Street intersection to the Rotary. This would, as the report notes, involve running Route 3A “on a dike across the southern shallows of the Harbor cutting off the ponded areas from further recreational or boating use.” In other words, this plan would have prevented most of the current activities in the southern end of the harbor.

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from the Bathing Beach in 2014, a scene that would not be possible if the Shawmut Trail had been built:

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from Bathing Beach, 8/9/14
Photo by Robert H. Malme, 8/9/14

Needless to say, this plan did not impress Hingham’s citizens or town officials. By the end of 1968 the state relented and ended the proposed Shawmut Trail in Weymouth. In the early 1970s the state officially abandoned the plan. Though none of these proposal came to be, a plan to build a relocated 228 expressway came much closer to fruition. More about that in Part 2.

 

Carl Burr’s Hingham, Part 1

Thanks to the generosity of Hingham resident Gerry Bennett, the Historical Society has recently been loaned the diaries of Carl Burr (1884-1961), a seventh generation Hingham resident who lived his entire life at the family homestead at 61 Leavitt Street, across from today’s Hingham Public Library. I have just completed cataloging these diaries to make them accessible to researchers and others interested in this local history resource. Click on the link to read the full Carl Burr Diaries Finding Aid.

Photo of the Burr Homestead on Leavitt Street in 1885 and beyond. Taken by Charles Marble from the roof of Agricultural Hall:

Burr Homestead in 1885

Carl Burr was the eleventh child of Elisha Burr (1839-1909) and Mary Pratt Burr (1842-1940). He married Esther (Essie) M. Snyder (1889-1975) of Cohasset on June 15, 1910 and they raised two children, Alston P. Burr (1910-1979), who after 1940 lived next door at 67 Leavitt Street, and Constance (Connie) Burr Talbot (1915-1989) who spent her married life in Darien, Connecticut. He kept a daily diary for most of his adult life. The entries provide a window on a Hingham that was changing rapidly from a rural farm town in the early 1900s to the suburban community it is today. Changes that are evident through his diary’s descriptions of modes of transportation and use of open space.

Transportation
Carl Burr never owned a car. He didn’t have to travel far to visit family. Carl’s younger brother, noted decoy maker Russ Burr (1887-1955), lived next door at 55 Leavitt Street until his death in 1955, older sister Mary (May) Burr Ripley (b. 1878) and her husband William (Bill) Ripley (b. 1876) lived two doors up at the corner of Leavitt and Spring Streets.

Burr Homestead houses along 57, 61 and 67 Leavitt Street, 5/2/15

Burr Homestead houses along 57, 61 and 67 Leavitt Street. Photo taken May 2, 2015 by Robert H. Malme.

He was within walking distance of stores in both Hingham Center and Hingham Square. In his early years he was a plumbing and heating contractor and his entries list his extensive use of the local street railway system to visit clients throughout Hingham and neighboring communities.

Hingham Street Railway Car on Main Street near Pear Tree Hill:
Hingham Street Railway Company Car, Pear Tree Hill

He used the Nantasket and Old Colony railroad lines to take off-hour excursions to Nantasket Beach and Paragon Park or to travel to Cohasset to visit his future wife.

Nantasket Beach Railroad Train c. 1900 Nantasket Railway train heading towards Hingham near the Weir River around 1900, courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

Through connecting rail lines in other towns, he could travel far from home. He writes on August 15, 1909 traveling to Providence, RI via ‘the electrics’ for a dinner. In the 1920’s he became maintenance supervisor to buildings in Boston and started daily commutes via the Old Colony Railroad into South Station often returning home in the early afternoon. And like this past winter season, he noted several times when severe snowstorms prevented the trains from running.

Passengers board Old Colony Railroad train at Hingham Square Depot around 1930:

Hingham Square Train Station

As the years went on, particularly after World War II, however, the railroad started to give way to the popularity of the automobile. His entries refer to rail service starting to get cut back. On April 3, 1948 he notes he can no longer take a 12:30PM trip back to Hingham from Boston, but must now take a train to Quincy and then a bus. By the late 1940s, any late evening work would require his son Allston picking him up in his car from Quincy or the ‘rapid transit’ station at Columbia, today’s JFK-UMass station. After he stopped working in Boston in 1951, he started to rely totally on family, or friends, to transport him around town or elsewhere. Toward the end of his life, on September 8, 1959 he noted traveling on the new Southeast Expressway, its opening causing the end of railroad service in Hingham for nearly 50 years.

