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New England Railroad Collection

New England Railroad Collection

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NEW ENGLAND RAILROAD COLLECTION, 1830-1992, bulk 1830-1958

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Title:New England Railroad Collection
Dates:bulk 1830/1958
Quantity:42 linear feet (72 boxes, 6 volumes)
Abstract:The material in this collection represents approximately 130 railroad companies owned or operated in New England, from the early proliferation of many small short-lines through their gradual absorption into larger and fewer multi-route systems. Although this finding aid lists many small companies separately, some records may have been produced at a time when those lines were leased or owned by a parent company. A large percentage of the Railroad Collection consists of annual corporate reports, documenting such business concerns as monetary income, traffic volume, track mileages, and railroad accidents in a given year.
Collection Number:MSS 436

Series List

SERIES I. Individual Railroad Records
A. Boston and Maine
B. Eastern Railroad
C. Other New England Railroads
D. North American Railroads
SERIES II. Massachusetts House and Senate Documents
SERIES III. General New England Railroad Material
SERIES IV. General Railroad Material
SERIES V. Tickets
SERIES VI. The Francis Boardman Crowninshield Bradlee Papers
SERIES VII. Material on Other Transportation
SERIES VIII. Secondary Material and Photographs

Scope and Content Note

This finding aid groups records primarily by railroad company, as the producer and/or subject of a document. Some railroad-related records are filed under other producing agencies, which include government bodies and private firms. Each set of records begins with the name of a company, or, when there are very few records per firm, with the names of several companies. Next, each folder's documents are described in general terms. The last element for each folder is the range of inclusive dates, based on the earliest and latest records it contains.

When several companies' records are in one folder, the document descriptions encompass all the items in that folder and do not specifically link any record type to a certain company. They also do not imply that a full range of records is present for every company listed, but merely that there is at least one item from one record category for each named company. In many cases, it will be necessary to examine the folder before knowing the type and the age of a document from one's chosen railroad company.

While each folder's records may reveal small or large gaps in the noted range of inclusive dates, separate date ranges were used whenever possible to point out larger portions of missing years. As this list progresses, the increasing volume of material per company allows the register to more specifically describe items and their ages, although any set of inclusive dates could contain gaps.

A large percentage of the Railroad Collection consists of annual corporate reports, documenting such business concerns as monetary income, traffic volume, track mileages, and railroad accidents in a given year. A portion of material covers the saga of the Troy and Greenfield Railroad's Hoosac Tunnel project in western Massachusetts. An engineering feat but a financial disaster, the Hoosac Tunnel eventually became the property of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the surrounding events make a good study into the issues of government involvement in private business.

Scattered throughout the collection are numerous directories and vacation guides that show in words and pictures what New England and New York were like in bygone years. To attract the burgeoning tourist trade, railroad companies published attractive pamphlets advertising rail routes to such scenic spots as Lake Memphramagogg in Vermont and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Emphasizing Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, the vacation guides feature photographs, contemporary descriptions of towns and attractions, detailed lists of accommodations, and a variety of New England history.

This finding aid divides the collection into eight series. Oversize materials for each of the series are located in boxes 69 and 70.

Series I. Individual Railroad Records focuses on material directly related to the history and operations of specific railroad companies operating in New England. The series begins with the two largest subseries, with material pertaining to the Boston and Maine and Eastern railroads. Subseries C. Other New England Railroads is organized geographically, beginning in the Boston metro area, continuing out to Western Massachusetts, and ending with Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York. Subseries D. North American Railroads contains material on other American and Canadian railroads. The oversize folders at the end of the series contain public notices and timetables for the South Reading and Lawrence branches and the Boston and Maine railroad, as well as maps for a number of railroads listed at the folder level.

Series II. Massachusetts Senate and House Documents consists of a number of documents addressing topics of interest to the railroad companies. Of note is a petition on behalf of African-Americans to allow them equal rights in the railway carriages. For the most part, the Senate and House documents involve inquiries into railroad activities, incorporations of railroad companies, and a number of minority reports on issues concerning the railroads.

Series III. General New England Railroad Material consists of material pertaining to the railroads of the Boston area and of New England as a whole. For example, this series contains many timetables for the Boston area listing times for a variety of routes between two towns without favoring a particular railroad. These timetables were often printed by local businesses, using them as an advertising opportunity. The folder of newspaper clippings includes advertisements for Henry W. Lawrence's book, The Romance of the Iron Horse in New England, as well as excerpts from the book published in the Boston Sunday Post. The folders in this series are arranged alphabetically.

Series IV. General Railroad Material includes newspaper clippings, publications, and ephemera concerning subjects pertaining to the railroads in general. Oversize newspaper clippings from the early 20th century examine the railroads after their first 100 years. This series is arranged alphabetically.

