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RAILS ACROSS MARTHA’S VINEYARD Steam Narrow Gauge and Trolley Lines

Herman Page

South Platte Press/Brueggenjohann/Reese, Inc. 1


Copyright ® 2009 by The Rev. Herman Page. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations for review purposes, without permission in writing of the publisher. First printing April 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-942035-83-4 ISBN-10: 0-942035-83-6 email: railroads@alltel.net website: www.southplattepress.com Printed in the United States of America by Mennonite Press, Newton, Kans. Cover: This painting of the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad narrow gauge train steaming along the beach front of Nantucket Sound was done by Frederick Blakeslee. It was originally used as a cover illustration for the August 1943 issue of Railroad Magazine. This issue featured a story on the MVRR written by Harry Thomas. Reproduction of the painting for this book is through the courtesy of Carstens Publications.

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About the Author: The family of The Rev. Herman Page first acquired land around Tashmoo Lake on Martha’s Vineyard in 1928. Members of his family have spent time on the Vineyard almost every year since. The author participated in Yacht Club races at Vineyard Haven during the 1940s. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass. Fr. Page was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1952 and subsequently served churches in northern Michigan and Kansas. He also served on the staff of the National Episcopal Church. Fr. Page and his wife, Mary, have resided in Topeka, Kans., since 1980 and have three adult children. Now semi-retired, the author is a long-time railroad enthusiast and member of several railroad history organizations. He has held a special interest in the Martha’s Vineyard narrow-gauge railroad and trolley lines for many years.


Contents Introduction................................................................................................................................................5 Section One The Narrow Gauge Line on Martha’s Vineyard...........................................................................................7 ONE Construction of the MVRR..............................................................................................................8 TWO Here Comes the Train....................................................................................................................17 THREE Getting Down to Business..........................................................................................................22 FOUR Riding the Rails of the MVRR......................................................................................................25 FIVE Schedules........................................................................................................................................30 SIX The Tide is Running Out..................................................................................................................33 SEVEN Remains of the Narrow Gauge.....................................................................................................35 Section Two The Trolley Lines of Martha’s Vineyard.....................................................................................................39 ONE The Horsecar Era............................................................................................................................40 TWO The Electric Car Era.......................................................................................................................45 THREE Operations and Stories...............................................................................................................54 FOUR Vineyard Electric Trolley Cars.......................................................................................................57 FIVE The Trolley Diaries of John Barnes Tingley.....................................................................................61 SIX A Driving Tour of the Martha’s Vineyard Trolley Lines......................................................................65 The Black Dog Car...................................................................................................................................70 Acknowledgments.....................................................................................................................................71 Bibliography..............................................................................................................................................72

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Both photography and rail transportation were marvels of the age when this photograph was taken of the narrow gauge Martha’s Vineyard Railroad train at the steamboat dock at Oak Bluffs. Both the train crew and passengers waiting on the ticket station platform oblige the photographer by posing. However, the man in the foreground at left chose to divert his gaze to the train. In the background is the grandiose Sea View House hotel. (Harvey Garneau collection, courtesy of Doug Ulwick.)

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Introduction Martha’s Vineyard, a roughly triangular-shaped island about 88 square miles in diameter, is located in the Atlantic Ocean about three and a half miles off the south coast of Massachusetts and its mainland point of Cape Cod. “The Vineyard,” as part of Massachusetts, is included in a chain of islands off the state’s coast that includes Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands. It is governed as Dukes County. The Island first became famous when early English explorers, including Bartholomew Gosnold, visited the area in the early 1600s. It is believed that Gosnold was the one who gave the Island its name, as that “Martha” was the name of both his second child and motherin-law. The Island, originally (and still) inhabited by the Wampanoag Indian tribe, became one of the earliest deaf communities in the United States. Later, Martha’s Vineyard and the near-by islands of Nantucket and New Bedford, were the center of whaling operations that spread around the globe. Martha’s Vineyard came to have six main communities. These include the seasonal port of Oak Bluffs (originally known as Cottage City between 1887 and 1907), the residential community of Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown, the Island’s county seat and largest community by population.  With the decline of whaling, the Vineyard was discovered as a place for summer vacationing in the mid-to-late 1800s. With increasing numbers of visitors, the pleasures of summers on the Vineyard brought people from all around the Northeast who became repeat visitors or seasonal property owners. One of the big draws were the annual Methodist (and later also Baptist) camp meetings during the summer, which over the years brought in thousands of attendees. Many resort hotels and summer homes were built to handle the seasonal population. However, the Island at this time had only dirt or sandy roads in many places. Traveling these roads was by means of horse and buggy or on foot. It was in this setting that residents of the Vineyard, similar to what much of the U.S. mainland was then doing, turned to the convenience of travel by rail as a solution to their transportation problems. It began in 1873 when a horse-drawn streetcar line was first completed to enable people to travel a

