“From Stagecoach to Subway” Exhibit at the West End Museum

News on a new exhibit at the West End Museum, 150 Staniford Street:

1970 image of an MBTA trolly car pulling out of North Station with old Boston Garden in back (Courtesy West End Museum)

New Exhibit Explores History of Public Transportation in Boston;
Reveals West End’s Role as Early Transit Hub

Public transportation has shaped life in Boston and its neighborhoods since the first English settlers arrived in the early 17th century. Its evolution over the course of more than 200 years is a fascinating tale of continuously rising demand, financial and logistical challenges, and technological advancements. A new exhibit at The West End Museum recounts the phases of development since the 18th century through graphic panels and artifacts like trolley tickets, stock certificates, conductor buttons, tokens, photos and original articles.

Building of the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) on Lowell Street (now Lomasney Way) in the West End c1909. (Courtesy West End Museum)

From Stagecoach to Subway: The West End Street Railway runs through September 17 in the Museum’s Members Gallery. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Ferries provided the bulk of people-moving in early to mid-18th century Boston. Subsequent major growth in the city’s population and commerce brought increased transportation needs. The ferries were supplemented with improved roads, new bridges and new transportation technology. In 1793, the mile-long West Boston Bridge was built between Boston and Cambridge, making the West End a transit hub. In 1795, a public stagecoach began running across it.

The means of mass conveyance that followed included omnibuses, which were horse-drawn vehicles larger than stagecoaches, and horse railroads, or horsecars that ran over tracks. The West End Consolidation Act of 1887 established the West End Street Railway Company, uniting 20 different horse railroad companies under one umbrella. This led to the creation of one of the largest street railway operations in the U.S. at the time. Among the West End Street Railway Company’s first—and most lasting—reforms: painting railcars specific colors to designate their routes.

In 1889, the West End Street Railway Company introduced Boston’s first electric train railway (or cable car) system and, within six years, the city had electrified nearly all its railroads. System inefficiency and public dissatisfaction prompted the creation of the Boston Elevated Railway and, ultimately, the MTA and MBTA.

West End El in 1925 (Courtesy West End Museum)