Union Station is a landmark in Worcester, but long before it was built, Worcester hosted a number of railroads making it a hub for rail traffic. The Boston & Worcester Railroad opened in 1835, the Western Railroad in 1839, the Providence & Worcester Railroad in 1844, the Norwich & Worcester Railroad in 1947, the Worcester & Nashua Railroad in 1848, and the Worcester & Fitchburg Railroad in 1850.
According to the 1851 inaugural address of Peter C. Bacon, Mayor of Worcester, the introduction of the railroad system made Worcester the center focus of six converging railroads which “allowed for greater communication than was to be found in most inland cities.” Mayor Bacon, not satisfied with six, urged the building of a seventh connecting to the Northwest as it would open Worcester to an even greater trade, business, and distribution of products. As Worcester became a center for manufacturing, the railroads proved extremely important for the transport of goods. They allowed for faster travel for people, as well. Railroads increased out-of-town visits as they cut travel time down considerably. Imagine how much faster a steam engine locomotive could transport people from Worcester to, say, Fitchburg than could the swiftest of horse or the best stagecoach service.
Downtown Worcester in the 1850s was a bustling place. If we could go back to that decade, we’d find a mix of horses and carriages, stagecoaches, teams of oxen, and pedestrians. In their midst was the constant coming and going of steam engine locomotives barreling their way through the city. Unfortunately, because the railroads were relatively new, people were not adept at timing their speed. The amount of time it takes for a train to come to a stop combined with people misjudging their own ability to cross the tracks before an oncoming train reached them all too often resulted in accidents involving horses and wagons as well as pedestrians. George W. Richardson, Mayor from 1855-1856 noted that the railroad crossings in the center of the city were especially dangerous and called for gates and flagmen “at the very least” at all crossings.
Despite the dangers, the railroads were welcomed in the City of Worcester as they heralded progress and prosperity.
The mayors’ inaugural addresses can be found in the Worcester City Documents for the decade of the 1850s. I was fortunate to have access to the bound volumes of these documents while researching Worcester’s history for my forthcoming novel, Erin’s Children, to be released by BWL Publishing, Inc. in December 2020. Under other circumstances reading them would have proven an excellent cure for insomnia, but for my purposes they were a source of fascination. Each year has a report from the mayor and each of the City committees and departments: School Committee, Aqueduct Committee, Highway Depatment, Fire and Police Departments, Overseers of the Poor (Almshouse), Cemetery Committee, and Treasurer.
Each report is filled with details offering insight into what life in Worcester was like during the 1850s. I’ll write about my most interesting finds in future posts.
(The image of the train is from PublicDomainPictures.net)