B&M Harvard Branch

Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.

Moderator: MEC407


B&M Harvard Branch

Post by OHanrahan » Wed Jan 12, 2005 6:58 pm

Does anybody know where a detailed history of the B&M's Harvard Branch can be found? I know it was short-lived but something must be know about it. I remember as recently as the early nineties there was a bit of trackage in some brush just west of Park St. in Somerville where according to maps, the Harvard Branch began. There is a street in Cambridge that I believe is on the old ROW but I cannot remember the name of it. There is a deli on the corner of this street and Beacon St. There was once a marker on Harvard St. where the depot was but I'm not sure it's still there.

Ron Newman
Posts: 2772
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 7:04 pm
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Post by Ron Newman » Wed Jan 12, 2005 10:11 pm

Museum Street in Somerville and Cambridge was built on the old right-of-way.

Some old sidings that may once have been the beginning of the Harvard Branch were removed in the early to mid-1990s, when the 32 Kent Street Apartments were built.

b&m 1566
Posts: 3355
Joined: Sat Mar 13, 2004 2:09 am
Location: Hudson, NH

Post by b&m 1566 » Thu Jan 13, 2005 1:55 am

Are there any historical maps showing this branch or even a recent map thats shows the street. I tried looking myself but didn't get anywhere with it.


B & M Harvard Branch

Post by eddiebear » Thu Jan 13, 2005 8:13 am

The Harvard Branch never belonged to the B & M.

The Harvard Branch Railroad was built from what became the Fitchburg Railroad mainline in about 1847. I believe the junction was somewhere around Village Street in Somerville where the Fitchburg Mainline makes quite a jog to the right after crossing under Washington Street in Somerville.
The Harvard Branch terminated on the grounds of the college. Through service was run from the Causeway Street terminus of the Fitchburg RR right onto the Harvard Campus. It appears that the Fitchburg granted trackage rights. A comprehensive schedule of maybe 5 or 6 round-trips was the initial schedule. I don't know offhand what the motive power was.
The Harvard Branch RR was not a resounding financial success. Even in the mid-19th Century, Cambridge was a most progressive town and while it hadn't adopted the name of the PRC (Peoples' Republik of Cambridge), infernal machines were not to their liking and they did the ultimate diss to the Harvard Branch RR. They didn't use it ...in droves.
The section of Cambridge along today's Main Street and Broadway were quite developed even 150 years ago and a pre-railroad form of transport was scheduled horse-drawn omnibus service from the West End of Boston, probably around Bowdoin Square into Cambridge across whatever bridge crossed the Charles around the site of today's Longfellow Bridge. The Boston end was much closer to commercial, cultural, religious, governmental and entertainment venues in Boston. So the Harvard Branch was abandoned about 1854. It was a round-about routing for most potential users and no faster than the omnibus.
There is quite an account in a Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin probably in the late 1950s. I know I have one and I also have an index from a few years ago. I'll see if I can find the date and number.

Posts: 177
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 9:54 am
Location: Belmont Ma.

Post by kwf » Thu Jan 13, 2005 8:37 am

I'm no expert on this topic, but on one of the Redline platforms in Harvard Sq there is on map of the Sq. that shows the branch. Somewhere in Harvard's campus there is a building that -kinda- looks like it -coulda- been a depot. Maybe. I saw it once, and did a double take, and said, "that kinda looks like a depot". I've never gone back to check. Maybe I will in the spring.

Posts: 778
Joined: Thu Dec 23, 2004 11:31 am
Location: Leominster, MA

Harvard Branch RR

Post by frrc » Thu Jan 13, 2005 9:27 am

From Cornwall's book, the Harvard Branch RR ran from the fitchburg RR at
Bleachery to near Kirkland and Mass ave in Cambridge, a total of 3673' of track. Horse car and omnibus competition led to the RR's demise in June 1855. An 1852 broadside I have shows 8 inbound and 8 outbound trips per day:

Leave Cambridge

Leave Boston (at FRR station)
Avatar: Self Portrait, Railroad Office
Renaissance Restorations LLC
Leominster, MA 01453

My Sites: Architectual Restorations

Ron Newman
Posts: 2772
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 7:04 pm
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Post by Ron Newman » Thu Jan 13, 2005 11:01 am

b&m 1566 wrote:Are there any historical maps showing this branch or even a recent map thats shows the street.
Any street map of Cambridge or Somerville will show Museum Street.