short distance from the boat wharf to a religious campground near Oak Bluffs. The following year, in 1874, a more ambitious plan of having a steam-powered train operate between communities was realized with the opening of the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad. This was a narrow-gauge line that, at a width of three feet and a length of nine miles, operated from the steamboat wharf at Oak Bluffs, through Edgartown, to a resort hotel in the beach area known as Katama. For about the next 21 years, the little steam train carried tourists and residents alike between Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Katama. Financial woes finally caused it to cease operations in 1895. But even as the Vineyard’s short-lived experience with narrow-gauge steam ended, rail transportation on its shores would continue in a different manner. While the Oak Bluffs horsecar street railway system had slowly expanded in the years since its inception, it would enter the modern era of street railways when the original lines were electrified in 1895. A second electric streetcar company began service from Vineyard Haven the following year and both companies operated independently until the two systems merged in 1906. The combined system operated over approximately seven miles of track. Ultimately known as the Oak Bluffs Street Railway, the company’s electric trolleys served the steamboat wharves, residential districts, resort hotels and entertainment complexes in the Oak BluffsVineyard Haven vicinity. However, beset by competition from the automobile and a need for scrap materials during World War I, trolley service halted in 1918. Thus ended 45 years of street railway service to Martha’s Vineyard, as well as any kind of rail-borne transportation on the Island. Since their abandonment, many of the details regarding both the narrow-gauge railroad and the trolley lines on Martha’s Vineyard have been lost on account of time. However, it is hoped this book, by pulling together existing photographs, along with the remnants of facts known about the two differing operations, will give the reader an opportunity to learn how transportation by rail was once part of everyday life on the Vineyard. It is likely an era never to be seen again, but which can still make for an interesting ride in one’s own mind. Come and get on board!

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Anybody who doesn’t believe that the sight of the sea conduces to a contemplative state of mind should observe a carload of passengers on the M.V.R.R. He will find the occupants of the landward seats cackling away like a colony of geese, while those on the Sound-ward side sit oblivious of the presence of one another, their eyes fixed on the watery expanse, and an expression of countenance as though each was striving to solve for himself the problem of the whenceness of the whereunto. Cottage City Chronicle August 1, 1884

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Section One. The Narrow Gauge Line on Martha’s Vineyard

Ready to depart for Edgartown and Katama, the MVRR’s three-foot gauge passenger train is pictured while on the south leg of the wye at the Oak Bluffs wharf. Note the details of the stub switch and harp-style switch stand, a type then in use on the nine-mile short line. (Walker Transportation Collection.)

Vineyard Sound

Nantucket Sound Oak Bluffs

Route of the M.V.R.R.

Edgartown

Martha’s Vineyard

Mattakesett Lodge at Katama South Beach Atlantic Ocean 7


One. Construction of the MVRR

The MVRR train is seen from the balcony of the Sea View House at Oak Bluffs. Also visible is the railroad’s ticket office on the dock. The small 0-6-0 locomotive is quietly simmering at the train’s head end nearest the hotel. (Walker Transportation Collection.)