Hingham Square Train Depot being demolished in 1949:
Demolition of Hingham Square Train Station

Part two will discuss the changes the diaries chronicle in Hingham’s open spaces.

Enjoying the “Cool Sea Breezes” at Hingham’s Old Colony House

The advent of mass transportation in the mid-19th century helped create the summer tourism industry that has been so important to our regional economy.  When New England and the Sea, an historical survey of our maritime heritage, addresses the rise of seaside resorts, it tips its hat to Hingham:  “. . . one had to have a summer house at the shore, or go to the White Mountains, or stay at one of the fashionable hotels—say, the Old Colony House at the head of the harbor in Hingham . . . .”

A gathering in front of the Old Colony House. Photograph from the archives at the Hingham Historical Society.

Built in 1832 by the Boston & Hingham Steamship Company, the Old Colony House was an early example of the symbiotic relationship between the infant transportation and recreation industries.  The steamboat George Lincoln made the trip from Boston to Hingham swift (around 75 minutes) and pleasant, while the Old Colony House, erected on Summer Street near Martin’s Lane, created a destination, increasing passenger traffic on the vessel.  The railroad came through Hingham in 1849, and one of the stops on the new South Shore Railroad, called “Old Colony House,” was close by the hotel, providing easy access from Boston—and soon thereafter, the opportunity to change trains for Nantasket.  (The station’s descendent is today’s Nantasket Junction stop on the MBTA Greenbush Line.)  After the Civil War, the great Nantasket hotels drew business away from the Old Colony House, which was in decline when it burned in 1872.

The Historical Society’s archives include a collection of the business papers of Alfred C. Hersey.  Among Hersey’s many business interests (largely in the shipping and transportation industries) was the Old Colony House, which the steamship company sold in the late 1830’s.  Hersey’s 21-page handwritten inventory of the hotel’s furnishings, made in May 1860, provides important detail about what a New England resort hotel of the 1860’s was really like.

The inventory faithfully describes the furnishings of each room of the hotel, including dining room, parlors, billiard room, bowling alley, and office, specifying quantities, materials, and state of repair.  In the “East Parlor,” for instance, guests could sit on their choice of 6 damask covered sofas (4 “slightly stained”), 1 stuffed arm chair, 13 black walnut stuff bottom chairs, a stuffed rocking chair, and 10 black arm chairs (which had among them, however, only 8 cushions).

A typical guest room was furnished with a bedstead, mattresses, bolster and pillow, bureau, washstand, looking glass, mosquito netting, chamber pot and cover, soap cup, mug, and curtains.  A servant’s room in the attic, by contrast, had a bedstead, mattress, bolster and pillow (“stained”), wooden chair, toilet table (“defaced”), “small” looking glass, basin and ewer, and soap cup.  (Servants’ rooms in the scullery appear to have had significantly fewer furnishings.)

The inventories of the kitchen and laundry provide detailed lists of equipment.  To launder the hotel linens and guests’ clothes required water casks, grease casks, basins, wash boards, starch pans, a mangle, clothes horses, brushes, 11 flat irons, iron racks, and an iron heater.

The contents of the kitchen and “pastry room” tell us about the hotel’s fare.  There were large and small frying pans, copper and iron sauce pans, a meat saw, large and small steamers, tin and copper baking and cake pans, iron cake molds, tin jelly molds, a gridiron, waffle irons, coffee pots, a tea chest, ice cream freezers, an ice cream chest, and an ice cream scoop.  The “pastry room” was furnished with a bed—the pastry cook must have needed to rise early.

In a series of travel letters published as A Trip to Boston in 1838, Enoch Cobb Wines wrote warmly of the

splendid and well-kept Old Colony Hotel, the refined social pleasures it affords, the noble view enjoyed from the observatory on its roof, and the cool sea breezes that almost enable you to put summer at defiance. . . . [It]t presented a gay and happy appearance.  The broad piazza which surrounds three sides of the house was thronged with smiling groups, in which a due intermixture of the gentler sex was not wanting . . . .

. . . There was an excellent band from Boston there, and we had the poetry of music, the poetry of motion, and the poetry of social happiness, all in high perfection; and afterwards the poetry of sound sleep in the cool air, for which the proprietor of the Old Colony seems to have made a perpetual contract.