Series V. Tickets, consists of a collection of railroad passes and tickets covering the years 1846 to 1958. A number of the individual railroads from Series I are featured significantly in this series, including the Boston and Maine Railroad, Eastern Railroad, the Boston, Revere Beach, and Lynn Railroad, as well as a number of street railway companies, steamboats, and stagecoach services. A number of prominent local figures signed the passes, including Henry Wheatland, Francis B.C. Bradlee, and Joshua Holyoke Ward. The passes are organized by date; as for the undated passes, the companies represented include the Eastern, Boston and Maine, Salem and South Danvers, and the Naumkeag Street Railway Companies. A detailed description of "free passes" by local author Winfield S. Nevins was included with the tickets and is currently located in box 60, folder 4.

Series VI. Francis Boardman Crowninshield Bradlee Papers are personal papers strictly concerning railroads and the authorship of his book, The Eastern Railroad: a Historical Account of Early Railroading in Eastern New England. His correspondence consists of accounts written by railroad employees, responses to queries written by Bradlee concerning the railroads, or acknowledgements written by others after receiving a copy of the book. Also included in this series are scrapbooks pertaining to New England and regional railroads; volume 4 focuses on the Eastern and Boston and Maine railroads while volume 5 features other Massachusetts and New England railroads. The scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings, photographs, pictures, and postcards with annotations done in Bradlee's own hand.

Series VII. Material on Other Transportation contains material not strictly relating to railroads or railroad history. The material is significant within the collection because stagecoach lines and canal systems in Massachusetts were instrumental in paving the way for railroad development. Other items included in this series are guidebooks to the Boston metro area, as well as steamboat and motor bus timetables.

Series VIII. Secondary Material and Photographs is a collection of photographs, prints, reproductions, stereoscopic cards, postcards, and stamps depicting locomotive engines, railway cars, and life on the railroads. This series also includes clippings from magazines, journals, and newspapers. Boxes 63, 64, and 65 are arranged alphabetically. Prior to the latest processing, a numbering system was implemented for boxes 68A and 68B; the original organization has been retained. An index to the numbering system is included at the end of this finding aid. Series VIII contains material that corresponds with companies found in Series I such as the Boston and Maine and Eastern Railroads; however, Series I contains primary source material while Series VIII contains secondary material. It is recommended to examine the contents of series VIII carefully to find any additional material. Box 67 contains many original oversize photographs of different Locomotive Works. Photographs were taken by N.L. Stebbins, Freeman W. Smith, Walter A. Porter, Walter R. Fogg, J.W. Black, M.F. King, and William T. Clark.

1 Bradlee, p.l.

2 Bradlee, p.l.

Historical Note

The material in this collection represents approximately 130 railroad companies owned or operated in New England, from the early proliferation of many small short-lines through their gradual absorption into larger and fewer multi-route systems. Although this finding aid lists many small companies separately, some records may have been produced at a time when those lines were leased or owned by a parent company. As Francis B. C. Bradlee stated in 1921 regarding the industry's prime New England example, the Boston and Maine Railroad "represents a patchwork quilt, as ...the road consists almost entirely of a consolidation of small railroads formed independently of the Boston and Maine and of each other."1

Mr. Bradlee added that "the Boston and Maine in its infancy … derived its name and its corporate existence from an amalgamation of small branch railroads."2 This collection contains records from many of those seminal train lines, and includes proposals and land surveys that preceded the laying of their first tracks and the running of their first engines. Many records in the collection provide information on subsidiaries and parent companies. To further determine a railroad's corporate status at a particular time in its history, the researcher may consult the works named in this register's bibliography. Some rail entities, like the Boston and Montreal Air-Line, may not have been corporations at all, but rather a cooperative effort among several private companies to market their routes as one vast unit.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Bradlee, Francis Boardman Crowninshield, 1881-1928
Boston and Maine Railroad
Eastern Railroad Company
Guidebooks to excursions
Railroad tickets--United States
Railroads--New England
Railroads--United States
Street-railroads--New England
Transportation--History--United States
Hoosac Tunnel (Mass.)
Middlesex Canal (Mass.)--History
New England
Annual reports, Corporate
Ephemera, printed
Stamps, non-postal


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

New England Railroad Collection, MSS 436, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Francis Boardman Crowninshield Bradlee (1881-1928) gathered most of the material in this collection. A Salem resident and researcher on American transportation, Mr. Bradlee published books on American shipping and railroading, and documented the histories of several New England railroad companies. Other items were gifts of Harold S. Walker (1968), G. Norman Albree (1945), the estate of Elizabeth Lord (1949), N. Very, and Mrs. Joseph Woodbury (1944).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Brian Hackert, May 1996. Updated by Tamara Gaydos and Rachel Jirka March 2010.

Related Material

Bradlee, Francis B.C. The Boston and Maine Railroad: A History of the Main Road, with its Tributary Lines. Salem : Essex Institute, 1921.

Poor's Manual of Railroads. Poor's Manual Company: New York, 1893.

Francis B. Crowninshield Family Papers contains some correspondence of Francis B. C. Bradlee, MSS 402

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