The Martha’s Vineyard of the 1870s was booming. The Methodist Camp meetings in Cottage City were drawing huge crowds to their religious revivals, and larger numbers of people were beginning to come to the Island for vacations. It was the era of subdividing property into lots for summer homes, and for building the great wooden resort hotels on the Island. The Sea View House, built at the steamer pier in Cottage City, opened in July 1872. Cottage City was prospering. However, Edgartown, being the county seat, felt that it was being left behind. Even though the latter provided money to build a new road along the beach between the two communities, it did not bring Edgartown the prosperity that was hoped for. Eventually, in 1907, Cottage City split off from Edgartown and became 8

a separate town known as Oak Bluffs. (For purposes of clarity, subsequent references to the community in both this chapter and the following chapters will be made using the name Oak Bluffs.) In order to compete with Oak Bluffs, the Katama Land & Wharf Co. was organized in 1872 by Edgartown business leaders. The following year, the 50-room Mattakeset Lodge at Katama opened. A wharf was built at the site, allowing steamers and other boats to dock there. In addition, a large number of lots were platted in an area that was expected to develop quickly. However, this did not happen due -- among other things -- to the difficulty of travel between the steamboat wharf at Oak Bluffs and the Katama area.


An 1887 stock certificate for the MVRR that belonged to Fred A. Neal of Boston, Mass. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.)

Transportation to the Vineyard was improving during this same period. The Old Colony Railroad was completed from Boston to Cape Cod and onto the steamship wharf at Woods Hole in 1872, and likewise, to the wharf in New Bedford in 1873. Both connected with steamships to the Island. Through trains from Boston brought more people to ride an increasing number of side-wheel steamers that included the River Queen, Black Bird, Martha’s Vineyard, Island Home and Monohanset. Upon arrival at the Vineyard, getting around the Island was cumbersome. It required either traveling via steamer to the landing docks in various towns, or traveling over dirt or sand roads on foot or by horse. In 1872, a road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs was completed, shortening the distance between the two communities. However, land transportation was still slow. This time period in American history was otherwise the era of much planning, financing and construction of railroad lines. Communities all wanted to obtain rail service, and in some parts of the country, residents actually moved their town sites to be along a newly-built rail line. In this climate of rail mania, Edgartown leaders began to see advantages to having a railroad on the Island. Such an enterprise would get the people from the boats to the Vineyard’s newly developing areas. Re-

cords from 1872 indicate the first proposal was made that year for the Island to have its own railroad that could efficiently convey large numbers of visitors. It appropriately came to be called the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad (MVRR). Edgartown’s community leaders proposed to raise $40,000 for the rail line, with $25,000 of this to be raised by the sale of stock to individuals, and $15,000 to be provided by the town. Edgartown would then issue an additional $35,000 in bonds and have enough funding to proceed. There was considerable debate on the matter, with opponents stating that public money should not be invested for a private company. It was also noted that funding spent by the town for the EdgartownOak Bluffs road had not been paid off yet. A further problem affecting the project was the nationwide “Panic of 1873,” which led to a five-year financial depression. In a town meeting, the two-thirds vote needed to proceed with the rail project was secured by only two votes. However, by early 1874, the financing was in place to build a nine-mile-long narrow gauge rail line south along the shore from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. While most railroads in this country were then built to a “standard gauge” that consisted of rails spaced four feet, eight and one-half inches apart, rails on the Island line would be spaced only three feet apart. The fact that the track was “nar-

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ABOVE: A view of the north leg of the MVRR wye at Oak Bluffs otherwise shows a steamer arriving at the wharf. During the summer season, the side-wheeled steamers often made four or more roundtrips daily from the mainland to Oak Bluffs. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.) BELOW: A wider view of the south wye at Oak Bluffs shows the MVRR train on the dock to meet the steamships. Arriving passengers obtained train tickets on the Oak Bluffs wharf if they hadn’t bought a through ticket on the Old Colony Railway from Boston via the steamship line. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.)