The right-of-way from Beacon Street to junction with the Fitchburg main line has been entirely obliterated by subsequent residential development.
I also don't think any trace of the right-of-way remains beyond the west end of Museum Street.

b&m 1566
Posts: 3355
Joined: Sat Mar 13, 2004 2:09 am
Location: Hudson, NH

Post by b&m 1566 » Fri Jan 14, 2005 3:30 am

Thanks for the info. I looked on Mapquest for the street but it said the street did not exist (maybe I miss spelt it or something). I tried to find the ROW on a historical map but i think the mid 1800's maping wasn't to great or something... I don't know. Maybe the line was to small to even map out. How many miles was this branch? (ballpark figure)


B & M Harvard Branch

Post by eddiebear » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:00 am

The Harvard Branch RR got a write up in RLHS Bulletin #113 in 1965, author Robert W. Lovett. Original presentation was in Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, Volume 38, 1961. The RLHS article is about 24 pages and has a sketch of the line from about Gorham and Museum Sts. in Cambridge to end of line on Harvard grounds. Sketched 1940, so there have probably been a few changes.
If you want to locate site of original Fitchburg RR routing and junction location near Union Square, go to B & M RR Historical Society in Lowell, ask for assistance and look for Valuation Plans, Section 36.1, probably maps 1 or 2 (or SL-1 or SL-2). These are 6/30/1914 blueprint copies of how the B & M looked. ( The SL maps have only land parcels and a schedule of ownership, title, etc. There would have been a corresponding track map, but some of the 1914 ones probably fell apart from use. Most maps have both land and track, but SLs were made up for areas with lots of tracks and lots of land parcels.)
Find the map and you'll see a reference or two to the HB plus a slight line relocation of the original Fitchburg main.
I was in charge of B & M property records in 1983 when B & M exited Causeway Street and much of this great material was scheduled to be dumped. I got permission to donate to B & M Historical Society.

Ron Newman
Posts: 2772
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 7:04 pm
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Post by Ron Newman » Fri Jan 14, 2005 3:43 pm

Mapquest certainly knows where Museum Street is, in both Cambridge and Somerville. I just now tried it. You will need to zoom the map in to get to the level where it shows the street name.

I'd guess the branch line was less than a mile long. I once lived on Kent Street in Somerville, near where it used to branch away from the Fitchburg Line, and I could walk to Harvard Square from there in less than 15 minutes.


Post by OHanrahan » Fri Jan 14, 2005 7:04 pm

The only map I've ever seen that shows the branch is one featured in a book called "Beyond the Neck" which is a book about the history of Somerville. I'm trying to picture the area. Is (or was) the corner of Kirkland and Mass ave. directly aross from the Cambridge common? I believe Kirkland street now terminates at one of harvards buildings and connects with Oxford St. about 1/4 of a mile before Mass. Ave.


Post by SPUI » Sun Jan 16, 2005 2:07 am

From http://www.earlpleasants.com/search_1.asp:
1. RAILROAD: Harvard Branch Railroad (1848)
2. LINE_OF_RD: Harvard Yard ( Cambridge) to Somerville, Massachusetts.
4. CURRENT: Fitchburg Railroad
5. SUCCESSORS: (1855) Discontinued
6. TEXT: P1860 April 24, 1849, act of incorporation. April 19, 1854, Authorized to discontinue road. From Fitchburg Railroad to Harvard College. It has been abandoned. LRNE Harvard Yard( Cambridge to Somerville, Massachusetts. .70 miles. Opened 1849, Abandoned 1855.

Ron Newman
Posts: 2772
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 7:04 pm
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Post by Ron Newman » Sun Jan 16, 2005 10:19 am

It's currently a 10 or 11 minute train ride between Porter Square and North Station. Even in 1855, it's hard for me to imagine that an omnibus would beat a train going from Harvard Square to Boston.

Ron Newman
Posts: 2772
Joined: Mon Apr 26, 2004 7:04 pm
Location: Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Post by Ron Newman » Sun Jan 16, 2005 10:32 am

I have an 1856 'Henry F. Walling' map of Middlesex County, which I bought at an estate auction, on my apartment wall. It shows the right-of-way of the Harvard Branch, which would have been discontinued just the previous year. The right-of-way crossed Oxford Street in Cambridge right where the street bends. It ended slightly east of the Cambridge Common.

If you want to look at this map, send me e-mail: rnewman@thecia.net

I doubt that any remnant of a depot buliding still exists. The intersections near the Common were extensively changed in the 1960s when the Cambridge Street tunnel was built.

Posts: 1064
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2004 8:10 am

Post by FatNoah » Thu Feb 24, 2005 12:11 pm

More on the branch's location...The map is on the outbound platform at Harvard, just at the top of the ramp.

Return to “Boston & Maine/Maine Central”