I've provided a scan of the 1846 map of railroads originating in Boston because I'm fascinated by exactly how much of the current commuter rail system duplicates rail lines that were in place 160 years ago. There are obvious differences: there are more lines today and more stations (in some cases at least--look at the number of stations between Attleboro and Providence in 1846). But the old system had better connections to the rest of New England and even Long Island in addition to the stations which duplicate current ones. There are also some 1846 railroad lines that are currently missing from the MBTA commuter rail system, most notably ones to Fall River and New Bedford.
What is hard to imagine is that all of this railroad building was accomplished in twenty years. The Granite Railroad was constructed in 1826 to haul granite for the Bunker Hill Monument to the Neponset River for transport on to Charlestown and was one of the first railroads in the country. Twenty years later a Bostonian could travel by train all over New England. Some of the stations on the 1846 map have names no longer in common use. Angiers is now Newton Corner, and some of the other unfamiliar names can be found at the Secretary of State's website which lists unincorporated and unofficial names of Massachusetts communities. This network of railroads also had a significant impact on the flow of information within New England the United States, which I briefly discussed in this post about Allan Pred's book Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information: The United States System of Cities, 1790-1840.
Here are the descriptions of the various railroads from the 1846 Boston Almanac:
Railroads Diverging from Boston
We have had prepared, at considerable expense, for the present number of the Boston Almanac, a Diagram of the Railroads diverging from Boston, which shows at a glance the courses and distances of the several routes. By these different lines of railway, intersecting our ancient Commonwealth in the various directions, the riches of the agricultural, manufacturing, mineral, and other productions of the East, the North, the South, and even the far West, are poured into Boston. The whole State is brought so near within our reach that it may be, without exaggeration, termed the suburbs of the city. The farthest boundary of Berkshire is but ten hours from us, and the people of Buffalo are our neighbors. When the roads now in contemplation are completed, New England will all be brought within a day's ride of our metropolis, and all our old notions of distance and time will undergo a change. The influence upon the wealth and prosperity of Boston must be beyond calculation, and must surpass any but the most vivid imagination to conceive.
The Boston and Worcester Railroad, taken in connection with the Western Railroad, may be considered the backbone of the frame of Railroads in Massachusetts. It starts from the corner of Beach and Lincoln, near the United States Hotel, in Boston, and extends through Worcester and Springfield, and the rich interior and western sections of the State, to West Stockbridge on the western boundary, 162 miles, and continues on to Chatham in New York, where one branch continues on to Greenbush, opposite Albany, 200 miles from Boston, and the Hudson Railroad extends to the town of Hudson, 193 miles from Boston. From this road other routes branch off in different directions.
The Norwich Railroad leaves it at Worcester and runs 66 miles in a southerly direction, where it unites with a ferry of 30 miles, joining the Long Island Road, 95 miles long, reaching to Brooklyn, opposite New York.
The Hartford Railroad starts from Springfield, and runs southerly through a rich and beautiful country, by Hartford to North Haven, 62 miles.
The Housatonic Railroad starts from West Stockbridge, and runs south 95 miles to Bridgeport, on Long Island Sound.
The Brattleboro' Railroad is expected to start from Springfield and north, up the fertile and picturesque valley of the Connecticut, and allow the riches of that section to flow in an abundant current to our city.
The Eastern Railroad, which terminates at East Boston in a ferry, uniting that place with Boston, at Lewis Wharf, runs through Salem and Newburyport, sending off branches by the way to Marblehead and Gloucester, and passes through Portsmouth, N.H., to Portland, Me., a distance of 105 miles.
The Maine Railroad runs from Haymarket Square, in Boston, through Andover and Haverhill, in this State, and Exeter and Dover, in New Hampshire, and joins with the Eastern Road at South Berwick, Me., 71 miles from Boston.
The Providence Railroad, leaves Boston on Pleasant Street, near the southern extremity of the common, and, uniting with the Stonington route at Providence, extends to Stonington, making 90 miles in all, where a steamboat ferry of 30 miles connects it with the Long Island train.
The New Bedford Railroad branches off from the Providence Road at Mansfield, and runs 31 miles to New Bedford, and sends off, on the way, another branch to Fall River.
The Plymouth Railroad unites the Old Colony with Boston, by a line 37 miles in length, the terminus at present being South Boston; but as soon as the bridge for that purpose can be completed, it is to be brought to the depot of the Boston and Worcester Railroad.
The Fitchburg Railroad starts from Charlestown, just across the Charles River, and already reaches 50 miles from Boston. This road it is in contemplation to extend through the southwestern part of New Hampshire, and the centre of Vermont, to Burlington on Lake Champlain. The Concord Road and the Brattleboro Road will also send off branches in the same direction; and a charter is obtained, and will, without doubt, be speedily carried into effect, for a railroad to Ogdensburgh, on the northwest boundary of New York, which will thus be brought into proximity, by connected lines of Railways, with Boston. The products of the far West, by the way of the great lakes, and the canals and railroads of Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, will thus be enabled to pour into the capital of Massachusetts, and a large portion of that immense amount of freight which has heretofore sought an outlet at New York, by the way of the great Erie Canal, can find a better and speedier market at Boston. The western province of Canada will also be brought within our reach, and we can supply the North and West with merchandise to a better advantage than can be done from any other source.
The Lowell Railroad begins at the foot of Lowell Street, and is 26 miles in length. It was afterwards extended 15 miles further, to Nashua, and two years ago still further to Concord, N.H., making 76 miles in the whole distance. From this place two routes are already projected, and will, doubtless, soon be built, one to Lebanon, then connecting with the Central Road in Vermont, which is to run through Montpelier to Lake Champlain, and the other through Plymouth to Haverhill, N.H., and perhaps to Montreal, in connection with the Brattleboro' route, which will meet with it at Haverhill. In fact, we can set no bounds to the extent of any of the railroads which radiate from Boston, except the limits of the land itself. Who can tell how soon we may see a railroad car whizzing through the wastes of Labrador, or astonishing the Esquimaux of the frozen north?
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