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This sketch shows the wharf in front of the Sea View House hotel at Oak Bluffs. The north end wye of the MVRR was a triangular section of track built directly on the wharf. It had “tails” only long enough to turn the locomotive. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.)

row gauge” would therefore reduce construction costs since the right-of-way was narrower than for a normal standard-gauge rail line. In May 1874, the Dacey Brothers of Neponset, Mass., received the contract to build the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad. It was to be ready for operation in July of that year. By June, the line’s one major bridge was being built over the entrance to Sengekontaket Pond. The route, for the most part, was level and grading proceeded quickly. Only one large cut and a few small earth fills were needed in order for track to be laid to Edgartown. The MVRR’s passenger cars arrived in July 1874 from Jackson & Sharpe, a rail car builder, aboard the schooner Nellie Treat. A contract for constructing the Edgartown depot was let in July and it was completed in August at a cost of $3,000. However, at that price and haste, the building would later prove to have been poorly built. Track laying and alignment was done in record time, and the line was ready for operation in early August. The MVRR’s first locomotive, known as a “steam dummy” (see Chapter 2), was also on the Island by that time; ready for a first run. The line began from a short, tight wye track located on the steamer wharf in Oak Bluffs, in front of the huge Sea View

House. It ran along the beach in front of Oak Bluffs, then continued along the beach between Sengekontacket Pond and Nantucket Sound (close to the present Beach Road). The track turned south at Trapp’s Pond, went across what is now the Edgartown Golf Club course, thence to the depot on North Main Street in Edgartown. Additional trackage later extended the line south to Katama, where there was a wye with one tail extending to the Mattakeset Lodge, the other toward the area known as South Beach. The MVRR track consisted of 30-pound rail (30 pounds to the yard), considered to be very light by today’s standards. Ties were for the most part laid directly on the sand near the beach road, rather than on a roadbed containing gravel or fine rock. There were only slight rises in the grade: one to the cut near the present Edgartown Country Clubhouse, another south of Edgartown. At the time construction was planned, some people advised building the line along the west side of Sengekontacket Pond, a process that would have taken longer and been more expensive. However, as it turned out, this action would have saved considerably on track repair costs after northeast winter storms began to frequently wash out portions of the sandy right-of-way. Turnouts (sidetracks) on the railroad were stub-end sidings 11


that were controlled by harp-style switch stands. These stands are clearly visible in several known photographs of the MVRR. The railroad’s north end wye was a triangular section of track built on the dock at Oak Bluffs and which had short “tails” only long enough to turn the locomotive. A train arriving at Oak Bluffs would pull onto the east leg of the wye on the dock, after which the locomotive was uncoupled from the cars and went ahead toward the end of the dock past the second switch, then ran back on the other wye track closest to the harbor entrance. When the third switch was passed, it would run forward across the track directly in front of the hotel to the first switch, then back down onto the cars. Thus, only the locomotive was turned on each trip to Oak Bluffs. Several photographs are available showing the train on the dock in various stages of this maneuver. There was a similar wye track at Katama, but the tails were long enough to turn both the locomotive and the cars all at the same time. The train would then be lined up at the Mattakeset Lodge, ready to return to Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. The result was that each time the cars arrived in Oak Bluffs, they were in a reverse order from what they were on the preceding trip, whereas the locomotive would always face forward. The MVRR had very few structures. There was a small building on the wharf at Oak Bluffs containing a ticket office and baggage room. The structure’s roof was later extended out to provide more shelter for waiting passengers. The next stop after leaving the Oak Bluffs pier was at the swimming beach bath houses and tower. Photographs show there was only a small platform here, possibly comprised of either a plank structure or gravel. At Katama, there was a loading platform at the hotel, and probably also at South Beach. Maps and descriptions indicate a small “station” existed at South Beach, which may have been just a shelter. (It is possible that this structure still exists, as after abandonment it was moved to the Chappaquiddick Beach Club.) The railroad’s primary building was the depot at Edgartown. Its location was a short distance east of the current Depot Service Station (approximately 110 feet from the centerline of Main Street). The depot was unusual for having been a “run through” building, a design occasionally used in that era but which did not always prove satisfactory. A major problem was the potential for smoke and sparks from the locomotive to catch the building on fire. It was approximately 34-feet wide, 65-feet long, with a 12-foot extension on the east side. Some of the passenger coaches may have been stored inside during the off season. It is uncertain if the building also contained of12

fices for the railroad. As mentioned earlier, the depot was not well built as it eventually needed angle support braces added to strengthen it against heavy winds. One such heavy wind caused some structural damage to the building in February 1876. About 300 feet north of the depot was a simple, wooden two-door engine house with only one track going into it. This provided both a place for storing the locomotive indoors and for doing repair work on it. In May 1878, the engine house suffered damage from a fire. The Vineyard Gazette for May 24th of that year provided details: The evening of May 21, a fire broke out a little before eight in the evening, and the enginehouse of the M. V. RR was ablaze. A crowd soon gathered around the building. The first move was to fasten a rope to the locomotive and haul it outside of the building for, being immediately beneath the falling embers, it was somewhat scorched and heated about the woodwork... Mr. Chase Pease came to the front with the chemical engine, and a hose having been run to the water tank in the north corner of the building, a stream of water was thrown on the roof, where most of the fire appeared, and it was soon extinguished. It was thought that the fire caught in some oily waste that was in a closet at the side of the room, and firing the upright, ran and spread about the roof. Mr. David J. Chadwick who acted as pipe man, fell from a ladder while doing his utmost to stop the flames, and received quite severe bruises, so that he walks with some difficulty. It is not known if there was a turntable on the MVRR since there are no known pictures showing one at Edgartown. If there was a turntable, it could have been installed on the track leading to the engine house, or on the main line with a track from it extending to the engine house. There is also uncertainty whether there was a “run-around” track at Edgartown. This would have allowed the engine to be uncoupled from the train, then be run around it in order to be coupled to the other end -- a process that would have been made even easier if there was a turntable here. Similar to the turntable mystery, no run-around or passing tracks appear in any known pictures taken at Edgartown. (As will be noted in Chapter 7, MVRR train schedules projected by the author were based on the theory that most of the engine “turning” would have been done on the wye tracks at either Katama or Oak Bluffs.) Exactly how the locomotive was fueled is still another mystery. One picture shows what may be bags of coal being unloaded from a horse-drawn wagon for loading into the


ABOVE: The Mattakeset Lodge at Katama, built in 1873, was an example of the great wooden resort hotels built on Martha’s Vineyard during the last half of the 19th century. Trains arriving at this facility backed down a track that led right up to the hotel. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.) BELOW: A view of the opposite side of Mattakeset Lodge shows the extensive dock located on Katama Bay. This is where the MVRR’s 0-6-0 locomotive was delivered by ship in August 1874. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.)

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ABOVE: The MVRR train is at the run-through depot building in Edgartown. Workers are possibly unloading bags of coal from a wagon into the locomotive’s tender. Note that braces were being used to support the building on account of its faulty construction. (Walker Transportation Collection.) BELOW: The only known photograph to show the MVRR engine house at Edgartown, plus the depot and some of the rolling stock, is this distant view looking north from the business district. The engine house, at extreme upper right, was a wooden, two-door building with a single track going inside. (Martha’s Vineyard Museum.)

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A southbound MVRR train is stopped at the platform located at the bathing pavilion on the Oak Bluffs beach. Occasionally, people who worked in Oak Bluffs and lived in Edgartown boarded here using multi-ride tickets. (Author’s collection.)

tender. Coal for use on the Vineyard often arrived in sacks aboard schooners. A June 1883 Vineyard Gazette item describes the schooner Glide arriving in Edgartown with a load of coal for the MVRR. What served as a source of water for the engine is also not certain. There is a brief reference in the article about the engine house fire to a well being located at the depot. It is not clearly known how track maintenance was carried out on the MVRR. On many similar railroads of the era, workers used small hand cars and/or flat cars to transport materials and tools in order to maintain the right-of-way. There is one newspaper reference to a “dump car” being overturned

on the MVRR, fortunately with no injuries. Also, a May 1879 newspaper article tells of a hand car with a gang of section men being along the track, checking it and making necessary repairs to open the line. However, again, the author has not discovered any pictures showing maintenance-of-way equipment. A look at contemporary maps show that, with the exception of a a short distance near the present-day Edgartown golf course, and perhaps beyond the Edgartown cemetery, all of the MVRR’s trackage would have been close to a thenexisting dirt road. Hence, using road access and horse-drawn wagons for track maintenance purposes would have been fairly easy.

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Rails Across Martha's Vineyard: Steam Narrow Gauge and Trolley Lines by Herman Page